Vines Rooted in Volcanic Ash
Villa Raino is located in the heart of Irpinia, which boasts a rich history of ancient viticulture dating back to the 7th Century B.C. when the Etruscans and the Greeks inhabited this region in Campagna. For centuries, the eruptions of the Vesuvius volcano have bestowed minerals on the land and created truly unique soils. Since 1996, brothers Sibillo and Simone Raiano and their cousin Paolo have committed themselves to wine, ensuring that Greco di Tufo, Fiano di Avellino, and Taurasi, all with the highest DOCG designations, express what nature has so generously donated to their 17-hectare estate, located on an Irpinian hill. Wine guide Gambero Rosso says, “…the wines have outstanding precision, richness of fruit, and breadth of aroma right across the board….”
This historic winery is located in Campagna in the volcanic foothills of Monte Massico with the great Vesuvius looming in the distance. The noble Aglianico grape was brought to the area by the Ancient Greeks as was Piedirosso, the classic blend that produced Falernum, once revered by the Romans. The Masseria Felicia estate cultivates only five hectares of vines, and now that owner Signore Brini is more than 80 years old, enologist Nicola Trabucco makes the estate’s Falerno del Massico Rosso, a classic blend of bold Aglianico and the more delicate Piedirosso. Together these two historic grape varieties create a rich but nuanced wine. The winery’s miniscule production reaches 650 cases per year. Miraculously, a few bottles have migrated across the ocean and onto your dining table.
Located in Campagna at Sannio Beneventano on Monte Taburno, the nine-hectare I Pentri estate takes its name from one of four tribes that were loosely tied together and dominated the region between Abruzzo and Molise in the fourth Century. The I Pentri tribe was known for its viticulture, and the winery pays homage to the ancient vines of the area. I Pentri’s flagship wine is Piedirosso or “red foot,” whose name describes the color of the vine which resembles a pigeon’s red foot.
The late Tommaso Greco was born in 1934 in Calabria on the family farm located in Cariati on the Ionic coast, half way between Sibari and the province of Crotone. Today the I Greco team consists of Tommaso’s seven children, Cataldo, Ernesto, Filomena, Natale Francesco, Saverio, Marileno, and Giancarlo. The family owns various properties in the towns of Ciro’, Ciro’ Marina, Crucoli, Scala Coeli, Camigliatelo Silano, Terravecchia, and Ariati. Olive oil production and wine making occupy the Greco family, which is increasingly turning its attention to premium wine production, submitting more of their wines to the Gambero Rosso wine board, which publishes Italy’s foremost wine rating guide. Two of their wines have achieved the “Two Glasses” award, the Filu and the Tuma.
Italian Wines of the Month
I Greco – 2008 Filu
The Filu is 100% Greco from the Ciro’ appellation, 150 meters above sea level. The wine is straw yellow in color with prevailing floral aromas and citrus notes. Although bright and crisp in the mouth, the Filu feels round and full as is typical of white wines from warmer southern Italian terroir. As the name Greco implied, the varietal was originally brought to Southern Italy by the ancient Greeks and was transported throughout Italy, probably becoming Grecanico, Grechetto, and Falanghina. Some scholars think that the vines may even have evolved into the Trebbiano and Verdicchio families and traveled as far north as Venezia and Piemonte. The Greco is truly a mouthful of history. Serve chilled with appetizers and light first courses.
I Greco – 2006 Cata
This delicious wine is 100% Gaglioppo, an ancient vine that scholars are still researching and as yet are uncertain of its origin, whether indigenous to Southern Italy or brought there by the ancient Greeks. In certain places in Calabria, the vine is called Aglianico, so it may be related to Campagna’s noble wine Taurasi, made from Aglianico. The Cata is rather light in color, somewhat like Pinot Noir. Its flavors are lively and intense and its scent suggests red fruit and vanilla. The Cata was aged for six months in Slovanian oak barriques and for six months in bottle before release from the winery. Serve at room temperature.
I Pentri – 2005 Piedirosso Kerref
From the Kerref vineyard, this unusual wine is 100% Piedirosso. Aged for 12 months in French oak barrels and 12 months in bottle before release from the winery, the wine is ruby red in color and has complex aromas of black cherry and scents from the forest. The wine is finely balanced with delicate fruit flavors, smooth tannins, and refreshing acidity. Serve with roasted game birds, pasta with dried mushroom sauces, and hard cheeses with black and green olives.
Masseria Felicia – 2007 Falerno del Massico Rosso
This blend of 80% Aglianico and 20% Piedirosso enchants us now just as it did the ancient Romans. The volcanic soils from which the vines grow transmit bold, smoky flavors to this singular fruit, dense with black cherry, white pepper, and wild herbs. Decant the Massico Rosso before serving with roasted game, sausage and polenta, and aged cheeses.
Villa Raiano – 2003 Irpinia Aglianico
The fruit for this delicious wine is 100% Aglianico from the Irpinia appellation and is made from 30 year-old vines. After eight months in French oak barrels and at this point seven years in bottle, the wine is a deep brick red with fragrances of red fruits, violet, and spices. On the mouth, the taste is smooth with fine tannins and a finish of black pepper and liquorice. Decant this wine and serve at room temperature with roasted meats and risotto with wild mushrooms.
Villa Raiano – 2003 Taurasi
Aglianico from the volcanic Taurasi appellation is the noble wine of Campania, planted by the ancient Greeks first in Basilicata’s Vulture zone and then in Campania’s Taurasi zone. This Villa Raiano Taurasi spent 18 months in French oak barrels and is brick red in color with dramatic and complex aromas of red fruit, liquorice, and tobacco that leap from the glass. The wine should be decanted for at least a half hour before serving at cool room temperature with roasted, wild meats and winter stews.
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, Santo 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 twenty 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.