An Italian wine great returns to the U.S.

Aglianico del Vulture’s “top producer,” wrote Sheldon and Pauline Wasserman in their landmark folio Italy’s Noble Red Wines (Macmillan 1985), was Fratelli d’Angelo.

The were referring to the family winery that brothers Donato and Lucio d’Angelo took over in 1973 after their father Rocco passed away.

“Enologist Donato d’Angelo makes the wine…,” wrote the Wassermans after they tasted with him.

    Donato told us that although the wine wasn’t labeled Aglianico del Vulture until 1964, the name was used locally for the wines in the 1940s… In 1971, Aglianico del Vulture was granted official DOC status under Italian wine law. D’Angelo was among the first wineries, if not the first, to export wine from Basilicata to the United States. From 1926 to 1929, they shipped the wines abroad in 55-galloon (2-hectoliter) barrels. Today, Fratelli d’Angelo is to our knowledge the finest producer in Basilicata.

The brothers (fratelli) would eventually split up.

But Donato, the one with the secret sauce, would continue making his extraordinary wines under his new “Donato d’Angelo” label from 2001 onward.

From Salento coast to the foothills of Irpinia, ask any grower and they will tell you the same thing: not only is Donato the greatest producer of Aglianico del Vulture, but he is also the dude who single-handedly put the appellation on the map.

Although the wines aren’t as well known on this side of the great misunderstanding otherwise known as the Atlantic Oceans, leading writerslike Edward Behr (the founder of The Art of Eating) have written glowingly of Donato’s wines (“the finest traditional Aglianico del Vulure as well as one of the few Riservas still made”).

In 2007, Ed McCarthy, whom many would call one of the greatest Italian-focused tasters of his generation, wrote of the winemaker: “Donato d’Angelo has been carrying the Aglianico del Vulture banner practically single-handedly throughout the world’s markets since the 1970s.”

In 2008, top Italian wine writer and educator David Lynch included Donato among his favorite Vulture producers noting that the winemaker “delivers the earthy, ashy flavors that Aglianico purists crave.”

I recently had the opportunity to taste the 2017 vintage of Donato d’Angelo Aglianico del Vulture thanks to my dear friend Filena Ruppi, Donato’s wife, and the couple’s new American importer Marcello Miali.

This wine was classic Aglianico del Vulture, dark and brooding with rich umami character and nuanced layers of slightly underripe black fruit. The flavors were buoyed by the wine’s extraordinary freshness, balance, and “lift,” as the current generation of sommeliers like to say (the wine’s vibrancy).

Tracie and I opened it with her carbonara, a favorite pairing of mine for Aglianico, the wine the Romans drink when they go big (they keep the Super Tuscans around for us Americans, btw).

It’s so wonderful to see these iconic wines back in the U.S. and with an importer who recognizes their Italian wine world legacy (Marcello, whom I’ve met here in Houston when he visited for our Taste of Italy trade fair, is a great guy, a Salento winemaker who’s building an ambitious portfolio and sales team here).

As the interest Aglianico from Irpinia has grown over the last decade, I imagine we’ll see a future wave of Aglianico lovers who shift their gaze east to the wild lands of Vulture. Just as Nebbiolophiles have discovered “alto Piemonte” in recent years, they will be delighted to discover wines like those made by Donato — a true Italian great.

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