Aglianico Connections in the Napa Valley

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.

red wine from Napa, Italian wines in California
The vines in February at Benessere Vineyards in St. Helena, Napa County. Courtesy: Benessere Vineyards

“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.

Italian wine from Napa, Napa Valley Vintners, Wine from California
Benessere Vineyards property in St. Helena, California. Courtesy: Benessere Vineyards

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.

Collins Holystone Vineyard, Red wine, Napa Wine, Napa Green, Fish Friendly Farming

 

“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”
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32 Comments Add yours

  1. Jerry says:

    Had no idea there was any Aglianico over here. Love the variety, especially the age-worthiness. I have Taurasi from Mastroberardino in the cave going back 30+ years. I must get my hands on a bottle of the Napa offspring.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Thanks Jerry – This wine is available from the winery for $56… looks like they still have some 2014 around…not sure about library vintages. And definitely not sure about a 30+ years bottle.

      Glad you found it interesting and hope you get a taste soon. You’ll have to let us know how your Mastroberardino bottles taste!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing another winery in the US working with this grape. I’m always looking for them and appreciate the introduction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      I think you’d like this producer, lots of Italian varieties. They also make a Super Napan a play on Super Tuscan!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lynn says:

    Not being familiar with Benessere, didn’t know they produced Aglianico. You’ve so poetically shared your experience with this wine and grape variety, who wouldn’t want to find a bottle!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jill Barth says:

      I hope everyone gets one – the winery site says it is still available. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The only acre planted to Aglianico in Napa County, and you found it! I so enjoy stories like this one, that tell of a true labor of love. Would love to try this rarity of a wine!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      It’s funny because I didn’t necessarily expect it to be SO rare. It was featured as an usual variety for the area, but a single acre – wow!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. You’ve given me a reason to seek this winery out. Love old world grapes and the more they find their way into new world interpretations. Thanks so much for the heads up on Aglianico and Benessere Vineyards. Since it’s in my backyard I must get over there for a visit.

    Like

  6. Casey says:

    Wow very interesting that you can find Aglianco outside of Italy – will have to add to my list !

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jill Barth says:

      In small doses, but it’s here! I’m so curious about the Aglianico from other parts of CA too. Very interesting stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Wendy says:

    I had never heard of this grape before and now there are two articles from this group that found them in California wines. Very interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Your post was great fun to read, so “poetic” as Lynn put it! What a timely discovery of Aglianico in Napa Valley, I am adding Benessere Vineyards to my must visit list.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Robin Renken says:

    I had a wonderful Anglianico from Kenneth Volk a few years ago. He loves to search out these under represented varieties. And recently was gifted one from Texas! (It is not yet opened) we enjoyed the Kenneth Volk as a centerpiece wine for Thanksgiving dinner a few years back, the year we decided our bird would be duck. I look forward to reading the pieces and checking out the discussion to see more thoughts on this variety.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Thanks for sharing the suggestion to try Kenneth Volk’s wine. Noted for readers looking to try more American Aglianico.

      I’ve heard (actually in the comments to this story) that Texas Aglianico is quite favorable. Let us know when you drink it.

      Thanks for popping in!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Don’t you just love finding a wine in a region that defies expectations? Have not had this wine (nor any Aglianico in California but tasted some out of the barrel that Leonetti winemaker Chris Figgins is making in Walla Walla. Even out of the barrel you could taste the potential. (And in Oregon tried a Lagrein from Remy Wines along with a few other Italian grapes)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Thanks for sharing your American recommendations – I know readers will appreciate having some options to discover. Out of the barrel Aglianico! Was it super big?

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Aglianico is one of the last varieties that would come to mind when I think of Napa. Very happy to hear there’s atleast a small portion of acreage dedicated to it, it’s one of my favorite huge-bodied and intense reds. My first experience with it was in Texas, where the terroir was very similar to the Campania/Naples area. Will keep an eye out for it now from Napa!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Hello Greig – I’m hearing from readers that Texan Aglianico is more of ‘a thing’ than west coast Aglianico. I’ve also heard favorably about the Paso Robles presence.

      It is so interesting to sniff out these little pockets – thanks for joining the conversation!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. culinarycam says:

    I am grateful to know of another California producer, besides Ryme. Can’t wait to track down some bottles and give them a try. Thanks for posting and teaching me so many new things!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jill Barth says:

      This was a great month for learning – lots of new for me too. Thanks Cam!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Pretty brave to eschew Cabernet or Chardonnay for Aglianico in Napa Valley! I’m aware of Aglianico planted down in Paso Robles, but I’ve never heard of plantings in Napa. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jill Barth says:

      I’m thinking we need a big Paso Robles event in one of our groups!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Nicole Ruiz Hudson says:

    I must say I love this quote: “It is the obscure and rare, protected and treasured, that keeps us searching for the next gem.” So very true and so well put.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Thanks Nicole – I feel there’s some truth in that. Thanks for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Kate says:

    Aglianco sounds like a truly complex and unique wine. Time to pick up a bottle of Aglianco! I completely relate to traveling to Italy and falling in love with it. It’s hard to not appreciate their pace of and love for life.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jill Barth says:

      I’m totally excited about Aglianico now – it’s relatively new to me. Glad you felt a connection. Thanks for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. John King says:

    Please check out http://www.westoftemperance.com for more on another California Aglianico producer…

    Like

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