There are many things to learn about it but let’s begin with how you pronounce Aglianico in Italian! It’d be ay·glee·aa·nuh·kow. Once we clear that out, let’s meet our Aglianico. In this post, you’ll get to see Aglianico from 4 dimensions: history, vineyard, winemaking and tasting, and find some food pairing suggestions.
It’s known that Aglianico was brought to the south of Italy by Greek settlers. However, when it comes to the origin of the name of Aglianico, there are different hypotheses with controversial ideas. One of the hypotheses is that it is derived from the name (vitis) Hellenica which means Greek vine. Another one is that it comes from the union of two Greek words, aglaos means clear and aglaio means splendor, since it’s a bright ruby wine. Finally, the recent hypothesis is that the name derives from again the Greek word agluco means without sugar, which also coincides perfectly with the peculiar astringent character of Aglianico wines. All in all, all these opinions end up showing the importance and noble history of the presence of Aglianico in Italy, which dates back to the fifteenth century. Final words on the history should be the ones of Denis Dubourdieu (renown French winemaker and professor of oenology who passed away last year): “Aglianico might be the grape with the longest consumer history of all.”
In the vineyard
You can find Aglianico grown mostly in the Italian vineyards, both in Basilicata and Campania regions. Aglianico del Vulture DOC and Aglianico del Vulture DOCG from Basilicata, Taurasi and Taurasi riserva DOCG are the most famous appellations to look for.
Outside of Italy, you can also find Aglianico. It loves dry regions and sunshine. For example, I found it in Napa, California. After working with this grape variety for the season, it was clear that Aglianico isn’t an easy grape to grow; it buds early but ripens late. It means it needs a lot of time, patience and special attention to obtain fully ripe and healthy bunches. Under adverse weather conditions, or with early picking or high yielding, you’ll end up with a highly tannic Aglianico harvest.
With perfectly matured and healthy Aglianico grapes, and applying correct techniques at the cellar, it’s easy to make wines with a good aging capacity thanks to its high acidity and phenolic compound content. Due to high tannin content, most Aglianico wines are aged at least a couple of years before they are released to the market. The wines under appellations have different rules for minimum aging requirements. Those wines generally can be aged easily ten to twenty years.
However, if you end up making mistakes or having a difficult year in the vineyard, Aglianico will give you hard times in the winery. If the grapes don’t reach the phenolic maturity, some producers choose to make rosé wines with low skin contact. Crisp acidity of Aglianico helps to make promising rosé wines.
If you buy a wine from Aglianico, prepare yourself to meet its full body, high tannin, and high acidity with complex aromas of red fruits, earthy and chocolatey notes. In each terroir it’s grown, you’ll find different expressions of this variety, especially thriving in the volcanic soils of Taurasi and Aglianico del Vulture.
When it comes to food pairing with Aglianico, make sure to choose a rich food that can handle all the characteristics that we talked about. We can all agree that high tannins of this variety call for red meat. But if you don’t eat meat or would like to try something different, think about a mushroom dish with a béchamel sauce or a risotto with shiitake mushrooms. Umami flavour and earthy aromas from mushroom, and fattiness from the sauce will make a good food pairing for Aglianico.
Make sure to leave some space in your cellar for Aglianico wines to age and enjoy when the time comes.
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