What Am I Tasting?

This complex red has taut tannins and cherry, floral and smoky mineral aromas … Play the game!

May 15, 2020

Our blind tasting game—without the tasting! Can you identify a wine just by reading its tasting note? We post real Wine Spectator reviews. You use clues such as color, aromas, flavors and structure to figure out the grape, age and origin. Good luck!

Tasting Note: Exuding a perfume of spice, dried tea rose and graphite notes on the nose, this mouthwatering red is tightly knit, with sleek, taut tannins layered with bright cherry and salmonberry fruit, as well as lavender and mandarin orange peel details. A subtle vein of smoky mineral intensifies on the finish.

And the answer is...


Variety

Our mystery wine offers bright red berry, floral, citrus peel and smoky mineral flavors over taut tannins. With these details, let’s narrow down our options.

Our wine’s taut tannins are not a good match for Gamay. Though Gamay’s acidity level is high, it generally produces light-bodied wines with very light tannins.

Similarly, while Grenache can offer structure, its tannins lean more toward supple than taut, and we are missing Grenache’s herbal and plum accents. Our wine’s orange peel note is also out of character for a Grenache.

Zinfandel can produce full-bodied wines with firm tannins, red fruit and spice, like our wine. But we would expect our note to show that grape’s zesty acidity and peppery character. And lavender and orange peel would be unusual accents for a Zinfandel.

Carmenère is a late-ripening grape, and its best versions can be rich and supple with red berry, orange peel, spice and floral notes. This sounds closer to our mystery wine. But we are missing Carmenẻre’s distinctive herbal character and bell pepper aromas. Maybe there’s a better fit?

We are left with Aglianico, which generally shows dense tannins and high acidity. The best offer berry fruit flavors like cherry, with layers of spice and floral notes. Aglianicos also typically show a mineral accent that can be smoky or ashy. It looks like we have a fit!

This wine is Aglianico.

Country or Region of Origin

Aglianico is a late-ripening variety that thrives in warm, sunny climates. However, it is not widely planted outside of Italy. Indeed, Aglianico has no notable presence in France or Chile, and there are fewer than 100 acres of Aglianico in California. Washington’s Leonetti Cellars makes a noteworthy Aglianico in Walla Walla Valley, but the grape is otherwise quite rare there as well.

Aglianico is one of southern Italy’s signature red grapes, along with Negroamaro, Nero d’Avola and Primitivo. Here, the Mediterranean climate and long growing season allow the grape to fully ripen. The results are full-bodied, complex reds with berry, spice and mineral notes.

This Aglianico is from Italy.

Appellation

Knowing that our Aglianico is from Italy, we can eliminate California’s Alexander Valley, Chile’s Colchagua Valley, Washington’s Columbia Valley and France’s Juliénas. This leaves us with the Italian appellations Chianti Classico and Vulture. Chianti Classico is the oldest winemaking zone in the broader Chianti region. As a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), the varieties used for its wines are regulated. For Chianti Classico, reds must be 80 percent Sangiovese. While other grapes make up the remainder, Aglianico is not one of them. However, Aglianico is the primary grape of the Basilicata appellation Vulture in southern Italy, where it grows in volcanic soils with plenty of sunlight.

This Aglianico is from Vulture.

Age

With dense tannins and vibrant acidity, Aglianicos are able to age for many years. And before they are released, versions from Vulture require extensive time in oak and bottle to soften their tannins. At a minimum, they must be aged for nine months in barrel. But Vulture’s Superiore bottlings must be aged for three years, and the appellation’s Riservas for five years. However, our wine’s tannins are still taut, and it is not showing signs of extensive bottle aging, like dried fruits and savory accents.

Basilicata’s weather in 2017 was not ideal, with unusual frosts in April, and drought in the growing season, but these wines have not yet been widely released, so the jury is still out on quality. In 2016, Vulture saw more rain than usual, and the year produced elegant Aglianicos with taut tannins and aromas of fresh red berries, flowers, citrus peel and smoky minerality. 2015’s growing season was warm, but faced some hail. It produced fuller, rounder Aglianicos with juicy acidity and supple tannins beneath baked fruit, mineral and licorice flavors. Vulture saw difficult weather and below-average temperatures in 2014, and the vintage’s reds are less complex, with chewy tannins and dark aromas of blackberry and chocolate. The fruit profile, tannins and floral accents of 2016’s crop seem like the best bet.

This Aglianico is from the 2016 vintage, making it four years old.

Wine

This is the Elena Fucci Aglianico del Vulture Titolo 2016, which scored 90 points in the April 30, 2019, issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $45, and 1,250 cases were imported. For more on these wines, check out the Aglianico section of the "Ancient Grapes, Modern Wines" cover story of the April. 30, 2019, issue.

Augustus Weed, tasting coordinator