As discussed in a recent column, I was very recently in Puglia, Italy, joining an international group of sommeliers, retailers, and media to judge wines at a competition called Radici del Sud to determine the best varietal wines in southern Italy.
Although the opportunity to meet colleagues from around the world and work toward a common goal is enjoyable, I find the biggest value in exercises like these is the chance to dive deep into the nuances of grape varieties that are less common in my day-to-day wine experiences.
One of these varieties encountered, Aglianico—a red grape with solid footing in the regions of Campania and Basilicata, along with smatterings in Puglia—is the crown prince of the region. Jeremy Parzen, of the popular Italian food and wine blog Dobianchi.com, describes the pronunciation best as “ah-L’YEE’AH-nee-koh”. Its mighty structure and flavour profile and many top-tier bottlings have seen it casually dubbed “the Barolo of the south” (whereas cheeky locals have been known to refer to Barolo as “the Aglianico of the north”).
It’s a late ripener that can make for rather tannic wine, bursting with red, purple, and/or black fruit, often with notes of fresh leather, some meaty character, plus a few dried fruits and flowers. Although big and bold, it carries acidity well, and when served with a hint of a chill, it can hit the spot with summertime barbecuing (and, of course, rainy Vancouver nights).
To get a handle on the basics of Aglianico, there are good examples around town that come in at fair prices. Fattoria La Rivolta Aglianico del Taburno 2015 (Campania, $35 to $40, Liberty Wine Merchants and various private stores) ticks all the boxes, while Tormaresca Trentangeli Castel del Monte 2016 (Puglia, $21.99, B.C. Liquor Stores) is a steal that tops things off with a cheery splash each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
When we want to get serious about Aglianico, however, there are two spots where we generally head: Aglianico del Vulture in Basilicata and Taurasi in Campania.
Basilisco “Teodosio” Aglianico del Vulture 2015 (Basilicata, $21.99, or $19.99 through June 29, B.C. Liquor Stores) is a fine example of the pedigree of these wines coming from volcanic soils of the area. They are bright and powerful, with black and purple berry fruit, cloves, and earthy undertones.
Although wines from here can lay down a good handful of years, they’re also good to go right now, particularly with a quick decant before serving.
Villa Matilde Taurasi Tenute di Altavilla 2010 (Campania, $62.99, B.C. Liquor Stores) illustrates why collectors like to put away bottles of the stuff for years, as they evolve into a wine that’s quite graceful while still offering a little oomph.
Before being released from the winery, Aglianico from Taurasi must be aged a minimum of three years, with at least one of those years spent in barrel. Here, fresh-carved roast beef, anise, and violets are well-steeped in sticky black fruit.
Picking up a bottle of various editions can make for a fun dinner party and exploration of the grape’s diversity.
But, of course, I get it. During these summer months, we don’t always want big, red wines.
Coming back across the pond into our own backyard, I’ve just tried a Pinot Blanc that knocked my socks off.
Yes, knocked my socks off.
Sure, Pinot Blanc doesn’t get the critical attention or rampant commercial success like its brethren Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris, but it’s most often damn refreshing, and some examples coming out of British Columbia are among favourites I’ve had from anywhere in the world.
Upper Bench Pinot Blanc 2018 (Okanagan Valley, B.C.; $20.80, Upperbench.ca) is the first taste I’ve had of the variety from this Naramata winery (and creamery, where their fantastic artisan cheeses are also available for ordering on their website). This Pinot Blanc was grown just last summer, which started off well in the region, but then smoke from wildfires and a cool September slowed down the ripening process. While flavours developed and acidity was maintained, the heat rose again in October, allowing ideal ripeness in the fruit. The grapes spent some good time on the vine; the last harvest for this wine was the day before Halloween!
The vintage made for a juicy Pinot Blanc, chock-full of Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, and Granny Smith apples, with a fresh squeeze of yellow grapefruit giving it a little zing. There’s a unique quality to this wine, brought by the addition of four percent Muscat, which brings a little tropical flair to the party, with litchi, guava, and jasmine all at the tail end. A little Muscat goes a long way, and here it’s going the right way. You just may want to add a wedge of Upper Bench King Cole—their semisoft, surface-ripened blue cheese—to your order.