I recently attended the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in St. Helena, California. At each meal, we were offered a selection of wines from Napa Valley Vintners, including a segment called A Toast to New Discoveries with Unexpected Napa Wines. In that lineup, a certain wine caught my eye: Benessere Vineyards 2014 Anglianico St. Helena.
“Aglianico is a dark-skinned Italian variety indigenous to the Campania region around Naples. It produces a deep ruby wine with powerful aromas and flavors and significant tannin,” says the winery.
“Our friends Bill and Kathy Collins grow the only Aglianico in Napa Valley, all of which comes to Benessere. We source Aglianico and Zinfandel (planted in the early 1900s) from the historic ‘Collins Holystone Vineyard’ adjacent to our estate.”
My curiosity was sternly grabbed. The only Aglianico in Napa? Planted in early 1900s? What’s the story?
What is Aglianico?
Native to the southern Italian regions of Campania and Basilicata, this varietal shape-shifts with age. Packed with tannins and acidity that brush up front in youth, these elements soften after a decade or more in the cellar.
Full-bodied with a megastructure, the aromas and flavors include “White Pepper, Cracked Peppercorn, Black Cherry, Blueberry, Blackberry Bramble, Black Plum, Dried Cranberry, Dried Raspberry, Wild Strawberry, Black Truffle, Potting Soil, Underbrush, Mushroom Broth, Cured Meat, Smoked Meat, Leather, Game, Smoke, Cocoa, Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Ash, Cedar, Tobacco, Cigar Box, Incense, Tar, Coffee, Licorice, Dried Oregano, Dried Roses,” according to Wine Folly.
Aglianico in Napa
According to the California Grape Acreage Report – 2016 Crop, approximately 70 acres of Aglianico exist in California. San Luis Obispo, San Joquin, and Amador Counties being the relative leaders in plantings with double-digit teen registers. Napa County, where Benessere acquires the grapes for their wine, has a lonely one acre.
The fact that I had the chance to get to know their wine reminds me that we must be conscientious tasters with an eye for the minutia to really take advantage of the fruits of being a wine lover. It is the obscure and rare, protected and treasured, that keeps us searching for the next gem.
Terroir represents place, and style represents winemaking and grape-growing interpretation – varietal, while influenced by both, is the bearer of DNA. Along with yeast, the varietal component reminds us there is a universe of life inside wine. Why not try a varietal that lives in a single acre? Why not see what comes out of that engagement of the sun, soil, rain, and wind that drifts across that one acre?
Benessere’s Italian Ways
John and Ellen Benish bought their St. Helena property in 1994 after falling in love with the Italian way of life on a trip there in the 1980’s. They toasted their first vintage in 1995, a Sangiovese. Since then they’ve widened their production but have kept a focus on Italian varietals and styles.
And it’s a good thing – we need growers and makers that employ something for the enthusiast. We need the old world in the new world to keep the circle intact. Italian immigrants to California were essential in the establishment of vineyards and the wine industry as a whole. That they didn’t plant heritage varietals from the homeland is a story of the contemporary style of the time, one that leaned into French wine rather than Italian.
Randy Caparoso writes on the Lodi Winegrape Commission‘s blog, “For some reason, Italian cultivars – with the exception of one, the Barbera grape – got the short shrift in the Golden State. Even emigrants coming in directly from Italy seemed to prefer Zinfandel, Carignan or Petite Sirah (a.k.a. Durif, a French crossing) over their native Italian varieties.”
It is interesting to discover a varietal such an Aglianco on offer at a Napa Valley tasting. It keeps us ready for more – our next trip in a bottle.
“Our latest Aglianico displays big, expansive flavors of dark chocolate, black fruits, and cedar. It is satisfyingly savory with a big hit of umami. Intense and mouthcoating, it is dark and somewhat enigmatic, with hints of smoke and dried rose petals. Approachable now, the wine will display even greater complexity after a few years in the bottle. ”
Available for $56 from the winery
Italian Food Wine & Travel
Our Italian Food, Wine & Travel (#ItalianFWT) Group explores Aglianico this Saturday, March 3, 2018. Our posts will all be live and we’ll be chatting about our discoveries.
Join us on Twitter Saturday, March 3 at 10am CST at #ItalianFWT as we cover the following stories:
- Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Curling up with a Good Book, a Comforting Bowl of Pasta and a Wonderful Glass of Aglianico”
- Jane from Always Ravenous shares “Braised Lamb Paired with Aglianico”
- Lynn from Savor the Harvest shares “Aglianico: A Southern Italian Gem”
- Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Memories and Flavors of Campania + Feudi di San Gregorio Aglianico Rubrato 2014″
- Lauren from The Swirling Dervish shares “Aglianico from the Old World and New: Campania vs. Paso Robles“
- Nicole from Somms Table shares “Cooking to the Wine: Vigneti del Vulture Aglianico del Vulture with Braised Oxtails“
- Jennifer at Vino Travels Italy shares “The Sacred Vines of the Basilicata with D’Angelo Aglianico”
- Here on L’Occasion we share “Aglianico Connections in the Napa Valley“
- Susannah from Avvinare shares “Aglianico from Irpinia”
- Our host Jeff at Food Wine Click! gives us “Aglianico Battle between Campania and Basilicata”