I should say at the outset that I love Aglianico. I’ve been told that, somewhere or other, Robert Parker has said that Aglianico may be Italy’s noblest red grape of all. If that is so, I totally, wholeheartedly agree, and I’m delighted he has at last seen the light: I can only hope that more wine journalists catch on.
In my previous post, I focused on the Naples/Piedirosso portion of March’s Campania Stories event. After that, the event shifted its location to Avellino and its attention to Aglianico. The province of Avellino is the home of Taurasi, for a long time Campania’s only red DOCG, and still the prince of Aglianico-based wines – all of which were the subjects of numerous seminars and tasting sessions for the balance of Campania Stories. Much as I enjoyed Naples and Piedirosso, this half of the event hit me where I live.
The linking of the name Aglianico with some dialect form of the word Hellenic has been pretty much debunked as a false etymology – which is a shame, since however inaccurate it may be philologically, it is spot-on in indicating the antiquity of the variety and the persistence of its history in Campania. For our purposes, the most important chapter of that history occurred shortly after WWII, when the Mastroberardino family resisted the introduction of international varieties and unequivocally cast its lot with Campania’s native grapes, the immediate upshot of which was the survival and present importance of Fiano, Greco, and – most to the point – Aglianico and its greatest achievement, Taurasi.
Over my two days in Avellino, I tasted close to 100 Taurasis and Aglianicos, not all of which are available in the US. Many producers are quite small, and I’d guess that a good half of them have been bottling their own wine for only 20 years or less. That doesn’t mean they are new to the grape, however: Almost all were growers before, selling their grapes to co-ops or to a few large firms. There are no big outside investors here, buying up vineyards and planting international varieties. In fact, more than a few of the newer wine producers have family histories of grape farming several centuries long – so even brand-new labels may represent a lot of experience with Aglianico.
That showed in the tastings, where the level of winemaking seemed impressively high, even judging it from the perspective of wine zones like Barolo and Barbaresco, which are further along the developmental curve than Campania. I found many wines to admire and even a few to love – and I’m getting pickier and pickier as I grow old and cranky. Here are some of my top-scorers.
Best of the Best
(in order of preference)
Tecce: 2011 Irpinia Campi Taurasini Satyricon and 2010 Taurasi Poliphemo
Contrade di Taurasi (aka Cantina Lonardi): 2009 Taurasi Coste and Taurasi Vigne d’Alto
Donnachiara: 2009 Taurasi
Villa Raiano: 2012 Campania Aglianico and 2010 Taurasi
Feudi di San Gregorio: 2009 Taurasi Piano di Montevergine Riserva
(in alphabetical order)
Antico Castello: 2011 Irpinia Aglianico Magis and 2010 Taurasi
Boccella: 2008 Irpinia Campi Taurasini Rasott
Colli di Castelfranci: 2009 Irpinia Campi Taurasino Candriano and Taurasi Alta Valle
D’Antiche Terre: 2008 Taurasi
Di Marzo: 2012 Irpinia Aglianico Cantine Storiche, 2012 Irpinia Aglianico Linea Stemma, and 2010 Taurasi Albertus
Di Prisco: 2010 Taurasi
Feudi di San Gregorio: 2012 Irpinia Aglianico Rubrato
Historia Antiqua: 2011 Irpinia Aglianico Historia Antiqua and 2009 Taurasi Historia Antiqua
I Capitani: 2009 Irpinia Rosso Emé and 2007 Taurasi Bosco Faiano
Il Cancelliere: 2010 Taurasi Nero Né and 2007 Taurasi Nero Né
La Marca: Cantine di Tufo: 2008 Taurasi Issàra
La Molara: 2007 Taurasi Santa Vara
Montesole: 2007 Taurasi Vigna Vinieri
Sanpaolo: 2010 Taurasi and 2009 Taurasi Riserva
Urciuolo: 2010 Taurasi
Vesevo: 2008 Taurasi
Villa Matilde: 2008 Taurasi
All of these are impressive wines, though the very youngest are not really what I want to drink right now. But that’s the point with Aglianico, and especially with Taurasi: Even in lesser years, these wines reward patience. They are always worth the wait of at least a few years from release. All the commonplace comparisons with Barolo aren’t hype: They’re based on Aglianico’s inherent ability to evolve in the cellar into an incomparable nectar. Check my old post on last year’s Mastroberardino six-decade vertical, if you need proof of that.
This year, the big news in Aglianico has been the granting of the DOCG to Benevento province’s Aglianico del Taburno, a promotion that many producers see as giving a boost to the prestige of Aglianco and its wines all through Campania. Such a lift would certainly be justified: Benevento has been producing lovely Aglianicos (and most at quite reasonable prices) for some time now. They have a different style from Avellino’s Aglianicos – softer, more giving, less austere in their youth, but with immediately recognizable Aglianico flavors.
My impression is that most of them won’t be as long-lived as Irpinia Aglianico or, especially, as Taurasi. But I might be wrong about that: Certainly both the ’09 Villa Matilde Falerno del Massico Rosso and ’07 Falerno del Massico Rosso Vigna Camarato that I tasted in Avellino seemed ready to live for many more years, so who knows what the potential is in any of Campania’s provinces? These are very much zones in development, and they have years – if not decades – of excitement and discovery before them.