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Cantina di Venosa Aglianico del Vulture Vignali 2000
Named “Oenotria” by the ancient Greeks for its abundance of grapevines, Italy has always had a culture that is virtually inextricable from wine. Wine grapes are grown just about everywhere throughout the country—a long and narrow boot-shaped peninsula extending into the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas. The defining geographical feature of the country is the Apennine Mountain range, extending from Liguria in the north to Calabria in the south. The island of Sicily nearly grazes the toe of Italy’s boot, while Sardinia lies to the country’s west. Climate varies significantly throughout the country, with temperature being somewhat more dependent on elevation than latitude, though it is safe to generalize that the south is warmer. Much of the highest quality viticulture takes place on gently rolling, picturesque hillsides.
Italy boasts more indigenous varieties than any other country—between 500 and 800, depending on whom you ask—and most wine production relies upon these native grapes. In some regions, international varieties have worked their way in, but their use is declining in popularity, especially as younger growers begun to take interest in rediscovering forgotten local specialties. Sangiovese is the most widely planted variety in the country, reaching its greatest potential in parts of Tuscany. Nebbiolo is the prized grape of Piedmont in the northwest, producing singular, complex and age-worthy wines. Other important varieties include Montepulciano, Trebbiano, Barbera, Nero d’Avola, and of course, Pinot Grigio.
Taking its home in the mountainous southern Italian regions of Campania and Basilicata, Aglianico is a bold red variety that needs a long hang time to fully develop and is actually one of the very last of the Italian red varieties to be harvested each year. It often spends until November on the vine and pushing it any faster often leads to rough and untamable tannins.
The name “Aglianico” bears striking resemblance to Ellenico, the Italian word for "Greek," but no evidence shows it having any ancestry in Greece. However, first documentation of its plantings appear around an ancient Greek colony located in the lush hills of present-day Avellino, Campania. It thrives there today as the exclusive variety in the strikingly delicious and age-worthy, red wine called Taurasi. While maybe not as popular as Brunello or Barolo, among Italy’s noble reds, it certainly can boast the same aging potential. Aglianico also has great success in volcanic soils such as those found in Basilicata where it makes the robust Aglianico del Vulture. It is also found scattered throughout vineyards in Calabria, Puglia and Molise.
Producers in Austrailia and California grow Aglianico with success too.
The best Aglianicos are rustic and earthy, deep in color with dried fig, plum, blackberry, black pepper and dark chocolate. Full of fine-grained tannins, Aglianico has good acidity and an intense, lingering finish. Aglianico is fantastic alongside roasted or grilled meats, anything with black truffles and aged cheeses.