The problem with referring to Viticoltori De Conciliis ‘Latoscuro’ as ‘The Côte-Rôtie of Campania’ is that no one but a select circle of snooty, snotty, snoring old pedants will get it.
People like you and me.
So that’s why I opted not to plagiarize Todd Abrams’ apt analogy, in which that hallowed hawker of hooch alluded to the tradition in the Côte-Rôtie—Northern Rhône’s roasted slope—of co-fermenting aromatic Viognier with meaty Syrah to produce a wine with an almost paradoxical bouquet, both floral and carnal.
Now, most people even on the periphery of old pedantry are quite familiar with the varietal characteristics of both Viognier and Syrah, so putting that lime in that coconut creates an organoleptic profile that one may at least wrap one’s snotty, snooty tongue around.
In Campania, the predominant red wine grape is Aglianico, and when that varietal is mentioned, even the oldest and most pedanticky among us may need to run to the World Atlas of Wine.
Italy’s Red-Wined Stepchild
Campania gets no respect. When you discuss the bold and blustery reds of Italy, I’m willing to bet dollars to Dove bars that you think of Amarone, Brunello and Barolo before you think of Taurasi, despite the fact that it can glare any of them down. Hailing from elevations that start at around two thousand feet, Taurasi’s soils are a unique blend of calcareous marls and volcanic deposits and the resulting wine is musky, tannic and acidic, and is aged for four years before release.
Taurasi—which sounds like a Star Trek planet—is as age-worthy as any Nebbiolo or Sangiovese. The acclaimed 1967 Taurasi by Mastroberardino is apparently still drinking well, although at $400 a bottle, I’ll have to take their word for it.
Back on earth, Aglianico was once used to make the iconic Roman Falernian wine, which sounds like something Taurisians would drink. As a stand-alone (as in Aglianico del Taburno or Aglianico del Vulture), it has a tendency to produce leathery, earthy wines that required multiple revolutions around the sun before they become palatable. Even then, it has a rustic, smoky nose without a lot a delicacy and is an ideal counterpart to the fatty cured meats for which the area is known—especially Campanian capicollo.
However, as the eccentric Bruno De Conciliis—who plays jazz to his aging wine to keep them happy—discovered, by macerating these tannic brutes with the skins of the local white variety Fiano, the resulting wine, like Côte-Rôtie, picks up sultry, sunny aromatics that elevate it from a brooding red to a bright and complex gallimaufry of flowers and fruit.
Fiano is Aglianico’s blonde bride, a grape grown in Campania since Jesus was cutting eyeteeth; it produces rich, honeyed nectar that seems to pull a crisp minerality from the same volcanic slopes on which Aglianico thrives.
After being flayed alive, Fiano skins are allowed to macerate for two weeks with pre-fermented Aglianico, which began its own life highly concentrated with a yield on only ½ ton per acre, resulting in…
Viticoltori De Conciliis ‘Latoscuro’, Paestum IGT, 2009 ($80).
It’s a big wine with one of the most assertive noses I can recall experiencing in a red—and it’s the influence of the white, for the most part. Big honeysuckle and orange sherbet blends with deeper red berries and the distinct scent of cola; the palate is tannic and full, with chocolate cherry surfacing about a persistent citrus backbone, both acidity and—I imagine—Fiano.
Let the Taurasians drink their Falernian; I much prefer this lighter incarnation of Aglianico, which—though it doesn’t have quite the age-power of the purist’s version—still has the stuff to live long and prosper.