Mar
2009

Vulture

Basilicata

I can’t say I have seen much of Basilicata or Lucania, as it is known locally. It was a very brief visit or better one dinner and a long drive. Now I wish I would have stopped and explored this time forgotten region a little more. Yes it is a poor man’s land. The region has lagged behind most of Italy’s industrialization. Because of its mountainous area, dry and cool climate Basilicata is not best suited for agriculture or tourism. But it is a land of great past for both wine and food. I had pasta in a small town close to Campanias’s border with sweet sausage, chilies and peppers. Maybe because I was driving for almost 6 hours straight and was extremely hungry, but I still remember that bowl of pasta with the glass of Aglianico being one of the best moments of my many travels.


Speaking of Aglianico… Undoubtedly, Aglianico del Vulture is one of the finest wines in the region to which the the DOC mark was assigned in 1971 and requires the wine to be made from 100% Aglianico grapes. For the longest time, I was a huge fan of Campania’s Taurasi Aglianico, but after that trip and of course after numerous tastings here at Babbo, I changed my mind. I think Basilicata’s Aglianico is better. Well…it’s different. It is produced in the zone of Mount Vulture, the very old, now extinct volcano. The volcanic soil gives the wine its rare and greatly appreciated characteristic flavor of smoke, leather, coffee, blackberries, and plenty of tannins in its youth. The vineyards in the area are as high as 2400 feet although the better ones seem to be at 600 to 1800 feet. Most of the vineyards are concentrated on the eastern face of the mountain, there the climate is actually rather cool as the slopes see more of the morning sun and less of the warmer part of the day. The harvests are some of the latest in Italy usually beginning around October 20th or even afterward. This longer, cooler growing season allows the grapes to develop not only physically, but also in great balance and complexity.


According to DOC regulations, the dry table wines come in three types: the regular version is aged for 12 months, the Vecchio is aged for 36 months, and the Riserva which is aged for 60 months before being released. There are also sparkling versions made, both dry and sweet, which must be aged for 12 months, but I haven’t seen those in the States yet.


Vintages do matter here, but not nearly as much as producer. It is very difficult to get good vintage information without trying the wines and making a personal decision. 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001 and 2004 represent some of the best recent vintages that you are likely to encounter. The best of these wines (Vecchio or Riservas) should be aged for at least a few years and can hold up well for ten or 15 years in a cellar and probably longer. The two largest and best known wineries of Basilicata, Paternoster and D’Angelo, both first opened in the 1920’s. These two established producers make very good wines incorporating the modern techniques of winemaking that have swept through the rest of Italy.


Most wine lovers call Aglianico del Vulture the Barolo of the South, because of its similar qualities of earthiness, ability to age, complexity and tannins. However, the Aglianico grape has been cultivated in Basilicata since before Rome even existed, and long before the Celts living in Piedmont knew about wine. Though things get hazy at this point, historians think the grape may have been introduced by the Greeks as Hellenica; the name gradually became Hellanica, and that became Aglianico (pronounced Allianico) sometime in the 15th century. All of this means that the vines have had close to three thousand years to become adapted to their terroir…And they did superbably. Today Aglianico del Vulture is an example of great tradition and one of the most interesting and still undiscovered wines of Italy…