Campania Stories: Avellino

I should say at the outset that I love Aglianico. I’ve been told that, somewhere or other, Robert Parker has said that Aglianico may be Italy’s noblest red grape of all. If that is so, I totally, wholeheartedly agree, and I’m delighted he has at last seen the light: I can only hope that more wine journalists catch on.

In my previous post, I focused on the Naples/Piedirosso portion of March’s Campania Stories event. After that, the event shifted its location to Avellino and its attention to Aglianico. The province of Avellino is the home of Taurasi, for a long time Campania’s only red DOCG, and still the prince of Aglianico-based wines – all of which were the subjects of numerous seminars and tasting sessions for the balance of Campania Stories. Much as I enjoyed Naples and Piedirosso, this half of the event hit me where I live.

campania stories

The linking of the name Aglianico with some dialect form of the word Hellenic has been pretty much debunked as a false etymology – which is a shame, since however inaccurate it may be philologically, it is spot-on in indicating the antiquity of the variety and the persistence of its history in Campania. For our purposes, the most important chapter of that history occurred shortly after WWII, when the Mastroberardino family resisted the introduction of international varieties and unequivocally cast its lot with Campania’s native grapes, the immediate upshot of which was the survival and present importance of Fiano, Greco, and – most to the point – Aglianico and its greatest achievement, Taurasi.

Over my two days in Avellino, I tasted close to 100 Taurasis and Aglianicos, not all of which are available in the US. Many producers are quite small, and I’d guess that a good half of them have been bottling their own wine for only 20 years or less. That doesn’t mean they are new to the grape, however: Almost all were growers before, selling their grapes to co-ops or to a few large firms. There are no big outside investors here, buying up vineyards and planting international varieties. In fact, more than a few of the newer wine producers have family histories of grape farming several centuries long – so even brand-new labels may represent a lot of experience with Aglianico.

Taurasi lineup

That showed in the tastings, where the level of winemaking seemed impressively high, even judging it from the perspective of wine zones like Barolo and Barbaresco, which are further along the developmental curve than Campania. I found many wines to admire and even a few to love – and I’m getting pickier and pickier as I grow old and cranky. Here are some of my top-scorers.

.

Best of the Best
(in order of preference)

Tecce: 2011 Irpinia Campi Taurasini Satyricon and 2010 Taurasi Poliphemo

Contrade di Taurasi (aka Cantina Lonardi): 2009 Taurasi Coste and Taurasi Vigne d’Alto

Donnachiara: 2009 Taurasi

Villa Raiano: 2012 Campania Aglianico and 2010 Taurasi

Feudi di San Gregorio: 2009 Taurasi Piano di Montevergine Riserva

 

Very Good
(in alphabetical order)

Antico Castello: 2011 Irpinia Aglianico Magis and 2010 Taurasi

Boccella: 2008 Irpinia Campi Taurasini Rasott

Colli di Castelfranci: 2009 Irpinia Campi Taurasino Candriano and Taurasi Alta Valle

D’Antiche Terre: 2008 Taurasi

Di Marzo: 2012 Irpinia Aglianico Cantine Storiche, 2012 Irpinia Aglianico Linea Stemma, and 2010 Taurasi Albertus

Di Prisco: 2010 Taurasi

Feudi di San Gregorio: 2012 Irpinia Aglianico Rubrato

Historia Antiqua: 2011 Irpinia Aglianico Historia Antiqua and 2009 Taurasi Historia Antiqua

I Capitani: 2009 Irpinia Rosso Emé and 2007 Taurasi Bosco Faiano

Il Cancelliere: 2010 Taurasi Nero Né and 2007 Taurasi Nero Né

La Marca: Cantine di Tufo: 2008 Taurasi Issàra

La Molara: 2007 Taurasi Santa Vara

Montesole: 2007 Taurasi Vigna Vinieri

Sanpaolo: 2010 Taurasi and 2009 Taurasi Riserva

Urciuolo: 2010 Taurasi

Vesevo: 2008 Taurasi

Villa Matilde: 2008 Taurasi

.

All of these are impressive wines, though the very youngest are not really what I want to drink right now. But that’s the point with Aglianico, and especially with Taurasi: Even in lesser years, these wines reward patience. They are always worth the wait of at least a few years from release. All the commonplace comparisons with Barolo aren’t hype: They’re based on Aglianico’s inherent ability to evolve in the cellar into an incomparable nectar. Check my old post on last year’s Mastroberardino six-decade vertical, if you need proof of that.

This year, the big news in Aglianico has been the granting of the DOCG to Benevento province’s Aglianico del Taburno, a promotion that many producers see as giving a boost to the prestige of Aglianco and its wines all through Campania. Such a lift would certainly be justified: Benevento has been producing lovely Aglianicos (and most at quite reasonable prices) for some time now. They have a different style from Avellino’s Aglianicos – softer, more giving, less austere in their youth, but with immediately recognizable Aglianico flavors.

My impression is that most of them won’t be as long-lived as Irpinia Aglianico or, especially, as Taurasi. But I might be wrong about that: Certainly both the ’09 Villa Matilde Falerno del Massico Rosso and ’07 Falerno del Massico Rosso Vigna Camarato that I tasted in Avellino seemed ready to live for many more years, so who knows what the potential is in any of Campania’s provinces? These are very much zones in development, and they have years – if not decades – of excitement and discovery before them.

bottles

9 Responses to “Campania Stories: Avellino”

  1. tom hyland Says:

    Tom: Excellent post and how nice of you to feature such marvelous Taurasi producers as Tecce – truly an extraordinary producer- as well as Contrade di Taurasi and Villa Raiano, an estate that has excelled as of late.

    Nice also to see your high rating on the 2009 Montervergine from Feudi di San Gregorio. I adored the 2008, as for me, it was the finest in years. I will have to try the 2009. And interesting to note your love of the 2009 Taurasi from Donnachiara, a wine I’ve liked very much. Ditto for needing to taste her latest release.

  2. Dennis Mitchell Says:

    Your list does not include Mastroberardino, Terredora di Paolo or Caggiano wines…are those now “minor league” producers compared to the ones you’ve highlighted?

    • Tom Maresca Says:

      I several times in the article mentioned Mastroberardino quite honorably, and a check of my fairly recent posts would have shown the reverence I have for the family and its wines. There is no implication anywhere that wineries such as those you mention are “minor league.” I don’t know how you could have drawn that conclusion.

      The fact is that not all Campanian producers participate every year in every wine event, and this year Mastro simply did not send any wines to Campania Stories. Terredora and Caggiano sent only one wine apiece, and, though they were good, they were not for me among the best wines I tasted. But I drew no conclusions about their standing from that fact, and I wouldn’t begin to suggest any lessening of their status on the basis of it.

      I’m just puzzled by your comment: I’ve re-read my piece and I don’t see anything in it that points in that direction.

      • Dennis Mitchell Says:

        Pardon me for being a bit dense, then. I have, as have you, enjoyed numerous vintages of Mastroberardino Taurasi. But while you have mentioned them, in this particular article you post wines with the qualitative assessment of “Best of the Best” and then “Very Good.”
        As I am clearly a bit obtuse, I drew the conclusion that if Mastroberardino’s wine was not on either list, it was, therefore neither amongst “The Best” or “The Very Good.”

        My experience with Terradora’s Taurasi has been a bit uneven and the 2008 is not up to the standard set by some previous vintages. I’ve found some bottles of Caggiano’s wine to be compelling and since you didn’t list all the wines tasted, I jumped to the conclusion that their wine is somehow lacking. And, given the omission from the list, I gather I am correct in drawing that conclusion.

        Perhaps you might consider listing all the wines tasted so readers would know all the wines being evaluated??

      • Tom Maresca Says:

        I don’t list all the wines tasted because the large number involved would make for a too-lengthy, basically unreadable list, and simply to list them all together with no discriminating comments would seriously misrepresent the wines.

        It’s just not practical for me. I do this blog for love of the wines I talk about: I’m not trying to create any sort of comprehensive evaluation of the wines of an entire region — which would, even if I were capable of it, change with every tasting and certainly with every vintage and so have to be done again, probably multiple times every year. I am one person, with no budget and no support staff: I can only do as much as I have time and energy for.

        If I were, as you suggested, to simply list all the wines tasted, that would tell you no more than what the post does: that these selected wines pleased me most, the day I tasted them, in the circumstances I tasted them, with all the possibilities of error on my part or a stray bad bottle from the producers. That’s why I don’t put much faith in tasting notes, nor do I claim any sort of infallibility. I would urge you not to draw inferences from what isn’t there: Silence can mean far too many things.

  3. Joe Calandrino Says:

    Hi Tom:

    Most of the local wine shops do not carry a selection of these wines; that usually means I have to make a special trek to a reliable wine merchant.

    Are there any fine vintages currently in the marketplace that are generally available, and of those, on which would you recommend I place a bet? You seem to like 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Is this a function of vintage or producer? I will never keep the producers straight, so that’s why I ask about vintage.

    Thanks,
    Joe C.

    • Tom Maresca Says:

      Joe: That’s a complex question you’ve asked. Vintages are significant with Aglianico, though in the hills of Irpinia the variations don’t seem to be as extreme as they are in the north (e.g., the Alba zone of Piemonte). The zone has been blessed with some lovely harvests in the past 8-10 years, fairly different from each other but most with serious virtues (especially age-ability). For red wines, you’re safe with 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, and maybe even 2013, though it’s very early to be certain about that. For white wines, 2011 is great. As for producers of Taurasi: you know you can never go wrong with Mastroberardino; Feudi is phasing out its barriques, so those wines are getting better with every vintage; Donnachiara lacks a little in elegance but makes a very substantial Taurasi; Villa Raiano has strongly upped its game; and small producers like the ones I mentioned — admittedly hard to find because their production is small and they are usually only regionally available here — are doing magnificent work.

      Happy hunting!

  4. Ed McCarthy Says:

    I know you love the wines of your ancestry, Tom (there’s a word for that in Italian, campo something), but I never thought you would resort to quoting Robert Parker to back up your proudful feelings about Campania. That is going too far. Btw, I am now in Campania (Capri), heading for Salerno tomorrow.

    • Tom Maresca Says:

      You’re right, Ed: I apologize for resorting to Parker. I envy you being in Campania at this time of year. Eat and drink well, on my behalf.

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