Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Aglianico — Southern Italy's Big Red

This is the first in a series of posts on red wines from Southern Italy. Ever since I got into wine I've been buying and drinking red wines from Puglia (the heel of the boot), Basilicata (the curve at the bottom of the foot), Calabria (the toe), and Campania (the shinbone). With a seemingly endless variety of unique local grapes negroamaro, nero d'avola, primitivo, just to name a few  Southern Italy can produce a tremendous range of wines.

Sure there are some white wines produced from these regions, the best coming from Campania, but when I think Southern Italian wine, I think red. And today I'm thinking specifically about a red wine made from the aglianico grape. The wine in question is the 2006 Mustilli Aglianico Cesco di Nece, a 100 percent aglianico from the Campanian appellation of Sant'Agata dei Goti.

I appreciate aglianico for its dense tannins and rustic, savory Italian flavors. This wine in particular comes from a mix of clay and limestone soil. The wine is aged 18 months in French oak and another year in the bottle before it is released, which helps tame those intense tannins that are so evident in young aglianicos.

This wine is dark purple color and thick as it streaks down the sides of the glass. Right out of the bottle, the nose explodes with cocoa powder. It's seriously like smelling Nestle Quick mix. There's also some red plum, sour cherry and nutmeg. Over time, I picked up some rose petal and orange rind as well.

On the palate, this wine is as tough as Sicilian mobsters. It’s feels like coffee grinds mixed with ink. The tannins grip my palate and refuse to let go. The wine smoothed out a bit over the course of a few hours, but the tannins were always there in force. Cocoa powder and coffee are the lead flavors, backed up by some red plum and black licorice. The 18 months this wine spent in French oak is noticeable, but not overwhelming. In my opinion, the oak actually helps tame the dense tannins a bit, adding some creaminess to the wine. Overall, the acid in this wine is lower than I usually like. Cocoa powder and green bell pepper linger on the finish.

This is a solid wine, and I mean solid. I scored it 90 points. It tastes great, but it is so young that a couple years in the cellar would seriously pay off. Unless, of course, you’re cooking a lamb shank with chocolate sauce tonight, in which case, pop this wine and prepare for quite a hedonistic evening. Just like many Southern Italian reds, this won't break the bank either. I picked this up for $16 from Wine Library last year. It appears to be sold out, which is a bummer because I'd love to age this wine for five years or more. But keep your eyes peeled for future vintages from this producer. It's a great example of a unique Italian grape.

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