Oddly, one of Greece’s greatest ancient grape varieties is hardly cultivated or known in that country today – it’s called Aglianico, a name thought to be a corruption of “Ellenico” or the “Greek one”. It’s pronounced “allianico”.
Southern Italy – where Aglianico is now and was even then at home – was Greek in the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, and is where gastronomy began: Plato reacted against such pleasures and complained of the inhabitants of Sybaris, the original sybarites, who too clearly enjoyed the “life of being filled up twice a day and never sleeping alone at night.”
Thus there is a certain racy romance associated with this grape; some claim that in drinking a glass of Aglianico you come as close as one can to tasting ancient wine.
However true that is, our favourite example is the Contado Di Majo Norante 2003 (967208, $17.95), from the tiny, remote area of the Molise, a thoroughly modern and powerful red, initially with a wet wool nose, but opening up with hints of menthol and vanillin on the palate. On the finish, raspberry and strawberry happily resurface. This is so international in style, though – big and oaked – it tends to obscure that unique taste of Aglianico.
The Tenuta del Portale, Aglianico del Vulture 2003 (581892, $16.95) from Basilicata, and grown on the slopes of a volcano, is lighter in colour, and its earthy nose, with notes of pine and tobacco, spread over your palate by a hefty 14% alcohol, makes this a wine that’s truer to its place and type.
The Cappellacio, Castel del Monte Riserva 2001 (984120, $17.95) from Puglia, is the best wine here. A lower alcohol content of 12% and a wholly characteristic Aglianico nose of red fruit, with some spice from a year in French oak barriques, leads into the smooth sense in your mouth of all these flavours and more. Get your hands on this one, so you experience Aglianico’s singular, profoundly refined taste.