Southern Italy’s Aglianico grape is fully loaded: loaded with color; with tannins; and with flavor compounds.
As such, Aglianico wines can sometimes be a little impegnativo (demanding) to drink. Today’s Aglianico del Vulture from Macarico doesn’t lack for power—in fact, I’d say it’s more structured and substantial than 99.9% percent of wines at this price point—but it also shows a level of grace and sophistication not readily associated with this variety. In my ongoing effort to convince people that Aglianico is one of Italy’s ‘noblest’ reds—right up there with Nebbiolo and Sangiovese—I wouldn’t hesitate to put “Macarì” forward as evidence. Not only does it capture the unmistakable essence of its volcanic, mountain terroir, it likely has even more to reveal over the next three to five years. That’s quite a thing to say about a $20 bottle of wine, but trust me on this one: It’s value-for-dollar is immeasurable.
To repeat: Aglianico is important, and Basilicata’s Monte Vulture, which climbs to 4,300 feet, is arguably its greatest terroir. In his exhaustive “Native Wine Grapes of Italy,” writer and educator Ian D’Agata details how some experts believe Aglianico arrived via the Bay of Naples with the colonizing Greeks in the 8th century B.C. Others believe it was a ‘wild’ grape native to the Italian peninsula that was ‘domesticated’ (like another indigenous Italian, Sangiovese). Modern-day mutations of the grape are found across most of southern Italy, but its greatest expressions are found in Campania—especially the volcanic terroirs of inland regions such as Taburno and Taurasi—and Basilicata. As D’Agata asserts, “…as great at the wines of Taurasi and Taburno can be, they are often bested in blind tastings by the superstars coming out of the Vulture area in Basilicata.”
When I first visited Basilicata many years ago, I quickly learned that “southern” Italy can mean many things. It is hardly uniform in either topography or climate, as Basilicata so dramatically illustrates. The region is almost entirely consumed by the Apennine mountains, with little slivers of coast on both the Mediterranean and Ionian seas. Its capital, Potenza, sits at the highest elevation of any regional capital in Italy. Monte Vulture is an extinct volcano in the northern reaches of the region, with vineyards that climb as high as 700 meters in some places, and as such, this is a cool climate—providing the already late-ripening Aglianico with an extremely long growing season. It’s not uncommon for Aglianico del Vulture to be harvested in mid- or even late November (even later than Piedmont’s Nebbiolo in some instances).
Macarico makes a point of noting, on its labels, that its vineyards are situated at particularly high elevations on the “Alto,” or “upper,” slopes of Vulture (about 450 meters on average). The soils are volcanic ‘tuff,’ called tufo in Italian, which causes some confusion among soil geeks, because tufa (with an ‘a’) and tuffeau are words widely used to described limestone soils. Tufo (with an ‘o’) is volcanic rock, full of silica and other minerals, and whether you believe in the concept of ‘minerality’ in wine, it is impossible not to smell and taste the connection to the soil in Macarico’s Aglianico. Its smoky, stony, ashy savor is evocative and unmistakable.
“Macarì” was subjected to about two weeks of skin maceration during fermentation, followed by a year of aging in used French oak barriques before bottling. In the glass, it is a deep ruby with black and purple highlights, with aromas of mulberry, blackberry, cassis, licorice, tobacco, lavender, coffee grounds, and pulverized black stones. It is medium to medium-plus in body, with firm (but not ferocious) tannins and enough freshness to keep you coming back for another sip. Because of the powerful structure of Aglianico, many of the bigger, showier styles of Aglianico del Vulture require a nap after one glass (not so dissimilar to so many “cult” Cabernets from Napa). This one keeps its size in check and displays considerable elegance—compelling me to once again trumpet that THIS IS A $20 BOTTLE OF WINE. Decant it about 30 minutes before serving in Bordeaux stems at around 60 degrees and pair it with something well-charred off the grill. We suggested brisket in a previous Macarico offer, and I’ve got to say, there’s no reason to mess with a good thing. This wine, and pairing, should not be missed!
French Oak Barriques (20% new)