Chapter 18 – Basilicata and Vulture
Basilicata, an often missed region in southern Italy, is extremely rich in natural beauty. It is bordered to the north by Campania and Puglia and to the south by Campania. Predominantly landlocked, with the Ionian Sea on one side and the Tyrrhenian Sea on the other, it features stunning mountain and hill ranges.
Basilicata is home region to the famous city of Matera, the Sassi di Matera are one of the most fascinating destinations of southern Italy. Those are ancient cave dwellings inhabited since the Paleolithic period, now part of the Unesco World Heritage and one of the most wonderful tourist attractions of the region.
This region crops up only very rarely in wine circles but makes some of the most interesting reds from the toe of the boot of our Italian Peninsula. The Aglianico, a native grape variety which is also diffuse in the surrounding areas, is the most diffuse one and makes the Aglianico del Vulture appellation.
It is home to just four DOCs, which collectively cover only two bottles in every hundred produced here. The remaining 98 percent is sold either under IGT titles or – more likely – Vino da Tavola. Compared to other Italian wine regions, total wine production here is very small at less than 50 million liters.
Winemaking in Basilicata dates back over a thousand years. In central and northern Italy it was the Etruscans and Romans who pioneered local winemaking. However, in the south this task was largely undertaken by seafaring Greeks. Basilicata was also influenced by the Byzantines, who ruled the area during two distinct periods in both the 6th and 9th Centuries. They gave the region its current name (from the Greek basilikos, meaning prince and governor).
It is one of the most mountainous regions in Italy, with around 47 percent mountains and a further 45 percent hills. Only 8 percent of the surface area is classified as being flat.
The famous Monte Vulture is an extinct volcano at 1326m which influenced a lot of the geological aspects of the area.
Infact, the main area for viticulture lies in the heart of the fertile Vulture Massif in the north. Vineyards are located around Mount Vulture on volcanic soils.
The mountainous terrain and harsh weather makes vine-growing a challenge. But the area still enjoys an abundance of sunshine throughout the growing season and cool temperatures around harvest, thanks to climatic variations.
Cool Balkan breezes, travelling across the Adriatic and Puglia, help moderate the temperatures. In addition, the Apennines create a barrier to the mild currents from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west. In this hilly territory the local variety, Aglianico del Vulture, reigns, producing quality wines which exhibit fine aromas and flavors.
The Aglianico grape is the star of the Aglianico del Vulture wine. But it is also grown some distance away on the plains of Matera for use in Vino da Tavola wines.
The future appears brighter for Basilicata. The established DOC Aglianico del Vulture has gained an excellent reputation for some of the finest wines in Italy.
Aglianico (then known as Ellenico) has the leading wine grape variety here for many centuries. Recent theories suggest it was introduced (known as vino de llanos, or “wine of the plains”) under Aragonese rule during the late Middle Ages.
Today I am very excited to present one of my recent Aglianico discoveries, which pairs, to say the least, perfectly with the delicious Polpette di Pane made by Carlotta.
The winery, Camerlengo, is a very artisanal one, a true reference for the Aglianico lovers around Italy and around the world. It is located in Rapolla, in the Potenza area, and it has been producing wine and olive oil since the 19th century. Nowadays the owner, Antonio Cascarano is the nephew of the founder, Giovanni Falaguerra, who decided to combine his passion for architecture and wine, recovering the old vines and the original cellar dug into the tuff of his grandfather.
The vineyards, 4 hectares, is located in a beautiful area, on the slopes of the Monte Vulture, where the vines grow in tuffaceous marl soils, rich in silicon and potassium, that gives to the grapes great acidity and to the wines an incomparable freshness. The climate is pretty mild, with huge temperature variation between day and night. The winery is organic and the work in the vineyards is made in order to prevent more than intervene. Biodiversity is extremely important for Antonio and nature is left to make his course, he just accompanies it to make his wines.
The wines are intense and with explosive tempers very similar to the wine maker’s one. His philosophy is to let the Aglianico express at the top of its quality, by coming back to a very natural approach in the fields and a less intervention in the cellar.
Antelio wine is 100% made with Aglianico grapes, from 30 years old vines grown in volcanic soils. It makes spontaneous fermentation in oak barrels, with 25 days of maceration. It ages for 12 months in chestnut-wood and 6 months in bottle before going into the market. It is non filtered and non clarified.
The colour is deep ruby, very intense and dark, typical from this grape variety. The nose is extremely expressive and complex. It has dark fruits, like plumb, blackcurrant, very juicy fruits and well ripened. Flowers are dried flowers like red roses, and then it opens with a range of spiced notes, like liquorice, black pepper, tobacco, leather and hearty nuances. It is a very dynamic wine and truly territorial. The mouth is smooth and round, with high acidity and tannins. The surprise of this wine is the minerality which comes at every sip and makes it very vibrant and light even if the body is pretty high.
I cannot think of a better pairing than the Polpette di Pane made by @lapanzapiena
Carlotta’s food story
A region rich in biodiversity – something I hope you’ve discovered thanks to our article is an element which applies to all of Italy’s regions, however different each region may be.
Biodiversity in landscape: from mountains which resemble the Dolomites to rugged coastlines with crystal clear water. Hills, canyons and white rock towns built within hills which feel like a movie set but are in reality so much better, more authentic.
Biodiversity in culture as the region was home to many different folk throughout history. Before being known as Basilicata it was called Lucania and its surface area was much larger than modern day Basilicata, as it included part of Campania and Calabria. Prior to that, around the 5th century, the area of Lucania extended all the way to the straight of Messina! The ancient Greeks conquered the area followed by the Romans who founded the colony of Potentia (Potenza). With the fall of the Roman Empire it was inhabited by the Byzantines, from whom one of the theories on the region’s name – Basicilata – originates from.
Biodiversity in gastronomic products such as Matera’s bread which is at the basis of the poor traditional cuisine, used both when fresh and when stale to create wonderful – often spicy – dishes. Fresh mozzarella and scamorza, prepared lovingly by hand in many caseifici in the province of Potenza, like Latteria Salvia Maria in Tito, that I had the pleasure of visiting and experiencing a 5am mozzarella making session (followed by a tasting of warm nodding which was incredible). Peperone Cruso, also known as Basilicata’s red gold: an air-dried pepper which is then fried and is incredibly crunchy and just a little sweet, often paired with mozzarella and salami as an antipasto or crumbled onto a pasta dish. Aglianico del Vulture, the region’s most popular wine – which Manu will tell you about later in a much more articulate way than I can. And olive oil, so much delicious, almost spicy, olive oil. The last product I’m going to mention – because otherwise the list would be endless – is Melanzana Rossa di Rotonda, an aubergine that looks exactly like a fat, ripe tomato but is in fact an aubergine. Don’t be fooled by its appearance (I’ve already been down that road) and bit it raw because well, it won’t be a pleasurable experience.
Regions whose traditional cuisine is a poor one all have recipes that gravitate around the same concept: reducing food waste. Whether that be a Tuscan zuppa di Scottiglia that uses all the parts of game animals or a gigantic frittata in which leftover veggies, cheese, milk and herbs go in, a widespread practice throughout Italy, the goal is to never throw anything away. Especially bread. Bread, at the centre of most Italian regional cuisines is considered the most poor food but also the most important, as Massimo Bottura says: “bread is gold”. So naturally it is never thrown away, even after it becomes hard as a brick and could damage whatever it lands upon when thrown. Italians have become wonderfully resourceful in transforming stale bread into marvelous dishes, whether it is using the breadcrumbs to impanare a cotoletta or soaking it in milk and using it to make meatballs soft.
To discover the full recipe of the Polpette di Pane made by Carlotta, visit her website: La Panza Piena.