Welcome to Oenotria, the Land of Vines
Contradi di Taurasi
Located in the Campania region, the Lonardo family organically farms five hectares of vines, particularly Aglianico in Irpinia’s Taurasi zone. Vineyards are planted at an elevation of 1300 feet on volcanic slopes, which are typical of the zone. The Lonardo family has attracted attention for its research on native yeasts in the area, and their results indicate that the wines reflect their place of origin to a greater extent when these yeasts, instead of commercial yeasts, are used to ferment the grapes into wine. Microbiologist Giancarlo Moschetti from the University of Palermo headed the research team together with Contradi di Taurasi winemaker Vincenzo Mercurio. According to Italian wine guide Gambero Rosso, “The Contrade di Taurasi story is one of unconditional love for experimentation, starting with guided natural fermentation and estate zoning to biocompatible management….” Gambero Rosso honored the 2004 Taurasi with its highest Tre Bicchieri award. Known as the Barolo of the South, Taurasi can be a massive and tannic wine, capable of aging for decades. But founder Alessandro Lonardo and his daughter Enza, a biotech researcher, have chosen a riper, more approachable modern style for their wines. The 2010 Grecomusc, made from a variety called Roviello Bianco or Grecomusc by the locals was awarded the Tre Bicchieri. The variety is indigenous to the town of Taurasi and the villages around Taurasi. Lonardo is the only producer actually marketing the wine. He buys the fruit from various small farmers who have a few rows each, the vines ranging from 70 to over 100 years old, all ungrafted. The total production made from this variety is about 250 cases a year, 200 of which are made by Sandro Leonardo.
Many of the most interesting wines grown in Italy come from regions that were unknown or underestimated just a few years ago. Campania is now established as an excellent source of distinctive, forceful red and white wines from native grape varieties, but even in Campania there are growing areas that suddenly command attention. One such surprise is the Amalfi Coast where small producers are making very interesting wines. Luigi Reale is one of them. He runs his family’s inn and restaurant in the village of Tramonti, on the hills above the Amalfi Coast. Almost as a hobby he also makes about 1,000 cases of wine each year, all from varieties indigenous to Campania and to this area specifically. Just two of his wines are exported, the ‘Aliseo’ white and the ‘Cardomone’ red. Both are cleanly made, individual, and delicious. Luigi’s vines are between 70 and 120 years old, which is to say pre-Phylloxera. The vines are invulnerable to the Phylloxera rootlouse, which does not survive in the local soils, mostly consisting of sand or slate.
Family-owned Picarello winery is located high up among the Irpinian hills near Avellino. The vineyards cover 17 acres and are about equally divided between Montefredane at 1,600 feet above sea level and Summonte at 2,100 feet, where the winery is. Summonte was formerly famous for its hazlenuts, then for its black grapes, before realizing its potential of Fiano, now grown on the nutrient poor, limestone and volcanic soils that cling to the mountain side. An architect by training, Ciro Picarello turned winemaker once he met his wife Rita Guerriero, who owned the land at Summonte. Together with their daughter Emma, a bio-technician, and son Bruno, a viticultural school graduate, the family makes a little over 4000 cases a year, mainly Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo but also some Aglianico, Piedirosso, and Sciascinoso. ItalianWine guide “Gambero Rosso” gave the 2008 and the 2010 Fiano di Avellino its highest Tre Bicchieri award.
Italian Wines of the Month
Ciro Picariello – 2010 Campania Rosso
A blend of 40% Aglianico, 30% Sciacinosso, and 30% Piedirosso, this delicious wine is made in a very drinkable style with lovely blackberry fruit, together with herb and tar-scented mineral aromas and flavors. The wine is beautifully balanced with fruit, acid, and fine tannins at just 12.5% alcohol. Serve at room temperature.
Ciro Picariello – 2009 Irpinia Fiano
This wine is 100% Fiano from Irpinia, know to age well, and shows deep golden color with vivid, distinctive aromas and flavors of almond, herbs, citrus, and an enticing smoky and struck flint character from the volcanic soil. Use of SO2 is minimal, and the wine is not filtered or fined. This is an extremely ‘natural’ and therefore risky winemaking process for a white wine, but the Ciro Picariello knows what he’s doing, and every vintage is both expressive and clean. Serve chilled.
Contrade di Taurasi – 2010 Aglianico, Irpinia
While this 100 % Aglianico is made from vines located in the official Taurisi zone, it is declassified to Aglianico, the name of the grape, because the wine does not conform to the aging requirements for the Taurasi appellation. Instead the wine is meant to be released from the winery and consumed earlier. This Aglianico Irpinia shows the distinctive flavors of the area, blackberry and raspberry fruit balanced with fresh acidity and a savory character that is associated with volcanic soils. Unfined and coarsely filtered, this delicious 2010 Aglianico is also rounder and more fruit forward than Taurasi. Serve at cool room temperature with roasted or grilled meats and vegetables and pasta dishes with garlic, fresh and dried mushrooms, and chopped parsley (14% alcohol).
Reale – 2010 Cardamone
Named after the district where the vineyards are found, Cardamone is made of 80% Per’ E Palummo, the local name for Piedirosso, and 20% Tintore di Tramonti, a local grape known for its very dark color. The grapes come from very old vines, planted on their own roots between 70 and 120 years ago. Yields are very low. The color of this wine is a deeply dark purple-red with violet glints. In aroma and flavor the wine is elegantly plumy and spicy, especially with black pepper, and has a long chewy finish. The winemaking is expressive but completely clean. Both fermentation and aging take place in stainless steel tanks and large 400L barrels, which do not impart flavor. The winery produced just 450 cases. Decant before serving to release and round out flavors (13.5% alcohol).
Reale – 2010 Aliseo
Named after the wind that brings good weather, the Aliseo is made of 50% Biancolella, 40% Biancazita, said to be a type of Falanghina, and 10% Pepella. The grapes come from very old vines, planted on their own roots between 70 and 120 years ago. Grape yields are very low. The wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel to allow the best expression of the fruit, with no secondary malolactic fermentation that reduces the acid sensation. Aromas and flavors include flowers, lemon-peel, herbs, including tarragon, and wet stones. The mouthwatering fresh acidity gives a very long finish. This is a truly unusual southern Italian white wine. Its nose is one of the most vibrant, aromatic, and fruity that I’ve ever had the pleasure to inhale, and strangely, the taste is very different, much more mineral and herbal. Luigi Reale produced just 200 cases (12.5% alcohol).
Contradi di Taurasi – 2007 Taurasi
This 2007 Taurasi is made from grapes that were harvested at the Le Coste site, where vines are from 20 to 40 years-old. Again like the 2005 Taurasi, the 2007 was fermented with natural ambient yeasts, which slowly fermented the juice into wine over a period of about 30 days. The wine was then aged for 24 months in 500-liter puncheons and for an additional 12 months in bottle before release from the winery. The wine is neither fined nor filtered and shows deep red-black color with red and black fruit aromas along with cedar and sandalwood. On the palate, the wine is complex and balanced with ripe tannins and shows hints of dark chocolate, tea leaf, mixed berries, and savory elements. Drink now or age for decades. This Contradi di Taurasi 2007 illustrates the reason that Taurasi is called the “Barolo of the South.” The winery produced just 100 cases of this wine. Decant at least an hour before serving with richly flavored meats and pastas.
Contradi di Taurasi – 2008 Taurasi
Writing for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Antonio Galloni described the 2004 Taurasi as follows: “Readers who want to know why Taurasi is often referred to as the “Barolo of the South” need to check out Lonardo’s 2004 Taurasi. This powerful, vibrant wine explodes from the glass with masses of dark red fruits, cured meats, earthiness, spices, melted road tar, violets and minerals. Despite its sheer size, the wine also possesses remarkable clarity and transparency. Today, this is an exuberant and massively tannic wine, so a minimum of another year or two of cellaring seems prudent.” The same could be said for the 2008. But if you want to drink the wine now, be sure to decant it at least an hour before serving. And pair the wine with big flavors like roasted meats and spicy pastas.
Italian Region of the Month
The capital of Campania, Naples was founded by the Greeks, enlarged by the Romans, and subsequently invaded by the Normans, Hohenstaufen, French, and Spanish among others. Established by the Greeks in the 11th Century BC, Naples was the earliest of a cluster of far flung settlements throughout southern Italy. Many important figures of the age, including Pythagoras, Archimedes, and Aeschylus lived in these settlements, and today some of the best ruins of the ancient Greek world can be found there. Along with mathematics, architecture, and drama, the ancient art of winemaking also flourished in the hills and valleys of the region as the cult of Dionysus spread. Aglianico and Greco, vines that the Greeks introduced, are still highly prized. The Greek historian Herodotus called this part of Italy Oenotria, the land of wine.
In the 16th Century, Sante Lancerio, the bottler of Pope Paul III, raved about the wines of the Kingdom of Naples, and their reputation continued into the 19th Century. But subsequently, viticulture went into decline for decades as growers left the land, and the majority of remaining producers ignored DOC regulations and instead chose to plant prolific vines rather than those that would produce premium grapes. In the last 25 years, producers have once again recognized the potential of southern Italy in general and have modernized their viticulture and winemaking techniques. Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo are among Italy’s most distinguished white wines, while Taurasi from Aglianico has been called the “Barolo of the South” because of its aging ability. Taurasi, Aglianico del Taburno, Greco di Tufo, and Fiano di Avellino, are the four DOCG wines to date. And there are 14 DOC wines. Mastroberardino is a distinguished winery in the region as is Feudi di San Gregorio, Villa Matilde, Mustilli, and Casa d’Ambra.