The Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) of Aglianico del Vulture is nestled around the most prominent and defining fixture of this extremely southern Italian wine region – Mount Vulture. The term vulture in Italian translates to the English word vulture, and the meaning tends to be more broadly associated with any predatory scavengers, which vultures generally are. The DOC is part of the larger Basilicata region and it is the only area within larger whole that actually produces quality wine.
The history of the region, like most of Italy is about conquest, foreign settlement, annexation, usurpation, upheaval and eventual serenity. The original name for the region was Lucania, which was derived from the very first settlers in the area – the Lucanians. The term Lucania is itself derived from the Latin word for forest, lucus, which is apropos, as the region once possessed dense forests. The Greeks arrived in the 7th Century BC and established several cities and developed a rudimentary agricultural and commercial trading base.
It was in fact the Greeks who planted the very grape from which this wine is made – Aglianico. The name Aglianico is believed to be a bastardization of the term Hellenic, or Greek, by native Italian peoples. No other native grapes grow in the region.
The Romans eventually arrived in the region in about the 3rd Century BC and began a program of deforestation to provide wood for building other colonial cities and the large naval fleet required for further conquest. For hundreds of years the forests were plundered and eventually the land was entirely denuded of any trees. This is not unlike the story of central Spain…
The modern name for the region, Basilicata was given by the Byzantines. Further invasions and the appearance of marauding Saracen pirates eventually forced most of the population into the hills, where agriculture was generally poor, unless you are a grape grower. Grapes thrive where most crops fail and on the rich volcanic soil of Mount Vulture, the Aglianico flourished.
While the region only produces a single DOC wine, from a single grape, the quality of the wine is generally noteworthy, rivaling many of the great wines of northern Italy.
The Bisceglia is a perennial favorite of mine, affordable and with all the wonderful characteristics of classic Aglianico. The wine is fruity, but edgy with an unmistakable dusty stoniness from the calcareous and volcanic clay-loam soil. The grapes are harvested from a single, 21 acre vineyard, Toppo di Viola, which is at approximately 1,250 feet above sea level. The yields in the vineyard are average at 2.8 tons/acre and the vines were originally planted in 2004. The must sees stainless steel fermentation over two weeks at a relatively low temperature (70 °F), which preserves the fresh, vibrant flavors of the fruit. The wine then undergoes full Malolactic fermentation as it ages for another year in stainless steel tanks.
The overall production runs to approximately 100,000 bottles, but careful winemaking and viticultural pedigree suggests a wine of much smaller production levels. Clearly a testament to the power of volcanic soil and sparse hillsides.
My tasting note:
Fruity nose with bright, cherry, violets and lots of wet stone and chalk hints. Medium-bodied with firm acidity and moderate tannin – good balance. Dark fruit palate with sour cherry, tar and anise notes – youthful. Moderate length with a smooth, layered finish – lightly spicy and dusty. Drinking well now – not for aging.
At an average bottle price of $13.99 before the discount, this wine is a very respectable value.