March 17-Aglianico

This week, I decided to select a wine variety that is still fairly uncommon but gaining popularity. Its presence in wine shops has been on the rise over the last 10 or so years as it has really started to be understood by growers. This is remarkable considering that, according to Denis Dubourdieu, a professor at the University of Bordeaux, “Aglianico is probably the grape with the longest consumer history of all”, as it was farmed by Phoenicians and drank by the Romans (it was known as Elenico until the 15th century, when its name was changed to its current moniker). Aglianico was virulent across the Campania region (near Naples) of Italy. This changed when phylloxera infested Europe in the 1860s. Just as with Carmenere, Aglianico was brought to the brink of extinction, mainly surviving in remote areas. Thanks, in part, to the Mastroberardino family, Aglianico was brought back. In my reading for this post, I continued to see it regarded in the same way as Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, one of the three major red wine grapes in Italy.

I didn’t start doing any reading on this variety until I sat down to write this blog. It was quite fortuitous the bottle I selected was produced by the aforementioned Mastroberardino family. Their viticulture history stretches back to the mid 1700s (10 generations ago!). The family continued to expand land holdings in the early 20th century until the wine industry started to decline as a result of the great depression. Following this, the Facist regime took over Italy in the 1930s. This political shift resulted in the loss of the American wine market. Then came World War II. When all was said and done, vineyards were decimated from neglect and war. Some still had not even recovered from phylloxera. It was with Antonio, of the 9th generation, that assumed the immense challenge of restoring the vineyard to its previous glory. He began this venture by replanting the vines ruined by phylloxera with native varieties such as Aglianico. Then he began purchasing quality plots of land, which included Irpinia, where my bottle originated!  I could say this winery is a quaint family owned endeavor, but in reality, Mastroberardino controls a vast amount of vineyard land in this area. Some are opposed to this level of ownership, while some appreciate the devotion to the native grapes they have continued to cultivate over the years. It is this devotion that has partly lead to me drinking this glass tonight, and me locating a bottle of an almost obscure Fiano last week. These grapes could’ve been forgotten in favor of new international varieties like Chardonnay or Merlot but Antonio saw the importance of continuing to propagate traditional varieties so they could be enjoyed for further generations.

That brings me to my favorite part, the tasting!! This clear, medium ruby wine has some watery legs but nothing too viscous. When I poured it while making dinner, I could instantly catch notes of ash and clay. Those smells were followed by pomegranate, red currant, and licorice. This dry wine is high in acid, medium high tannin, a moderate level of alcohol (13%), but feels full bodied on the palate. It has flavors of fresh cranberry, red cherry, and ash that evolve into dark chocolate, and nutmeg that linger as the wine gradually fades. Overall, this wine was a good value for $20 at my local wine shop! While it wasn’t the best pairing for my fish tacos tonight (I did not plan ahead this week!), it would’ve been much nicer with some osso bucco, carne asada or portobello mushrooms steaks. Just so I don’t miss out on pairing opportunities, I’m going to grab a piece of cheddar for dessert! Also, because of the high levels of acid and tannin in this wine, it would be a great variety to store in your temperature controlled cellar for 10 or more years! I just bought a bottle from a rare Eastern Washington producer that recommends aging it up to 40 years!!

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