2018 Ryme Cellars, Aglianico, Camino Alto Vineyard, El Dorado County, Sierra Foothills.
Ryme’s new Camino Alto Aglianico is one of the best and most distinct red wines I’ve had this calendar year so far, it is awesome full bodied and complex effort with true varietal character and exceptional purity. The inky dark Camino Alto Aglianico starts with a heavenly perfume of violets, sage and new leather with a crushed blackberry essence before its powerful and structured palate thrills with black currant, marionberry coulis, plum and kirsch fruits along with melted black licorice, minty herb, cedar and tapenade accents as well as a touch of whole bunch crunchiness and spicy mineral tones. In grape known for rustic and fiery tannins this 2018 is poised, supple and remarkably graceful, the long cool growing season really benefited this gorgeous wine. Aglianico, sometimes called “The Barolo of the South” (because of some similarities to Nebbiolo) is a black grape found mostly Basilicata and Campania, with Taurasi being its top expression. Taurasi is a town in the province of Avellino, in the Sannio part of Campania. Taurasi is a historic wine region and finally made a full DOCG in 1993. Two of the most famous Aglianico wines are the Radici Taurasi, Mastroberardino’s flagship wine which was originally released in 1928, though not officially called Radici, which translates as “roots”, as it was a special clonal selection of ancient Aglianico, until 1986, and Feudi di San Gregorio’s iconic Serpico, that comes from the historic “Dal Re” (“from the King”) vineyard in Irpinia near to Mt. Vesuvius. The Aglianico vines seem to thrive in particularly volcanic soils, but Ryme’s efforts with this grape prove it does great in the diverse soils here in California, particularly in these granite soils as well as Paso Robles’ limestone. It is considered with Sangiovese and Nebbiolo to be one of the three greatest Italian varieties with a long history, it was used to make the Falernian wine, famed during Roman times. The grape, which was once thought to have been brought to Campania from Greece still remains a mystery with no leads on its true origins, though most know think it is more likely a native varietal. Aglianico more recently has been planted in Australia and California, as it thrives in predominantly sunny climates with a long ripening season, like Nebbiolo it really takes an extended period on the vine to develop all of its potential, and Ryme has unlocked its best features, in what is a truly great wine.
Ryme Cellars, with winemakers Megan and Ryan Glaab, have been exploring Italian grapes for many years and have a wonderful collection of thrilling wines with Vermentino, Fiano, another Southern Italian grape, Sangiovese and Friulano, as well as three different versions of Aglianico, which has become one of their signature wines with a Rosé of Aglianico and two single vineyard reds. In 2017 Megan and Ryan began working with this new Aglianico vineyard in El Dorado County in the Sierra Foothills near Placerville and not far from Sutter’s Mill, where gold was first discovered in California, which set off a huge migration to the golden state, which had the effect of bringing grape vines to the area for those settlers in the late 1800s. This gave Ryme, as they explain, an exciting opportunity to see how Aglianico plays out in a very different series of great California terroirs. The Camino Alto vineyard is located at 2800 feet in mineral rich granite based soils in the El Dorado AVA above, the mentioned, Placerville. The days here are quite warm (if not blazing hot) but, as the Glaab’s note, there is a large diurnal temperature shift with cold night air draining from the upper Sierras keeping the vines refreshed, retaining natural acidity. The other Ryme Aglianico, their most exclusive bottling, comes from a beautifully farmed, certified organic vineyard in Westside Paso Robles on Peachy Canyon Road. Its vines set squarely in Rhone varietal and Zinfandel country, at the Luna Matta Vineyard, which also grows a good number of other Italian specialites. The Camino Alto Aglianico was picked in mid October, somewhat early for this varietal, but obviously the grapes came in to near perfection with amazing concentration, energy and impeccable balance. Ryme Cellars is known for their low intervention methods in the cellar and use a combination of modern and ancient techniques with the use of cool stainless tanks as well as Amphora. For their Camino Alto Aglianico, they went old school, the grapes were crushed by foot and fermented 100% whole cluster with nothing added, allowing full native fermentation and hand punch downs, getting a full extraction from the bold Aglianico. After the maceration and primary, the winery says, the wine was aged in neutral French oak barrels for eleven months and bottled without filtration. This is impressive stuff, if you want a stylish big red, to go with lamb, brisket or robust cuisine, you need to get yourself some of this while you can!
($42 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive