Susan Hulme MW profiles the best areas and producers of one Italy's oldest grapes. Plus see her top 12 Campania Aglianico wines, available exclusively to Decanter Premium members.

Aglianico in Campania

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Aglianico is one of the world’s great grape varieties. It is certainly one of Italy’s three top-quality red grapes, along with Nebbiolo and Sangiovese. If Barolo and Barbaresco, Brunello and Chianti are northern and central Italy’s vinous odes to greatness, then the Aglianico of Taurasi is certainly Italy’s southern counterpart. A great grape must have several features.

These include an historical pedigree; the intrinsic qualities of the variety itself; the ability to produce wines that can age; and the ability to express differences of location or to transmit terroir. Mastroberardino is historically the most important Taurasi producer, with a family history going back to the mid-1800s – for many years it was the lone defender and champion of Aglianico.

‘Its origins are very ancient,’ explains Piero Mastroberardino, who believes that the introduction of Aglianico to Campania can be traced back to ancient Greek settlements in the south of Italy, in around the 6th or 7th century BC. Even the name is said to have Greek origins, being a corruption of Vitis Hellenica (Greek vine). Whatever its origins, Aglianico is undoubtedly one of Italy’s oldest grape varieties.

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Place and personality

Mastroberardino gives a description of the variety’s special qualities. ‘The particular values of this ancient variety are the great polyphenolic and aromatic qualities, as well as the acidity level, which is generally higher than in other red grape varieties,’ he says, adding that this gives ‘increased longevity’. I recently tasted a selection of several 20-year-old Taurasi wines from the mid-1990s which, unbelievably, still seemed a little too youthful. Indeed, Mastroberardino still shows wines going back as far as the 1950s and 1960s which have the freshness and tenacity of much younger wines. These are truly some of the longest-lived wines in Italy.

Piero Mastroberardino

Aglianico can be found in Molise, Puglia, Calabria, Sicily and Basilicata (home of Aglianico del Vulture Superiore DOCG), but it is in Campania where it finds many of its best expressions. There are two DOCGs here: Taurasi DOCG (established 1993) and Aglianico del Taburno DOCG (since 2011), and there are also a multitude of smaller DOCs in which it features, usually as a single variety but also blended with other local varieties such as Piedirosso.