Aglianico del Vulture is a tannic, full-bodied red wine from the Basilicata region of southern Italy. As implied by the name, it is made from Aglianico grapes grown around Monte Vulture, an extinct volcano which dominates the skyline and landscape of northern Basilicata. It is one of southern Italy's greatest wines and has been dubbed the ‘Barolo of the South’, a nickname it shares with its Campanian counterpart, Taurasi.
The name Aglianico del Vulture was created as an official DOC title in May 1971, just as Italy's official wine classification system was getting established. For 32 years, it remained Basilicata's only DOC wine, until it was joined by Terre dell'Alta Val d'Agri in 2003. In August 2010, the wine's superiore variant was promoted to full DOCG status, as Aglianico del Vulture Superiore.
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To qualify for this DOC title, wines must be made exclusively from Aglianico, a variety whose thick skins and naturally high acidity levels make it ideal for Basilicata's hot Mediterranean climate. Aglianico grapes ripen very late in the season and need a long, warm, dry summer to develop full phenolic complexity and to ripen their prolific tannins. In cooler years, the Aglianico del Vulture harvest lasts right up until the first week of November – more than two months after the first Primitivo is collected in neighboring Puglia. It is this extended growing season (coupled with Aglianico's particular balance of acids, sugars and tannins) which makes Aglianico del Vulture wines so full in body, deep in color and rich in flavor.
Monte Vulture, with its rich, dark, free-draining, volcanic soils, is one of the only places in southern Italy that can produce such rich, concentrated wines from Aglianico (Taurasi is the obvious other, and perhaps Taburno). The increased altitude here gives a slightly cooler climate than the lower-lying areas below, which prevents the grapes' sugar levels from rising too quickly. And while the area is cooler, it is no less sunny; the vineyards enjoy more sunshine hours than almost any in the world. Thus, the best-performing sites are those located between 1000ft and 1650ft (300–500m), on south-east-facing slopes which enjoy full morning sunshine. (Those which face south or south-west are exposed to overbearing heat in the afternoon.) Altitude is considered such an important factor in the Aglianico del Vulture wine style that the DOC laws stipulate a vineyard altitude range between 200m and 700m. Wines produced from sites above or below these limits do not qualify for the DOC title.
The classic Aglianico del Vulture wine is rich and powerful and requires a few years of cellaring before revealing its most appealing qualities. The best-structured, most-balanced examples improve for more than a decade in the bottle. When young, the wines are noted for their high tannins and acidity and dark-fruit concentration. As they mature, they take on nuances of earth, tar, spice and dark chocolate, emerging as complex and refined reds showing balance and depth. Basic Aglianico del Vulture wines must be aged for at least a year (two years for the riserva wines) before commercial release, and an increasing number spend some portion of this time in oak barrels for added complexity.
A far cry from the area's brawny red table wines is the sparkling, red Aglianico del Vulture Spumante. This is typically made from grapes harvested a little earlier in the season, to retain the freshness and acidity required for sparkling wine styles. It is made in both dry and sweet styles. Under the appellation laws, the spumante wines must be produced by secondary fermentation and aged for at least a year before being released to market. Serving temperatures also vary with the wine's age: the more youthful examples are best served chilled, while the more-developed wines show well at room temperature.
Aglianico has become Basilicata's favorite grape variety, and is unquestionably the region's most successful wine export. In 2008, the local government here surveyed the average profitability of the region's agricultural land. Vineyards, particularly those producing Aglianico wines, were shown to be almost twice as profitable as olive groves, one of southern Italy's most important crops.