The Volcanic Soils of Campania
Contradi di Taurasi
Located in the Campania region, the Lonardo family farms five hectares of vines with organic methods, particularly Alianico 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, which are rich and relaxed.
Villa Dora Winery
Mount Vesuvius is an active volcano just east of Naples, and the organically farmed vineyards of Villa Dora are on the lower slopes of the volcano, inside the national park that surrounds the estate. The soil, mostly ground-up pumice, looks like black gravel, and the wines are strikingly flavorful and distinctive. Scientific research has not yet shown the connection between the flavors of wines and the minerals in the soil where the vines grow, but wine professionals are convinced that a connection exists, especially in the case of volcanic soils, which are extremely rich in mineral content. The Ambrosio family, owners of the Villa Dora estate, primarily farm olive trees on these volcanic slopes of Mount Vesuvious. The vineyards are planted with the white varieties Falanghina, probably of Greek origin, and Coda di Volpe and the reds Aglianico, also of Greek origin, and indigenous Piedirosso. But the wine estate is best known for its Lacrima Christi del Vesuvio both red and white.
Campi Flegrei is a very small grape-growing area just north of Naples on the coast of Campania. In the 19th Century, the phylloxera root-louse destroyed most vineyards in Europe and the U.S. But the soil is so sandy in the Campi Flegrei area that phylloxera does not survive, so vines can be planted on their own roots rather than grafted onto phylloxera-resistant rootstock. Today, Europeans have a great nostalgia for that Golden Age of wine when vines were all planted on their own roots. La Sibilla offers a rare opportunity to taste such a wine. Because the vines are ungrafted, the grapes achieve full ripeness at lower sugar levels, and the alcohol in the wines is correspondingly lower, usually around 12 percent. Luigi and Restituta Di Meo founded the winery in the 1980s on the nine and a half hectares that the Di Meo family had been farming since 1930. The soils are clearly volcanic, and wind from the sea sweeps through the vineyards. The family cultivates white Falanghina and red Piedirosso and several other indigenous varietals with organic methods.
Italian Wines of the Month
Villa Dora – 2010 Vesuvio Bianco
A blend of 80% Coda di Volpe and 20% Falanghina, harvested from the estate’s organic vineyards, the Vesuvio Bianco has clean, flinty aromas with hints of white peach, preserved lemon, flowers, and herbs. Fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks with no oak or secondary malo-lactic fermentation, the wine is deliciously crisp. Let it drop to the sides of your tongue to better taste its flavors. The Vesuvio Bianco weighs in at just 12% alcohol. Serve chilled.
La Sibilla – 2010 Piedirosso, Campi Flegrei
Made from 100% Piedirossi or “red feet” in English, which refers to the color of the vine stalks, the grapes were harvested from organic estate vineyards in the Campi Flegrei zone, where soils were made from volcanic eruptions. This is a delicious and unusual wine with spicy, stony flavors and aromas and a smooth texture, aged only in stainless steel tanks. The wine is versatile, so you can serve it with dishes that range from grilled salmon to pork chops, pan cooked with garlic and rosemary. Serve at cool room temperature (12.5% alcohol).
Contrade di Taurasi – 2008 Aglianico, Irpinia
While this 100 % Aglianico is made from vines located in the official Taurisi zone, it is declassified to Aglianico 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 2008 Aglianico is also rounder and more fruit forward than Taurasi. Serve at cool room temperature with roasted or grilled meats and vegetables and rich pasta dishes (14% alcohol).
Villa Dora 2007 – Lacryma Christi Rosso del Vesuvio
A blend of 80% Piedirosso and 20% Aglianico, harvested from organically grown vineyards that are planted in volcanic soils, the Lacryma Christi Rosso shows deep reddish-black color and a smoky aroma with a hint of tar. Its flavors suggest blackberry and dark cherry with wild herb influences, such as thyme, bay, and rosemary. The wine was aged in large puncheons for 12 months (14% alcohol).
Contrade di Taurasi – 2005 Taurisi
This delicious wine is 100% Aglianico from vineyards in the prestigious Taurasi appellation. These high altitude vineyards that take root in volcanic soils produce intriguing wines of extraordinary power and complexity. This 2005 Taurasi is fermented with natural ambient yeasts, which slowly ferment the juice into wine over a period of about 30 days. The wine is then aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, six months in stainless steel tanks, and an additional 12 months in bottle before release from the winery. The wine is neither fined nor filtered. With a deep red-black color, this Taurisi has a bouquet of black cherry, red plum, and wilted violet, together with a vast array of spices. At 14% alcohol, its flavors are rich and its texture smooth. The winery made just 100 cases. Writing for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Antonio Galloni gave the 2004 vintage 92 points. Serve at cool room temperature (14% alcohol).
Contradi di Taurasi – 2007 Taurasi, Le Coste
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.