Along with Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, Aglianico (pronounced alli-yawn-nico ) is generally believed to be on of Italy’s three best wine grapes. It is a full-bodied red grape found in the Campania and Basilicata regions of southern Italy. Aglianico wines are known for savory flavours of leather, white pepper, black fruits, cured meat, cracked pepper, dried cranberry, mushroom broth, smoke, cocoa, nutmeg, cinnamon, cedar, tobacco, coffee and dried oregano.
Aglianico is full-bodied with high tannin and high acidity. It contains a medium to medium-plus amount of alcohol and can be aged ten to twenty years. The best Aglianico wines don’t start to come into their best until they are about ten years of age. The passage of time softens the wine’s firm tannic structure and acidity, revealing lush layers of sweetened fruit and dried floral aromas intermixed with dusty and spiced smoke, savoury flavours.
Given Aglianico’s rigid nature, some producers make it into a much fresher, easy-drinking style. Because the grape has so much tannin and acidity, it easily holds up to new oak aging and modern winemaking. The winemaking techniques are meant to quell Aglianico’s ferocity into a chocolatey, ripe, rich wine with moderately high alcohol and acidity. The modern style of Aglianico won’t age as long as the traditional method and has less of an expression of flavour. However, it is easier to drink at a much younger age.
The structure of Aglianico pairs well with high intensity foods. Aglianico goes well alongside rich meats with high fat content or vegetarian dishes with a rich umami note, such as black bean sauce, soy sauce, tempeh or dishes that welcome roasted mushrooms.
Meat selections that pair well with Aglianico include beef brisket, smoked pork, barbecue beef, seared prime rib, venison, beef stew, chili, rabbit stew or oxtail. Cheese pairings include Pecorino, Asiago, Cheddar, Monterey Jack and Provolone. Vegetable pairing include portobello mushrooms, roasted mushrooms, baked beans, black beans, lentils, crispy kale, purple potatoes, roasted purple cauliflower and arugula.
A few warm and dry regions outside of Italy are beginning to produce rich, chocolatey styles of Aglianico wine, in particular California and Riverina, Australia. The grapes ripen late, even in these warm climates, with the best examples offering aromas of chocolate and plum.
Aglianico wines are bound to become more available as growers all over the world look to varieties that grow well because of the rapidly changing climate conditions.