Liquid, hot, magma...

by Richard Harvey

Hell - there’s volcanos on my mind, and I don’t usually spend much time on this geophysical phenomena (oh, sure I do - who can resist the allure of "liquid, hot magma"?). Current news of the devastation suffered by people in Hawaii is hard to not feel, as for anyone suffering a natural disaster. Volcanos are just another manifestation of the power of Nature, and we can only view it with awe as humbled humans faced with things that money, politics and faith have no power to change or prevent.

Volcanic activity has laid out the surface and terrain of much of our world, and continues to do this in the present day. Lesson? The natural world is not fixed or finite - the only constant is change. 

In many countries around the world, there’s the well-known North - South divide (Canada? Perhaps more East/ West?) and Italy is no exception… There’s the (perhaps self-described “serious and productive”) Northerners versus the (also perhaps self-described “real and warm”) Southerners. The south of Italy, including Sicily, is far more volcanically turbulent than the north, just another of the divisions of this nation. 

Italy, a nation only since the late 19th Century, is still a collection of diversity. Spanning 10 degrees of north-south latitude, this is like comparing the climates and geologies of the Danes to the situation of the inhabitants of the French Riviera. Both sides of North/South Italy take pot-shots at each other on the wine front, but why stoop to these internecine disputes when we can sit back and not worry if Piemonte or Campania make “better” wines?

Campania, the province whose capital of Naples knows all about volcanos, was the spearhead that brought the Aglianico grape to the attention of the world. The Mastroberardino family are tireless advocates and ambassadors for this excellent southern Italian grape. Aglianico? Some say a grape variety Greek in origin ("Hellenico" said with an accent), “Ag” wines are super-Med.

But an overtly fruity, easy or cocktail party “I’ll have a glass of red” is NOT what Aglianico offers. Older-school Italian wine drinkers would slap your silly face if you tried to dip into these red wines before the “piato principale” hit the table (they’d generously follow the slap with a kiss and a beer or the offer of a glass of cold white wine to put you back on track). Aglianico wines are stuff to sink your teeth into, and a dusty spice (wind whipped volcanic dust from Vesuvius?) with only a hint of desiccated berry fruit  entreats you to find a juicy piece of lamb or other such offering that might placate the offspring of these intensely volcanic soils. 

These are wines for arrosti and other forms of carne. Why should wines try to simply debase themselves in front of our desires that they taste like a smoothie or a milkshake? This is a wine of pleasure, sure…just as long as you know how to set the table appropriately. Soft buckskin leather scents, a pheromone-rich earthiness, a saucy provocative swagger (where’s Giancarlo Giannini when you need him?) are light years away from the milk-chocolate, namby-pamby sweetness of a glass of boring (but not cheap) brand-name US Pinot Noir that I had lately...

This dog will only heed your requests if you feed him right. A scrap of (not necessarily volcanic) grilled meat will placate the beast, and he and you will sigh with contentment when harmony is achieved.