Under the Volcano

So did you miss me? Italian Grapevine has been on the road, meeting vintners and tasting vintages, exploring the myriad geographical marvels of the Bel Paese peninsula. But we’re back, and will be reporting on all the jewels we’ve discovered, so keep your eyes peeled for our reportage…

Flashback to Vinitaly 2018: I met the man behind the wine. The wine had already intrigued me, the Vinitaly encounter made me write a note to self: get to Basilicata and see this place!

I have a secret: I’m in love with the Aglianico grape. But Aglianico del Vulture is something else again.

Basilicata is not ‘on the way to’ anyplace. You’ve got to make a point to go there. From the plains of Puglia (I flew into Bari), the extinct volcano Monte Vulture (pronounced vúl-tu-ray) rises, marking your destination.

Parco-del-Volture

IMG_8766An unexpected visit to the craters, now beautiful alpine lakes – the Monticchio lakes – in the company of Gerardo Giuratrabocchetti, owner of Cantine del Notaio, completed the visit. Talk about terroir: this massive volcano spewed lava that enriched the soil of the surrounding area (I’m simplifying of course…), which helped not only the wine, but the vegetation as well.

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And lots of delicious mineral water comes from here too! The fiery red iron-rich water will cure your anemia!

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Arriving in Rionero, home to Cantine del Notaio in the province of Potenza, I got the true sense of cantina – that is to say, the basement, the underground resting place for the wine.

These grottoes were used by Franciscan monks, and to visit them, the winery gives you a humidity-repellent windbreaker. Down you go, into the dark and damp underground caverns that were built in the 1500s and 1600s, cut into the tufo stone – creating a perfect environment for the aging of wine in barrels.

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Of course, it makes sense: all those Aglianico tannins need to be softened by spending time in the barrel!

 

Aglianico del Vulture is a relatively new phenomenon: in the early 1960s, Gerardo’s family was producing wine, but there were no strict controls on production. One historical bottle they keep didn’t even have the word ‘wine’ on the label! But all that changed in 1971, when the DOC appellation came along. And starting in 2010, Aglianico del Vulture Superiore became one of Italy’s 74 DOCG wines.

The first real bottle of Cantine del Notaio dates to 1998, when Gerardo left his University post to make wine. His grandfather Gerardo gave him the vineyard, supposedly because he had the same name. The names of the various wines – La Firma (the signature), Il Sigillo (the seal), L’Atto (the act) – all have to do with the job of a notary.

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What cannot be conveyed to you here is the big, engaging personality of Gerardo Giuratrabocchetti. He is a great communicator, with an ironic way of presenting interesting and relevant historical and cultural facts, and he has a keen sense of timing. The winery is like a museum, with lots of artifacts and agricultural memorabilia.

The other thing that cannot be conveyed to you here is the mouthful that is Aglianico del Vulture. Typically ruby red, with good consistency, intense, with fruity and floral bouquet, on the palate you have a mouthful of cherries, honey, figs, ripe plum. It’s elegant, it’s got velvety tannins in the superior vintages, with hints of chocolate, black pepper or liquorice. Clearly, part of the game is knowing how to tame this grape, and when you do, the result is delicious!

Views of and from the winery

To check if my reporting is accurate, you’re just going to have to visit the place. And since nearby Matera, an important city in the Region of Basilicata, will be European Capital of Culture in 2019, you can start planning that trip now!

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