Posts Tagged ‘Campania’
Lunch today with colleagues at The Contented Vine in Pimlico. What a great name for a slightly rambling wine bar cum restaurant on three or even four levels. Well executed, good value food and a well constructed wine list – Champagne, French classics, currently a whole page on Australia. We drank a very good Benevento Falanghina from southern Italy – good lemony fruit, excellent body, a very good food wine.
Ps this is a trial post direct from my Iphone – slow going but useful. The photo is of the ‘rhubarb crumble and custard’ garden at the Chelsea Flower Show … only conceivable in England! And the glass is of course rhubarb country wine – pale red, powerful rhubarb nose, no doubt very sharp. It’s a strange world out there.
Tasting in situ is a dangerous business. Wines can taste so much better when you are in the winery, the sun is shining or if the proprietor is particularly persuasive. So, it is good to have the chance to re-taste wines in a more neutral setting, with a bit of distance and with the comparison of other styles of wines to hand. After an autumn visit to Campania, Andover Wine Friends’ recent tasting was an opportunity to try the main styles again.
Campanian wines used to be known for the big, slow-evolving reds. The key wine is a version of Aglianico, the most important red grape, with long ageing potential. Called Taurasi it is grown around the small town of the same name. But there is much more to Campania nowadays, especially the whites made from local grape varieties. This tasting featured wines from three companies, two large players based in heart of the Campanian wine scene, Mastroberardino and Feudi di San Gregorio, and one medium size family firm, de Conciliis, much further south, quite close to the famous temples at Paestum. These wines are available in the UK, from Raeburn Fine Wines and Winedirect, both with good delivery services.
The evening started with de Conciliis’ very unusual sparker, Selim, made from the unlikely mix of Fiano (of which much more), Aglianico, picked very young, and Barbera, a bit of a stranger in these parts. The sparkling bit is actually done up in Prosecco in northern Italy, to de Conciliis’ orders. These include an unusual 100 days on the lees, using the tank method, to gain extra complexity. It found favour, even on a cool, damp evening in northern Europe: bright, decent fruit (you can taste the fruit of the red grapes plus the high acidity of young Aglianico and Barbera), nice yeasty notes and the good acidity that sparkling wine needs.
At times it’s tempting to jump to the conclusion: although Campania is famous for its grand red wine, Taurasi, the stars of this evening – at least for me – were the three native white varieties. Falanghina, Greco and Fiano were never cut out to be a rock band or a firm of solicitors, but they are a great a trio of whites. None is really obviously fruit-led like Sauvignon Blanc or perfumed like Viognier, but they do have decent aroma, excellent texture, weight in the mouth and refreshing acidity. In short, they are full of character and superb food wines.
Of the three whites, first up was the staple of Campania, Falanghina. This can be merely competent, if never really dull like Tuscany’s Trebbiano. However, Feudi di San Gregorio’s Sannio Falanghina 2008 was much more than competent: pleasantly vegetal (perhaps even the bitterness of olives), almondy, followed by a shot of lime, and excellent texture. Mastroberardino’s Nova Serra Greco di Tufo 2008 has good citrusy notes, perhaps grapefruit, almost fleshy in substance and very persistent with great acidity. Then there was the same company’s Radici Fiano di Avellino 2008, rather more neutral on the nose, but herbaceous again and herby, very slightly honeyed, good texture. Although it is Fiano which is the prized grape, it was the other two in these young and medium priced wines (£11-£14 in the UK) which really stood out.
Of course Fiano can come in all sorts of styles, fresh and contemporary but occasionally oxidative and aged. To demonstrate this style we had a bottle from 2003 of de Conciliis’ Antece. This ‘white made as red’ was an extraordinary colour, verging on amber despite it being only 7 years old. It leads with a good madeira style nose, marmalade and burnt sugar, but its weight in the mouth makes it a table wine, interesting if quite simple. Once people got over the shock of the style some warmed to its peculiar charms.
The evening of course had to end with those famous reds. Aglianico in Italy itself – especially from the barrel – can be a bit of an acidic/tannic challenge (see the post on Molletieri). What the wines need is time in the bottle. Two of our examples had just that. First, the ‘simple’ Aglianico of de Conciliis (‘Donnaluna’), not the young, bracingly vibrant examples we tasted in Italy but a bottle of 2004. This was rounded, dark cherries in there, with signs of good oak ageing … the acidity and tannins civilised by time.
Secondly, the classier wines of Taurasi, picked as late as possible in early November for maximum richness, with 12-18 months in oak making up a part of a minimum of three years ageing. The Radici Taurasi 2005 from Mastroberardino is a highly approachable and balanced wine after ‘only’ five years. This leads with evidence of oak ageing with mildly balsamic notes and also has a good depth of fruit.
Finally we had a rather older Taurasi from the single vineyard Piano di Montevergine 2001 from Feudi di San Gregorio. This really took time to show itself. It had been double decanted two hours earlier but it was still rather mute in the glass to start with, but piano, piano it began to emerge from its rest in the bottle. The colour seemed pretty unchanged, perhaps the slightest hint of browning but still a good dense red. On the nose there was an initial leatheriness, perhaps the odd whiff of bacon but also good dense fruit and now silky tannins.
Our last evening in Taurasi and in Campania offered the chance of either numerous Halloween parties (the mini-witches were very well behaved) or a dinner and tasting at the new wine bar, Vino e caffè. Theoretically a 8.30pm start, we were tipped off that 9.15 was more likely and in fact that gave plenty of time to admire the stash of bottles in the room which doubles as wine store and as meeting point for another great Italian passion, watching football on TV. Chatting to the young sommelier (all kitted up in traditional garb), he apologised for having no voice as he had been cheering Napoli on that afternoon in their epic victory against the mighty Juventus, the first victory in Turin for Napoli for 21 years.
The wines featured were from Filadoro, near Lapio, on the back road between Taurasi and Avellino. This is their first year as producers, though they have grown grapes for others for many years and will continue to do so. The growers had the biggest table, then there were a few fours scattered around and us. Two excellent courses came and went – pasta (Cicatielli) with squash and ricotta (and a wonderful creamy salsa of the squash on the side) and then chicken breasts rolled around prosciutto and mushrooms, very well and beautifully done. These course were paired with the two Filadoro wines now on the market:
Fiano DOCG 2008 – pale gold (probably more mid straw in better light) with green tinges, initially a slightly neutral nose but then opened up, slightly leafy, nutty, satiny palate, good acidity, good+
Tasted again at Vinitaly 2010: a polished wine, showing a huge amount of development in the bottle in comparison with the 2009 which had been bottled for the wine fair but still needs time. Very good apple and pear notes on the palate, tightly held together, very good indeed. Awarded a ‘gran menzione’ at Vinitaly 2010.
Greco di Tufo DOCG 2008 - a deeper straw yellow with green tinges, excellent honey and acacia nose, racy but balanced in the mouth, medium persistence, very good
Filadoro can be proud of these debutants – and indeed they have a little entry in the Vini d’Italia 2010, giving them a highly creditable 16/20 and 14/20 respectively. Complimenti!
There was then what can only be called a long pause … the young lads on a nearby table first flitted back and forth between their food and Milan-Parma on the TV screen, then they were joined by a group of other giovani, and started drinking the upcoming red wine … Getting up to photograph the bottles we fell into conversation with the growers’ table including a group of English speakers, Italians brought up in Coventry! Very friendly and obviously disappointed that we were going home the next day and couldn’t visit. Alla prossima volta!
Finally, the third course arrived, more an antipasto, beautiful prosciutto, cheese, salami, and a bowl of rich chickpea and meat … and the red wine accompanied by slightly tipsy renditions of old Queen favourites from the growers:
Aglianico Irpinia DOC 2008 – there will be Taurasi but we will have to wait until 2011 for that, but this is the junior version which you can sell after a year or so. The growers were nervous that this pre-release wine (due to be bottled in the winter) would not find favour, but they shouldn’t have worried: purple edge to a vibrant ruby colour, good depth of flavour, vibrant in the mouth too, with all that young acid and tannin, but real potential. Try in a year’s time. A silver medal winner as ‘Selezione del sindaco 2010′ at the Citta’ del Vino event.
Taurasi DOCG 2008 was available to be tasted in its infancy at Vinitaly 2010 – it only has two more years to go before it will be released! Now it shows a good lively palate, lovely plum and red fruit, excellent potential.
The party began to break up at 12.30. We returned to our beautiful B&B (http://www.bbtaurasi.it/), with so many fresh sensations from Campania. It may be one of the oldest wine areas in the world but it is now the leading wine area of Southern Italy with a great mix of tradition and innovation. We can’t wait to return.
The name is glamorous, the place is wonderful but not glamorous. Antoine Gaita’s house is up a small road well above the zona industriale of Montefredane, North of Avellino. The vineyards fall away from the house on a North and North West facing slope, perfect for whites according to him. The villa is a nice, modern house in the country with the paraphernalia of wine making behind the house amid evidence of the owner’s day job (satellite dishes?). This is a small concern, very, very personal, with a production of 10, 000 bottles a year. But being small means you can do exactly what you like and experiment as much as you like.
In addition to Antoine Gaita and his wife, there was an Italian couple (she a journalist, he a restauranteur) and the two us. We were a bit late but the other couple only preceded us by two minutes and it seemed that within a further two they were into a long debate as to whether Algeria was best understood as a colony or a département of France – it was clearly going to be a tasting of strong opinions, like the wines.
The Gaita philosophy is all about minimum intervention. He achieved organic status in 2003 and what he clearly loves is to talk about the winemaking itself. The thing here is Fiano. There is a little Greco di Tufo and some Aglianico (which needs 10 years of ageing), but relatively speaking they are sideshows. Gaita looks to keep his Fiano on the vine as long as possible, for a super-mature starting point. It’s all in the skins, he says. Fiano is highly resistant to oxygen and so you don’t have to worry about it to much. Complexity is gained by a long time on the lees. Of the 2005 he said ‘it is the apogee of non-working’. Its great clarity in the glass is the product of a long time resting in the stainless steel casks, no filtering or clarification.
We tasted in an unconventional order, starting with the dreaded, rainy year 2002, from which there were two examples. It wasn’t clear if this was bravado, a clever pitch or just what there is in the cellar.
Villa Diamante, Apianum, 2004: mid yellow, tending in the direction of gold. A rather muddled nose but then honey, some apricoty or pale peach flavours, good accompanying acidity.
Vigna della Congregazione, Villa Diamante, 2002 – this is the star wine, which comes from a couple of the best sites. More gold than Apianum, marmalade, wood and smoke on the nose. Palate slightly flat. Interesting, rather than excellent, ‘non è un vino perfetto’ according to its maker.
Vigna della Congregazione, 1998 – there just aren’t many white wines of this age in Italy, so this was a treat. By contrast to the 2002s, the nose has moderated, but on the nose and palate you get a sort of mixture of apple/pear flavours – fresh, dried, oxidised. A long way from visually perfect – slightly cloudy with some black spots. Good refreshing acidity, greater persistence. A great conversation wine.
Vigna della Congregazione, 2005 – startlingly clear mid-yellow, nice honeyed nose, some herbs, pears and apples again. Some sense of yeastiness from the lees, but an easy wine to appreciate in a more or less contemporary style. Excellent – and in a demanding year.
By this stage, our fellow tasters realised that they would be late for their next tasting one hour plus south (de Conciliis, where we had been three days earlier), so it all became a bit of rush. We tasted the Vigna della Congregazione 2007 but didn’t do it justice. It seemed like a fresher version of 2005, if not quite as clear.
Our journalist companion was for not tasting the cru, Cuvée Enrico 2000, as she didn’t want to rush it but fortunately our host ignored this. It is made like Jura’s vin jaune, basically fermented and then sealed in a small barriques for as many years as you dare. As the level drops it develops a heathy flor, a layer of yeast on top of the wine, similar to sherry, which controls the level of oxidisation. You then open the barrel and hope for the best- sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t . Gaita likes to experiment so this was left for seven years (with a bit of peek after three as he was curious!) 15? of alcohol, with a dense nose of orange peel and burnt sugar. An excellent ending point and typical of Gaita’s creative individualism.
We spent the afternoon looking at the Roman monuments of Benevento – a handsome city, if very quiet on a Saturday afternoon, the siesta of course.
On a wine journey, one good thing can lead to another. During our visit to the Contrade di Taurasi, we were quizzed on where we had been eating and then given a number of recommendations. The top one was for La Pergola in Gesualdo, a 30 minute drive away which we took up for lunch as we had no further appointments that day. The food here is sophisticated and well judged, not just hearty. Chatting to the waiter and of course having told him who had given us the recommendation, we soon fell to talking wine. He in turn gave us a list of recommendations of wineries and offered to make contact with the di Prisco winery, whose ‘Coda di Volpe’ (fox’s tail, but here a grape variety) we had already ordered. At the end of the meal the waiter turned into ‘Antonio’.
After some confusion over whose car we were going to travel in, we drove down the lanes and arrived at Pasqualino di Prisco’s winery. Antonio described the owner as a vignaiolo, a worker of vineyards. Indeed when he arrived his hands were suitably dirty from working in the fields. He has a reticent manner but with real warmth beneath the surface. Given the chance to be photographed with his friend, he burst into life (restaurateur on the left, wine producer on right).
The newly-published 2010 wine guides were stacked up on the desk, which doubled as a tasting table, in the corner of working cantina, no ceremony here. Gambero Rosso had awarded the coveted ‘Three Glasses’ for the 2005 Taurasi but only two for his excellent whites, while I vini d’Italia preferred the whites. It must feel an arbitrary business and in a difficult market, every gong counts.
Di Prisco makes wines of real character. The Coda di Volpe has a slightly vegetal and mineral nose and then gets quite herby in the glass. The star white, Greco di Tufo ‘Pietra rosa’, 2007, is a beautiful deep straw yellow with some green tinges. It leads with minerals and pears on the nose. Its lively acidity makes you want to come back to the glass. Even more impressive (and rightly a ‘Three Glasses’ winner) is Taurasi DOCG 2005, a triumph in a demanding year. Despite its four years on release, it’s very young and leads with a complex nose of blackberry fruit, balsamic notes and leather, showing the use of mainly old barriques in the ageing. It will be amazing in 10, 20 and more years. The labels are pretty smart too, recalling ancient Irpinia (part of the modern province of Avellino) and its classical heritage. We drove Antonio back to his restaurant and celebrated the chain of introductions which gave us such a memorable day. Oh, and I nearly forgot, Professor Moschetti had earlier in the day set up another visit for us the next day at the Villa Diamante, for its famous whites …
Footnote: found on the cantina wall. Not perhaps theologically profound but … the man of the vineyards prefers the mild earthly ecstasy of wine to the unspecified joys of heaven.
Campania is one of the historic wine areas of Italy – the Romans prized the wine from Ager Falernum (now revived as Palermo) – for great fresco from Pompeii, see: Roman fresco at Pompeii
No doubt their predecessors, the Sammites, could cook up a great brew or two. As the map shows, they certainly had a grip of Southern Italy between 6th and 4th centuries before Christ.
The world-famous classical sites (Pompeii, Herculaneum and much more) are matched by the heritage of ancient grape varieties with Greek and Roman names – Aglianico (a-yee-a-ni-co), the omnipresent red variety of course means ‘hellenic’ and then there is the rather obviously named white, Greco di Tufo, the Greco which grows on the volcanic rock. By contrast, Falanghina, the second of the trio of exceptional white varieties, derives it name from the Latin word for a stake – you had to prop it up. The third white, Fiano is mentioned by Pliny who says that it is loved by bees (apianus). And there are plenty of other local grape varieties. Best other name is ‘Red foot’ (Piedirosso), thought to be relative of Refosco grown in Friuli in the north of Italy, and there are many more, some re-entering cultivation.
Our visit to Campania was in the last week of October. In most of Italy the harvest is long over by this stage and that’s certainly true of the whites here. But, as you can see, the Aglianico is late harvested (especially for the top wine, Taurasi).
This was an excellent week – creative and hospitable growers, traditional wines from the local varieties and a tiny handful of top international style wines. And of course great food, the classical and local heritage, brilliant landscapes whether on the spectacular coast or the less well known hills and mountains – much of the wine is grown between 200 and 600metres above sea level. All in all an excellent week. I hope that the posts convey something of this exceptional region.
Big, medium or small? Numbers of bottles produced
|Villa Diamante||10, 000|
|Contrade di Taurasi||20,000|
|Salvatore Molettieri||50, 000|
|Marisa Cuomo||97, 000|
|Di Prisco||100, 000|
|De Conciliis||150, 000|
|Di Meo*||500, 000|
|Mastroberardino||2, 400, 000|
|Feudi di San Gregorio||3, 900, 000|
|4, 000, 000|
Source: Gambero Rosso 2009
* – not commented on in this blog