Grown in the steep hills of Italy’s Basilicata, inland from Naples, Aglianico is the best grape in the world that nobody knows (or, if you know it, don’t drink enough of). Wine writers try to get drinkers to pay attention to it by calling it “the Barolo of the South.” Because, like Piemonte’s Nebbiolo, it’s wonderfully aromatic, full of bracing acidity, laced with sharp, firm, tannins, and can live and gain complexity for decades.
But “Barolo” it ain’t. It’s much more fun than that, especially when grown on the old lava flows of the extinct volcano, Monte Vulture. For one thing, it’s darker, fleshier, and more powerful than Barolo, serving up fine concentration of black raspberry and blueberry fruit to Nebbiolo’s fine cherry and strawberry.
And it’s wilder than Barolo, with a direct, assertive, ready to party by the grill, boldness and layer upon layer of summer-friendly wild herb, black olive, violet and earth notes. And while Aglianico from more famous Taurasi needs years in bottle to be much fun, many Aglianico del Vulture (like this one!) are delicious and ready to rock out on the deck as soon as they arrive in the USA.
While this is fun to hang out with and drink, growing fine Aglianico is serious work – work no one has done better over the last 40+ years than d’Angelo. Lucio d’Angelo’s ancestors had grown Aglianico for centuries before he started his winery in 1971. And Lucio and his children, Rocco and Erminia, almost single-handedly created the DOCG and set the standards for what great Aglianico del Vulture is all about.
The hard work starts in the vineyards, where the Basilicata’s high altitudes and low latitudes mean days can be brutally hot and nights chilly to frigid. Aglianico can’t really be grown successfully under any other conditions because it buds very early – when frost is too likely in lower sites – and needs to hang for months and months to develop flavor and soften fierce tannins. By the time the d’Angelo family harvests their Aglianico in late-October/early November, essentially all of Italy’s Sangiovese, Nero d’Avola, Bordeaux varietals, and even Nebbiolo are already bubbling away in their fermenters.
Once the grapes are painstakingly picked by hand – as they must be on these mountain slopes – they are crushed and ferment warm and vigorously to extract color and flavor to match naturally high acids and tannins. Then comes the wait: 20 months in huge, old, oak casks to allow the tannins to soften and full, fleshy, flavors to emerge.
And, when all that’s done…the wine still releases at just $25 vs the $50-$150 Barolo gets. Which makes this gloriously fruit-filled, complex, powerful red a steal all the time, but especially from $17.98 this week.
Come on by and try it – we’ll keep a bottle of d’Angelo Aglianico Del Vulture open to try this week through Friday’s free tasting. And if you want to taste Aglianico’s perfect match, check out my recipe for Grilled Ratatouille. We think you’ll enjoy them both!
Doug’s Grilled Ratatouille
Sauternes and foie gras. Ribeye steak and Napa Cab. Meursault and lobster. Fine Bordeaux and roast lamb. Every wine has a perfect pairing, a match that elevates both the food and the wine. And for Aglianico, my perfect pairing is anything laced with salty/savory olives, roasted peppers, basil, and/or capers.
You and make that match happen with something as involved as a hearty southern Italian lamb stew or as simple as an antipasto platter of olives, peppers, cured meats and cheese. But with summer’s bounty starting to arrive at farmers’ markets all around town, my favorite pairing with southern Italy’s Aglianico is a riff on a classic from the South of France: Grilled Ratatouille.
This started off as a somewhat fussy recipe from Cooks Illustrated, but now it’s more of an approach than a recipe per se. Sometimes I have more eggplant, sometimes less. Sometimes I grill everything until it’s mushy, sometimes I leave things more crisp. And sometimes I leave it rich and dense and other times add a big jolt of lemon juice for freshness. It always seems to come out great, though, and as long as you make sure to have enough capers/olives and basil, I promise it will taste great with Aglianico!
Note: This makes about 6-8 servings as a side dish. I usually double it, but you can futz with the mix anyway you like and it will still come out great.
- 1 red onion peeled and quartered, leaving enough stem to hold the quarters together
- 2lb eggplant sliced about 1 inch thick
- 1.5lb zucchini sliced in half or into thick planks (depending on how big your squash is!)
- 2 bell peppers cored and quartered (yellow or red are fun)
- 1lb tomatoes cut in half along the equator (more is good, too)
- ¼ cup chopped basil (more is ok)
- 1 tbsp chopped thyme
- 1 tbsp capers or 2 tbl chopped black olives (or both – just watch the salt)
- 3 tbsp sherry vinegar
- 1 clove garlic grated or mashed into a paste
- ¼ cup really good olive oil plus more for tossing/brushing
- Salt & pepper
Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with a little oil and sprinkle with a little salt.
Put the other veggies in a large mixing bowl (in batches) and toss with oil to coat; lay out on baking sheets and salt lightly.
Get your grill hot; with charcoal, do a two-level fire; with gas, leave one row/side off
Get grill marks on the onion over direct heat and then move to other side of grill to cook until soft
Put the eggplant over the direct fire and grill, turning frequently, until they are softening (your choice of still a little toothsome or full on mushy)
Put the bell peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes (in batches) over the hot side of the grill, turning until both sides show grill marks; either continue turning over direct heat or move to other side until they are as soft as you want them.
When the veggies have cooled, rub the skins off the tomatoes and peppers (don’t worry if some stays on – no one will care).
Chop everything up to the size you like – I go pretty chunky, but it’s up to you – and put everything in a big bowl with the olives/capers, thyme and basil
Make a dressing of the sherry vinegar, ¼ cup olive oil and garlic (I use an immersion blender but you can go old school and whisk it together), and pour on the veggies and toss.
Taste and add more salt and pepper if you like and a squeeze of lemon juice if that’s your thing. Serve warm or room temperature with Aglianico!