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Wines Under $20

Intense Italian Reds

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Sometimes you need a wine that can take a steak and just plain whomp it into submission. And if that's the sort of wine you're looking for, Aglianico isn't a bad grape to consider. Professore Piero Mastroberardino of Mastroberardino, one of Campania's most lauded wineries, stopped by the F&W tasting room the other day with some of his latest red wines, all of which are made from the Aglianico grape ("red wines" used loosely—these were really more black-red in hue). 

Aglianico's notoriously fierce, musclebound with tannins and broodingly aggressive; but it's a heavyweight boxer with a good heart. "It's a tough variety," Prof. Mastroberardino admitted, "but I'm fond of it for its personality. For sure, it's a variety you have to pair with the right food, too. Baby goat, which we put on the table at Easter, and of course game, which is what we put on the table in the Taurasi DOC." I'd add to that any kind of massive, well marbled steak. Or short ribs. Or...

Anyway, look for the 2006 Mastroberardino Aglianico Campania (about $20, click here to find it) for a relatively—that's relatively—gentle intro to this variety, with smooth dark cherry and smoke notes ending on grippy tannins.

The 2004 Mastroberardino Taurasi Radici (about $50, click here to find it) has a touch more wood, with spicy dark cherry fruit held in place by taut, intense tannins and an almost searing end (it would be much better with food). "In my opinion, 2004 has great potential," Prof. M. said. "It will better the 1999; it has superb concentration."

Finally, the 1999 Mastroberardino Taurasi Radici Riserva (about $65, click here to find it) is just lovely—the added age and mellowness it brings underscores the more generous side of the grape. Smoky tea leaf aromas, luscious, slightly wild—animale as the French would say—savory notes, pure cherry fruit, a finish that descends into resinous tannins. Terrific wine, and just as good the second day when I tasted it again. 

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