By Susannah Gold
Aleatico is also an enigmatic red grape because it is hard to find precise information about its origins or its parentage. Most agree that it is in the family of the Muscat grapes. Some say it is related to the Muscat blanc a Petits Grains while others that it relates to Muscat Noir.
There is also discord on how and when Aleatico was brought to Italy. Many say that it was brought to Italy by the Greeks but others insist it has been growing in Italy for thousands of years, specifically in Apulia.
Aleatico is generally made into a dessert wine but can also be made into a fortified or Liquoroso version. For this last, at least six months of aging is required. A Liguoroso reserve is also made which sees three years of aging, two in wood.
What is certain is that when done well, it produces a fabulous dessert wine with a lovely bouquet of rose, lychee and berry aromas. On the palate it is sweet without being unctuous and cloying. It is a perfect dessert wine to pair with a fruit tart such as the Schiaccia Briaca (Drunken Tart from Elba Island).
Aleatico dell’Elba Passito was just awarded the special denominazione d’origine controllata e garantita (DOCG) designation by Italian authorities, one of very few Italian dessert wines to receive this honor. Napoleon was exiled to Elba and it is said that Aleatico was his only consolation during this period.
Aleatico also grows in Apulia, both in the area near the city of Bari as well as the Salento Peninsula. The Aleatico from Apulia tends to be a bit sweeter and richer than that from Elba. This is not surprising considering the warmer climate in Apulia.
Aleatico also grows in a small area in Lazio near Lake Bolsena. Aleatico di Gradoli has been famous for centuries but is essentially made by very few producers. Andrea Occhipinti is considered one of the best producers in this area. Perhaps the most well known producer of Aleatico in the United States is Falesco. Antinori also makes a delicious Aleatico from the Aldobrandesca Estate but isn’t currently imported.
Whether made in Apulia, Elba or Gradoli, the wine is made using dry grapes which tend to spend a certain portion of time drying in the sun before being crushed and pressed. The resulting wine is quite high in alcohol and can keep for many years thanks to good acidity.
While dessert wines in general are a hard sell in the United States, some are catching on and Aleatico is one of them. According to Terence Hughes of Italian wine importer Domenico Selections, the Aleatico from Monte Cucco that he sells Nanerone from the Piandibugnano Winery is a big hit at Babbo, Mario Batali’s restaurant in Manhattan. Castel Salve in Apulia is also building reputation among Aleatico fans in America. There are a number of good producers but few of the wines are available in the U.S. at this time.
While Italian dessert wines haven’t yet become household names or items, perhaps the time when they become more familiar is not too far off. The name Aleatico is one to remember.