A Laboratory for History in Campania
The Alois family is one of the world’s most famous makers of fabrics, with their silk adorning the walls of the Louvre and the White House. The grandfather of Michele Alois, current director of the company, managed the silk factory for the Bourbon King of Naples, Ferdinando IV. In 1861, twenty-four years after Italy was united and the King fled, Alois managed to established his own small silk plant with seven looms. The family home is located in Campagna in the foothills of the Caiatini Mountains in the province of Caserta where Ferdinando built his huge royal palace. Michele Alois added vineyards and cellars to the family’s rural home with Bourbon origins that date back to the early 1800s. Located on a plateau surrounded by an amphitheater of hills, the nine-hectare estate is near the inactive volcano of Roccamonfina. Michele Alois has planted the ancient varietals of the region, Casavecchia and Pallagrello, both of which were rescued from near extinction about 20 years ago when the national government financed a project at the University of Naples to rediscover the ancient vines that the Romans and later the Bourbon King of Naples cultivated and vinified. Michele also grows the noble and indigenous Aglianico and Falanghina grapes on the estate. All four grape varietals were mentioned by the great naturalist Pliny the Elder (23 –79 AD) in his monumental work, Naturalis Historicus. The organic vineyards are a laboratory for history, reincarnating ancient wines but with more flavor and finesse than the ancients ever dreamed possible. The wines borrow names from the ancient Romans, like Trebulanum, Campole, Cunto, Settimo, Nadhir, Caiati, and Caulino. The winemaker is Carmine Valentino; vineyard manager is Stefano Paseschenko; consulting agronomist is Dr. Nicola Trabucco; and cellar manager is Enzo Scognamiglio.
This extraordinary family is responsible for rescuing Campania’s ancient grape varieties from extinction. Without the family’s efforts over 130 years that the winey has officially existed, Fiano, Greco di Tufo, and the noble Aglianico would probably have been only historical references in the writings of Titus Livius and Pliny the Elder. Aglianico is now produced throughout Campagnia in Taburno, Irpinia, and Sannio, but its greatest expression comes from Taurasi and is known as the “Barolo of the South” because of its extraordinary flavors and ability to age. Headquartered in Altripalda about 40 miles northeast of Naples in the center of the Irpinia wine making region, Angelo Mastroberardino first registered the company in 1878 at the Chamber of Commerce in Avellino. Today, his great grandson Piero Mastroberardino is the current President. The Prestigious wine journal Gambero Rosso says “we have the sneaking suspicion that the champions presented this year by the talented Vincenzo Mercurio (winemaker) may well be the great classics of the future.” A steady stream of international visitors tour the cellars, where the family both barrel-ages its wines and displays the artistic masterpieces of Raffaele de Rosa, Maria Micozzi, and Doina Botez among others, in this place “of work and contemplation,” according to the website. The family’s devotion to ancient grape varieties was recognized by the Italian government, which commissioned it to replant the vineyards around Pompeli and match the grapes originally growing there before the eruption of Mt. Vesuvious in 79 AD.
Italian Wines of the Month
Michele Alois – 2010 Caulino Falanghina
This golden wine is 100% Falanghina, which scholars think Roman merchants brought to Italy from Greece. The vine takes its name from phalange, an ancient system of cultivation which tied the vine to a pole. Aged only in stainless steel and in the bottle, the Alois 2009 Falanghina is beautiful, delicate, and floral on the nose, and full, fruity, and tropical on the palate, followed by a sweet acid zing on the finish. Serve chilled.
Michele Alois – 2010 Campole Aglianico
Aglianico is the most important red grape variety of Southern Italy and has an ancient history. The Greeks introduced the vine to the Italians, who made from it one of the most prized wines of the ancient world called Falernum. The name of the grape transformed from Hellenica to Hellanica and then into Aglianico during the period of Aragonese domination over the Kingdom of Naples at the end of the 15th Century. Like all Alois wines, the 2007 Campole Aglianico is very elegant and complex with a beautiful tannin texture and layers of flavor with berry, licorice, and pencil shavings on the nose and palate. But more than the fruit from which it was made, Campole tastes like the earth, the stones, and the volcanic ash that together form the soil under the vines. The wine was aged only in stainless steel tanks. Serve at cool room temperature with grilled lamb and braised field greens and with emmer wheat pasta with a sauce of wild mushrooms, garlic, and olive oil.
Michele Alois – 2008 Murella Pallagrello Nero
Pallagrello Nero is an ancient, rediscovered variety dating back to the ancient Greeks but made popular by King Ferdinand IV, who ruled Naples and Sicily between 1751 and 1825. Aged for six months in French oak barrels, the wine projects aromas of red fruit and tobacco. Medium bodied on the palate, it has a beautiful silky texture and a long finish with even more fruit flavor. Complex and refined, the 2008 Murella is another beauty from Michele Alois. Serve at cool room temperature and savor.
Mastroberardino – 2009 Aglianico Campania
This 100% Aglianico was aged for ten months in older French oak barrels, which do not impart woody flavors to the wine as newer barrels would. Vintners who want to showcase the authentic flavors of their grapes are likely to avoid new oak barrels in favor of older ones. As ambassadors of Aglianico, the Mastroberardino family always puts the grape first. That said, depending on the vineyard, Aglianico can be a powerfully tannic wine that requires many months of aging before release from the winery. This 2009, after just ten months in barrel, is soft and approachable with cherry and wild blackberry in the nose, which transfer to the palate. Serve at room temperature with tomato-based sauces, red meats, and cheeses.
Mastsroberardino – 2011 Greco di Tufo
Writing for The Wine Advocate, Antonio Galloni describes the 2011 Greco di Tufo as follows: “Another vivid, totally alive wine, the 2011 Greco di Tufo is loaded with personality and character. Smoke, slate and lemon are woven together nicely. The 2011 balances richness and tension to a degree that is quite attractive.” Introduced by the ancient Greeks into Southern Italy, the white Greco di Tufo may be related to Falanghina, another gift of the ancient Greeks, and perhaps evolved into the Trebbiano and Verdicchio varieties, according to some scholars. This elegant and full-bodied white was made and aged in stainless steel tanks to preserve its fruity bouquet. Serve chilled as an aperitif and with grilled fish.
Mastroberardino – 2006 Taurasi Radici
The 2005, 2006, and the 2007 vintages of the Taurasi Radici were all awarded Gambero Rosso’s highest Tre Bicchierri award for excellence. Writing for The Wine Advocate, Antonio Galloni gave the wine 95 points. “The 2006 Taurasi Radici hits the palate with masses of blueberries, black berries, flowers and spices. The 2006 is a big, explosive wine in need of considerable cellaring. That said, it is remarkably accessible for a young Taurasi from this historic property. Layers of fruit continue to build towards the exotic, concentrated finish. This is a marvelous wine in the making.” Radici, meaning “roots,” was produced for the first time in 1986 and is the result of painstaking research into exposure, chemical and physical characteristics of terroir, and topography. Its strong personality, dense structure, and aromatic concentration are the primary features of this prestigious symbol of Irpinian viticulture. The wine is, of course, 100% Aglianico from the Taurasi appellation and was aged for 24 months in barrel. Deep ruby red in color, the wine has a full, complex bouquet redolent of violet and berries. In the mouth, it is enveloping and elegant with flavors of plum, bitter cherry, strawberry jam, and black pepper. Serve with roasted meats, large game, and mature cheeses.
Mastroberardino – 1999 Taurasi Radici Riserva
Awarding the 1999 Taurasi Riserva 93 points in 2009, Antonio Galloni says the following in The Wine Advocate: “The 1999 Taurasi Radici Riserva is simply beautiful. Sweet dried cherries, licorice, menthol and spices waft from the glass. Made in an elegant style, this complex Riserva shows some of the slightly advanced and oxidized flavors one might reasonably expect from 10 year-old wine, yet the balance is utterly compelling. The finish is long, sweet and ethereal, as pretty suggestions of mint come back to frame the wine beautifully. Mastroberardino gave this Riserva a whopping 30 months in small and large used oak barrels.” This legendary wine shows complex and intense aromas with notes of tobacco, cherry, berries and balsamic. And in the mouth, it is elegant with a long finish. In the background, distinct notes of bitter cherry, strawberry jam and black pepper are apparent. Serve at cool room temperature.
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, Greco di Tufo, and Fiano di Avellino are the three DOCG wines to date. Mastroberardino is a distinguished winery in the region as is Feudi di San Gregorio, Villa Matilde, Mustilli, and Casa d’Ambra.