The king of southern Italian grapes is no longer content to be a regional phenomena.

My first interaction with southern Italian wine was 20 or so years ago. At the time it occupied a very distinct position in the wine pecking order: it was what you bought when you were too cheap to buy the good stuff from Tuscany or Piedmont. Or Veneto. The imports were dominated by heavy, overly juicy Primitivos and black, earth and tar–in–a–bottle offerings from Sicily.But, slowly, wines started to land here that began to indicate something was happening in the region. First there were sublime Falanghinas from Feudi San Gregorio, then a handful of Nero d’Avolas that were refined and memorable. But it wasn’t until a friend took me aside and poured me an inky black glass that my world changed, as he turned to me and said, “You’ll never drop $150 on a Barolo again.”The wine was made from the Aglianico grape: deep colour, firm tannins, a nose of leather, plums and tobacco and a rich complex series of dark fruit flavours. And it was $30. The wine in question was a Taurasi from Campania (that’s a region as opposed to a brand), which along with the scarily named Aglianico del Vulture (also a type of wine) from neighbouring Basilicata form the two gold standard names to look for when sourcing wines from this grape. Part of Aglianico’s PR problems came from its heavy tannins, which, before the advent of more modern winemaking techniques, meant that it needed up to a decade in the bottle to soften enough to enjoy.

3 Bottles of Aglianico to Try Right Now

1. 2009 Di Majo Norante Contado Riserva ($25)This bottle is more traditional—the nose is a wonderful, exotic mélange of cherry and leather, but the wine is still tight with tannins and should mellow nicely with a few years.2. 2008 Radici Taurasi ($55)Mastroberardino is the Gaja of Aglianico and their 2008 Radici Taurasi is a wild ride of tart cherries, pepper and a whole swack of power—everything that’s great about the grape and its wine—that will age and settle down a bit, I imagine, in the next few years.3. 2008 Feudi di San Gregorio Rubrato ($30)These days the aging curve has been dramatically shortened such that a bottle like this wonderful one is drinking nicely right now and is a great introduction to the grape from an superb producer.

What to Pair with Aglianico

When young, this powerful wine is perfect with osso buco or other robust dishes, but as it mellows with age I can’t think of anything better than a glass with a chunk of Pecorino or other hard Italian cheese.