How about Aglianico?
If, like me, you associate this grape with Greece, then like me, you probably know less about Campania than you think you do.
On the other hand, if you can point to Campania on a map, you know more about Campania than I do, and for that matter, if you can point to Vermont on a map you know more about shit in general than I do.
Turns out that within their respective countries, Vermont is in the upper right and Campania is in the lower left. One contains Bernie Sanders and a lot of drugs and the other contains Pompeii and a lot of Aglianico. In fact, Aglianico is the main red wine grape of the region, where, along with neighboring Basilicata, it was brought to town by immigrating Greeks around the same time that Bernie Sanders was born. It became the principal grape of famed, Cleopatra-approved Falernian wines, praised by Diocletian and which Pliny the Elder claimed was so strong he could light it on fire.
More recently, the late Denis Dubourdieu—professor of oenology at the University of Bordeaux—suggested that Aglianico “…is probably the grape with the longest consumer history of all”.
The mention of Pompeii as a Campanian landmark is not incidental: Aglianico grows best in volcanic soils. In Basilicata, among the most complex and expressions of the grape in the world is found in Aglianico del Vulture, Monte Vulture being an extinct volcano whose several eruptions over the past million years or so have left aggregates idea for the cultivation of Aglianico.
In Campania, Vesuvius is the dominant stack-blower, but there are plenty of other malignant mountains in the region, including Palinuro, a complex of volcanoes about forty miles off the coast of Cilento.
In 1996, nineteen hundred years after Vesuvius ruined Pompeii’s day, Bruno De Conciliis convinced his father to abandon the Cilento chicken farm and plant Aglianico (along with Fiano, a fascinating, indigenous white wine variety). The estate proved ideally suited for viticulture; the slopes are steep and south facing, and the soil is rich in the scorched-earth minerality that is emblematic of volcano country.
What Does Any of This Have to Do with John Coltrane?
This: Bruno De Conciliis is a huge fan of the equally volcanic saxophonist, and borrowed the name ‘Naima’—Coltrane’s moody 1959 ballad—for his signature wine. Naima was the middle name of Coltrane’s wife Juanita, and now graces a bold, musky, melodic Aglianico that displays the temper and texture of the original tune.
As a song, ‘Naima’ is constructed around a sustained bass tone with a beautiful, rich chord progression is touch with slight dissonance. As a wine, the bass pedal is reflected in the tannic bedrock, almost Barolo-like in its profundity. Above that rises berry notes blending with layers of sweet spice and fresh tobacco leaves; and there’s your appropriate dissonance. It’s that interplay of brilliant, acidic fruit and jarring fragrance that often typifies volcanic wines, with their cornucopia of trace elements.
In general, overthinking a ballad or a bottle can lead to some loss of simple hedonistic pleasure. Not so Coltrane’s music, and by extension, Naima Aglianico—they wind up being artwork you can overthink and still not plumb all the innards and the implications.