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An ancient wine, new to us

"The real magic of Aglianico appears to the patient." Wine Folly

To go with our Crème de cassis pork ribs we drank a bottle of wine - well not the whole bottle - that David found in his 'cellar'. We think a friend must have brought it, but apologies to whoever it was, we do not remember who. But thank you very much. It was delicious and today I have found that it was a perfect match. Wine Folly says of it:


"Aglianico will make your richest barbecue beef brisket taste even better" Wine Folly


It wasn't beef brisket, but it was of a piece with all of the other rich and barbecued meats they mentioned. So maybe one of David's stars for the dish should go to the wine.

But first of all that grape that we did not know - Aglianico. Technical stuff all shown on this chart that Wine Folly does. And to add to that that I checked in my Journey Through Wine book that my son gave me, where it was barely mentioned. At the back of the book there is a very long list of grapes used for wine in descending order of production. By long I mean at least a hundred. Aglianico did not figure on it, although they did mention the grape here and there, but when I started investigating I found more than one site stating that Italy, where the bulk of it is grown considers it one of their top three - the other two being Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. What about Trebbiano, Montepulciano and Barber, not to mention Prosecco? Interesting in itself and possibly worth a look sometime.


Still on the technical points it is a wine that tastes better the older it gets and you can keep it for at least ten years. When young it can be tannic and acidic.


"well-made Aglianico wines really don’t start to come into their best until 10 or so years of age. The time softens the wine's firm tannic structure and enamel-removing acidity revealing lush layers of sweetened fruit and dried floral aromas intermixed with dusty and spiced smoke savory flavors." Wine Folly


Other words that were bandied around a lot were leathery, earthy, plum, cherry, white pear and pepper. And on Wine Folly's scale of darkness of colour in red wines - it was almost the darkest.


Anyway it is grown in the south which perhaps is why it is less well-known. The south is poor and ignored, and many would say rife with the Mafia, ignorance and backwardness. The vast majority of production is from Campania and Basilicata - from whence 'our' wine came. Basilicata is one of the very poorest and least inhabited areas in the whole of Italy. It also has a lot of volcanoes, whose soils are perfect for growing vines. Although even here the winds of change are blowing.


However, it is also a somewhat mysterious wine/grape. I have seen it said that it is the oldest grape to be made into wine - but that was in Georgia (or Armenia) and they certainly don't have it there. Maybe they just mean the oldest to be made commercially. It is commonly said to have originated in Ancient Greece from whence comes its name - a corruption of 'hellenica' - the latin for Greek vine. From there it was taken to the south of Italy. I found this story time after time, however, it now appears that DNA testing has shown no connection to any Greek vines, which I suppose still leaves it open to it having disappeared from Greece, become extinct. So maybe not as old as the ancient Greeks, but there seems to be more evidence of it in Ancient Rome with Pliny declaring: "It is the only wine that takes light when a flame is applied to it" Well not quite. This is apparently all dependent on the work of a very famous oenologist - Denis Dubordieu who maintained that it was the basis of a Roman wine called Falernian wine - the one that Pliny is referring to. But this was a white wine - and a very strong one at that - wine won't catch fire unless it has an alcohol content of at least 40%. Now I know that you can make white wine from dark grapes - well I think you can, but still ...


I don't quite understand why they think Falernian wine was made from aglianico because the name does not actually appear until 1520 as 'aglioniche'. Go figure. What we can say is that DNA shows that it doesn't seem to be descended from any other grape. It's its own thing. Unique.


However, it does seem to have clung to Italy alone which means that many think that it is native to Italy and specifically to the south. And that is possibly why they think it came from Ancient Greece, because the Greeks did settle there for a while - and the name definitely has a Greek sound. Although it could also be from the Spanish (they also occupied southern Italy for a time) 'Plano' which means 'plains' - a grape grown on the plains?


This is the grape - it's very dark and thick-skinned and ripens late in the season. Sometimes it is picked as late as November in Italy. It likes to be up high on the volcanic slopes and it also loves the sun and dry weather, which makes it a contending wine for climate change conditions. If it's picked too early those tannic qualities can dominate.


Today it is now being grown in the USA and also here in Australia with the regions of the Barasso, McLaren Vale, Heathcote and Beechworth being the main contenders so far. The grapes were brought here in 1998 by the Chalmers family, who first planted it in Euston, but then moved to Heathcote. Sutton Grange in Bendigo now has the oldest Aglianico vines in Australia - not that old though - 2004. Other names that were mentioned were Somos and Spinifex. So watch out for it, though you won't yet find it in Dan's.

So what about our bottle? This is it - a lovely wine and an elegant bottle that tapers slightly to its base and has a very elegant, simple and discreet logo. It is the Basilicata version from the region around the Vulture volcano - now extinct fortunately, but whose mineral heavy soils are perfect for the grape. It is a top region with a DOC appellation - for Aglianico del Vulture.


As to the vineyard/makers - Vigneti del Vulture this is a little bit more confusing. There is a website for Vigne del Vulture which does have one section called Vigneti del Vulture, but I won't give you the link because, for reasons which I shall come to, apart from the website being exclusively in Italian, and not saying much, and I think it is actually dead.

Why? Well it seems that the vineyard was originally a co-operative, but in spite of having excellent vines in this tough but productive area, they were not able to make a go of it economically. Then in 2009 it was taken over by the Fantini Group which although centralised in terms of overall research, marketing, etc. etc. in Abruzzo has over time acquired boutique wineries throughout Italy, and now Spain. They have a team of 21 young winemakers who spend periods in each winery in the collection. It seems to be a very successful and interesting company - founded by three friends. And Vigneti del Vulture is one of their collection. I believe it also grows Greco and Fiano grapes and produces another Aglianico as well. And did I mention that it's all organic?


So there you go - a grape to keep an eye on. We probably drank ours too young - it was a 2017 vintage, but getting there. I couldn't possibly tell you what it tasted of but I was very conscious that it really did go very well with the ribs of pork. And very coincidentally we had a bottle of Fiano recently too but I don't remember much about that.

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