Aglianico is often mentioned as Italy´s third most noble red variety after Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, but what does this actually mean and what can we expect from this less well-known variety?
Like indigenous varieties Nebbiolo and Sangiovese which are strongly connected with their home region (Piemonte and Tuscany respectively), Aglianico holds itself to the Campania and Basilicata regions in the south of Italy. Despite its southern home which generally speaking people often think should be warm, Aglianico ripens extremely slowly and has really high tannins. Piero Mastroberardino explained that their Aglianico vineyards in Campania are located between 400 – 600 metres above sea-level and they are often the last ones to harvest red grapes in Italy, usually in the first week in November. Aglianico needs a long time to ripen to develop flavour compounds and fully ripen the strong tannins. The result however is worth the wait, and the best Aglianico Riserva wines can age successfully for 50 years or more – as proven by the legendary 1968 vintage.
Aglianico´s fruit characteristics and palate feel is very different from Nebbiolo and Sangiovese. The black fruit tends to be really quite dense and concentrated, always with a fresh lick of acidity, a backbone of stony minerality, and very firm dense chalky yet ripe tannins which seem to box-in the fruit. When the wine is young, blackberries, blueberries and aronia berries dominate with hints of violets. As the wine ages (and this takes time!) the wine opens up to reveal more plums, violets, savoury earthy notes, forest floor spice and tobacco. With the top wines (riservas) you really need to decant them and let them air for a couple of hours if you are going to access more of the complexity and enjoy them at their best. “Young” actually means possibly already 7 – 8 years old, and I would possibly still air a 15 – 20 yr old Taurasi Riserva in the same way.
Aglianico grows best in a combination of volcanic and clay soils, and this helps emphasize the backbone of stoney minerality as well as the smokey notes that are sometimes found in these wines.
An important aspect for the winemaker is not just to have fully ripe grapes, but also entails careful extraction of tannins by extended maceration. This means that the fermentation lasts possibly 24 – 30 days during which time the grape skins and juice enjoy a long bath together while extracting the deep colour, the flavours and tannins. Following the fermentation, Piero Mastroberardino explained that their Radici Riserva Taurasi Aglianico spend approx. 30 months in a combination of used large and small (barrique) made from Slovenian oak casks. This process of micro-oxygenation through oak ageing is essential to help soften the tannins. This process is then followed by approx. 5 years of bottle ageing prior to release to the market. The current release of the Radici Riserva is the 2014 vintage.
Vertical tasting of the 1998, 2007, 2012, and 2014 vintages
Wine: Mastroberardino Radici Riserva DOCG (100% Aglianico)
This is the flagship wine of Mastroberardino
Medium deep ruby with garnet rim. Cool savoury fruit. Aromatic with lavender, forest floor, cinnamon, spice, black plums. On the Palate: Fresh acidity, light mineral backbone. Poised and elegant expression with fruit in background and well-balanced structure. Medium body and 13.5% abv.
Still quite high fine-grained tannins yet resolving and well-integrated with the fruit. Lingering finish with intense plum, cinnamon and forest floor.
Incredible to think this is now 22 years old!
Drinking well now, but will hold another 5 – 10 yrs or more
Deep ruby colour with slight garnet rim
Aromatic Violets, black cherries, plums, forest floor, spice, stony flinty note.
Palate: Fresh acidity. Fruit feels quite tight (blackberries, aronia berries), black chocolate. Tannins still resolving but well-integrated into the fruit. 13.5% abv tobacco, eucalyptus, balsamic, very savoury with firm high chalky tannins and long lingering finish.
Very firm structure – a little like really pure dark chocolate.
Drinking very well now but will continue to age further during the next 10 – 15 years or more. Excellent wine
Deep ruby colour.
More fruit focused (plums, aronia berries, blackberries) savoury gamey tones, cinnamon and earth.
Palate: fresh acidity, 14% abv. – richer and more fruity style with core of ripe black fruit, stony minerality and high chalky tannins. Blackberries, liquorice and earth on the long finish. Lovely balance between the freshness of the fruit and the chalky minearlity
This feels like an earlier drinking version. Drinking well now but will continue to age and develop during the next 15 – 20 years or more. Decant for 2 hours prior to serving.
Deep ruby colour.
Youthful fruit and stony mineral expression. Lifted rosemary, black plums, black cherries, blueberries and balsamic. High and very firm chalky tannins. Needs time to open up – this requires food to be enjoyed at its best and sufficient decanting. After 30 mins airing in the glass it became more accessible. Dense and concentrated fruit and long finish.
Can drink now, however will continue to evolve over the next 20 – 30 years or more.