Archive for the ‘Basilicata’ Category

Every April, the increasingly important Campania Stories, an event presenting new releases of a great many Campanian winemakers, convenes in Naples. This year, it grew a new appendage, a day devoted to Basilicata Stories.

This is to my mind a very promising development: I think the south of Italy is making some of the most exciting wines in the whole realm of wine, and it needs to find a way to make its case to the world. An event like this, which could bring together all the wonderful produce of Italia meridionale, may be just the venue it needs.

Basilicata, for those unfamiliar with Italian geography, is the province at the bottom of the Italian peninsula, jammed in between Puglia to the east, Campania to the northwest, and Calabria to the southwest. If Puglia is the shank and heel of the Italian boot, and Calabria the toe, then Basilicata is the instep – and like insteps everywhere, it doesn’t get much attention. I hope that will be changing soon.

The event in Naples presented 45 wines from 18 producers in its blind tasting. Almost three-quarters of the wines were red, vinified in large part from Primitivo and Aglianico, with a very small admixture of Merlot and Cabernet sauvignon. Most of the Primitivo wines originated in the eastern end of Basilicata, where the terroir and the grapes seem to be almost a continuation of Puglia. Aglianico is far and away the most important and most widely planted variety in the region, with Aglianico del Vulture Superiore, Basilicata’s only DOCG, pre-eminent.

This has been so for a long time. I remember visiting Rionero in Vulture decades ago, when it was a sleepy country town,* and the only winemakers of note in the area were Donato d’Angelo and, to a lesser extent, Paternoster; and the only wine of distinction in Basilicata was Aglianico del Vulture. The Monte Vulture that lends its name to the zone and appellation is a long-dormant, probably extinct, volcano, high and windy – so windy, that, as I recall, Aglianico vines were grown very close to the ground and surrounded by little teepees of reeds around which the vines could twine and shelter the grapes.

I haven’t been back, but I suspect that is probably no longer the case. There are certainly many more producers now than there were then, and many more Aglianico appellations. Much has no doubt changed about the fieldwork with Aglianico, and this Naples tasting certainly showed that the wine, already fine back then, has gotten even better.

Basilicato Aglianico differs greatly from Campanian versions of the wine. Different clones and different soils yield a softer version of this great red wine: the same luscious black-cherryish fruit, and the same fine acid/tannin balance, but in its youth Aglianico from Basilicata is gentler on the palate, a little softer and more welcoming. It lacks the austerity of Taurasi, and it may – I’m not sure – lack Taurasi’s aging ability, but it retains all its complexity and interest. I found the samples I tasted delightful, especially those of the 2011 vintage, which were remarkably fresh and pleasing. Here is a short list of the Basilicata Aglianicos that pleased me most:

  • Cantina di Venosa Aglianico del Vulture Verbo 2015
  • Cantine del Notaio Aglianico del Vulture La Firma 2013
  • Cantine del Notaio Aglianico del Vulture Il Sigillo 2011
  • Colli Cerentino Aglianico del Vulture Masqito 2011
  • D’Angelo Casa Vinicola Aglianico del Vulture Caselle 2012
  • Elena Fucci Aglianico del Vulture Titolo 2016
  • Lagala Aglianico del Vulture Aquila del Vulture 2011
  • Lagala Aglianico del Vulture Massaron Riserva 2009
  • Lagala Aglianico del Vulture Nero degli Orsini 2011
  • Lagala Basilicata Rosso Maddalena 2016
  • Carmelitano Musto Aglianico del Vulture Pian del Moro 2013
  • Ripanera Basilicata Rosso Sansavino 2016

Only some of these wines – those in red – are at present imported into the US, but I suspect that will be changing as attention begins to be paid to this important variety and to the whole zone.

I’m not sure I can say the same about Basilicata’s Primitivo wines. Although I found many of them charming, these wines are so overshadowed by the better-known and better-distributed Primitivi coming from Puglia that I fear it will take them a good while to break into the American market. For their sake, and for the consumer’s sake, I hope I’m wrong.

* * *

*  Purely personal history: It was around 1980 when Diane and I visited Donato d’Angelo, and Diane was gawked at along the whole length of the main street of Rionero as probably the tallest woman ever seen there. She then created what seemed to be the scandal of the year by entering the café with us boys and having an espresso at the bar. The times they have a-changed, especially in the Italian south.

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On the day of our heaviest snowstorm so far this year, the annual New York presentation and tasting of Tre Bicchieri award-winning wines took place just about half a mile from where I live.


So I slogged through the flying snow and the street-corner slush to take advantage of what I hoped would be a sparse crowd and a lot of idle winemakers, thus allowing me to actually taste some wines. For the first hour, I was right, and I did have the opportunity to taste some remarkable wines – but then the storm let up and the hordes came in, and my chances for thoughtful tasting ended. I’m happy for all those hard-working winemakers that the Tre Bicchieri tasting is such a popular event, but as a hard-working journalist I do most seriously wish there was some better way to experience and evaluate these wines.

But you’ve heard that lament from me before, and are probably quite tired of it now. Besides, the key thing about this particular tasting is how many top-flight Italian wines it gathers in one room, and I don’t want to let the circumstances of the tasting obscure that. My palate and the collective palate of the Tre Bicchieri judges don’t always agree 100%, but those guys sure get an awful lot right, so a collection of almost 200 top-ranked wines amounts to an event to pay serious attention to, no matter how many people you have to elbow aside to do it.

Not that even under the best circumstances I could manage to taste all 200 in one afternoon, but I did my best to get to a reasonable assortment of old-favorite, regular prize winners and some of the new kids on the block. I was impressed by everything I tasted, without exception. I don’t get the chance to say that often, so let me repeat it: Every single wine I tasted that snowy afternoon deserved its Tre Bicchieri designation. Here are the ones I tried: first reds, then whites.




From Basilicata

Re Manfredi’s Aglianico del Vulture Manfredi 2013, a wonderful example of a grape I love

From Piedmont

Elvio Cogno’s Barolo Bricco Pernice 2011, another masterpiece from winemaker Valter Fissore

Bruno Giacosa’s Barbaresco Asili Riserva 2011, one of Barbaresco’s finest crus, beautifully rendered

Elio Grasso’s Barolo Ginestra Casa Maté 2012, benchmark Barolo, as always from this estate

Giacomo Fenocchio’s Barolo Bussia 90 Dì Riserva 2010, macerated 90 days on the skins, with consequent depth and intensity

Oddero’s Barolo Bussia Vigneto Mondoca Riserva 2010, a classic Barolo of a great vintage

Vietti’s Barolo Ravera 2012, a lovely, beautifully balanced wine with potentially great longevity (and I also liked Vietti’s very nice but not prize-winning Barbera d’Asti La Crena 2013)

From Sicily

Palari’s Faro Palari 2012, year after year the best red wine made in Sicily, in my opinion (and the 2012 Rosso del Soprano is right on its tail in quality: It got Due Bicchieri)

Planeta’s Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico Dorilli 2014, a lovely light-bodied wine, refreshing and vigorous

From Tuscany

Boscarelli’s Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Il Nocio 2012, as always an elegant, complex wine

Castellare di Castellina’s I Sodi di San Niccolò 2012, graceful and lovely Sangiovese from winemaker Alessandro Cellai

Castello di Volpaia’s Chianti Classico Riserva 2013, medium-bodied, perfectly balanced, with the elegance that always marks Volpaia

Il Marroneto’s Brunello Madonna delle Grazie 2011, as always from this remarkable cru and maker, a very great wine

Mastroianni’s Brunello Vigneto Schiena d’Asino 2010, maybe the best Tuscan wine at this gathering of greats

Ricasoli’s Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Colledilà 2013, a luscious, juicy wine that drinks far too easily

Terenzi’s Morellino di Scansano Madrechiesa Riserva 2013, very young Sangiovese, with this maker’s trademark balance and elegance

From the Veneto

Allegrini’s Amarone 2012, already big and textured

Bertani’s Amarone 2008 and 2009, both still young and evolving, with great depth and the promise of decades of life

Masi’s Amarone Vaio Armaron Serègo Alighieri 2011, a stunning wine from a great site

Speri’s Amarone Vigneto Monte Sant’ Urbano 2012, another fine example of what seems to be a great year for Amarone

Tenuta Sant’Antonio’s Amarone Campo dei Gigli 2012, an infant Hercules


I doubt anyone is surprised by the fact that Italy is producing so many fine red wines, but for me the best news of the day was how superior so many white wines showed themselves to be. Every single one I tasted had distinct varietal flavors joined to genuine goût de terroir. This for me was the most fun of the afternoon, and I kept switching from big reds to whites of every kind to keep my palate fresh. (It worked for a couple of hours, then I gave out.)


From Alto Adige

Abbazia di Novacella’s Valle Isarco Sylvaner Praepositus 2015, a stunning, fresh, and vigorous wine from a grape of usually no great distinction, this year slightly better than the Abbazia’s normally superb Kerner Praepositus

Produttori San Michele Appiano’s Pinot Grigio St. Valentin 2014, high-altitude, rounder than usual PG – a real dinner wine

Produttori Valle Isarco’s Sylvaner Aristos 2015 – this seems to have been Sylvaner’s year; a lovely, lively wine

From Campania

Marisa Cuomo’s Costa d’Amalfi Furore Bianco 2015, a lovely, fragrant dinner wine coaxed from postage stamp-sized terraced vineyards along the steep Amalfi coast

Fontanavecchia’s Falanghina del Sannio Taburno 2015, lovely, characteristic Falanghina, invigorating and lively

Pietracupa’s Greco di Tufo 2015, medium-bodied and deeply flavored, with strong mineral accents, a fine wine, almost as good, in my opinion, as the same maker’s Fiano di Avellino, which didn’t get Tre Bicchieri

From Friuli Venezia Giulia

Livio Felluga’s Bianco Illivio 2014, a masterful blend of Pinot bianco, Chardonnay, and the native Picolit, sapid and intriguing

Primosic’s Collio Ribolla Gialla di Oslavia Riserva 2012, one of the briefly fashionable orange wines, but better than simple fashion: intense, distinctive, rich, and with the right food incomparable

Russiz Superiore’s Collio Friulano 2015, a lovely medium-bodied, deeply flavored (hints of almond) example of Friuli’s native grape

Torre Rosazza’s Pinot Grigio 2015, what PG used to be, fresh, vigorous, almost rambunctious

From Lazio

Casale del Giglio’s Antium Bellone 2015, distinctive, flavorful wine from an almost disappeared variety that merits preservation (Charles Scicolone has written about this estate here)

From the Marches

Cocci Grifoni’s Offida Pecorino Guido Cocci Grifoni 2013, a lovely wine from a variety that had been in danger of disappearing

Velenosi’s Offida Pecorino Rêve 2014, another fine example of the same grape variety, medium-bodied and mouth-filling; very enjoyable

From Sardinia

Vigne Surrau’s Vermentino di Gallura Superiore Sciala 2015, textbook Vermentino, fresh and bracing

From Sicily

Cusumano’s Etna Bianca Alta Mora 2014, capturing beautifully the volcanic nuances of Etna’s slopes

Tasca d’Almerita’s Sicilia Carricante Buonora Tascante 2015, a very characteristic version of Etna’s great white grape

From the Veneto

Pieropan’s Soave Classico La Rocca 2014, always the finest cru from this consistently great producer

Graziano Prà’s Soave Classico Staforte 2014, one of many excellent cru Soaves from this producer, all fresh, enjoyable and very age-worthy


There were many more wines to taste, but I had about reached my limit for tasting accurately and for elbowing, so I trudged my way back home through the remnants of the snow storm. I wish I had had the capacity for more, because I’m sure there were more discoveries to be made and reported on. Ars longa, vita brevis. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Non sum qualis eram, etc. You get the idea: I’d do more for you if I could, but . . .



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The far south of Italy is a treasury of native grape varieties, especially noble reds. Puglia offers Primitivo, now famous as a kissing cousin of Zinfandel, as well as the still relatively unknown Negroamaro. Basilicata presents the long-aging, structured Aglianico del Vulture, a very close relative of the grape that makes the deservedly much-honored Taurasi of Campania.

As guests of the American importer Frederick Wildman and the Italian company GIV (Gruppo Italiano Vini) earlier this month, five American journalists and sommeliers made a trip as much in time as in space, from the baroque urbanity of Lecce in Puglia to the rural beauty of the countryside outside Venosa in Basilicata. Both places are time-stopped: Lecce is a jewel of 17th-century architecture, and Basilicata possesses an archetypal rural landscape. It is still referred to by its residents as Lucania, its name since pre-Roman times. That’s what the Roman poet Horace, who was born there, called it, and if Lucania was good enough for Horace, it’s good enough for me. I suspect the rolling, vineyard-dotted landscape of its high, volcanic plateau still looks much as it did to his eyes, and I’m certain that the roads are no better – maybe worse – than they were under imperial Roman rule.

Basilicata: autumnal vineyards in the foreground; evergreen olives behind (Photos courtesy of Odila Galer-Noel)

But I’m getting ahead of myself: Puglia first.

An easy drive out of Lecce on the road to Taranto lies the sprawling Castello Monaci estate, approximately 375 acres of vineyards and ancient olive trees. It’s a real castle, and a big one. It started life as a monastery – hence “Castle of the Monks” – became a serious castle, and is now reincarnating itself as a glamorous agriturismo and event space. Its line of basic wines, however, is anything but upscale in price, even though all offer a very respectable level of quality. If you’re looking for value wines, wines that are as easy on your wallet as they are on your palate, Castello Monaci gives you a whole spectrum of choices, all priced at a very comfortable $13.

  • Simera (Salento IGT) is a nice blend of Chardonnay and the native Verdeca – good fruit, a little heavy on Chardonnay-tropical-fruit flavors (this is a warm, sunny land) but soft and pleasing and a fine companion to fish and spicy antipasti. All the Castello Monaci wines in fact showed as very food-friendly, so you can take that as a given.
  • Kreos (Salento IGT) blends mostly Negroamaro with a bit of Malvasia nera to make a surprisingly successful dry and elegant rosé. I hadn’t expected such delicacy from grapes that are normally power hitters.
  • Maru (Salento IGT) highlights Negroamaro (100%) in its dark guise – black cherry and tobacco in the aroma and the mouth, with good structure. The 2008 tasted very young – drinkable, but sure to improve with a little age.
  • Liante (Salice Salentino DOC) mixes 80% Negroamaro with 20% Malvasia nera to make a slightly fuller and rounder wine than the Maru, one that will take to stronger foods with equanimity.
  • Pilùna (Salento IGT) is all Primitivo, with a very Zinfandel-like brambly nose, juicy blackberry/mulberry fruit, and a slight, enjoyable prickle in the mouth – straightforward, good, and fun.

Over in Basilicata – not very far as the crow flies but a few hours as the road curves – the Re Manfredi estate is presided over by the affable and accomplished Nunzio Capurso, who was for years managing director of Melini, GIV’s Chianti giant, as well as directly responsible for its top Tuscan wine, the splendid Chianti Classico Riserva Selvanella. Now, in addition to winemaking at Re Manfredi, he is still president of the Chianti Consorzio and vice president of the Chianti Classico Consorzio – so this is a significant, experienced Northern winemaker who is now indulging his deep passion for Aglianico, a wine he refers to as “the Barolo of the south.”

I couldn’t agree with him more. Aglianico – the vine dispersed northward by Roman legions – may well be the ancestor of both Nebbiolo and Syrah, though the evidence is far from complete. I’ve loved Aglianico for years, both in its Campanian versions (Taurasi, Falerno rosso) and as Aglianico del Vulture. In both guises, I believe it’s one of the greatest of the noble red grapes, capable of wines of the amazing depth, complexity, and longevity – so for me it was a delight to find a northern winemaker whose work I deeply respect so excited by Aglianico.

Nunzio Capurso at the ready

We were visiting on November 13, and the harvest had finished only a few days before – “Here we have always the latest harvest in Italy, because of our very cool nights,” Capurso said. That very long growing season, with its great day-to-night temperature shifts, is what lets the Aglianico grape reach its richest, most aromatic maturity. Capurso had prepared half a dozen wines to demonstrate that.

  • Aglianico del Vulture DOC 2005, from 20- to 30-year-old vines. A stemmy and earthy nose; on the palate, good dark fruit with abundant soft tannins, and a long, tobacco finish. Very good but very young: You can drink it now, but it will be even better in three or four years. “In a minimum of ten years, this wine will be at its best,” Capurso says.
  • Aglianico del Vulture DOC Serpara 2001. Serpara originates from a small, high vineyard of older vines, always hand-harvested and vinified and aged separately. Although still evolving, the 2001 is already quite complex, its dry plum fruit marked with significant minerality – very, very fine. This will easily be a 20-year wine.
  • Serpara 2003: showing more fruit in the nose and the palate, also more tannin and less acid. More forward and readier than 2001.
  • Serpara 2004: excellent dark fruit and tobacco flavors – a lovely, complex vintage. This one can evolve and improve for another decade and easily last a decade beyond that.
  • Serpara 2005: tobacco/mineral/blackberry nose; good soft fruit, a trifle closed; nice acid/tannin balance. Still fine, though not as complex as ’04, and easier to drink now.
  • Serpara 2006: In the aroma, tobacco first, then black fruit. On the palate, dark, berry-ish fruit, soft and round; well balanced and gentle but still big – another wine to cellar.

Cellaring is the key to Aglianico. It’s a grape that really reflects harvest differences and that needs time to bring all its components into balance – not a wine for the casual quaffer, but one for the serious wine drinker who prizes excellence and has the patience to wait for it. For their quality, these wines are also bargains – $39 for the basic Aglianico, $42 for the single-vineyard Serpara.

These are what I think of as true collectable wines – not for investment (much as I revere Aglianico, I doubt it will ever attract the big-money boys: thank whatever gods may be!) but for the kind of appreciation that only your palate can collect. Put some bottles of ’01 or ’04 or ’06 Serpara away and forget you have them for ten years: then open one with dinner and congratulate yourself on how shrewd you are and what a great investment you made.

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