Elena Fucci ‘Titolo’ Aglianico del Vulture 2005

Aglianico and its most well known representation, Taurasi, has been called one of the great wines of Italy, as well as the catchy moniker ‘Barolo of the South,’ but despite the generally lavish praise it remains a relatively under-appreciated grape and wine. Hailing from Southern Italy, it is most commonly found in Campania and Basilicata. Campania’s ‘Taurasi’ is the most well known DOCG for Aglianico but Basilicata’s Vulture region is gaining traction, and for good reason.

Like Taurasi, Vulture is home to an incredibly diverse array of volcanic soil types, with vineyards at high elevations. Vulture however, because of its proximity to the sea (and exposure) tends to have even higher diurnal temperature variation than Taurasi, balancing out the effects of the unrelenting Southern Italian heat. That is why I believe in the best examples, Aglianico del Vulture beats out Taurasi for quality and ageability.

One of my favorites is Elena Fucci’s ‘Titolo.’ Elena Fucci makes only a single wine, 100% Aglianico, from old vine plantings in Vulture. In the late 90’s she convinced her family to let her making their own wine from the vineyards, which up to that point had been sold wholesale.

I’ve purchased more than a few bottles of Titolo over the past few years, but they were optimistic purchases as I had never tried a mature example. This particular bottle is soaring at 12 years old with another decade of reliable enjoyment ahead!

The color was a memorizing dark maroon with an opaque core. Aromas of dark berry fruits, grilled herbs, tar, and smoke gave a good indication of the terroir while a refreshing streak of saline reminded you of the maritime winds that cool this vineyard at night.

The palate is smooth, with a lush array of dark black and red fruits with ripe, persistent tannin emerging with air and a very nice savory finish. This wine is in a great place, though with air it picks up considerable tannin and a rich, dark dried fruit quality. After a few hours it was far more tannic and robust, with the aromatics continuing to shift.

I saved a glass for day two. It started to take on the qualities of a middle-aged Bordeaux, with aromas of tobacco and cedar. This wine will age evenly and for a good many years.

2012 Gattinara Franco Patriarca

It’s not news that Barolo and Barbaresco don’t have the monopoly on top quality Nebbiolo that they were once perceived to have, yet it still is tough to find new quality wineries from competition, like Ghemme, Carema, and of course Gattinara.

It’s not news that Barolo and Barbaresco don’t have the monopoly on top quality Nebbiolo that they were once perceived to have, yet it still is tough to find new quality wineries from the competition, like Ghemme, Carema, and of course Gattinara. This Alto-Piemonte poster child is only just north of the Abla and Asti communes, yet with a substantial difference of terroir, that is its volcanic soil. Despite the Alto-Piemonte climate, Gattinara’s volcanic grown Nebbiolo creates deep, aromatic, and mineral wines thanks to the distinctive soil. The region had an unfortunate 15 minutes of limelight back in the 60’s when someone tried to make it fashionable, but being pre-DOC regulations, a flood of cheap knockoffs and downright fraudulent wines flooded the market and ruined its image.

With DOCG regulations as strict as Barolo/Barbaresco and an equally important, though quite different soil composition, Gattinara can produce some pretty stunning Nebbiolo that can last decades. Yet few quality producers remain after the mid-century exodus from the farmlands. It is still only a shadow of the wine-making region it once was, and while Travaligni and Antoniolo still hold the torch, new wineries just aren’t popping up that often. So imagine my surprise at Kermit Lynch in Berkeley, when I find a reasonably Gattinara from Franco Patriarca sitting on the shelf.

With only 250 cases made, this is truly a locally oriented gem. Fermented in steel and age in only large barrels, this is a clean, transparent Nebbiolo.

 

The color is a deep crystalline rose with a pale garnet reflection. The aromas of rosewater and bay dominate the nose, as well as a somewhat unappealing watermelon candy quality. As time goes on, a more tarry, mineral tinged quality lifts from the glass that puts it a very good place. The clean unpretentious quality of this wine is honest and intriguing at the same time. RECOMMENDED

A New Classic Brunello – Albatreti

About a year ago, several wine retailers/preachers/bloggers (K&L, Garagiste) all simultaneously started raving about a new producer in Montalcino, making Brunello and Rosso on a tiny plot just South-west of the town, at one of the higher elevations in the appellation. The vintner Gaetano Salvioni, was a hobbyist until the 2009 vintage, and with his 2010 vintage began to make waves. The prices were rock bottom, the style classic and pure, the only problem was availability as Mr Salvioni only makes about 5,000 or 6,000 bottles.

I managed to get my hands a few of his 2009 and 2010 Brunello, and the 2009 Rosso. As 2010 resulted in famously structured and long-lived Brunelli, I decided to open up his 2009s. My notes are below, but the take home is should you see these bottles, grab them with both hands. The prices are astounding for Brunello, and the quality is sky-high in a very unpretentious, character filled manner. You will find all the hallmarks of Brunello in these wines, wrapped in a pure classic style that does not appear to making a statement or trying too hard.

 

Albatreti 2009 Rosso di Montalcino

2009 Albatreti Rosso di Montalcino

This one needed a ton of air to unwind. Surprising concentration given its Rosso designation and the color. Some browning around the edges, aroma is muddy at first, but menthol and garden herbs emerge along with an overall sauvage quality. Exceptional Tuscan personality, and a sense of terroir that immediately brings vibrant images of the landscape to your mind. Underbrush and red earth, with warm, soft red fruits.
Palate also took a few hours but found balance eventually. A mid-weight, textured, red with fine tannin that cling to your tongue. Fruit is typical, and quite subdued. My only question about the wine going for longer is the rather buried or faded fruit. Given the mix of developed tertiary aromas and still vibrant structure, this wine is at its peak. The structure and balance are quite fine for a Rosso designation.

 

2009 Albatreti Brunello di Montalcino

2009 Albatreti Brunello di  Montalcino

Garnet color, medium concentration. Nose is a shifting aroma of burnt orange peel, bright red cherry, and a nice herbal component (mint/laurel). Palate is high toned, good acid and very fine tannin. There is nothing over ripe or lush, it has good tension.
This definitely has a long-ish life ahead of it, at least another 5 years. The wine has definitely found a nice balance and is drinking well but unlike the Rosso, has not revealed any signs of tertiary development yet. Overall this is a rustic style, not the big glamorous over-oaked Brunellos chasing parker-points, beloved by the inspirations for the casts of Wall Street or American Psycho. Good wine for food and company.

Donnafugata ‘Ben Rye’ Passito di Pantelleria

On the dry, wind swept isle of Pantelleria, closer to the coast of Tunisia than Sicily, Donnafugata crafts one of the best sweet wines of its class, from the Zibbibo grape: “Passito di Pantelleria.

On the dry, wind swept isle of Pantelleria, closer to the coast of Tunisia than Sicily, Donnafugata crafts one of the best sweet wines of its class, from the Zibbibo grape: “Passito di Pantelleria.” Named Ben Rye, Arabic for Son of the Wind, it clocks in at about 14% abv from year to year, with a golden hue and absolutely intoxicating nose of apricot and almond. If you are a fan of Sauternes you owe it to yourself to find a bottle.

– 2012 Ben Rye 375ml  –

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Rich, vibrant golden color with a shimmering intensity. The nose is all apricot marmalade, with a background nuttiness that keeps you guessing. The palate is similar, with a rich glycerol texture and that coats the palate all the way back and lingers for a minute or more. Notes of orange peel, and butterscotch emerge with some time. The acid is just enough to keep it lively but make no mistake, this is a dessert. Likely this will evolve and hopefully show some other elements, but right now the fruit is so dominant, and hedonistic that you can scarcely imagine how.

– 2008 Ben Rye Limited Edition 750ml  –

Bottled as part of an anniversary for the winery, 2008 was a stellar year for the Passito. They made a careful selection of lots to remain in barrel longer, with additional bottle aging at the winery. The result is a far deeper color than younger regular releases I have tried, almost mahogany. Slightly oxidative notes of caramel, but awash in its intoxicating aromas of dried peaches and apricots, sweet baking spices and even a pleasant medicinal aspect. Great emphasis on butterscotch and orange peel than younger bottles too, reminding me slightly of lighter styles of Vin Santo. Acidity and sweetness were in balance, which was a relief as that was my chief worry with trying a older bottle.
Nectar of the gods for sure.