2013 Summer Holidays – Campania – Part 4 – Aglianico del Vulture

This is the fourth installment of tasting notes from my 2013 summer vacation in Southern Italy, as introduced here: https://oleudsenwineblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/2013-summer-holidays-intro/

The time had now come for the tasting of the noble aglianico wines from the slopes of extinct volcano Monte Vulture in Basilicata. These are archetypical great, austere, characterful and noble red wines if ever there were any:

Aglianico del Vulture

Aglianico is a difficult variety whose grapes need very long time on the vine in order to reach phenolic ripeness. In a hot climate this tendency can result in very alcoholic, raisiny wines (if harvested late to ripen the phenolics) or wines with a greenish disposition (if harvested before phenolically ripe in order to preserve the freshness of the fruit), unless handled very astutely. However, on the high, cool slopes of Monte Vulture, and enjoying the sun and stable climate of the South, aglianico has near-ideal climatic conditions, and in addition some very interesting soils, rich in micronutrients. One would think that some of the very best wines in all of Italy should come from this place, but until rather few years ago, the great wines from here were few and far between. One reason for this is that aglianico, even when phenolically ripe, is a tough nut to crack. Even when ripe, the grapes have fierce tannins and searing acidity. Winemaking has traditionally sought to soften the wines by oxidating the tannins, but the result has far too often been tired, dry and oxidized wines. Another reason has been the socioeconomic backwardness of Basilicata, which is still among the poorest regions of Italy. There has been little development of a local market willing to support great, expensive wines, and hence viticulture seems to have been volume- rather than quality-focussed. Aglianico grapes with high yields, resultant thin fruit with bracing tannins and acidity are difficult to make really great wine from. Luckily, within the last decade or so, but particularly within the past 5 years, we have seen an explosion of good wine from here. I chalk it down to much-improved vineyard practices, and in particular to much better winemaking practices. The leap forward in quality was also evidenced by this tasting, where 12 out of 19 wines scored 85 or above for me, a high percentage indeed.

A little gripe: Aglianico is often called the nebbiolo of the South, due to many structural and aromatic components that the two varieties do share. Even if there is perhaps some praise in comparing aglianico to the legendary nobility and longevity of nebbiolo, I do feel that there is a bit of condescension in this moniker, and it is high time that aglianico steps out on its own, with confidence. Yes, the typical cherry and earthy aromatics, as well as the tannins and acidity, can be nebbiolo-like, but aglianico is still very much its own, with a frequently staggering minerality as well as a Mediterranean, barky garrigue-spiciness that sets it particularly apart, and nowhere more resoundingly so than on Monte Vulture. It is time that the world wake up to these noble and great wines.

Grifalco 2011
Cherries, garrigue and and exotic wood on the nose. Rounded, mild fruit, then hefty tannins. 85

Cantine del Notaio 2011
Dark berries and dry garrigue, handsome. Very good fruit and lovely tannins. 87

Musto Carmelitano Maschitano 2011
Slightest hint of reduction, but bursting with dark berries and wild garrigue. A wild and wonderful wine. 90

Carbone Terra dei Fuochi 2011
Slightly high-toned red berries, hint of tar. Good spiciness and good tannins. 85

Elena Fucci Titolo 2011
Huge, deep, dark nose with wild spices and herbs. Repeated in the mouth, incredibly handsome and intense. Fucci is the stand-out star on Monte Vulture for me these years. Incredible depth, power and nobility, great winemaking. So when I tasted this wine, it sang out the name Fucci before we were told its identity. 92

Grifalco Grikos 2011
Garrigue, bark, dark berries and minerals. Tight, very good tannins, great future. 88

Mastrodomenico Likos 2011
Slightly high-toned cherries, geranium and garrigue. Majestic tannins, fruit perhaps lagging a bit behind. 85

Basilisco Teodosio 2011
Cherries, hydrocarbon minerality, tar. Mild, rounded fruit, good acidity. 86

Carbone 400 Some 2011
Hint of reduction, but mostly black cherries and garrigue. Same aromatics in the mouth, very handsome. 87

Basilisco Basilisco 2010
Cherries, garrigue and tar. Cherries and hint of caramel, notable tannins. 85

Terre degli Svevi Re Manfredi 2010
Black, sweet cherries, hydrocarbon minerality, walnuts. Tight, minerally, spicy. 86

Martino 2010
Fur, sweet meat, clay, quite complex. Round and somewhat neutral, soft. Oddball in this company, but interesting complexity. 85

All in all, this was probably, in quality terms, the best of the sittings I participated in. I was astounded and happy not just with the percentage but also with the sheer number of monumental, majestic wines here. I have too little of it in my cellar, but that is chiefly because I keep drinking it. While impressive on their own, these wines truly sing with food.

Yours truly

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