Italian Wine Regions: Basilicata

As Vinitaly draws nearer, I am reminded of all the amazing wines that I have tried in past years. Some of the wines are from the most famous regions while others are from lesser known ones. Among those is the one of the regions in the Southern portion of the country, Basilicata, also known as Lucania. I like to say that name.

Sadly all of my pictures of this region aren’t digital so, here is a trailer from a great movie that came out in the last few years about Basilicata – Basilicata Coast To Coast. It will give you a flavor of the rugged landscape. Some 47% of Basilicata is covered by mountains and it has two coastlines, one on the Ionian Sea and the other on the Tyrrhenian Sea.

In fact for many years it was a joke in my family that I wouldn’t leave Italy until I visited Matera, that beautiful city made famous by Carlo Levi, “Cristo Si E Fermato A Eboli.” I visited Matera in 2002 but it took another four years to get me to leave Italy.

The best known wines to be produced in Basilicata are made from Aglianico. While exact evidence is difficult to uncover, experts agree that the grape was found in this region as early as the 6th century B.C. Likely brought by the Greeks, it was called ellenico until about the 15th century. Ellenico is the Italian word for Hellenic or Greek.

It is possible that the grape was brought to the settlement at Metaponto, near the city of Matera. Regardless of when it arrived in Basilicata, Aglianico has brought acclaim to the region for the fabulous wines it produces from the volcanic soils around Mount Vulture. Aglianico, a late ripening grape, is generally the last of the grapes to be picked for making dry wines.

In Basilicata, Aglianico, tends to be cultivated on slopes which are anywhere from 400 to 800 meters above sea level. The region is very dry and hot in the summer. In the winter, it can get quite cold. These temperature changes give the vines time to rest and help to create concentrated fruit. Aglianico has good acidity and firm tannins. The aromatics of the grape tend towards blueberry, cherry, chocolate, coffee and smoke notes. Aglianico del Vulture is a very long lived wine and can take some years to open up.

Aglianico del Vulture was given the DOC designation in 1971 and finally the DOCG in 2011.

Aglianico del Vulture can be made into a variety of styles. The base wine is aged for 12 months in barrels which are generally made of chestnut although some producers are trying to use French oak. When the wine label has the word vecchio on it, it means the wines have been aged in wood for 36 months. For the Riserva wines, the aging period is usually 60 months. Aglianico del Vulture can also be made into a dry and sweet sparkling wine as well.

Some of the most famous producers of these wines include Paternoster, Cantina del Notaio, Cantina di Venosa, Giannattasio, Terre dei Re, Bisceglia, and Donato D’Angelo.

Aglianico del Vulture is not the only area in Basilicata for wines. Terre dell’Alta Val d’Agri and Matera are two additional well-known DOCs.

Oddly enough, international varieties are used in the Terre dell’Alta Val d’Agri DOC. I tried the wines of the Consorzio Terre dell’Alta Val D’Agri. They were blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for the reds which surprised me as well as a small percentage of indigenous varietals. The whites were made with Malvasia Bianca di Basilicata.

I tried a number of wines including ones from Francesco Pisani’s Azienda Agricola Biologica Pisani. They were also organic which was even more surprising. Perhaps it was the altitude at which the vines were grown, 600-800 meters above sea level, that allowed them to grow without intervention of any sort.

I also tried wines from De Blasis, Nigro, Fiorenti and L’Arcera. They were all interesting, big, rich wines that needed to be tried with food. Needless to say, I am going to go back this year on a full stomach, towards the end of the day. These are not morning wines.

Matera DOC, the third area that I explored makes both red and white wines from indigenous grapes. One of the most memorable wines was from Ditaranto. I especially enjoyed the Greco bianco which was floral and fruity at the same time. I also really enjoyed their wine called L’Abate made from Primitivo.

Of all the wines I tried that day though, I have a soft spot for those of Michele Laluce. I highly recommend them if you have the chance. I think you will be as speechless as I was at their bonta’.

I can’t wait to try more of these wines and the new vintages this year.

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