AGLIANICO: THE OTHER GREAT ITALIAN RED GRAPE NOW IN VIRGINIA

AGLIANICO (pronounced "ah-LYAH-nee-koe") is the latest addition to our repetoire of fine grapes of Italian origin. The grape (like most of the grapes in Italy) is thought to have originiated in Greece, hence the it is often referred to as Ellenico, which is an Italian adjective for "Greek". The two major areas where the grape is cultivated are Basilicata and Campania. While both areas are in the south of Italy, the cultivation occurs in the central mountainous region of the country.

So why did we pick such an obscure grape to grow in Virginia where the climate is not yet that of Southern Italy? In the summer the vineyard temperature range is very similar to that of our vineyard, 90's in the day and low 60's at night. The big difference is that it seldom gets lower than 25 in the winter. The real reason is that Susanne and I visited Basilicata in the winter of 2003 and fell in love with the wine while having lunch in Matera, a hillside village of caves where people still live.

It was love at first "sight". We had no knowledge of the wine but when asked for a local red wine, we were served an Aglianico from the small village of Barile, where history says the first wine barrels were produced. Susanne and I quickly changed our travel plans to arrive in Barile the next day. The desk clerk at the only hotel happened to know several local winemakers and within 30 minutes we were on our way to the first cantina, Tenuta delle Querce, which turned out to be the one in the foreground of the top panorama picture. How could you not like the area? When we returned to the hotel for lunch, a wedding reception was on and we were immediately part of the party.

The vines were trellised in a quite modern fashion: high density and VSP. Which means, several thousand vines per acre instead of 500 and the vines were close spaced, less than 4 ft. between each. In addition, the crop load was kept low to enhance quality. When we returned home and ordered the wines (which had just become available via an Italian firm), we decide to plant in the same style. That was 2003. We actually had our first crop of 100 cases in 2005, the vines filled out and we harvested 225 cases in 2006 and this year, we have just brought in around 325 cases of an outstanding crop. The photo below was taken just prior to harvest with the bird netting still on. This is the one grape birds go crazy for! The vines average about 5 lbs of fruit each and to restrict the crop to achieve that load, we drop half the grapes in early August.