Food & Wine Photo Credit: Western Living

The Saviours of Southern Italy

Mastroberardino doesn't grow Syrah or Merlot or Pinot Noir. And they never will.

North American wine geeks love the story of the Super Tuscans. How a group of forward-thinking winemakers, fed up with the backward and restrictive rules imposed upon them if they wanted to use the DOC or DOCG classifications, said “forget you” to labelling their wines Chianti or Brunello, grew Cabernet and Merlot and bottled their wines under the lowly Vino de Tavola designation and in short order, fancy designation or not, became the most sought-after wines (Tignanello, Sassicaia, Masseto are some of the bold names here) in the entire country. I love the story, but there’s a flip side that no one talks about—how after the Super Tuscan craze hit, acres of vineyards in Southern Italy were changed from the traditional varietals to more saleable international ones and that if it wasn’t for a handful of traditionalists—Mastroberardino chief among them—amazing varietals like Aglianico, Greco and Fiano might have disappeared.

All of which would just be a nice history lesson if the wine being made from these grapes weren’t so amazing. Crack a bottle of the famed Taurasi from Mastroberardino and you realize what a crime it would have been for anything other than Aglianico to be planted in the area’s volcanic soil. People have taken to calling Agliancio the Nebbiolo of the south and it’s an imperfect but still good comparison—both grapes can be tricky to grow and will turn on bad winemakers in a big way. But both are also capable of producing wine that straddles the line between finesse and power and Aglianico can do it for about 1/3 the price. An even more compelling “deal” are the two entry level wines—the Greco Campania and Aglianico Campania—both of which are $20 and a great entry into the magic of the South.

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