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Basilicata, Southern Italy

Two of the oldest wine-producing regions of the world, France and Italy, are largely ignored by novice wine drinkers and frequently under-appreciated by wine students like yours truly. For me, the reasons for not delving into France and Italy earlier have been pretty banal. First, those wine masters don’t like putting grape varietals on their labels, which used to be not only confusing, but sometimes downright annoying to me until I learned more about the value and importance of terroir. Second, there exist hundreds of regional grape varieties in Italy alone—way too many to track and analyze. And third, there is so much material to cover, it’s overwhelming. I mean, Italy alone is one big fertile wine country. And go figure France with its numerous little villages proudly displaying names too florid to pronounce for the untrained tongue.

To risk actually achieving the iffy title of a “wine snob”, a few months ago I decided it’s time to take the plunge, figuratively and financially (yes, that’s the other, practical reason for not buying more of Old World wines).

The other day, I went to a wine store and looked around for twenty minutes searching for something different and Italian. After some hopefully educated picks, I picked up a bottle of an Italian wine from a closeout rack. If you never shop closeouts in liquor stores, you are missing out on some great deals! It’s like going to Filene’s Basement and finding new Prada shoes for…whatever they go for on sale…well, ok, bad analogy. I want to imaging I spend my salary on Prada shoes instead of wine…but you get the idea.

My buying decision was simple. It sold at a reasonable price of $14.99, and it was an older vintage – 1997. I have a weakness for older vintages. Personal preference.

The name of the wine was Canneto. It turns out Canneto is made in D’Angelo, a producer in Basilicata—a one-grape, one-wine region in Southern Italy. This region produces the South’s finest and increasingly popular grape, Aglianico. I recall trying Aglianico with Miguel some time ago at a wine tasting. Must have been a cheap bottle, because the smell and taste of the grape turned us off. But an experiment is an experiment.

The nectar, as I mentioned, was from 1997, which means it was 12 years old. The color of red-brown, arguably a function of age, it didn’t seem to have any negative characteristics—a bias I attempted to disprove based on my earlier Aglianico experience. It smelled like some sour fruit, maybe cherry, maybe plum. However, the sense of smell is strictly individual, hence I won’t engage in elaborate descriptions. Expectantly, it tasted like an older wine. Earthy, balanced, no strong tannins, no bitterness, no forward fruitiness, no forward anything. If it were a person, I’d call it a calm, down-to-earth adult who knows what they want out of life.

Being an Italian wine, it had the aloofness and reserve of Old World wines of the Northern hemisphere—you won’t find robust spice or fruit jumping out of the bottle young or old, like you may find in South American or Australian wines.

I loved it. I recommend it. Southern Italy is not what they teach you to start with when you venture into unfamiliar territories. The textbook way is to start with Tuscany (Chianti) or Piedmont (Barolos and Barbarescos), Italy’s most famous wine-producing regions.

But to hell with that. Why not a random bottle of Aglianico? Why not start with something interesting like an obscure grape from a lesser-known region, and tease your taste buds a bit? Just for fun.