Aglianico from California? I loved it (and Darrell Corti is always right)

In 2008, when I attended the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium to hear my friend (and a man who has greatly inspired and informed my career) Darrell Corti deliver the keynote address at the meeting of the California Association of Winegrape Growers, he suggested that Aglianico could be an alternative to California’s ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon, noting that the Italian grape variety was better suited to California’s climate. (Here are my notes from his talk; I’ve written a lot about Darrell Corti here but this is my favorite post devoted to him.)

Darrell’s talk came to mind yesterday when sales rep and true wine connoisseur Tom Hunter of Revel Wines opened a bottle of Aglianico by the Giornata winery in Paso Robles.

In my view, the legacy of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in California is the result of an epochal misunderstanding — a ripple of an “anxiety of influence,” to borrow a phrase from Bloom. A generation ago, when rich white men planted these grapes in Napa, they did so inspired by the wines that rich white men on the other side of the Atlantic drank and not with a mind to propagate varieties suited for the Napa Valley climate, topography, and subsoils.

Cabernet Sauvignon shows well in the cool climate of Bordeaux. Chardonnay is its most expressive in the cool climate of the Côte de Beaune.

Anyone who’s every visited Burgundy or Bordeaux will find little in common with the terroir of the Napa Valley floor, where these French grapes have been grown and vinified so famously for the last forty years.

In more recent memory, Central Coast growers have been inspired by the renaissance of Italian wines. I’ve tasted Nebbiolo, Barbera, Sangiovese, and even Teroldego grown there. And while the wines are sometimes good (and the intentions of the winemakers genuine), their efforts — in my view — are as misguided as those rich white men who came a generation before them.

I can’t conceal that I was skeptical when Tom pulled the Paso Robles Aglianico from his bag but my colleague Rory (with whom I co-curate the wine program at Sotto) and I were blown away by how good the wine was. And unlike the myriad bottlings of Barbera and Nebbiolo that seem to lose their varietal character in the California soil and sunshine, Giornata’s Aglianico tasted like Aglianico, delivering those dark fruit and earthy notes that I love in wines from Vulture, Taurasi, Taburno, and Cilento.

I loved the wine and I’m thrilled that we’re going to be pouring it by the glass at Sotto.

Posting from the plane on my way back to the Groover’s Paradise. Can’t wait to wrap these arms around those girls of mine! :)

2 thoughts on “Aglianico from California? I loved it (and Darrell Corti is always right)

  1. Being an ex-California guy as well, but who has lived in NJ for the last 30-some years, my palate quickly became Eurocentric. But, being in the wine business, and having the good fortune to sell Steve Clifton’s Palmina selections here in the Garden State, I have to say that his Nebbioli and Dolcetto, in particular, are quite good. They are not heavy or overpowered with oak, and are beautifully balanced. In fact, right across the board, his wines will stand up to their Italian counterparts, albeit with a California twist. If you haven’t tried them in awhile, I suggest you get in touch with him or his sales person in L.A. and ask for a taste.

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