Squid ink ravioli with brown crab meat for starters. Ace Fiano Greco blend from Basilicata – a fairly remote and volcanic area in Italy that is truly fascinating to me. It tastes like super fresh and cold pineapple while sitting in the sunshine beside a bright pool. Bright!
Lina Stores in Soho London is like stepping into a grocery shop in Rome in the 1950s (as my older Italian friends tell me). It’s my favourite place to buy pasta in London and they have a small range of Italian wines with styles that can be often difficult to find anywhere else.
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A properly romantic wine has a sense of adventure. Sara Carbone’s wines from Mount Vulture in Basilicata, Southern Italy bring to mind the line from Descartes about travelling that it “is like talking to men from other centuries.” Not only are her Aglianico del Vulture and Fiano complex and interesting wines in themselves but they are also a journey through Southern Italian history.
The Fiano label (left) tells a love story: Emperor Federick II’s castle for his lover was in the town of Melfi in Basilicata. He was the ruler of Sicily and Southern Italy and the monarchy lasted well into the 18th Century. During the time under the monarchy, Naples was the third largest city in Europe after London and Paris.
Over the past 10 years, winemakers have started to reclaim the wealth of the noble varieties of Fiano and Aglianico found in Basilicata. On the dormant volcano slopes, only 100% Aglianico grapes are permitted in the wine. Sara Carbone is a young winemaker whose family once sold their grapes to the most regarded winemaker in the region, Paternoster, and since 2005, bottles the wine under her own label.
Aglianico del Vulture dei Feudi di San Gregorio 2007
The first taste of Aglianico is like a volcanic eruption in rewind: a hundred blasts, shreds of mineral rock followed by a fierce lava cooling down into black smoke puffing back into the top of the mountain, overgrown with herbs, cool as graphite and purring, velvet and deep, as if nothing had happened. The consensus amongst wine lovers is that Aglianico is due for a spectacular resurge any day now. There are two major Aglianico styles in the South of Italy, Tuarasi DOCG and Aglianico del Vulture DOC (why this is not a DOCG is one of those cruel twists of Italian law^) a 100% Aglianico style grown on the side of the volcano, Mount Vulture. At the core of the wine is a complex profile of black fruit, licorice, firm tannins and good acidity with a perfume of violet, sour cherry and leather. The vineyards are high on the mountain which gives the wine an uplifting freshness. The large personality reminds me of a Barossa Shiraz or Californian Zinfandel, but instead of sinking into DEPTHS of sometime syrup, this wine becomes all about HEIGHT: the unique mineral effect lifts the fruit up so there is a space underneath as if jumping from a high diving board for a few seconds before reaching the water. Remember this is an Italian wine, so it’s all about leaving space for the food: big flavours such as salami and smoky scarmorza mozzarella.
Feudi di San Gregorio wines are made by the well-respected Italian enologist Riccardo Cotarella* who is a master of the Aglianico grape in South Italy. Aglianico del Vulture DOC is in Basilicata, an ancient, small, agricultural region of Italy and struggles with the infrastructure needed to distribute their wines well, so even though they are excellent value, they are not seen on the shelves enough for lovers of full-bodied, long-lasting, volcanic Italian reds.
Stay tuned for the video!
Image: Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassell
^There are plans to change from DOC to DOCG for 2010 vintage
*See comments below