Campania Wine Travels: A day in the Italian countryside
The night before this adventure into the Campania wine regions, I was reading up on some of the DOCG notes on my iPad. I was brushing up on my previous research for a day not knowing what to expect as hired wine tours can sometimes seem amateur, watered down, or just not what you expect. I got to know the core regional wines better from dining the last few days and the last few weeks of reading (thank you Oxford Companion to wine). But I had no idea how they would react to these wine geek Americans poking into their cellars. Did they speak English? Would they open older vintages? Would we see the inner passion that fuels all great wine making? The only way to find the answer to those questions would be to sit back, relax and take it all in. And that my friends, is exactly what we did.
As we made our way further east we passed large hills, some with castles on the top of them from several hundred years ago. The region is very hilly, mountainous even, with a lot of greenery in the form of shrubs and trees. This surprised me because for some reason I was expecting terrain more like Tuscany that had some mountains, but was mostly rolling hills that were golden yellow. As we arrived in Taurasi, we were at a pretty high elevation at 1,260 feet above sea level. It snows here frequently in the winter, something else I hadn’t expected. Taurasi itself is tiny, only 5 square miles large and almost exclusively grows the Aglianico grapes for wine production. The DOC allowed some years ago for Aglianico grown in certain vineyards adjacent to Taurasi to use the Taurasi name to some controversy. Many of the original vigneron say that the expanded lands are of drastically different terroir to the orginal Taurasi DOCG and thus reduce the quality reputation which Taurasi touts and has been judged to be the preeminent terroir for Aglianico in the world.
We sampled 5 of the latest releases from Caggiano and all of them were excellent. The whites were without flaw and showed the best of what Fiano and Greco di Tufo offer. The reds made from Aglianico were sturdy, solid and noble wines that can easily age for 20 years in the best examples. Giuseppe Caggiano, Antonio’s son, stopped in to introduce himself as he is the current winemaker. We talked some more about life on the road as Giuseppe constantly travels when vineyard and cellar work do not fill his schedule. He regularly travels to New York so we talked about meeting up on his next trip to see his distributors. We signed the guest book and left our business cards with Antonio who promptly stapled them to the guest book where we signed and thanked Antonio for his graceful hospitality and superb wines. We had to run to lunch so we packed up and headed southwest toward Avellino for lunch and then to our next appointment in the afternoon.
Feudi di San Gregorio was high up in the hills of Campania in Taurasi. Feudi is a huge producer of wine, one of the bigger, if not the largest, in Campania. Mastroberardino may be larger and is one of the oldest wine producers in the Campania region. The tour was what you would expect from a large, successful winery. A walk through the facilities with the wine making production equipment, tanks, barrels and finally the tasting lounge where we sampled 4 different wines representing the variety of wines available from this important, high quality producer. We also walked through one of the Fiano vineyards, inspecting the vigorous looking vines. Fiano is a very hardy vine and if it is not controlled it will grow too many shoots and too many grape bunches. Ideally you want to limit the growth so that the energy of the plant is placed into fewer grapes, concentrating the flavor and intensity of the grapes.The four wines we tasted were a Fiano, Greco di Tufo, a younger Aglianico from Taurasi and an older vine and older vintage Aglianico from Taurasi (1999). Below are my tasting notes.
We were now ready to make our journey home back to Positano. As we drove back we passed by the port city of Salerno, again the ruined city of Pompeii that was destroyed by the still active volcano Vesuvius and then Sorrento which was near the home stretch. The sun had just set and we were ready for another wonderful Italian meal to reflect over the wonderful day we just had.
I cannot recommend Gaetano enough as he a is a classy, knowledgeable, safe driving and hardworking guy that makes it his sole mission to ensure that his guest have the best possible experience as possible. I plan to meet with him again when we go back to Positano someday or if he makes his way to New York. Gaetano also has contacts in other regions so if you ask he may be able to also help you in visiting Tuscany, Umbria or even Piedmont. The Wine Bus is wonderful and truly one of a kind!
Devon, Greco di Tufo, 2011, Campania
A deep gold color. Aromas and flavors of apples and pears, sweet lemons. Clean finish with fresh acidity and length, flint like minerality. I really liked this version of Greco di Tufo. It was full bodied but cut a nice mineral streak in the wine that also retained great freshness from the acidity. Ultra hard to find in the US.
Bechar, Fiano di Avellino, 2011, Campania
Bright cold in color with green flecks. Citrus aromas of grapefruit and lemon, zesty herbal notes with granite minerality. Some tropical notes poke in but are more tame such as medium ripe banana and mango. The finish is acid driven, racy and floral with a clean, zesty finish.
Tari, Aglianico, 2011 Taurasi young vines, Taurasi, Campania
This wine is the intro level Aglianico Taurasi from Caggiano. The fruit is mostly sourced from younger vines from vineyards owned by Caggiano. A bright red at the edges, the center is a nice deep red core. Violets, red cherry, forest floor and licorice aromas rise from the glass. On the palate plum adds to the flavor mix with some cedar/neutral wood like flavors and textures. Gripping tannins are very present with the ripping acidity that will keep this wine around for quite a few years. Great now but better with a few years on the bottle.
Taurasi, Vigna Macchia Dei Goti, 2008, Aglianico di Taurasi, Campania The color is purple-red at the edges with a deep red core, not dark. This wine is WAY too young but hints at the possibility of what is to come. Spicy red and black fruits, lead pencil, licorice, very complex, meat notes even. Plum, juicy acidity, medium to full tannins. Finishes long and complex with bright and juicy acidity, bright red to purple fruits all wrapped up in a tannic frame.
Fiano di Avellino, 2011
Colors of bright gold again with green hints. Citrus especially lemon, with fennel and green leaf herbs. Juicy and bright acidity and that is from a riper than normal vintage according to our guide. The grapes are larger than Greco di Tufo as well.
Cutizzi, Greco di Tufo, 2010, Santa Paolina (finest expression of Greco from Feudi)
A golden hue, a perfect light gold shines from the glass. Rich, with crushed rock and granite aromas coming through from the soil leads to a long mineral laden finish.
Aglianico Dal Rae, 2010, Irpinia, Campania
Ruby red color. Plum nose, pencil lead, tar, espresso, black cherry, spicy licorice, ripe & fleshy, silky tannins, medium to full bodied with a tight, gripping finish.
Serpico, 1999, Taurasi old vine Aglianico, Campania
A dark core with brick red edges. Mature aromas of baking spices, fall leaves, dried black fruits, stewed but strong beef notes, smoked meat. The palate is rich and strong showing nice mature character. Fine, but full tannins frame a long and serious finish. Good, ample acidity too. Some brown sugar and balsam notes. This is for sure mature, but should have plenty of years to go and still improve. Vines for this wine are 70, 100, and 150 years old.