Of Italy’s noble red varietals, Aglianico is one of the oldest; a Sommelier I talked to a number of years ago at Vinitaly told me it has been cultivated for so long its origins are hazy, but historians think it may have been introduced by the Greeks who colonized the south before the rise of the Roman empire. Which means that the vines have had close to three thousand years to become adapted to their terroir; they have done so superbly.
This year at Vinitaly the Regione Campania organized a retrospective of Taurasi and Aglianico from Irpinia, looking at the wines from the 1990s and 2000s. Very nice, providing ample confirmation — as if there was any need — of Aglianico’s ageworthiness, and very interesting too, because the wave of innovation that took place in the 1980s further north took longer to reach central Campania, and as a result we were able to observe the arrival of barriques, which do profoundly influence the wine they contain.
As is usually the case for me, I am not sure that Aglianico really needs the help barriques can offer, and I am happy to say that while they are still fashionable, the pendulum seems to be swinging back.
Enough talk, however: The Wines
Molettieri Salvatore Vigna Cinque Querce Taurasi DOC 1992
Deep almandine with black reflections and almandine rim- The bouquet is bright, with mentholated berry fruit laced with considerable balsamic accents and fairly intense Moroccan leather — a fellow taster finds dried flowers — with some peppery warmth as well. On the palate it’s very much alive, with bright sour cherry fruit supported by warmth, bright berry fruit acidity with powerful balsamic accents, and by tannins that are warm and quite leathery, flowing into a long warm balsamic finish with bright sour berry fruit underpinning and Moroccan leather accents. It is clearly a mature wine, and there are sbavature, what one might call imperfections, but it’s impressive, with considerable freshness, and very much alive. Made traditionally, with fermentation according to tradition and large wood.
Surprise: A 1996 Molettieri Taurasi!
Deep almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is deft, with ripe balsamic berry fruit supported by spice and dried flowers, with leaf tobacco and some dusky notes; by comparison with the 1992 it’s cleaner and better defined, and this is in part improvements in vineyard technique, and in part a difference in the vintage — 1992 was extremely difficult, whereas 1996 was much warmer and riper. On the palate it’s full and rich, with powerful prune cherry fruit supported by deft prune acidity and by tannins that have a warm savory burr and flow into a clean fresh berry fruit finish with a fairly bright tannic underpinning. Pleasant, in a graceful key, and still very much alive, with a great deal to say. The 92 is perhaps more impressive but this is nice.
Tenuta Ponte Taurasi DOC 1997
Deep black almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is intense, with leathery notes mingled with considerable spice and greenish accents, and fairly intense hydrocarbons as well, with some underlying berry fruit laced with oranges. Clearly tertiary, and interesting to sniff. On the palate it’s fairly full (for a Taurasi), with moderately intense dusky fruit supported by cocoa accents and fairly bright mineral acidity, and by fairly bright orange acidity, while the tannins are quite dry and rather splintery, and flow into a fairly long orange laced finish. It’s quite pleasant, th9ough more of a wine to drink with foods than by itself because of the tannins, which are rather dry. Very pleasant in any case, and quite impressive. And very much alive.
In the late 1990s small oak came to the region.
Antonio Gaggiano Taurasi Vigna Macchia dei Goti DOC 1999
Deep black cherry ruby with black cherry rim. The bouquet is mute, with some cedar that emerges, but not much else. On the palate it’s bright, with lively sour cherry fruit supported by fairly bright acidity and by tannins that are very dry, with slight coffee bitterness that emerges as the finish develops. There’s a lot of wood here, and I find it covering the characteristics of the Aglianico, but I am refractory towards oak.
Feudi di San Gregorio Selve di Ruote Taurasi 1999
This was a cru, and which they made until increasing demand forced them to return to a blend. Deep black almandine; poured ink. The bouquet is moderately intense, with cedar and some berry fruit; the oak conditions it considerably. On the palate it’s softer than the Gaggiano on the outset, and tarter, with moderately intense berry fruit supported by orange acidity and by tannins that are warm and splintery, and flow into a clean berry fruit finish with splintery tannins and some orange acidity. It’s less charged and less smoky than the Gaggiano, which is also a little more tightly woven.
Perrillo Annamaria Taurasi DOC 2000
This is from vineyards at a higher elevation. The bouquet is intense, with berry fruit and some alcohol mingled with sour accents and some sage, with slight orange skin as well. On the palate it’s bright, with lively raspberry cherry fruit supported by bright orange acidity and by tannins that are smooth and rather green, flowing into a decidedly green astringent finish. Very green, and quite tart, and is a wine that one will either like or not.
Cantina Giardino Nude Aglianico D’Irpinia IGT 2005
This is made naturally, with as few interventions as possible in vineyard and cellar. Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is deft, with delicate berry fruit and pleasant spice, with slight vegetal notes and some leather, also slight hints of sacristy and underlying laundry soap. On the palate it’s quite fresh, with lively sour cherry fruit supported by bright sour berry fruit acidity that has some orange notes and flows into a clean fairly sour berry fruit finish. Quite pleasant and very fresh, a wine that is at the start of a long climb.
Fratelli Urciuolo Aglianico 2006
This is a blend of 3 vineyards.
Deep black almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with red berry fruit supported by greenish accents and some orange peel mingled with cut hay and some vegetal accents that develop into bouillon with time. On the palate it’s bright, with lively sour cherry fruit supported by an abundance of berry fruit acidity laced with some oranges, and by tannins that are fairly intense and rather dry, flowing into a clean rather tannic finish with slight hints of coffee. Very tannic.
Contrade di Taurasi Aglianico 2007
Impenetrable pyrope with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is intense and spicy, with berry fruit and some greenish accents mingled with mentholated accents and some penetrating spice. On the palate it’s full, rich, and round, with considerable ripe fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins and peppery acidity that flows into a clean rather bitter tannic finish. The fruit is quite round, and pleasingly rich, and the tannins are quite smooth; if one were to assign it a style it would be international, and there are also peppery savory notes. It has a lot going for it. In a rather voluptuous key.
Cavalier Pepe Opera Taurasi DOCG 2007
Deep black almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is intense, with berry fruit supported by hydrocarbons and intense spice with some cedar as well. Nice depth and quite fresh. On the palate it’s ample and quite smooth, with powerful prune fruit supported by smoky tannins with considerable cedar and acidity that has a fair amount of hardwood ash, and flows into a fairly long peppery finish. Very young, and needs time.
Luigi Tecce Campi Taurasini 2009
Deep pyrope with black reflections and pyrope rim tending towards violet. The bouquet is bright and fresh, with violets and some acidity supporting cherry plum fruit; it’s like a shaft of sunlight in a glass. Very fresh and very pleasant to sniff, with direction coming from greenish mineral acidity. On the palate it’s light, fresh, and bright with lively sour cherry fruit supported by orange acidity and by tannins that are warm and smooth, and flow into a clean fresh orange laced finish with underlying berry fruit. Quite fresh, and will drink very well with grilled meats or light stews. The perfect end to the tasting!
So, what did we see? Put simply, improvements in both vineyard management and cultivation, and cellar technique. Irpinia has terrific potential (I know, I’m being painfully obvious) and will richly reward those who follow it.
My notes from the presentation of the 2008 Taurasi vintage, which include a much more detailed look at Taurasi and the region.