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The Wines of Basilicata

Wines of BasilicataIt’s true, you know, what they say about having only one talent but doing it well. Such dedicated focus may be the source of some truly distinguished and inimitable expressions. Basilicata may not have an extensive resume of viticultural accomplishments; nevertheless, its credentials are wholly unique—distinguishing it from the neighboring Campania, which has long reigned as the South’s exemplar of quality.

In the wine realm, the small region of Basilicata distinguishes itself as a specialist in Aglianico, the most famous grape within Italy’s recovered contingent of ancient varietals. It has been among Italy’s leading indigenous varietals for some time, given its inherent power and extensive catalogue of virtues. Despite Basilicata’s almost exclusive dedication to Aglianico, Campania has long claimed to be the grape’s native homeland, though no resolution has as yet been reached. Two theories posit that it was introduced by the Greeks, with one version identifying Basilicata as the initial recipient, and the other according Campania parental rights. Yet another stipulates that Aglianico was actually indigenous to Italy all along—growing untamed until its domestication by the Greeks.

While Campania has undeniably realized a rather prodigious evolution with respect to its catalogue of Aglianicos, realizing discernible distinctions among its various sub zones, Basilicata’s terroir—particularly that characterizing the Monte Vulture site—always enabled the production of a complex wine that truly maximizes all of the grape’s prodigious potential. The core of Basilicata’s high viticultural accomplishment is, in a word, altitude. With heights reaching 1,800 feet and above, Basilicata enjoys a beneficent temperature fluctuation between day and night, with the heat of the former realizing a concentrated character and the cool of the latter ensuring the retention of acidity. This consummate balancing act is coupled with the potassium-rich soils afforded by Monte Vulture, producing a wine that exudes power, concentration, and a sauvage dimension.

Production of Aglianico del Vulture is very limited, and commercial operation is lead by two producers, Paternoster and D’Angelo, both of whom have been at the forefront of Basilicata’s operation since their establishment in the 1920s. While each, in essence, maintains a traditionalist orientation, both portfolios evidence the incorporation of modern elements (primarily through a moderate use of oak). While this founding duo continues to headline the scene, no longer are they the sole advocates for Basilicata’s efforts with Aglianico. In recent years, they’ve been joined by a few who’ve already acquired recognition for their way with Aglianico. Notable among them are Cantine del Notaio, an estate that is particularly well-regarded for its modern interpretation of Aglianico and Elena Fucci, a family-owned operation whose work occupies that undefined ground between traditional and modern. The Eubea and Basilisco labels are both noted for crafting high-caliber, small-production bottlings.

You’ll have noted that our Basilicata page reads notably differently from our other regional profiles, bypassing a discussion of the whites in favor of the red. The implication here is a fairly obvious one: there’s simply not much to say about the whites. While Basilicata does grow quite a sizable proportion of Moscato and Malvasia to fashion in both sparkling and sweet mode, they do not figure in very memorable productions, being sold nearly exclusively for the local scene. The aforementioned Paternoster also produces several white bottlings, although none are crafted for export. While its "competitor" does make a white showing in the US, its efforts in the category constitute one limited-production bottling.

When aged, Basilicata’s solitary red finds its perfect complement in the region’s lamb dishes—such as spezzatino di agnello (lamb stewed in an earthenware pot with potatoes, onions, bay leaf, and peppers) and cazmarr (stew of lamb’s innards, prosciutto, cheese, and wine). Pork enjoys a high rank in the meat group, and its inherent ability to keep has been maximized through its contributions to the salumi category—particularly in the form of luganiga (sausage), salame (cured sausage, either cooked or smoked), and soppressata (cured dry pork flavored with black peppercorns).

Pasta dishes are prevalent, with preferred forms including minuich (hand-rolled tubes), lasagne (with beans), and strangulapreuti (priest stranglers). A ready alternative from pasta-as-usual is provided by grano, cooked wheat grains that exercise privileges in both the dinner and dessert realms, making appearances in the latter as puddings. Cheeses are of significance as well, with caciovallo meriting particular distinction, as part of the cheese’s Caciovallo Silano DOP is situated in Basilicata. Other cheeses of note are casiddi (goat’s milk) and two particularly decadent offerings—mateca, which possesses a butter filling and burrino farcito, which takes the latter’s butter filling to extremes with the addition of salame. Other specialities include Peperone di Senise (bell pepper) and Fagiolo di Sarconi—a derivative of the Canellino and Borlotti beans and the star constituent of pasta e fagioli—both of which are IDP-protected