Talkin’ bout Two More Wines In the Italian Wine Satrter Kit This Month

I had so much fun talking about two of the Italian wines in our starter kit last week that I though I would riff on a couple more this week. In addition to the Nero D’Avola and the Corvina we also have an Aglianico from Campania and a Barbera D’Asti from Piedmont. Aglianico was the wine that made this wine geek a wine geek. Six years ago I was introduced to one of these beauties and was blown away by the structure and complexity of the wine. I was just getting into wine at the time and Aglianico gave me that push from enthusiast into the world of obsession. From that day on I was on a mission to learn anything and everything I could about this natural phenomenon called wine. And to this day I am still learning and having the time of my life. I have since made wine my career and my life and because of one beautiful glass of Aglianico I am still going and always will; just like the Energizer Bunny.
Anyway let’s talk Aglianico. The grape originated in Greece and was brought over around 750 A.D. (roughly) when it arrived it went by the name Hellinica (Derived from what the Greeks called their home) but the Italians called it Ellenico and by the 1500’s the etymology ended with Aglianico. It was first planted outside of a town called Taurasi in Campania a region known for its Amalfi Coast and the notorious Naploi. There it enjoyed the hillsides and volcanic and mildly rich nutrient soil mixture yielding huge wines with mountainous tannin structures. From there it worked its way into Basilicata (Campania’s neighboring region) and found a new home on the slopes of the now extinct volcano Vulture. The wine again enjoyed a successful history and eventually the area became a DOC calle Aglianico Del Vulture. Taurasi also became a DOC.
Southern Italy is very different than the north. It is mostly farmland with low populations and not a lot of money. History has put the Mezzogiorno through a rollercoaster ride of political and economical flux and it was not until a couple of decades ago that this area started to be seen by the world. Aglianico and the other wonderful grapes of the south such as Piedirosso and Fiano and Falanghina were all but extinct until wine makers of Campania namely the Mastroberardino and Mustilli families decided to form a consortium to preserve these ancient varietals. They replanted and cared for the grapes and over twenty or thirty years built what we are enjoying today.
` The Aglianico that we have in the shop is a great introduction to the grape. On the American market today your going to find two types of this grape. One style comes from Basilicata and the other from Campania. This is cool because the grape gives each region it’s own personality to the wines. In Basilicata there is only one appellation or DOC and that the afore mentioned Aglianico Del Vulture named after the extinct volcano I had mentioned earlier. And speaking of volcano the majority of the soil here is what is called calcareous or volcanic. This type of soil is very lacking in nutrients forcing the vines to grow deeper and deeper for all the minerals it needs to feed her fruit. The grape already has a naturally high tannin level so with all this stress and competition for food Basilicata Aglianico tends to be very dry with prominent tannins and with a good oak exposure it shows wonderful notes of leather, tobacco and sometimes rose petals, powerfully elegant.
In Campania there are traces of volcanic soil but there are also more nutrients in the substrates (top level of soil) so the vines still dig but on the way down they are picking up more mineral ions and such. The result is a wine as powerful as its Basilicata neighbor but more integrated with the fruit. The general rule is the fewer nutrients in the soil the more tannin is apparent in the wine. The more nutrients in the soil the more fruit is going to be integrated into the tannin and that is what we see in Aglianico from Campania.
Let me get back to our Aglianico. We have been interested in this bottle for some time and while we were just getting the plan together to have a wine shop this wine was already on our minds. We had tried it at In Vino and fell in love with it but the label is bit wacky and we felt that it would be better on a retail shelf rather than in a wine bar setting. So when the shop opened we took the wine immediately and our customers are very happy with it. It’s one of those wines that you might be unsure of but if you trust the wine guy then you take it home pop it, try it and come in the very next day for another. The wine is a 2005 Aglianico from Campania from the Intrepid Wine Company. I know, not a very Italian name. And the guys that own the Company are not first generation Italians. Skip D’Amico and Ross Sutherland are their names and they are not wine makers. The man behind the bottle is Anelio Aneglis and his vineyards are located in the Beneventano province of Campania, which is located in the northeast of the region near Basilicata. Skip and Ross takes this man’s juice and puts their own label on it and sells it in the US. I believe all of their other Intrepid wines are from different producers.
It is a bit confusing but the result is a great bottle of wine. We have the 2005 Intrepid Aglianico. This wine as I stated before is a great introduction to the varietal. The color is nice and deep and so is the nose. Aromas of leather and hints of tobacco are running around in there with notes of dark cherry and eventually a rose petal coffee thing. The palate is big, fat and interwoven. The tannins are definitely prominent but they are winding their way through the fruit of the wine layering the tongue and quenching the thirst. The oak exposure of this wine is what gives it that layered quality which brings the word modern to mind. This wine is vinified in a slightly modern style but not so much as to take away from the natural characteristics and natural subtleties of the grape.
Take this wine home and make a big meal dig in and slurp this one down. It goes soooo well with food. You can do pasta and red sauce or cream sauce. Steak will go well with this and even lamb. You can even just make a big plate of cheeses and salumi and have at it. This wine will not overwhelm but hold up to the challenge. Come in and check this bottle or grab the starter kit for ninety nine bucks.
Some people know Barbera and some people don’t. It is a wine that is readily available at Italian restaurants all over the city but until recently had often been looked over. Barbera is the perfect food wine. It has vibrant fruit and subtle tannins. Why? Because this wine is all about acidity. Barbera has tons of natural acidity, which helps digest food. In piedmont (where the grape was born) Barbera was immediately placed on the table in trattorias. It used to be an after thought. Nobody took it very seriously because they were just sipping it, biding their time waiting for the noble Nebbiolo to be ready. Today however Barbera is taken much more seriously; So much that there are producers in piedmont known for bringing the varietal into some sort of elegance. I love Barbera because of its versatility and liveliness. I did a focused tasting last year at In Vino of barbers from different parts of piedmont and although each one was different and varying microclimates and soils each one retained that vibrant acidity. It is a fun wine and a serious wine at the same time. It is great in blends and shines by itself.
The Barbera we have in our starter kit this month is a 2005 Barbera D’Asti from Icardi. I had the privilege of visiting this producer in Piedmont and what an experience I had. Claudio Icardi and his sister Mariagrazia are two of the nicest people I have ever met. Not only that but they are downright geniuses. Just listening to Claudio speak while touring the facilities was exciting. I one point while in the fermentation room he mentioned that he has produced something like fifty vintages. He is a naturalist and an experimentalist. Their vineyards are beautiful and well kept through organic and biodynamic practices. All of Icardi wines are organic. Claudio is playing with biodynamic farming and wishes he could use these practices for all of his wines but the market demand will not allow the time he needs to integrate. He actually has one Biodynamic Barbera that will never make it onto the American market because of its miniscule production but he gave us each a sample and the difference is pretty noticeable. The wine was earthier and with deeper fruit. The acidity of the Barbera is actually more intertwined throughout the body as opposed to dancing through and around.
Also one last very cool thing before I talk about the wine in the kit is that Claudio is slowly working acacia barrels into his aging process. In his organic cellar where a rich black mold crawls naturally on the walls giving a classic musty smell to the air Claudio grabbed stopper from a French barrel and one from an acacia barrel and asked us to smell them on after the other and the difference was beautiful. The French was familiar with the ripe fruit and subtle vanilla notes while the acacia was like nothing I had smelled in a wine. It was honey. I know wines have notes of honey sometimes but this smelled like the honey was traveling through the wine embedding and attaching itself to the phenolic compounds so that the very nervous system of the wine was soaked with it. I can’t wait to be able to try a bottled acacia aged wine. Thank you Icardi family for the wonderful tour and the amazing lunch. Thank you for the wines and the hospitality.
The 2005 Barbera D’Asti Tabarin from Icardi is crowd pleaser. The nose is lively with berries and cherries dancing on a plane of acidity. The color is also lively with deep reds with vibrant, transparent purple hues You can see hold the wine up to the light and see right through it. That’s good acidity. The palate is well rounded and earthy with all that liveliness carrying through from the nose. As this wine comfortably opens the earth gives way to a hint of tobacco and a skosh of tar while still retaining that playful berry-fruit of cranberries and dare I sat raspberry. This wine is very easy to drink and will please multiple palates and preferences. Have it with a good hearty meal or with some homemade pizza. So come on in and check out our February Wine starter kit and enjoy the beauty that is Barbera. Cheers!


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Anonymous on March 4, 2008 at 4:27 am

    Keith, I think your Aglianico reference said 700 A.D. instead of B.C.


  2. Posted by EVWG on March 4, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    Thank you very much for the correction. It should definitely be B.C.



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