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This story originally appeared in the Napa Valley Register (October 13, 2015) Aglianico, a black grape grown in the southern regions of Italy, is often considered the “Barolo of the South.” But, perhaps Barolo is the “aglianico of the north”? After all, aglianico is one of the noblest grapes, shrouded in mystery and fog. It may not be easy to produce or pronounce (can you say "ah-li-YAH-nee-koe"?) but wine people love it, and they should. A seminar led by the North American Sommelier Association explored this fantastic grape. The origin of aglianico is debatable. It is among some of the oldest of grapes in existence. Some say that the name comes from Hellas (Ellenic) and was brought by the Greeks as early as the sixth century B.C. But linguists have not found a connection between the words “aglianico” and “ellenico." The Latin name for “Greece” was “Graecus,” not “Hellenicus.” Others argue that it might be a native varietal from southern Italy. While the debate of origin continues, one thing known is that the DNA is not related to any modern grape. Aglianico The aglianico grape is a small dark berry that grows in small to medium size clusters. While it buds early, it is late ripening and is harvested late in the season. The resulting wine is an intense ruby red, shifting to garnet as the wine ages. It has notes of dark berries, violet, bing cherry, spices, leather, cloves and tobacco. It is a difficult grape to grow and vinify, resulting in harsh tannins and acidity that need long aging. The resulting wines are complex, elegant and full of personality.
"Italy is not complicated, it's complex." That's what they told us on the first day of the Italian Wine Specialist Certification Course. That is an understatement. Wine is produced in each of the 20 regions, each different for its climate, soil, grapes, history, cuisine, even language. There are 73 DOCG wines and almost 400 DOC wines and hundreds of native varietals. Having lived in Piemonte many years ago, my love for wine began over bottles of dolcetto, barbera, nebbiolo and brachetto.  However, at the time, little did I know what I was drinking. Over the years, I have enjoyed tasting and learning about the regions of Italy and felt that I had a base of knowledge. I have taken press trips to Piemonte, Tuscany, Veneto and even Puglia where I have visited wineries, met with winemakers and tasted hundreds of wines. But last year at VIVA VINO LA, of which I am one of the organizers, I felt like I was drowning in a sea of unfamiliar varietals.  Tai, Glera, Vespaiola, Nosiola, Raboso, Bombino Bianco, Schiava.....and the list goes on.  As we prepare for the 2nd Annual VIVA VINO LA, I wanted to have a better understanding of the regions, varietals and appellations, so I signed up for the Italian Wine Specialist Program. The Italian Wine Specialist Certification Program is offered by the North American Sommelier Association. It is the first of its kind and the teachers are all native Italian certified sommeliers and wine professionals.  It is an intense 4-day program, followed by an exam.  In the 4 days, the wine laws, regulations, grape varietals, traditions, trends, history, typicality as well as key characteristics for all 20 regions of Italy are explored.