Italian Wineries of the Month

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The Volcanic Soils of Campania

Contradi di Taurasi
Located in the Campania region, the Lonardo family farms five hectares of vines with organic methods, particularly Alianico in Irpinia’s Taurasi zone. Vineyards are planted at an elevation of 1300 feet on volcanic slopes, which are typical of the zone. The Lonardo family has attracted attention for its research on native yeasts in the area, and their results indicate that the wines reflect their place of origin to a greater extent when these yeasts, instead of commercial yeasts, are used to ferment the grapes into wine. Microbiologist Giancarlo Moschetti from the University of Palermo headed the research team together with Contradi di Taurasi winemaker Vincenzo Mercurio. According to Italian wine guide Gambero Rosso, “The Contrade di Taurasi story is one of unconditional love for experimentation, starting with guided natural fermentation and estate zoning to biocompatible management….” Gambero Rosso honored the 2004 Taurasi with its highest Tre Bicchieri award. Known as the Barolo of the South, Taurasi can be a massive and tannic wine, capable of aging for decades. But founder Alessandro Lonardo and his daughter Enza, a biotech researcher, have chosen a riper, more approachable modern style for their wines, which are rich and relaxed.

Villa Dora Winery
Mount Vesuvius is an active volcano just east of Naples, and the organically farmed vineyards of Villa Dora are on the lower slopes of the volcano, inside the national park that surrounds the estate. The soil, mostly ground-up pumice, looks like black gravel, and the wines are strikingly flavorful and distinctive. Scientific research has not yet shown the connection between the flavors of wines and the minerals in the soil where the vines grow, but wine professionals are convinced that a connection exists, especially in the case of volcanic soils, which are extremely rich in mineral content. The Ambrosio family owns the Villa Dora estate and primarily farms olive trees on these volcanic slopes of Mount Vesuvious. The vineyards are planted with the white varieties Falanghina, probably of Greek origin, and Coda di Volpe and the reds Aglianico, also of Greek origin, and indigenous Piedirosso. But the wine estate is best known for its Lacrima Christi del Vesuvio both red and white.

La Sibilla
Campi Flegrei is a very small grape-growing area just north of Naples on the coast of Campania. The soil is so sandy that the vines can be planted on their own roots rather than grafted onto phylloxera-resistant rootstock. In the 19th Century, phylloxera destroyed most vineyards in Europe and the U.S. Today, Europeans have a great nostalgia for that Golden Age of wine when vines were all planted on their own roots. La Sibilla offers a rare opportunity to taste such a wine. Because the vines are ungrafted, the grapes achieve full ripeness at lower sugar levels, and the alcohol in the wines is correspondingly lower, usually around 12 percent. Luigi and Restituta Di Meo founded the winery in the 1980s on the nine and a half hectares that the Di Meo family had been farming since 1930. The soils are clearly volcanic, and wind from the sea sweeps through the vineyards. The family cultivates white Falanghina and red Piedirosso and several other indigenous varietals with organic methods.

Artisan Series – Wine Clubs

Villa Dora 2010 Vesuvio Bianco

A blend of 80% Coda di Volpe and 20% Falanghina, harvested from the estate’s organic vineyards, the Vesuvio Bianco has clean, flinty aromas with hints of white peach, preserved lemon, flowers, and herbs. Fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks with no oak or secondary malo-lactic fermentation, the wine is deliciously crisp. Let it drop to the sides of your tongue to better taste its flavors. The Vesuvio Bianco weighs in at just 12% alcohol. Serve chilled.

La Sibilla 2010 Piedirosso, Campi Flegrei

Made from 100% Piedirossi or in English “red feet,” which refers to the color of the vine stalks, the grapes were harvested from organic estate vineyards in the Campi Flegrei zone, where soils were made from volcanic eruptions. This is a delicious and unusual wine with spicy, stony flavors and aromas and a smooth texture, aged only in stainless steel tanks. The wine is versatile, so you can serve it with dishes that range from grilled salmon to pork chops, pan cooked with garlic and rosemary. Serve at cool room temperature (12.5% alcohol).

Winemaker Series

Contrade di Taurasi 2008 Aglianico, Irpinia

While this 100 % Aglianico is made from vines located in the official Taurisi zone, it is declassified to Aglianico because the wine does not conform to the aging requirements for the Taurasi appellation. Instead the wine is meant to be released from the winery and consumed earlier. This Aglianico Irpinia shows the distinctive flavors of the area, blackberry and raspberry fruit balanced with fresh acidity and a savory character that is associated with volcanic soils. Unfined and coarsely filtered, this 2008 Aglianico is also rounder and more fruit forward than Taurasi. Serve at cool room temperature with roasted or grilled meats and vegetables and rich pasta dishes (14% alcohol).

Villa Dora 2007 Lacryma Christi Rosso del Vesuvio

A blend of 80% Piedirosso and 20% Aglianico, harvested from organically grown vineyards, planted in volcanic soils, the Lacryma Christi Rosso shows deep reddish-black color and a smoky aroma with a hint of tar. Its flavors suggest blackberry and dark cherry with wild herb influences, such as thyme, bay, and rosemary. The wine was aged in large puncheons for 12 months (14% alcohol).

Collector Series Wine Clubs

Contrade di Taurasi 2005 Taurisi

This delicious wine is 100% Aglianico from vineyards in the prestigious Taurasi appellation. These high altitude vineyards that take root in volcanic soils produce intriguing wines of extraordinary power and complexity. This 2005 Taurasi is fermented with natural ambient yeasts, which slowly ferment the juice into wine over a period of about 30 days. The wine is then aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, six months in stainless steel tanks, and an additional 12 months in bottle before release from the winery. The wine is neither fined nor filtered. With a deep red-black color, this Taurisi has a bouquet of black cherry, red plum, and wilted violet, together with a vast array of spices. At 14% alcohol, its flavors are rich and its texture smooth. The winery made just 100 cases. Writing for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Antonio Galloni gave the 2004 vintage 92 points. Serve at cool room temperature (14% alcohol).

Contradi di Taurasi 2007 Taurasi

This 2007 Taurasi is made from grapes that were harvested at the Le Coste site, where vines are from 20 to 40 years-old. Again like the 2005 Taurasi, the 2007 was fermented with natural ambient yeasts, which slowly fermented the juice into wine over a period of about 30 days. The wine was then aged for 24 months in 500-liter puncheons and for an additional 12 months in bottle before release from the winery. The wine is neither fined nor filtered and shows deep red-black color with red and black fruit aromas along with cedar and sandalwood. On the palate, the wine is complex and balanced with ripe tannins and shows hints of dark chocolate, tea leaf, mixed berries, and savory elements. Drink now or age for decades. This Contradi di Taurasi 2007 illustrates the reason that Taurasi is called the “Barolo of the South.” The winery produced just 100 cases of this wine.

Menu of the Month

Summer Supper, Outdoors or In

First Course

Watermelon salad with pine nuts, feta, and slivers of basil, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.

Main Course
Oven-roasted or grilled lemon & oregano chicken, served with oven-roasted potatoes, & par-boiled Swiss chard and mustard greens, drained and drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice

Romaine lettuce with finely sliced red onion, and lemon, garlic, olive oil dressing

Summer berry pudding with a dollop of whipped cream

Watermelon Salad with Pine Nuts, Feta, & Basil

As of this writing, early July, California watermelon is everywhere, sweet, juicy, and pink. We are all familiar with this fruit served as dessert, especially for a picnic or casual meal. But served as a first course with pine nuts, feta, and basil, and then drizzled with olive oil, watermelon takes on a very different and delicious role as an elegant first course. The Greeks discovered this preparation, and it’s time that we enjoyed it, too. The following recipe is adapted from Kokkari, Contemporary Greek Flavors by Erik Cosselmon and Janet Fletcher.

2 ½ pounds watermelon, chilled
¼ pound Greek feta cheese, chilled
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted for 5 to 10 minutes in a 325 degree F. oven
A few slivered basil leaves
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Cut the rid away from the watermelon. Then cut the melon into 1-inch cubes or small 1-inch-thick triangular wedges. No need to remove the seeds. Arrange the melon attractively on a serving platter. Then crumble the feta over the melon. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the salad, and then scatter the basil over as well. Drizzle with the olive oil. Finally, add a light sprinkle of salt and freshly ground pepper. Serves six.

From the Publisher

Developing preferences for certain wine styles and wine clubs

Both philosophical thought and common sense tell us that in order to understand a thing fully, we need to be acquainted with its opposite. We identify light because we experience darkness. We recognize attraction because we know revulsion. The concept applies to wine in important ways.

We often hear that a certain Chardonnay is “oaky.” The only way to identify the “oaky” characteristic of Chardonnay or any other white wine depends on having tasted wines that are fermented without any contact with oak barrels. “Secondary malolactic fermentation” is another term often associated with white wine and means that more pronounced malic acid has been converted into softer lactic acid. Once again, we would not be able to identify those white wines unless we knowingly tasted wines without malolactic fermentation. Do you prefer your whites crisp with an acid zing or round and fruity? After you purposefully taste both, you’ll find out. And your taste could evolve to prefer one or the other or embrace both.

The other simple condition that a drinker can observe in both white and red wine is the alcohol content. Whether the wine is 12.5% alcohol or 15% has a huge impact on flavor, and learning the difference is a simple matter of reading the label on a bottle. Lower alcohol whites will have more acid while higher alcohol produces a fruitier, seemingly sweeter wine. So being able to make those distinctions would go a long way toward establishing preferences for different types of white wines and make the process of selecting a wine a lot less random.

Red wines have different characteristics. They tend to have more complex flavors and to be tannic to one degree or another, which is to say that they have a certain grainy texture that white wine lacks. While smooth is good, too smooth is not because wines that are made to be too smooth tend to loose the flavor of the grape from which they are made. Also wine without texture begins to resemble grape juice. Certain grape varieties are naturally less tannic like Grenache and Zinfandel so will be smoother whereas Cabernet Sauvignon is more tanninc.

Winemakers control tannins in various ways, but two pervasive techniques can be major predictors of flavor, especially allowing the fruit to ripen to high sugar levels and aging the wine in oak barrels. Barrel aging is important because wood is porous, and the wine softens slightly from slow oxidation. Also during the aging period, tannins fall out of solution and remain in the barrel. For this reason, older wine is smoother than a current vintage, but older wine ages in the bottle. Instead current vintages age in barrels, and those barrels can add to the complex flavors of red wine. But when barrels have an exaggerated influence, they impart woody flavors that mask the character of the grape. When you know that all of the wine is aged in 100% new oak barrels over a longer period of time, you can expect that a lot of the taste will come from the wood.

The more grapes ripen on the vine, the less obtrusive tannins become. So once again, look for the alcohol content. Very ripe grapes can easily produce alcohol levels at 15 to 16% or more. Such a wine will be smooth, but it will taste less like the grape from which it is made and instead more raiseny because grapes that spend a lot of time on the vine dehydrate. A raisen is a dehydrated grape. A high alcohol wine can also impart a burning sensation. But if you’re very sensitive to tannin, you’ll want to choose either higher alcohol or grape varieties that are less tannic.

Knowing how long a red wine has been aged or how much of it has been subjected to new oak barrels is not information that you’ll find on a label. So you’ll have to go to the website and look for fact sheets. But in these pages, I almost always print that information. Many red wines are aged only in stainless steel tanks, so the wine will taste intensely like the grape from which it is made.

You can be mindful of these issues without being geeky, and just this amount of information will diminish disappointment when you shell out the substantial amount of money that premium wine demands. Also expect that your taste will change over time. What you enjoy now may well be different in five years.

This was Guest Post brought to you by Celebration Wine Club.

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