DNA analyses have indicated that Aglianico may be a variety ancestral to such grapes as Syrah, Teroldego and Negroamaro.
The Mastroberardino family, led by the scholarly Antonio Mastroberardino (who considers himself as much an archaeologist of vines as a winemaker), preserved and propagated the species, which may be the oldest of Campanian vines.
‘Aglianico has been grown in Campania for thousands of years. It made wine for the Romans. For centuries it has proliferated but was almost destroyed by phylloxera and was on the verge of extinction until my family acted.’
Before phylloxera, Aglianico was one of the most widely planted varieties throughout the south of Italy. After phylloxera, the grape survived in small quantities in more or less isolated areas, principally around Rionero del Vulture in Basilicata, around Avellino, Benevento, Caserta and Salerno in Campania.
The wines of two of those areas always commanded respect within Italy and among a handful of connoisseurs abroad: Aglianico del Vulture, of which D’Angelo was the major producer, and Taurasi, of which the Avellino-based Mastroberardino was the most important producer.
It’s probably not stretching the truth to say that for a few decades in the late 20th century, those two accounted for 90% of the Aglianico wines on the Italian market and 99% of the Aglianico wines sold abroad – the wines’ commercial and critical success gradually encouraged other producers to try a similar path.
Aided and abetted by clonal studies undertaken in cooperation with the University of Naples, growers old and new began to renovate their vineyards, a process still ongoing and likely to continue for some time yet.
They also began to modernise their cellar techniques and started bringing into the traditional-minded Aglianico heartland some of Italy’s best and most up-to-date consulting oenologists – notably Riccardo Cotarella, who has scored fantastic successes with estates such as Feudi di San Gregorio, Villa Matilde, and Montevetrano.