Sunday, May 31, 2009

Vitigno Italia - Highlights from Campania

Castel dell'Ovo, host to Vitigno Italia

Text and all photos ©Tom Hyland

In mid-May, I headed down to Napoli for a excellent wine show called Vitigno Italia. While there are several dozen wine fairs in Italy throughout the year, this one is special, as it is dedicated solely to wines made from indigenous Italian varieties. So while you won’t find any examples of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Chardonnay here, you will be able to taste some glorious wines made from Greco, Fiano, Aglianico, Nero d’Avola and hundreds of other local varieties.

I attended this event three years ago when it was held in a modern, efficient campus on the outskirts of Napoli. I enjoyed it then, but this year the show was on a much grander scale as more wineries participated; primarily a showcase for wine estates of the south and especially Campania in its first few years, there are now more exhibiting wineries from other regions of Italy, including Friuli, Marche, Veneto and Tuscany.

A big change this year was the fair’s new locale, the historic Castel dell’Ovo right on the shores of the Gulf of Napoli. Not only was this more convenient for most importers and journalists attending the fair, this was also an important change for the overall goal of the fair, founder Chicco de Pasquale. The evening before the event began, de Pasquale gave a number of us a pep talk as he told us how important it was to communicate the emotion of authentic Italian wines. He mentioned how he had traveled to many other parts of the world and had tasted the local wines, only to find so many of them tasting the same. He believed that if the message of the uniqueness and history of Italian wines was to come across, the fair needed to be in a historic venue. Comparing the old location with the new, it is clear that de Pasquale succeeded in his quest. Not only was this a more appropriate setting to taste these wines, it was also a slice of everyday life in Napoli –a nice side benefit!

As this is still an event that focuses on Campanian wines – and as these are among my favorite of all Italian wines – I will focus on some of the best I tasted at the fair. Let’s start with Terredora, a great family estate owned by Paolo and Lucio Mastroberardino. One of Avellino’s most consistent estates, they delivered again with their new 2008 whites. This is an excellent vintage, a bit lighter than 2007, but with fine depth of fruit and beautiful structure; highly recommened are their new bottlings of Greco di Tufo “Loggia della Serra” and Fiano di Avellino “Terre di Dora.” (Vias is the national importer.) Another winery in this area that offered beautiful whites was Villa Raiano, with a lovely aromatic 2008 Greco di Tufo and a stylish 2008 Falanghina with pinpoint acidity.

Continuing with wineries from the province of Avellino, Feudi di San Gregorio is always one of the estates I look to for monitoring this area’s quality. Among their best releases this year are the 2008 Greco di Tufo “Cutizzi,” with a nice touch of minerality to go with its gorgeous aromas of acacia and kiwi and the 2007 Campanaro, a blend of Fiano and Greco that is an oustanding white with great concentration, lush fruit and a rich, lengthy finish. This is a white that will drink well with all sorts of seafood for 5-7 years. (Palm Bay is the national importer.)

Vinosia is an ambitious project near Avellino founded by brothers Mario and Luciano Ercolino, formerly of Feudi di San Gregorio. They produce more than a dozen wines and I like just about every one, in particular the 2008 Falanghina, the 2008 Greco di Tufo and the the 2002 Taurasi Riserva, one of the best examples of this wine from a less than outstanding vintage. I also loved two reds for their price/quality relationship, the 2008 Negroamaro from Salento and the 2008 Aglianico (Irpinia DOC). Both of these wines are rich, ripe and in a word – delicious! The former wine retails for about $12 with the Aglianico selling for $14 on average. How nice to see such quality wines as this for such reasonable pricing! (These two wines will be arriving soon in the United States and are imported by Domaine Select.)

Mario Ercolino, winemaker, Vinosia

I also tasted wines from several estates in the province of Salento, just south of Napoli. One of this area’s great producers is Luigi Maffini, who specializes in Fiano; the 2008 Kratos sports lovely aromas of pear and acacia and has the structure to age for 3-5 years, while the barrel fermented Pietraincatenata from 2007 is deeper in color with notes of honey and almond with a light touch of minerality. His best wine at this event for me was the 2004 Fiano Passito, an incredible dessert wine with such wonderful concentration and such lush fruit, yet so incredibly delicate. This is truly one of the very best examples of a passito wine I’ve tasted from Italy!

From the Amalfi Coast, three excellent producers: Tenuta San Francesco, with a beautiful 2008 white, blended from local varieties Biancolella, Falanghina and Peppella along with an excellent blended red called Quattro Spine, made from Aglianico, Piedirosso and Tintore. From Giuseppe Apicella (imported by Wine Emporium in Brooklyn), several first-rate efforts including the 2008 Tramonti Bianco, named for the town where his vineyards and estate are located; one of my favorites examples of rosé (rosato) from Italy – the 2008 is made from Piedirosso and Sciacinoso and is dry and very rich – and his signature wine, the A’Sciappata Rosso. This was the 2004 release; a blend of Tintore and Piedirosso, this offers excellent concentration with black fruit and tar notes, firm tannins and beautiful acidity. This is a great representation of local terroir; it should offer drinking pleasure for 10-12 years.

Andrea Ferraioli, winemaker, Cantine Marisa Cuomo

The final Amalfi Coast producer whose wines I tasted was Cantine Marisa Cuomo. Marisa and her husband Andrea Ferraoili have been blazing viticultural trails in the Amalfi Coast for several years and their efforts have been recognized in local and international media. Everything they make – red, white and rosé - is first-rate and a few of their wines are outstanding. Particularly good this year are the 2008 Ravello Bianco, the 2008 Furore Rosso (Furore is the gorgeous coastal town where their estate vineyards and winery are located) and the 2005 Ravello Riserva. This last wine is a blend of 70% Piedirosso and 30% Aglianico, giving this wine great complexity, spice and structure. The dominant Piedirosso means this wine is approachable now, while the tannins of the Aglianico give this wine the means to age for 7-10 years more.

Their best wine – and one of Italy’s most famous whites – is the Fiorduva, this new example from the outstanding 2007 vintage. Produced from Amalfi Coast varieties, Ripole, Fenile and Ginestra and aged in barrique - the wine has enough concentration to stand up to the oak - this wine has it all: exotic aromas of banana and other tropical fruits, beautiful texture and great persistence in the finish. This has vibrant acidity and a light nuttiness on the finish; look for this wine to be at its peak in another 5-7 years, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see it age longer than that. (Panebianco in New York is the importer.)

Vines at Furore, Amalfi Coast

Two other recommended wineries, La Sibilla, from the Campi Flegrei DOC along the coast north of Napoli and Fontanavecchia from the Benevento province to the north and east. Owner Luigi di Meo specializes in Falanghina at La Sibilla; his regular 2007 bottling has the trademark vibrant acidity of this variety with attractive lemon zest aromas and no oak, while the cru bottling, Cruna deLago, also from 2007, is a robust Falanghina that takes things up a notch or two with explosive aromas of spearmint and thyme and a lengthy finish with loads of fruit – again no oak, but nine months of lees aging for a spectacular result! (Oliver McCrum in Oakland imports the wines of La Sibilla.)

Finally, Fontanavecchia is a specialist of Aglianico del Taburno. The wines made here are ripe and robust, yet always well balanced. The regular bottling from 2005 is quite elegant and is priced at less than $20 on American retail shelves, while the Vigna Cataratte Riserva from 2003 is full of the black fruit, mint and tobacco notes that makes these wines so distinct. Look for this wine to be at its best in 7-10 years. Finally, the Grave Mora, the best wine of the Rillo family that runs this estate, is explosive with deep concentration and excellent complexity. The new release from 2004 will be at peak in 10-12 years - what a fine choice with rich game or aged cheeses. (Wine Emporium in Brooklyn in the importer.)

That’s just a few of the wines I tasted at Vitigno Italia – and that was just Campania. Congratulations to Chicco de Pasquale and his staff for organizing such a excellent event!


  1. Great blog and post! It seems that we share some passions - I am a big fan of Italy's native grape varieties. Vinosia Winery is also a favorite. I am living in Puglia right now researching its native grapes. I liked what you wrote about Puglia last month, however I am finding some wonderful terroir in the wines. Terroir is a tricky thing after all, but I think the wines taste like nowhere else on earth. Maybe this corresponds with the emotional element that de Pasquale talks about.

  2. Mattie:

    Thanks for the nice comment. Yes, terroir has many meanings, including wines that taste unique, as you pointed out.

  3. Dear Tom, I sow Your interesting post on Vitigno Italia. next monday You will have the entire 2010 edition of COOKING FOR WINE NAPOLI the showcooking experience of Vitigno Italia on my blog and on the collegue Luigi Cremona who ideated the event WillYou be in Napoles also this time? If so, we'll be glad to invite You to taste the cooks'dishes!

    best Regards

    Lorenza Vitali
    Witaly Publisher

  4. Thanks for the nice invite, but sadly I won't be there.