Aglianico is the noble grape of southern Italy. Though often compared to nebbiolo for its power and structure, it has its own distinct personality, and while it has been slow to take off, aglianico’s prospects of performing well in Australian conditions are very bright indeed.
Also known as
While some of the synonyms for aglianico are not likely to appear on a label or be commonly used, ellenica, ellenico and ellanico certainly given a clue to the grape’s origins, with it thought to have Greek (Hellenic) origins, being introduced to Italy in ancient times.
What aglianico tastes like
Aglianico is a variety that can have leathery, earthy, ferrous and smoky notes, but it’s one that can also show pretty red florals and small red berry fruit notes. It’s also a variety that can be both quite acidic and tannic, while reaching relatively high ripeness and alcohol levels. That description sounds a bit like nebbiolo, and it has often been called the “nebbiolo of the south”, but it’s quite different, generally darker, less red-fruited, more rugged and rustic, though often charmingly so.
Vineyard & winemaking
Given that it holds its acidity very well, aglianico can grow successfully in warmer zones, while its thick skins mean that it is not overly susceptible to mildew issues. Aglianico is classically grown in volcanic soils, but it is very adaptable to other vineyard conditions. While the best Italian expressions come from elevated, cooler sites, they generally see a good amount of sunshine to get them to ripeness in time. Traditionally, aglianico was made to age for a long time, with a relatively long time in cask, and usually in large old oak. Riper styles have been paired with new oak, but it’s arguable how successful or true to aglianico’s individual characters these styles are. Those wine, which were common throughout Italy at the end of 20th century are thankfully now less common.
Where is aglianico grown?
Aglianico is regarded as one of Italy’s greatest grapes, rubbing shoulders with sangiovese and nebbiolo. It certainly doesn’t have that prestige outside of Italy, though. And even within it, the grapes of southern Italy don’t quite have the fashionable gloss that those further north do. Regardless, aglianico makes long-lived and powerful expressions in Basilicata and Campania, and especially from volcanic sites. Aglianico del Taburno, Aglianico del Vulture and Taurasi are the prime DOC(G)s for Aglianico, with all benefitting from the ancient eruptions of their respective volcanoes, with Campania’s Taurasi in magma range of Mount Vesuvius, which is still very much active. In these territories, Aglianico is often grown at elevation, which given that it is a late ripening variety means that it can be one of the last to be picked in all of Italy. Aglianico is also grown in many lower, warmer sites and it tends to make softer expressions. It is particularly celebrated on the Amalfi Coast in the DOC of Cilento. Across the south, Aglianico is also often blended with other native grapes as well as with cabernet sauvignon. Aside from Basilicata and Campania, a modest amount of the grape is grown in Puglia, and even less in Le Marche.
Aglianico around the world
Even though it has a strong reputation within Italy, aglianico has not travelled much as yet, with some plantings in California as well as in Arizona and Texas.
Aglianico in Australia
The Chalmers family imported Aglianico with the first tranche of Italian grapes they brought into the country in 1998. They first planted it in their original nursery block in Euston, then somewhat later in their Heathcote property. Sutton Grange in Bendigo also committed the variety to the ground in 2004 and now claim the oldest vines in the country. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, given its reputation and adaptability to different conditions, aglianico has a been a little slower to get a big uptake in Australia. However, it has shown extremely good promise in the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Heathcote and Beechworth.
Photo of aglianico grapes seen here, courtesy of Chalmers vineyard.
Some of the best Australian aglianico
Fighting Gully Road