Nunc est bibendum – “Now is the time to drink”
– declares Horace, and we certainly agree, although the verse that follows may not really inspire in this cold and sodden month of January, Nunc pede libero pulsanda tellus – “now is the time to dance footloose upon the earth”. The roman poet Horace was born in Venusia, to us Venosa, in 65 BC, in the southern region of Italy known as Lucania, today’s Basilicata, which is at the “arch of the boot between Puglia’s heel and Calabria’s toe”. Perhaps it was an Aglianico del Vulture that he had in mind when writing those verses, or (however appealing the thought may be) perhaps not!
Most likely, in the 1st century BC, a celebrated poet such as Horace would have been seen enjoying a Falernum, a red wine hailed as one of the best in ancient Rome. Some say though, (one of the theories on how aglianico came to be) that this Roman equivalent of a first growth was perhaps made with ellenico grape, the name itself indicating its presumed Greek provenance. From ellenico to Aglianico, is only a matter of etymology! An interesting new idea comes from Milan University where Aglianico is instead believed to have been a wild vine indigenous to the Italian peninsula, and later discovered by the Greek. According to this theory the name Aglianico derives from the word eilanikos,meaning a “vine that grows up trees”.
Setting aside what could be considered a purely speculative attempt to trace the origins of aglianico, what is certain is that this grape,along with the other two main Italian varieties sangiovese and nebbiolo, is capable of producing “powerful and interesting red wines”. It is also one of the only two DOC wines found in Basilicata. The region is one of Italy’s smallest and least populated, and its reputation of being a poor and harsh place to inhabit, a mountainous impervious land which defies cultivation, dates back centuries. However, in recent years there has been some improvement, and the wine industry, whilst in the hands of a couple of families since the 1920’s, has seen a definite revival. An interesting number of small producers are appearing on the Basilicata’s landscape; Vito Paternoster who runs a long established, and respected family winery in Barile (with Venosa, a centre for the production near the Vulture), comments: ‘In the past, most of the producers in Basilicata just sent wine anonymously to the North, now we’ve got a real reputation for aglianico, and maybe more people will be encouraged to do something on their own’.
The Grifalco della Lucania winery, producers of the Aglianico del Vulture which we have on our wine list, have done just that. Having mastered the complexity of sangiovese during their Tuscan beginnings, they decided to move on and use their knowledge to tame the aglianico’s strong ‘masculine character’, a term used by the sommelier Alessandra Andreani in her informative blog: http://winehippie.blogspot.
Aglianico del Vulture
Aglianico del Vulture is a deeply coloured wine, with exotic and aromatic notes of blackberries, coffee, leather and smoke. The spent volcano Mount Vulture seems to inject a special power into the grapes grown on its soil: they are formed of small berries with thick skin producing wines that are full bodied with plenty of elegant fruit and tannins in their youth. These wines are capable of ageing for a long time, the best of them can easily last 15 or 20 years in a good cellar. Just like a Barolo, to which the Aglianico is often compared, with age it develops in an abundance of complex layering and nuances.