“You can taste the sun,” said Antonio, owner of Il Connubio restaurant, when describing it. “It does send a message to the rest of the world that Puglia is home to very distinguished wines.” said wine specialist Tom Hyland. “You will come back and thank me,” said the clerk at the wine store when he tried to slip the 48-euro bottle into my box without telling me its price. In the end, after hearing so much about Agricole Vallone’s “Graticciaia,” drinking it the other night was a relief: it actually is one-of-a-kind.
(It was a good night as you can tell from the label) Foremost, I wish I had more experience drinking Amarone, because Graticciaia is made using the recioto or rasinate process; I could then better compare and contrast the wines. Graticciaia is made of 100% Negroamaro grapes, which are picked at the very end of September. Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera are usually the last grapes to get picked in Puglia, but the Negroamaro used in Graticciaia are picked even later than usual. They are then laid out on grati, or mesh mats, where they dry until reaching the perfect ratio of sugar and acidity, resulting in a very concentrated wine.
I decided to drink Graticciaia after seeing it on Il Connubio’s wine list for 50 euro. I mean, if you’re gonna drink an expensive bottle of wine, you might as well pair it with incredible dishes prepared by chefs who have cooked Slow Food in Milan, Paris, and New York City. To see it for only 2 euro more than it is usually sold in wine stores sealed the deal. We drank it with a filletto of Argentinean beef with, naturally, a Negroamaro sauce, and a smorgasbord of roasted rabbit (I think I ate a testicle, which was kinda weird).
We let the wine breathe, decanted, for 45 minutes. The first sip was exciting. The wine is very complex, making it difficult to pinpoint specific flavors. But talk about personality! The wine was perfectly smooth and balanced except for a jolting spike of flavor that popped out about ¾ of the way through the sip. Then, just as quickly, the flavor spike pulled back to leave the mouth with a long, dark, rich, and silky finish. I’ve never had a wine shock me like this before, and the semi-sweet jolt of concentrated flavor was elating.
From the Amarone that I have drank, I can say that Graticciaia shares the concentrated character of Amarone, but that Graticciaia is clearly 100% Negroamaro. The grape pulls through its personality.
So, using Karen McNeil’s definition for complexity, this wine is complex in the way that a great piece of art is: something too beautiful to grasp keeps making you think about it.
Of course, this is not an everyday drinking wine. Graticciaia is only made during excellent years. And 2004 was certainly one such year. But if you ever get the chance, it is one of the best examples of Negroamaro that I’ve ever drank. Come to think of it, it’s one of the best examples of wine I’ve ever drank too.