Domenico Winery + Osteria

Vineyards by Mount Vesuvius in Campania, Italy

Famous Italian Wines 101: Aglianico

Italy is home to many leading red wine grapes, and one you cannot overlook is Aglianico. Hailing from the gorgeous region of Campania, Aglianico is a super ancient grape that dates back to when the Greeks once occupied Italy. Such a long history means tons of time for this grape and its winemaking practices to evolve into something special.

Let’s discover all you need to know about Aglianico (and how it ventured beyond its Italian roots!)

What is Aglianico?

Aglianico is a grape native to Italy, specifically the Campania region. Located South of Rome on the Western Italian coast, Campania is where you will find Napoli (the capital city) as well as the iconic Amalfi Coast. Aglianico is also found in the region of Basilicata, which lies inland, just slightly Southeast of Campania.

When it comes to its nature, Aglianico is a thick-skinned grape that produces full-bodied wines, with high tannins and acidity. There are various expressions of Aglianico. These expressions all depend on where the grapes are grown and the approach that winemakers take in producing the wine.

Vineyards by Mount Vesuvius in Campania, Italy

Aglianico’s Ancient History

What is incredible about Aglianico is just how old it is. Rumor has it that this grape was brought over by the Phoenicians, although this has yet to be confirmed. What we do know is – Aglianico sounds a lot like Ellenico, a reference to the Greek (or Hellenic) times in Southern Italy, also known as Magna Graecia. Yes, the Greeks once occupied the majority of the South and Southwestern Italian coast, from Napoli all the way down to Calabria, Puglia, and Sicily!

Today, this ancient grape most popularly grows in two modern-day Italian regions – Campania and Basilicata. In Campania, a leaner, more fragrant style Aglianico is produced, particularly in Taurasi, a world-renowned DOCG (Denomination of Controlled Origin.) This is the Aglianico that many find tastes oh so similarly to Nebbiolo, the grape behind the famous Piemontese wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. Some even go as far as to call Aglianico the “Nebbiolo of the South.” But, Aglianico does have a personality all of its own.

To be honest, Aglianico grows all over Campania. It has another DOCG, called Aglianico del Taburno. The grape also finds itself made outside of the DOCG quite often, into red, rosé, and even sparkling styles.

In Basilicata, you will find Aglianico del Vulture. This Aglianico is larger-bodied than most of its Campanian cousins. Plus, it has a pretty cool character, due to its vineyards resting in ultra volcanic soil, left by the now inactive Monte Vulture volcano.

What does Aglianico taste like?

Aglianico has an expressive, bold character. It has lots of tannin and acidity, something you’ll know with just one little sip. Aglianico has aromas of roses, earth, and even mushrooms, like Nebbiolo. But, Aglianico is often a little richer in spice and fruit. This wine can have some seriously savory and spicy flavors, like smoked meat, tobacco, and pepper.

A lot of Aglianico’s character does depend on where it’s grown. Its fruit flavors are a perfect example. Aglianico can have a riper fruit character when grown in warmer climates, such as in Aglianico del Vulture, or outside of Italy (Australia or California for example.) Also, aging plays a big role in how Aglianico tastes as well. Slow aging in wood can soften Aglianico’s intense tannins. But, there are lighter, younger styles of Aglianico out there aged in stainless steel that are just as drinkable.

aglianico grapes in Basilicata

How this Grape Made it to California

California is home to many Italian grapes.  It comes as no surprise – Italian immigrants came to California in the early 19th century, many bringing grape clones with them.

Over the last 10 years, Aglianico has been planted more and more in California. Grape growers adore it, as it has the capacity to handle hotter dryer weather. Aglianico is also just a truly noble grape, with the potential to produce spectacular wines. So, for a winemaker, it’s hard to resist planting it if you have the right microclimate. And certain areas of California have them. Amador County, San Luis Obispo, and San Joaquin are just a few examples of AVAs that are loving Aglianico.

Aglianico Food Pairings

A big red calls for bold food. Aglianico is an excellent match for meat, due to its crazy tannins and acidity that slice through meat like butter. This wine is a friend to braised meats, with aromatic herbs and spices. Think Oxtail or short rib. Aglianico can also pair with barbecued meats as well. If you’re going the vegetarian route, you don’t have to stray away from Aglianico. This wine can be a friend of perfectly grilled or sauteed mushrooms as well as hardy veggies (like cauliflower or kale.)

And, we can’t forget about cheese! Aglianico is a friend to both strong and/or hard cheeses. Well-aged Parmigiano or provolone are great options. Or, if you prefer a softer cheese, taleggio can be a great match.

Have you ever tried Aglianico? Whether that’s a yes or no, we invite you to try a bit of California and Italy altogether. Domenico Winery makes its very own Aglianico in California, while also offering Historia Antiqua’s Aglianico di Taurasi and Irpinia Aglianico, made by Dominick’s very own cousins in Italy. This way you get a taste of both worlds!

If you ever have any questions on Aglianico or wine in general, never hesitate to leave a comment or reach out to us via email or on social.