Wine tasting Beijing | Aglianico from China and Italy

By Jim Boyce | China’s wine producers are fixated on red grape varieties associated with Bordeaux, notably Cabernet Sauvignon. True, others are planted here and there, from Pinot Noir to Marselan to Saperavi, but that Bordeaux bond is strong. Thus, it’s exciting when a producer like Grace in Shanxi makes wine with a grape like Aglianico, most commonly found in south Italy. Grace isn’t making huge volumes–we’re talking less than 10,000 bottles–but this is a welcome project in a country that could use lots more grape experimentation.

When I first wrote about this Aglianico a few years ago, winemaker Lee Yean Yean said they weren’t sure if it would be bottled as a single variety or a blend. I remember Andreas Wickhoff, a wine expert from Austria, visited Grace around that time, praised that Aglianico and said he hoped it would be bottled separately. That’s what happened and the result was one of last year’s more intriguing releases.

A few weeks ago, I met the guys from importing and distribution outfit CruItaly and we tasted their ‘Rubrato’ Feudi di San Gregorio from Italy with a bottle of Grace Tasya’s Reserve Aglianico (see photos below). Two very different expressions of this grape.

According to Feudi’s website, their wine spends eight to ten months maturing in stainless steel tanks and is then aged six months in bottle before release. The wine had plenty of blackberry, flinty earth, and licorice and spice aromas, a pleasant and fruity medium body, and a mildly spicy herbal finish.

Grace’s Aglianico, on the other hand, gets 16 months in French barrels–30 percent new, 40 percent one-year-old and 30 percent two-year-old. Not surprisingly, it has a sweet vanilla aroma, along with lots of red fruit like cherry. This wine is slightly sweet and fairly fruity–I found lots of cranberry / yangmei flavors–and has a short finish.

Here are the tasting notes from the respective wineries:

cruitaly rubrato feudi di san gregorio aglianico beijing china

grace vineyard tasya's reserve aglianico shanxi china

All in all, a fun tasting, especially given the delicious food at Bottega:

grace vineyard tasya's reserve cruitaly rubrato feudi di san gregorio aglianico at bottega beijing china

Finally, here are a few excerpts about Aglianico from the book Italian Wine Grapes by Ian D’Agata:

Aglianico is one of the world’s great red grapes, one that is finally carving a place in mainstream wine-drinking consciousness. Along with Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, it is generally believed to be one of Italy’s three best wine grapes, but in my opinion, it is far more: it’s one of the world’s dozen or so best wine grapes….

… Aglianico has a knack for turning out a full range of potentially stellar wines, from fragrant, juicy light-bodied versions to deep, rich, very age-worthy and complex behemoths.

No matter where Aglianico wines are made, they always share certain features. They will always be firm, savory red wines with real mineral rather than animal or vegetable nuance, and plenty of underlying fruit to go along with their great structure and depth of flavor — and the promise of a long and generally happy cellar-life.”

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