In reviewing Ian D’Agata’s groundbreaking book, Native Wine Grapes of Italy (University of California Press) Bruce Sanderson of the Wine Spectator drives a wooden stake in the heart of the claim that Aglianico is the Barolo of the South. Noting in the review, “He lists Aglianico as one of the world's dozen or so great red grapes, arguing that because Aglianico is similar to Nebbiolo-based Barolo, its quality is comparable. Aglianico is certainly capable of making great wines, but I wouldn't put it at the same level as Nebbiolo—at least not yet and not solely because of its similarities to Piedmont's star variety.”
At a tasting last week, of Southern Italian wines, I made a mental note (for the umpteenth time) that the Aglianico from Basilicata we tasted was dark, brooding, fruity, massive and intense. In no way did it resemble Nebbiolo. It was too dark. It was too full. It bore no resemblance. But it was magnificent, nonetheless.
So, why does Aglianico get little or no respect from the Nebbiolisti or the Etna-crazed somm-set? Why do collectors of Barolo or Bordeaux, Napa Cult Cabernet or Burgundy spurn this Southern beauty?
Part of the problem is that there isn’t much literature (save for the anecdotal kind) about the ageablity of Aglianico. The oldest I have had (from Basilicata) was 25 years. It was from the 1990 vintage and I’d saved it in my little wine closet since I’d gotten it. It was a special selection and I wish I had put a few more in the closet.
Maybe there is a cache of old wine waiting out time, somewhere in Rionero, to prove to the world that Aglianico from the shadow Mt. Vulture can and does aspire to the same heights of aged pleasure as does its very distant cousin from Piedmont.
I love the wine. Simple as that. I know it ages well. It is something I was able to afford when I was young and broke. And it will still be something I can afford when they kick me off the stage and I’m living off the dole. The only problem is time. I don’t have 50 years to wait for the wines to slumber and finally awaken.
But if you’re 30, or even 40, this might be a wine to look into collecting. At this time I believe it will age better than most of the Etna Rosso wines I have had. I’ll be heading to Etna in a week for a “full immersion” experience and I hope to find out if I am wrong (I hope I am). But even if Etna ages for the ages, can one not find room in their wine room to stash away some Aglianico?
How I’d love to someday see a stockpile of Aglianico from the 1940’s, 50’s or 60’s. I know it exists somewhere. Hopefully it isn’t waiting for some fancy wine reviewer to write about a most wonderful night with 20 of the most influential (and willing to pay a high premium) enthusiasts . My sense is the local people don’t care about that kind of exposure. But still it would be nice to somehow taste something that has aged for half a century and see if all the ancient writing about these wines was more than a dream or a wish.
In the meantime, I have a few bottles of Aglianico slumbering behind bottles of Barolo, waiting for their time to come out into the light. But not yet. Not now. There are still miles to go before we awaken the sleeper.
written and photographed (in Basilicata) by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
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