You only have to mention Aglianico del Vulture and my mouth begins to water. And I’m not alone.
It’s such an impressive wine that each year as I plan my bicycle trip, the mountain of Vulture -and the cities that around it- sizzle in my brain when I lay open the maps.
The region has been famous for wine since Pre-Christian times, when the Greeks brought a grape to Italy that came to be called simply the ‘Greek’ one. But in Greek. So, ‘Hellenistic’. And then, over time, the name slowly changed in the mouths of each new wave of invaders, leaving it ‘Aglianico’.
If you believe the history books, it made their mouths water as well.
Even today, the caves cut into the sides of the hills are used to make wine: Riding past, it’s the unmistakable smell of red wine on cold rocks.
And this year, as I planned, one name kept topping my list of places to visit: Elena Fucci.
I expected her to be in her 50’s, serious, maybe even snobby.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I was already in the cantina when she arrived, a tiny, young, well-dressed woman who was eager to hear my story before she told me her own.
She took me out into her fields and pointed the vine age of various sites and how that would affect her wine, once blended.
Squinting in the noon-day sun, she pointed to her competitors’ fields. There was x. Over there was y.
It could have been Bordeaux. The amount of serious, world-class wine makers nearly sitting on top of one another was dizzying.
Her current cantina was a standard issue ‘Vulture’. So humble that you wonder where all the good wine comes from.
Her fields though, are stunningly beautiful the way so much wine country is. So beautiful in fact that you can begin to see the perceived link between making wine, and nobility.
A ginger-red fox trotted across the path in front of us as we walked: Elena never broke from her concentration in answering my question. She graduated in Wine Science from Pisa, and then returned to Vulture to improve her family’s wine. Staggering in her knowledge of wine, she is justifiably passionate about Agliancio and its growing zone. From pointing to changes in the soil, to the budding leaves to the smells in the air, you could not find a better representative for the New South Of Italy. Accomplished. Extraordinarily well-informed. Passionate. Eager to engage the outside world about the cultural and culinary wealth of Southern Italy.
‘What would you tell those that drink Italian wine but have never tried an Aglianico di Vulture’, I asked.
‘Try my wine’, she said. ‘Just once. One sip and you’ll convinced that these are some of the best wines in the world’.
As she spoke the words, her voice was free of the braggadocio you often hear in wine makers. It was the voice of pure conviction.
She walked me through the new cantina she and her father were building.
‘Here, this will be the tasting room’, she said, her eyes bigger than the simple raw cement base would merit. ‘Here is where we’ll barrel-age our wine’, pointing to a trickle of water in mud. She was showing me the new cantina still under self-funded construction but in her mind the building already there, so strong her conviction.
We said good-bye and kissed and I continued on, reeling from the incredible natural beauty of Basilicata. I thought about her as I rode off. Like the wines of Vulture themselves, Elena stands out as headstrong and disciplined, in a land of stunning natural beauty.