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Aglianico and the Velvet Touch

Ahem, what’s the saying? ... Martha Stewart in the kitchen and Jenna Jameson in the bedroom ... or something like that ... there’s a lot to be said for the dichotomy of nurture and nature.

The Italian varietal aglianico is something like that. It grabs you firmly, doesn’t let go, but caresses with a velvet touch.

Or, as the October Saveur magazine describes the wine: ‘Mistress of the Dark.’

Saveur remarks:

Think of brawny, dark, powerful wines that are also fresh and elegant; wines that combine smoke and bitter chocolate with sweet herbal flavors when young, then develop surprising delicacy and haunting fragrance with ten or 20 years of age; wines that remind many tasters of great nebbiolo ... virtually all young aglianico is forbiddingly tannic, though. Even at a tender age, it may prove a tasty match for spicy salumi, gamy ragu, or juicy beef dishes, but it will provide greater satisfaction if it’s aged in the bottle for a decade or more.

Reading this article prompted me to pull the cork on the 2002 Caparone Aglianico.

I visited Caparone in July on a swing through Paso Robles. A charmer of a winery, it’s a small operation run by Dave Caparone with help from his son Marc. They make 5 or 6000 cases of wine with limited distribution, some sales at a lone Trader Joe’s in California and some on-premise placement in New York. Everything else is sold at the winery or via the wine club. In fact, Dave told me on my visit that they are in the midst of scaling back to about 3000 cases

The thing that stands out about these wines is their positioning as everyday, enjoyable, Italian-style full-bodied wines. They are certainly priced that way—all of them are $14 a bottle, but the thing is, these wines are exceptional values and would be a steal at $30 a bottle.

Unfined and unfiltered, these wines are made with a minimal amount of intervention and are beautiful in a very graceful way.

The aglianico is an interesting story because it’s very rarely found domestically. In Dave’s words (excerpted from their site):

Aglianico was much more difficult to obtain than Nebbiolo or Sangiovese. I initially inquired at UC Davis but was told they didn’t have any. I was however, told of a vine collection owned by the Germplasm Repository, a Federal agency, which reputedly contained Aglianico. I was given permission to visit the collection and to obtain cuttings for propagation later on. In the early fall of 1986 I visited the vineyard. Doctor Harold Olmo of UC Davis was good enough to go with me to help identify the Aglianico vines, which were in several different locations.

This is the first experience I have had with aglianico and to describe it as tannic is an understatement. This is a burly wine that is drinkable now, but has enough bite that it’s certainly best paired with food.

On the UC Davis scale I gave it an 18. I really like this wine, and all of the Caparone wines. My notes for the wine:

This is a flavorful, mouth-filling, bracing wine with ample tannic structure that will let it age for years, balanced with enough zingy acidity to drink young. Dark berries and plums in the nose with a more berries and a touch of cranberry, leather and pepper on the palate and a medium long finish, this is a wine to enjoy with a hunk of red meat, grill optional, but appreciated. I gave it an 18 out of 20. Excellent.

I joined the Caparone wine club in the summer and just received a note prior to the October shipment indicating that they have determined the number of club signees they will allow in total. There’s still room, but I’m not sure how many more people they will take on. My advice is to join, join, join! At $14 a bottle, and discounted to –I think- $12 a bottle as a part of the club, you cannot go wrong with these—the aglianico grips you with a velvet touch and all of the wines engender the kind of fandom that would make a man brag about his conquest.


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