The story of a first-generation winemaker, whose wine from the little town of Barile in southern Italy, has made waves across the world. Elena Fucci’s Titolo is a testament to the magic of handcrafted quality.
In the deep South of Italy, is the smallish region of Basilicata. The majestic Monte Vulture (Vool too ray) stands tall there, fabulously holding its pride of place.
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This ancient and extinct stratovolcano is imposing and peculiar. In its crazed, volcanic crater formation, nestle two lakes. This eccentricity of nature takes the form of a vulture, lending its name to the mountain. Against this dramatic natural formation, at the foot of Monte Vulture, lies the little town of Barile, from where one woman is creating magic with one grape and one wine.
Meet Elena Fucci, first-generation winemaker and proud founder of her eponymous company.
The early years
To understand Elena’s passion and backstory, we must travel back to when she was 18 years old. It was just that time for her to leave behind sleepy Barile to get ready to spread her wings in other far-off lands. Soon, she got wind that her parents, both teachers nearing retirement, were planning to sell the vineyards and her childhood home in the middle of it, as a brave attempt at making a sensible commercial decision. After all, a house with more than 6 hectares of vines around could be too much responsibility. In the past, there was a tradition of Elena’s grandfather and great grandfather selling off the majority of grapes and only retaining a minimal amount for personal consumption. Wine was never made on the estate on a large scale.
This was to be a huge turning point in Elena’s life. She decided to carry on the legacy of her land and promptly enrolled in a course of oenology and viticulture, lending her name to the company, while dreaming of taking it to heights.
Titolo: An expression of its terroir
In the year 2000, Elena Fucci’s landmark wine, Titolo was born. First under the nurturing care of a consulting oenologist, and then in 2004, with Elena firmly in the driver’s seat.
Titolo is the finest expression of the landlocked, mineral laden terroir of Monte Vulture at 600 metres above sea level. It has made a mark as one of the hallmark creations from the plush and complex Aglianico del Vulture grape.
Titolo is able to showcase its volcanic origins remarkably well. The palate is silky and there is an unmistakable through line of savoury minerality. One can find ample notes of dark earth and violet waft from the glass, the wine is loaded with rich fruit, namely black cherry and has a certain elegance and acidity to it, which Elena attributes to its unique location high in the volcanic mountains. Here, there is snow in the winters, despite being situated in sunny Southern Italy, where the reds are expectedly jammy.
There’s remarkable precision in Elena’s winemaking too, with regular winter pruning ensuring that one achieves quality over quantity in the vineyard with annual production never exceeding 30,000 bottles a year. Harvesting of grapes is done by hands and in small batches. Fermented in large stainless steel tanks, Titolo undergoes malolactic fermentation in French barriques. It may be noteworthy to mention that the ancient vines are old and gnarled and aged around 60-70 years, lending themselves to the exceptional quality of Titolo.
Under Elena Fucci’s keen stewardship, Titolo has gone on to bag notable awards including Gambero Rosso’s coveted Tre Bicchieri (Three Glasses) every year since 2005.
Titolo is made with 100 per cent Aglianico del Vulture grapes that thrive on the lava-rich, volcanic soil.
Aglianico: Star of South Italy
There’s much to be said about the Aglianico grape that abounds in Basilicata as Aglianico del Vulture and in neighbouring Campania as Taurasi and Taburno. Marked by concentrated fruit, elegant acidity and pulsating tannins, the grape is remarkable for its age-worthiness.
The grapes are known for their early budding and late ripening, sometimes well into November, giving them a prolonged period on the vines, exposed to the elements. This ensures that that the flavour profile is rich with complexities and an overall fruitiness.
Given their vivacious tannic structure, Aglianico calls for a balanced approach in winemaking, that allow its inherent quality to shine, even though there is a subtle suggestion of oak in the background.
Elena is careful to handle these grapes mindfully at the winery, to ensure they are pressed ever so gently, so as not to achieve an overpowering juice.
Never one to rest on her laurels, Elena has been recently working on her new Rosé (Titolo Pink Edition) made from grapes harvested from the youngest part of the vineyard. “Fresh and with hints of citrus, strawberries and white flowers, these wines are meant for easy drinking,” she notes.
Another labour of love, for Elena Fucci, has been with the amphora.
“Titolo Amphora was born in February 2017, during my business trip to USA. During the flight I read some articles in a magazine and they piqued my curiosity,” remarks Elena, on the seeding of this idea, after which she chose to vinify a batch of 933 bottles. It entailed a total aging period of 18 months in the amphora, and 10 months in the bottles before releasing.
“When I tasted this wine for the first time, I found the tannins silkier but strong and persistent. Good impact of the minerality and an unmistakable hint of spice… like white pepper.”
All images courtesy elenafuccivini.com