I tend to root for the underdog… Maybe it was years of growing up with the Red Sox and the pre-Belichick Patriots that firmly ingrained this attitude… I follow a similar track with wine, supporting those lesser-known, underdog regions and grapes. Not too many years ago, Aglianico was certainly one of those grapes and Aglianico del Vulture in Basilicata was clearly a lesser-known region. Fast forward a few years and Aglianico is fast becoming the little darling of Italian wine.
The Aglianico grape is a dark-skinned, small berry grape that is found primarily in the southern hills of Italy. Aglianico is a grape that is native to Greece and was brought to Italy by colonizing Greeks before the time of Roman domination. The grape is late ripening, with harvests extending into October and November. Under the right conditions, Aglianico displays tremendous potential, even rivalling the exalted wines of Nebbiolo and Brunello. Those conditions include being planted in the high altitude vineyards on the slopes of the now dormant volcano, Mount Vulture. The volcanic soils, sunny exposures and strong diurnal patterns all combine to produce fruit that is well balanced with great depth of flavor and complexity. When yields are closely managed, the result is truly amazing wine.
When I look for Aglianico, I head straight for Aglianico del Vulture. There are other areas that recognize the power of the grape (Taurasi in Campania, for example), but the grape possesses magical qualities when grown on volcanic slopes. Aglianico del Vulture achieved DOC status in 1971 and in 2011 was finally awarded the coveted DOCG honor. It is the only DOCG in Basilicata, its larger parent region.
Grifalco is a producer of Aglianico del Vulture that is owned by a former Tuscan wine family, the Piccins. The Piccins decided that Basilicata has better potential for fine wine than Tuscany… That is saying a lot…
They produce three wines from the region: “Gricos,” “Grifalco,” and “Damaschito.” The Gricos is a 100% Aglianico produced from four different vineyards with an average vine age of 15 years. The wine is purposefully made to be more forward and drinkable younger. Production is limited to 2500 cases. The Damaschito is a single vineyard bottling where the average vine age is 40 years old. Extended maceration and long term aging in Slavonian oak makes for an age-worthy, impressively flavored wine. Production is again limited to 2500 cases.
The Grifalco is considered their mid-tier wine with grapes sourced from four different vineyards with an average vine age of 30 years. Extended maceration and aging in a combination of stainless steel and medium-size oak barrels translates to a wine with good depth of flavor with moderate aging potential. Production is limited to 2500 cases.
I have not seen the Gricos or Damaschito around the Boston area, but the Grifalco is available and is a stunning example of Aglianico del Vulture, especially at an average bottle price of $15.99 pre-discount. With enough aging potential to warrant buying a case…
My tasting note:
Dark, intense nose with black cherry, cedar, mineral and spice hints. Medium-to-full-bodied with moderate acidity and firm, dry tannin. Well balanced. Black cherry and blackberry palate with vanilla, black pepper and eucalyptus notes. Very seductive. Long, smooth finish with layers of complexity evolving. Awesome example of Aglianico grown on volcanic soils. Drinking well and should improve with 3 to 5 years in bottle. Good value.