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.
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.