Along with some superb whites made from Greco, Fiano, Falanghina and a few other indigenous varieties, there are also some remarkable red wines produced in Campania. Without question, Aglianico is the principal variety of these bottlings.
The most famous Aglianico-based wine in Campania is Taurasi, produced from grapes grown in a small zone in the province of Avellino (two great whites – Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino – are also produced in this province; see previous post). Taurasi must contain at least 85% Aglianico and must be aged for a minimum of three years, with one of those years in wood. (While most producers do make their Taurasi exclusively from Aglianico, some blend in small amounts of Piedirosso, a red variety with higher acidity and softer tannins.)
Taurasi features the black cherry fruit and bitter chocolate notes of Aglianico along with its firm tannins. Most examples of Taurasi need a few years to settle down and round out to shed some youthful bitterness. Most examples from average to good vintages are at their best 5-7 years after the vintage date, while the best bottlings from the finest producers in the best years age anywhere from 12-20 years. A few exceptional bottlings, such as the 1968 from Mastroberardino, are still drinking well. This longevity has earned Taurasi the nickname, “Barolo of the South.”
Among the finest producers of Taurasi are the following:
- Feudi di San Gregorio
- Antonio Caggiano
- Cantine Lonardo (Contrade de Taurasi)
Most bottlings of Taurasi are in the $35-$45 price range, which puts them well below the best bottlings of more famous Italian reds such as Brunello di Montalcino or Barolo. If you are looking for a lesser expensive example of Aglianico, look for a bottling simply listed as Aglianico Campania or Irpinia Aglianico which will be priced between $18 to $25. Basically, these are examples of Aglianico that have not been aged long enough to be called Taurasi, so they must be labeled differently. These wines are often from younger vines and while they will not age as long as a Taurasi, they still drink well for anywhere from three to seven years, and are much more approachable upon release. Look for these bottlings from Mastroberardino, Feudi di San Gregorio (Rubrato) and Vinosia, among others.
AGLIANICO DEL TABURNO
Another great example of Aglianico is Aglianico del Taburno from the province of Benevento to the north of Avellino. This DOC is home to some excellent wines; with less acidity than Taurasi, a typical Aglianico del Taburno will not age as long as that wine, but it has the same flavors and richness and is an impressive wine. Look for examples from producers such as:
- Cantina del Taburno
A change in style
As with many famous red wines throughout Italy, Taurasi has undergone some changes over the past decade. Most bottlings up until the mid 1980s or early 1990s were aged in large oak casks known as botti grandi; a few producers even aged their wines in chestnut barrels.
Today, however most producers use barriques for aging their Taurasi, which has changed the style of the wine, as there is more wood influence (vanilla, toast, spice) from these small barrels. Mastroberardino, for example, starts the aging in barriques (only one-third new) and then finishes it in large casks, so their Taurasi has just a touch of modernity; though different from the older bottlings, their newer examples of Taurasi are still subdued when it comes to oak.
Yet other producers use only barriques for aging; several of these wines have been awarded top ratings from certain wine publications, so it’s easy to see why more producers are using small barrels to age their Taurasi. But the question remains if these new examples will age as long as the classically produced bottlings from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Time will tell, I guess.
All text on Learn Italian Wines is ©Tom Hyland