Nestled between the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas, Basilicata is a mountainous region, rich in nature, art, history and culture. Thanks in no small part to the designation of Matera as the European Capital of Culture 2019, Basilicata is now emerging as an increasingly popular holiday destination. In fact, the New York Times ranked Basilicata third in its list of "52 Places to Go in 2018", describing it as "Italy’s best-kept secret".
The ancient cave dwellings in Matera's historical quarter, the famous Sassi, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. In recent years, the biblical landscape and and unique unspoiled architecture of Matera has made it a popular choice for Hollywood film crews. The Passion of the Christ, The Young Messiah and the Ben-Hur remake were all film in the historic town.
Monte Vulture, the extinct prehistoric volcano and the hilly territory that surrounds it produces some of the best wines in southern Italy. While the historic villages of Barile, Venosa, Melfi and Ripacandida date back to days of ancient Greece, it is the volcanic soil and varied climate that gives the wine of Basilicata its distinctive character and quality.
Aglianico is perhaps the best known wine of Basilicata. The Aglianico del Vulture "Superiore" was designated DOCG ("Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita") in 2010, one of just 74 Italian wines to have achieved this prestigious status.
There are three other important wines from Basilicata region which bear the DOC ("Denominazione di origine controllata") designation. These are the Terre dell'Alta Val d'Agri, available in red, red reserve and Rosè varieties, the Matera, which takes its name from the ancient cave town, and the Grottino di Roccanova, named after the caves where the wine is traditionally aged.
At Vinitaly 2019, I was fortunate enough to sample a variety of wines from this intriguing region.
Arcidiaconata 2014, Aglianico del Vulture (DOC), Azienda Agricola Radino
The Radino family was already a well established olive oil producer when they turned their attention to wine in the 1970s. Surrounded by genista, almond and olive trees, the vines on the terraced slopes of Mount Vulture are now about 40 years old. The grapes are harvested by hand at the end of October and the resulting wine is then maturated in small oak barrels for at least 18 months.
Bright ruby red in colour, with hints of ripe red fruit, spices and liquorice, Arcidiaconata is pleasant and fresh, with a slightly tannic aftertaste. It's a typical Aglianico del Vulture - robust, smooth and well-balanced. Would go nicely with salami and mature cheese.
The Radino family also runs a truly unique hotel, il Palazzotto Residence and Winery, carved into the rocks of the historic Sassi di Matera
Iosaphat 2015, Matera Dop Primitivo, Società Agricola Ditaranto srl
The Ditaranto winery is located in the Bradano valley, overlooking the Ancient Greek colony of Metaponto and the Gulf of Taranto beyond.
Iosaphat is a Matera Dop Primitivo. When I saw the label, I mistook the abbots scythe for a massive pipe! I was soon corrected. Matured in French oak for 12 months, it is a ruby red colour, with just a glimmer of violet. Dry, full and well-balanced, almost velvety. Perfect with your Sunday roast.
Calaturi 2013, Aglianico del Vulture (DOCG), Tenuta i Gelsi
Another strong, powerful Aglianico, this time from Tenuta I Gelsi, a winery that was established in 2003 by Pasquale Bafunno and Ruggiero Potito. The vineyards extend for approximately 10 hectares, mainly in Rionero in the northern interior of the region, at a height ranging from 400 to 600 metres. The wine is matured in Slavonian oak for 24 months followed by a further 24 months in the bottle.
A beautiful bright ruby red colour, with distinct purplish shades. On the nose, red cherry, balsamic vinegar and a hint of vanilla. Smooth, light tannins and a long, harmonious finish. Perfect with cheese or to wash down some red meat.
Richard Hough writes about history, football, wine, whisky, culture + travel and is currently working on a trilogy about wartime Verona.