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  • Writer's pictureJohn Paul Kaminga

Balanced Brawn

Aglianico must be counted as one of Italy's great red wine grapes, arguably next to Sangiovese and Nebbiolo in terms of raw potential, but its reputation remains lesser, and few collectors seek it out. We must admit that there is a reason for this. The number of high-quality producers in regions where Aglianico thrives is far more limited than in Tuscany and Piedmont, so its best wines just do not get a very wide audience. It is also notable that some of the more established names in the Aglianico game do not tend to make particularly elegant or fresh styles. Many an Aglianico is justifiably deemed rough, as intensity and power come naturally to the grape, and its wines can be high in alcohol, tannin and acid. The flavors of Aglianico also tend to be rather wild, with meaty and earthy notes often more prominent than fruit. There are, however, many amazing wines made from Aglianico, wines that exhibit a clear and delicious connection to the pristine berries of the vineyards from whence they've emerged.

Despite what the ubiquity of grapes like Chardonnay and Cabernet might seem to indicate, no grape does well everywhere. Aglianico certainly has its sweet spots, and the slopes of Monte Vulture, an extinct volcano in Basilicata, are home to some of its most privileged havens. The Piccin family, of the Grifalco winery, works with some of the best crus in Vulture, making some of the finest wines in the region, wines that deserve way more attention.

Having establishing the Salcheto winery in 1990, Fabrizio and Cecilia Piccin proceeded to make some of the most celebrated wine in the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG. Through the late 90's and early 2000s, they became disenchanted with the region, as the proliferation of hobby wineries for the mega-rich began to change the landscape of their neighborhood. So they sold Salcheto and moved to Monte Vulture in Basilicata. The reason? Aglianico. In 2004 they started Grifalco and have never looked back. Devoted to organic farming since the beginning, the Piccins strive to make fresh wines that showcase the healthy fruit of their vines. The grapes are fermented with indigenous yeasts, oak is subtle, and use of sulfites is kept to a minimum. As in Montepulciano, they quickly established themselves as quality leaders in Vulture. Fabrizio passed away in 2019, but Cecilia and her two sons, Andrea and Lorenzo, continue to push the envelope and it seems like every release is more complex and delicious than the last.

The Piccin's 2015 Damaschito comes from an old vineyard (60 to 80 years) planted at 580 meters, and it is a testament to Aglianico's clout. Brawny and wild, indeed, it is tannic and earthy, but in the context of Vulture it is truly a model of elegance. Beautiful notes of fresh berries and stone fruits, as well as airy floral and herbal nuances, buffer its earthiness, lending balance and freshness. It is full-bodied, but neither heavy nor hot, and it will excel with hearty fare at the table. At 13.5% abv it is notably low in alcohol for a fully ripe Aglianico. Worth following for 10 more years, at least, it is a great value in the world of cellar-worthy red wine. It would be a fun bottle to serve blind next to fine Bordeaux or Napa Valley.

Grifalco Aglianico del Vulture 'Damaschito' 2015 - $30

but... if you buy a bottle and mention this email, we'll give you 15% off, bringing the price down to $25.50! This offer is good until October 18, or while supplies last.

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