Monday, June 22, 2009

Mastroberardino - Upholding Campanian Tradition

Detail of mural at Mastroberardino Winery, Atripalda
Photo by Tom Hyland

The wine industry of Campania is largely based on ancient varieties; modern methods of production are used, of course, but it is these grapes, first planted some 2000 years ago by Greek colonists, that are the foundation of this region’s visiticulture.

Some producers today use small French oak and/or harvest their grapes late in order to produce a riper, more deeply extracted style of wine. This, no doubt, an effort to make their wines seem relevant to a worldwide audience used to such offerings. Thankfully, some of Campania’s producers have resisted this approach, none more so than Mastroberardino, keeper of the flame of Campania’s wine heritage.

My recent visit in May to the winery and new estate vineyards strengthened this message for me, not that it needed any reinforcement. Mastroberardino is the classic winery of the Avellino province where three wines – two white, Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino and one red, Taurasi – are the most famously recognized and heralded wines of the region. While a few dozen other estates make these wines, only a few offer the consistent excellence Mastroberardino displays each vintage. Certainly almost no other producer has their track record.

That’s fitting, as it was this family that arguably rescued these varieties from extinction. At the end of the Second World War, the area’s vineyards were in shambles, a result of Italy’s war economy. Antonio Mastroberardino, who was in charge of everyday operations at the winery throughout much of the latter part of the 20th century, worked with his father to preserve the ancient varieties at that time by taking the few cuttings that were left and propogated them, planting new selections in the area. Thanks to this work, Greco, Fiano, Aglianico (the primary red variety of Taurasi) and other varieties were saved, according to Piero Mastroberardino, Antonio’s son and today, president of the winery. “It was due to his great work that we can still drink these noble ancient wines from indigenous varieties,” he remarks.

Today, Mastroberardino continues to be one of the estates everyone looks to for these classic Campanian wines. Modern technology has entered the picture, but not at the expense of tradition. “We have maintained our traditions,” Antonio Mastroberardino told me a few years ago at the winery.

During my recent trip, I tasted the new releases at the winery in Atripalda and stayed at the company’s beautiful estate called Radici Resort in the small village of Mirabella Eclano, about a 20 minute drive from the winery. This resort is less than two years old and is open to the public; they can reserve a room or simply dine at the beautifully appointed Morabianca restaurant, which features excellent regional cuisine as well as an impressive wine list. There is even a nine-hole golf course, which winds its way through Aglianico and Falanghina vineyards (I managed to get in a quick round with Piero one morning).

This estate is one of the important vineyard holdings of Mastroberardino, as their special Taurasi bottling called Naturalis Historia is produced from older vines here, while their new cru bottling of Falanghina called Morabianca is made from an impressively sited vineyard behind the Aglianico. Mastroberardino has decided to work in greater depth with Falanghina and the results show in the new 2008 Morabianca bottling, which offers lovely aromatics of quince, pear and acacia backed by beautifl texture and acidity. This is a lovely wine with a variety of foods, from local shellfish to risotto with vegetables or braised chicken.

Other highlights included:

2008 Greco di Tufo “Nova Serra”
This is the winery’s finest selection of Greco grapes; this has excellent depth of fruit and beautiful floral, pear and lime aromatics. The winery made several impressive white wines in 2008 – this is outstanding. Grab some before this limited production wine disappears!

2008 Fiano di Avellino “Radici”
This is slightly richer on the palate than the preceding wine with impressive aromas of lemon oil, honey and kiwi. Medium-full, this has a long, rich finish with excellent acidity.

2007 Aglianico (Campania IGT)
This is an Aglianico that has not been aged long enough to be called Taurasi; it is also lighter on the palate. It is an excellent introduction to the bitter chocolate and black cherry flavors of this variety and is delicious now and should drink well for another 2-3 years. At less than $20, this is a very good value.

2005 Taurasi “Radici”
Radici means “roots,” referring to the Campanian heritage that Mastroberardino upholds with their wines. Taurasi is the most celebrated red of the area; this is made with 100% Aglianico and is medium-full with elegant tannins and precise acidity. This is aged in small French oak barrels as well as the large Slavonian casks, but you don’t notice the wood. A bit lighter than 2004, which was a great year, this is a notable example of the style and consistency of the producer.

Piero Mastroberardino
Photo ©Tom Hyland

After my round of golf with Piero, I interviewed him, focusing on the responsibilites he faces and the need for constant improvement. “My work as head of this winery is all about taking the family values to a higher level. This is about cultural and social values.”

He also emphasized that while he works with ancient varieties, the Campanian wine industry combines the old with the new, as evidenced by the use of the most modern equipment in the cellar as well as recent research of new clones of Greco, Fiano and Falanghina.

How nice that Piero Mastroberardino continues to represent the roots of his family’s beliefs about local wines. “We work in the continuity, the roots and history of this terroir.” Nicely said and as you will taste in their new releases, nicely done.


One final note that has nothing to do with wine, but as I mentioned golf in this post, I wanted to comment on a wonderful golf event that just ended. At the U.S. Open, the drama was superb as always with things going down to the last hole. So many people wanted Phil Mickelson to win, not only as he's never won this event, but also for the timing, as his wife Amy will be undergoing treatment for breast cancer (Phil, I was pulling for you as well). It's really a tribute to him that he did so well, tying for second, given everything he's gone through with his wife's condition and the fact that he hasn't played much competitive golf as of late.

But for me an equally compelling story was that of David Duval. Here's a guy that was number one in the world about ten years ago; over the past eight years (the last time he won a tournament), his game has slipped so badly that he was ranked #882 in the world coming into the U.S. Open. What in the world is a guy like that doing challenging for the championship?

Duval actually was tied for the lead as he stood on the tee at the 71st hole, though Lucas Glover birdied the 70th hole to take the lead he would not relinquish. So Duval, who also tied for second (with Mickelson and Ricky Barnes) came up a little short. But what an effort he put forth!

He's been quoted as never being a quitter and boy, did he prove that! His story should be a lesson to all of us that no matter how bleak things look, stay with it and things will improve. I know I'll take that out of his week.

In a wonderful interview just after he completed his final round, NBC commentator Jimmy Roberts asked Duval if as a sports fan himself, did he appreciate his story? Duval said that people like to identify with people that are down instead of guys like Michael Jordan, Le Bron James and Tiger Woods, who are one in a million. "A lot of us get kicked around a lot," Duval remarked. Amen to that, David! If the guy never does anything else this year on the golf course, his story this week was an inspiration to all of us.

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