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Basilicata - The Smallest Area under vine in Italy.

Updated: Jan 6, 2019

We are finally back, continuing our beautiful Journey throughout Italy. Last time, i left you with the promise to travel to Veneto; however, I want to take advantage of my most recent trip on 7-9/12/2018 to Basilicata to talk about this small region, producing great wines.

The region is the smallest region under vine in Italy. It is called 'Lucania" because he was habited by the Lucani before the greeks 8-9 centuries BC. As all the Italian regions it was then annexed by the Romans in the third centuries BC. It was then annexed by the Eastern Roman Empire and the Byzantines until it was conquered by the Lombards in the six century AD. Then the Normans incorporated the territory under the Kingdom of Sicily. It was part of the same kingdom renamed twice to Kingdom of Naples and then Kingdom of the two sicily, before being incorporated in 1861 in the kingdom of Italy.

Basilicata takes his name from the greek Basilikos, meaning prince or governor as that was who exercised authority within the territory.

The region is mostly mountainous and mostly thanks to the southern Apennines also called Appennino Lucano which reaches its highest peak at 6500 feet near the southwestern border. The only small plain is near Metaponto and the Ionic sea. The extinct Mount Vulture is a vulcano in the northwestern part of the region.

The soil varies from dark volcanic soil near the Vulture, the rest of the region is mostly clay and the area near the sea has sandy soil of marine origin; around Matera we can find also limestone.

70% of the planting is for Aglianico, but we have found Primitivo in the Matera DOC area with Sangiovese and also some example of Merlot near Metaponto on the Ionic sea.

For a very long time it was thought that Aglianico was a distinct variety of the one found in Campania, but DNA test has proven that the two grapes are the same. The Aglianico del Vulture is just a different biotype , created as response to the different environment where it grows. Aglianico is a very late ripening grape, it has thick skin and doesn't do well in draught and very warm weather; this is why the best conditions are on high elevation ; it also prefers volcanic soil. The Aglianico del Vulture is considered to produce more intense red fruit aromas than the Campania biotype.

Other red grapes are Primitivo ,Merlot and Sangiovese which produce very powerful wines. The white grapes are Malvasia Bianca and Moscato. In my visit to some of the largest winery i have found some interesting bottles of Moscato and Malvasia wines.

Aglianico del Volture DOC

The winegrowing area of Aglianico del Vulture is located in the northernmost section of Basilicata. It includes 15 villages in the province of Potenza surrounding the ancient extinct volcano Vulture. The growing conditions are optimal for the Aglianico grape. There is plenty of sun and temperature swings. There are two main areas: the area around the villages of Rionero, Melfi, Rapolla, Barile are located between 1300-2000 feet of elevation. This area produces more refined and complex wines. The area around Palazzo san Gervaso, Venosa and Lavello are at lower elevation on sandy soil of marine origin and produce fuller and more generous wines. The best example of these wines rank among the most refined and age worthy red wines of Italy.

Cantine del Notaio

One of the wineries which we visited is the cantine del Notaio in Rionero 10 miles from Venosa.The way to the winery from Venosa is through a winding road from 1000 feet to 1600 feet. Around , I could only observe the beautiful rolling hills full of vegetation and vineyards. The air was crispy almost chilly but the sun was warm enough to make the whole experience memorable. After all it was the middle of December and all around the Christmas festivity was in full swing.

As we enter the small town of Rionero, I could only observe its quaintness but above all its quietness. Lunch time is sacre here, we could tell that people were enjoying an afternoon nap. It was a day dedicated to opened wineries, in fact they were; just for the visitors on a special day. December 8th is the Immaculate Conception ( a well observed religious holiday in Italy). Antonio welcomed us to the showroom of the Cantine del Notaio.

He was very passionate in his storytelling , he was also extremely familiar with the interesting history of the winery. From the beginning with just one hectare inherited from the grand father who used to grow grapes to be sold into the markets to the current 40 hectares under vine to produce almost 200,000 bottles.

Gerardo Giuratrabocchetti ( Antonio told us its the longest last name in Italy... I haven't verified this statement, but I want to believe him; just because he was so passionate in his story). The passion for winemaking is not new to the Giuratrabocchetti's family and has been handed down for generations. In 1998 the Cantine del Notaio wine estate was born from this same tradition, when both Gerardo Giuratrabocchetti, with his degree in Agricultural Science, and his wife Marcella, took up the Aglianico del Vulture challenge. They decided to combine tradition, innovation, history and terroir in the vines growing in their vineyards. Together with Luigi Moio, Full Professor of Enology at the University of Naples, they start a valuable collaboration and an extensive research on the winemaking potential of this grape, the most important in Southern Italy. A proud but difficult vine, capable of yielding wines with extraordinary personality.

Antonio took us into the caves underneath the showroom, caves built originally as storage space by people from Albania , they were excavated from the Tufo rocks, offering a special and natural place to age the wine in barrels.

Cantine del Notaio was also voted the winery of the year at the Vinitaly trade wine show.

We walked for 1/4 of mile in the caves , inside there was also a nativity set with all the figures having a very special meaning.. Antonio described them to us .. of course the House with the Notaio couldn't have been missed , reminding us that we were at their wineries after all. The nativity manger with Baby Jesus was set in the back, just resembling a real old cave, giving the whole scene a touch of reality.

The visit ended with a few tasting of their fabulous wines. (Follow us on the wine voyager for a personal detail wine tasting notes in the near future).

Of course Aglianico is the star, with most of the wines being a different vinification of grapes harvested at different times and macerated longer or shorter depending upon the wine style to be achieved. The range goes from an easy light wine to be used as every day table wine to an "Amarone" style wine with late harvested grapes. (see the blog dedicated to the Winery del Notaio for more details and a list of their most important wines).

Then we moved to Venosa , a very old quaint medieval Hamlet. It was the Horace birthplace and the historical center of Potenza Province. I was left in awe as I walked over its ancient stones to visit some of the town major attractions, like the Horace house, the castle and finally the Incompiuta church.

Right at the center of the town we visited the cantine della Madonna delle Grazie, named in onor of the Church where the tower was clearly visible from the winery itself. A very small winery with very good niche wines. (follow us in the near future for a detail tasting notes).

Th winery is family ran, with everybody contributing to the final product. The fancy bottle names linked to the Venosa history and with the labels were designed by one of the owner‘s sons.

Messer Oto is the name of a fountain built in the late Renaissance style, which has over time provided water and opportunity for lively meetings, right in centre of the historic Venosa. Now it offers its name to this equally lively Aglianico wine.

Variety: 100% Aglianico del Vulture grapes;

Vineyard: piano di camera vineyard;

Tasting notes: colour: intense ruby red; aroma: red fruits notes and delicate nuances of spices typical of the aglianico variety; palate: full bodied with a palate showing ripe rich fruits, silky texture and a long dry finish, a wine with interesting aging potential;

Serving: 18-20°C;

Alcohol Content:  13,5-14,0 %vol;

Winemaking: during maceration-fermentation we checked the temperature in order to preserve its fresh fruit flavours.   Post malolactic fermentation, we left the wine on its lees to give a richer texture and a greater complexity.

Variety : 100% Aglianico del Vulture grapes;

Locality : Liscone vineyard, specifially coming from 30 years old vines;T

tasting notes : colour : bright ruby red; aroma : elegant aroma with predominance of fruity notes typical of the aglianico variety; palate : medium bodied wine with a lively fresh and elegant tannin;

Serving : 17-18°C;Alcohol Content:  13,5 %vol;

Winemaking : fermentation took place in small tank with frequent pumping over to break the cap. Post malolactic fermentation, the wine was put into a combination of new and older  french tonneaux (500L)

Bauccio or rather Pirro del Balzo, Prince of Venosa in the fifteenth century. The city owes him the castle and a new urban structure. The name of this elegant Aglianico, aged in oak barrels, is inspired by him.

Variety: 100% Aglianico del Vulture grapes;

Locality : Liscone vineyard, specifially coming from 50 years old vines;

Tasting Notes: colour: dark and concentrated ruby red with garnet highlights; aroma: the bouquet is elegant and complex with red fruit well harmonized  spicy notes;palate: full bodied with round, mouth filling flavours of red fruits, pleasing weight and a long elegant finish with good acidity;

Serving: 17-18°C,

Alcohol Content:  14,5 %vol;

Winemaking: hand picked fruit is selected, de-stemmed and crushed, and fermented in small open   top vats with frequent punch downs. After an extended maturation, it is aged in new french tonneaux (500L) for 12 months.

The name chosen for the Aglianico Riserva is Drogone di Altavilla. Lord of Venosa, in the first half of the eleventh century, he strengthened the prestigious and rich Benedictine monastery of ss. Trinità Abbey, from the cultural, artistic and agricultural point of view.

Variety: 100% Aglianico del Vulture  grapes; Vineyard: Liscone vineyard, from a small parcel planted in 1964;

Tasting Notes: colour: dark and concentrated ruby red with garnet highlights; aroma: great intensity and complexity on the nose displaying ripe red fruits and spicy notes ;palate: lovely fruit concentration, depth, integrated oak and velvety tannins. Lingering and fascinating fruit finish.

Serving: 18-20°C;Alcohol Content:  14,5 %vol;

Winemaking:  fermentation takes place in a small open top stainless steel tank. Each day during fermentation, the cap is plunged several times to extract colour, tannins and flavour. An extended maturation and 24 months of aging in French oak has softens the tannins and gives a full, rich complexity to the flavour.

Leuconoe, the significant name that Horace gives to the woman of the "carpe diem". A woman whose mind is clear, shiny, ready to seize the fleeting moment. No better name can be chosen for Aglianico vinified in white.

Variety:100% Aglianico del Vulture grapes.

Vineyard: Montalbo vineyard;

Tasting Notes: colour: light straw with a delicate shade of pink; aroma: the wine shows lovely herbaceous, lime and white peach notes; palate: light bodied, fresh and zesty, a perfect blend of savoury, salty and fruity character;

Serving: 12-14°C;

Alcohol Content:  12,50-13,00 %vol;

Winemaking: The grapes are hand harvested, whole bunches pressed and cold settled without using fining agents. After racking off juice lees a long cool fermentation takes place. The wine is then left on its lees and stirred to increase the palate weight and texture before the wine is filtered and bottled.

Matera DOC

The Matera DOC is a geographically a large area that encopasses the southern part of the region . It borders Puglia and faces the Ionian Sea. Several wines are allowed under this appellation, including the Malvasia, Sangiovese and Primitivo. A red wine called moro is also accepted in the diciplinare sa blen dof Merlot, Primitivo, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

As I drove through the region , the vastity of the country side and the Olive trees astonished me. Driving on the Basentana highway (A very modern low traffic highway that connects the Campania Region to the Matera Province to the Ionico Sea and Metaponto), all I could see was the thousands of hectares of land.

The weather here was much warmer and sunnier than the Potenza region, due also to the lowest elevation and the vicinity of the Ionio Sea with its moderating effect. Matera is also a small medieval hamlet, (is there any city in Italy that is not ??). The old part of the small town is named " SASSI" and it is all build in Tufo rocks. It is very peculiar and during the Christmas season the destination of many tourists from everywhere in Italy and many from overseas. In the last decade a live Nativity (a sequence of acts that culminates with the birth of Jesus in a cave which resembles the real one).

In this region we visited two mid-size wineries. I was completely marveled by the hospitality of the people and their cordial hosting. The vicinity of the sea ( 5 miles) and the almost lack of hills allows to grow Primitivo and also great Merlot. It almost reminded me of Bolgheri in Tuscany where the very famous Sassicaia is produced. The two wineries, the Masseria del Cardillo and Cantina Crocco allowed us to taste great wines made from Primitivo and Merlot (see the blogs dedicated to those wineries to get more in details on their wines and the tasting notes to follow).

This ends our beautiful trip through the wineries of Basilicata ..... if you are reading this Blog soon, Happy Holidays from the Winevoyager team.


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