Two fine italian wines for the month of january 2009

Wine for january – Under $25

Bisceglia, Aglianico del Vulture 2003 (About $16)

Aglianico is probably southern Italy’s best red grape variety. Like Nebbiolo, Aglianico (pronounced ahl yahn’ ee ko) is a dark-skinned, late-ripening, tannic and acidic grape that traditionally produces full-bodied, age-worthy wines that are often referred to as the “Barolos of the south.”  Aglianico is both the name of a grape variety and the name of the wine made from this varietal.

The Turasi district in the Campania region produces outstanding Aglianico wines that have received very favorable press in recent years. The Monte Vulture (pronounced mon tay vul’ too rey) area in the northwestern part of the Basilicata region is also a prominent source of Aglianico wines. While overshadowed by the Aglianico wines from Turasi district, Aglianico del Vulture wines have long had enthusiastic fans in Italy and are just now starting to receive critical international acclaim and recognition. The Aglianico varietal thrives in the rich volcanic soil surrounding Monte Vulture (an extinct volcano) and a new focus on quality by several dedicated producers is raising the bar for Aglianico wines overall.

Bisceglia, Aglianico del Vulture 2003One such producer is the Bisceglia (pronounced be shay’ yhea ah) winery located in the Lavello district in the Basilicata region. Founded in 2001 by Mario Bisceglia, the winery has in a short period of time become one of the shining stars in southern Italy’s wine firmament.

Mario Bisceglia has invested heavily in building a sleek, new winery (designed by internationally-acclaimed architects Hikaru Mori and Domenico Santomauro) and its wine-making facilities and ageing cellars are state of the art. The estate consists of 84 acres of vineyards in the Lavello district where Bisceglia grows traditional varietals such as Aglianico, Primitivo and Fiano, in addition to a few international varietals. Bisceglia follows organic farming principles and all of his vineyards have been certified organic.

Under the guidance of winemaker Sergio Paternoster, Bisceglia produces a number of noteworthy red and white wines but the Aglianico wines are clearly the crown jewels of the estate. The 2005 Aglianico del Vulture “Gudarra” by Bisceglia was a Gambero Rosso “Three Glass” winner for 2009 and their flagship Aglianico del Vulture “Riserva” has also garnered numerous wine awards.

Bisceglia’s Aglianico del Vulture Basilicata 2003 is a ripe, juicy Aglianico wine. Its for those who favor big red wines and then like to crank it up a notch. It has an almost impenetrable black color with purple-orange hints at the rim and sweet dark cherry and plum aromas that need some aeration in the glass in order to develop fully. A sizeable and dense mouth feel with a concentrated and chewy texture is balanced by firm tannins and good acidity. It has a certain earthiness around the edges – not uncommon in wines made with southern Italian indigenous varietals – that adds an extra dimension to the wine’s appeal. This robust wine goes well with hearty meals involving grilled meats, stews, roast lamb or game. It’s delicious and a great value at this price.

Where can I buy this wine? Available at Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits and Georgetown Wine and Spirits.

Wine for January – $25 and over

Pecchenino, Dolcetto di Dogliani DOCG “Siri d’Jermu” 2005 (about $26)

I first had this wine several years ago at the Vincafe, a popular wine bar in central Alba, a small town an hour’s drive south of Turin that is the unofficial wine capital of Italy’s Piedmont region. At the Vincafe the menu is simple but well prepared and the tables packed so close together you can help season the entrée at the adjoining table. But my wife and intrepid companion, Julie, and I were in wine heaven as the conversation around us was all about wine. Some of the patrons were vintners while others were friends of vintners and the place was packed with people sampling wines and cheese.

Dolcetto is one of my favorite wines and I always look for it on the wine lists of trattorias where lighter fare is served. We both ordered a glass of the Pecchenino Dolcetto di Dogliani “Siri d’Jermu” (pronounced see ree dee yer’ moo). Although Dolcetto wines are popularly known as pleasant, easy-drinking wines best drunk within a year or two of harvest, the wine was unlike any Dolcetto we had previously tasted. It had a rich, velvety, complex mouth feel that reminded me somewhat of a Cotes du Rhone-Villages from southern France that would have paired well with complex, haut-cuisine dishes.

This wine is from the commune of Dogliani, a small town a short distance south of Alba. This unprepossessing town is intimately associated with Dolcetto. While other producers in nearby regions treat Dolcetto as a secondary grape to the more famous Nebbiolo and Barbera varietal, the producers in this hillside community treat Dolcetto as their primary varietal, plant it in the best locations and have in general dedicated themselves to achieving the best expression of this native varietal.

Their efforts have paid off in that Dolcettos from Dogliani are generally recognized as among the best Dolcettos and have recently been accorded DOCG (Denominazione di Pecchenino, Dolcetto di Dogliani DOCG "Siri d'Jermu" 2005Origine Controllata e Garantita) status, the only Dolcetto appellation that can claim that distinction. Beginning with the 2005 vintage, Dolcetto wines from Dogliani that have been aged for no less than 18 months can carry the DOCG designation.

The Pecchenino estate is one of several small family-run Dogliani wineries that has been at the forefront of the movement to fashion Dolcettos of character and distinction. The owners, Orlando and Attilio Pecchenino, are the fourth generation to run the winery which currently totals about 60 acres in the Dogliani area. They follow organic farming principles, utilizing organic compost and eschewing the use of any chemical products for weed or pest control.

While the Pecchenino estate also grows Barbera, Nebbiolo and even some Arneis grapes, their primary focus is on Dolcetto and over three-quarters of their land under vine is given over to Dolcetto. They produce several versions of Dolcetto from different vineyards that include Siri d’Jermu, San Luigi and Bricco Botti.

Pecchenino’s 2005 “Siri d’Jermu” is an elegant Dolcetto with plenty of up-front fruit and heady aromatics. It is richly textured and complex with vivid acidity and gentle tannins. The Pecchenino brothers have taken what is popularly known as a pleasant wine and fashioned a modern Dolcetto of character and distinction. Now that's a change we can believe in.

Where can I buy this wine? Available at MacArthur Beverages.

Note – prices indicated are averages for the Washington DC metro area and will vary from store to store. While in stock at time of writing, stores may sell out of the selections so availability is not guaranteed. Call to check on price and availability before making the trip.

©Richard Marcis
January 12, 2009




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