Posts tagged ‘irpinia’

Taurasi – Three Marvelous Verticals – (Part Three- Mastroberardino)

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Opening the 1961 Mastroberardino Taurasi (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

In my previous two posts (here and here), I wrote about marvelous vertical tastings of Taurasi from two first-rate producers: Feudi di San Gregorio and Luigi Tecce. As Taurasi is a significant red that does not receive the attention it deserves, it’s a pleasure experiencing the beautiful work that these two producers – as well as another few dozen estates – have accomplished over the past 10-15 years; perhaps now Taurasi will be a more important part of the discussion about Italy’s greatest red wines.

But if you have to single out one producer who has carried the torch for Taurasi for more than 70 years, it is clearly Mastroberardino. Indeed, this family estate, situated in the small town of Atripalda in the province of Avellino, is indeed synonymous with this wine. Anyone who knows even a little bit about Taurasi has probably read about some journalist’s amazing experience with the 1968 bottling, a wine that has become a watershed for Taurasi. I am one of those lucky souls who has tasted this wine ; that one occasion being at VinItaly in Verona about six or seven years ago with Piero Mastroberardino, the managing director of the winery. I was pleased to note at the time that this legendary wine – almost forty years of age when I sampled it that day – deserved its celebrated status. It seemed to me that the wine had plenty of life ahead of it – I estimated that it would still be in fine shape in 2016-2020, meaning it would be a pleasure to drink even at 50 years of age! I recall that I tasted the 1971 as well that day and told Piero that while I believed that wine was outstanding, it was the 1968 that was fresher. Piero’s sheepish reply was, “well, 1968 was a better vintage.”

So it was a great pleasure to be invited along with a small group of international journalists in March to a tasting of six decades of Mastroberardino Taurasi at the winery. Piero and his team – along with his father Antonio, who guided the firm through many of its greatest successes since the 1940s – selected one wine from each decade, starting with the 1952 and continuing up to the 2006 bottling. Piero gave a brief talk about how his ancestors started selling their Taurasi around Italy; he then let us taste the wines in silence, without any additional words about each bottle.

Here are my notes on the six wines:

1952- Pale garnet; still lovely fruit aromas with notes of strawberry along with balsamic, oregano, thyme and cedar. Medium-full, with a beautifully elegant entry on the palate, this is a remarkably fresh wine, one of stunning grace and harmony. There is notable acidity along with a very subtle spiciness. Absolutely amazing now, this wine has at least another 10-12 years ahead of it, but I will admit that this is an educated guess; who knows, perhaps this will will be in fine shape some 20-25 years from now, as the balance is that impressive. A great, great wine.

1961 Riserva - Deep garnet; aromas of dried currant, dried cherry, sage and balsamic. Medium-full with excellent concentration; generous mid-palate. Outstanding freshness and balance; amazing persistence – the finish goes on and on. As flavorful and rich as this wine is, it is undeniably light as a feather. A sublime wine, one of great pleasure that will be drinking well for another 15-20 years, perhaps even longer. A great, great wine.

1970 Riserva – Deep garnet; aromas of truffle, balsamic, dried currant, oregano and cedar. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Long, long finish with very fine tannins. Outstanding complexity, very good acidity and remarkable freshness. What a wine – one of great typicity, balance, freshness and harmony. This has at least 15-20 years of life ahead of it. Another great, great wine and the one that I selected as my favorite, although I admit that if I could taste these wines together again, my choice as the favorite – an incredibly difficult selection – might be either the 1952 or the 1961, as they are all of immeasurable quality, class and breeding.

(At this point, I need to let you know that I did not spit any of these first three wines. Of course at any tasting, you spit or else you wouldn’t be able to walk straight after a few minutes. But how could I spit the 1952, 1961 or 1970? Not only were they amazing to taste, who knows if I’ll ever get a chance to try them again? During this first part of the tasting, I turned to my colleague Tom Maresca from New York City, who confirmed to me that he wasn’t spitting any of these either!)

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(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

1985 - Deep garnet; aromas of fresh red cherry, hint of orange peel, balsamic, truffle and cedar. Very good persistence, very good acidity, round tannins. Impressive persistence and notable length in the finish. Excellent complexity and wonderful varietal character. Best in 10-12 years, although it will undoubtedly drink well for another 7-10 years after that. Excellent.

1996 Riserva “Radici” Radici means “roots,” an appropriate designation for a Campanian firm that has been producing their own wines since 1878; the “Radici” project for Mastroberardino Taurasi was initiated with the 1986 vintage. Lovely deep garnet; aromas of fresh red cherry, strawberry, cedar and a hint of brown spice. Medium-full with very good concentration. Elegant mid-palate, very good acidity, very fine tannins and impressive length. Very harmonious with beautiful typicity. Best in 12-15 years. Excellent.

2006 Riserva “Radici” - Bright, deep ruby red; aromas of black cherry, along with hints of tar and dark chocolate. Generous mid-palate; very good acidity, rich, balanced tannins, excellent persistence and typicity. Notes of black spice in the finish that add to the complexity of this wine. A lovely, somewhat powerful wine, albeit one with beautiful charm. Best in 15-20 years. Outstanding.

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Anotnio and Piero Mastroberardino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Just as we were finishing the tasting, Antonio Mastroberardino, patriarch of the firm, entered the room – what a pleasure to see this man again! I had met him about eight or nine years ago at the winery, but had only seen him briefly one time since. I always made it a point to ask Piero how his father was doing over the past few years and he replied that he was just fine. I had heard that he was slowing down a bit recently and perhaps not in the best health, but here he was, some 84 years young, looking just great! He must be drinking a good amount of Taurasi!

Antonio, along with Piero, then told us brief remembrances of their work in the vineyards and cellars over the past six decades. “There was no technological revolution in the 1950s,” Antonio said, reminding us that these great wines were the result of hard work as well as good fortune in any particular growing season. Wines as special as we enjoyed this day are truly one-of-a-kind bottles, ones that are unique and have their own identity. In that respect, they were just like this tasting!

My heartfelt thanks to Piero and Antonio Mastroberardino and the entire team at the winery for inviting me to this once-in-a-lifetime event.

April 6, 2013 at 1:15 pm Leave a comment

Deconstructing Greco and Fiano

Greco Vineyard at Montefusco (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I have just returned from Campania where I toured vineyards in the Avellino province, home to two DOCG whites, Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino. The province is more commonly referred to by vintners and wine writers as Irpinia, its ancient name.

While Irpinia is also home to a famous DOCG red – Taurasi, produced from Aglianico – many believe this province is best suited to white varieties. Much of this has to do with the rainfall, which moderates temperatures, thus providing acidity and structure in the wines. The cool climate also benefits white grapes, assuring a long growing season, which in turn yields wines with more complex aromatics.

There are nine towns approved for vineyards for the production of Greco di Tufo, including Tufo, Santa Paolina and Montefusco. The name of the town of Tufo comes from the tufaceous soil, which is a yellowish clay that is easily broken up. Below is a photo of the Cutizzi vineyard of Feudi di San Gregorio, located in San Paolo, a frazione of Tufo. You can easily see the makeup of the tufo soil in this vineyard, one of the finest in the zone.

Cutizzi Vineyard of Feudi di San Gregorio (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

As for Fiano di Avellino, there are 26 towns where vineyards are permitted for production of this particular white, yet total acreage in this area is less than the nine towns of Greco di Tufo. The major towns for Fiano di Avellino include Montefalcione, Lapio, Sorbo Serpico and Santo Stefano del Sole.

Comparing the wines, Greco tends to be a bit lighter on the palate with notes of almond, while Fiano tends to offer notes of honey in the aromatics or in the finish. Both wines, especially selezioni or those made from a single vineyard (cru) can age well, sometimes as long as 10-15 years. Even in average vintages, both wines from the top producers age for 3-5 years; generally Fiano di Avellino ages longer than Greco di Tufo, though this is not always the case.

Fiano Vineyard of Mastroberardino at dusk, Santo Stefano del Sole (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

There are subtle differences among the wines and where the grapes are grown. For Greco, the town of Montefusco at 707 meters above sea level (about 2300 feet) is the high point of the zone. Grapes ripen later here thanks to the cooler temperatures and the wines are very high in acidity. In an area such as Tufo at a lower elevation, the wines have a more distinct mineral quality. The Cutizzi Greco of Feudi di San Gregorio is a prime example of this style, while the Nova Serra Greco from Mastroberardino is a flavorful and elegant bottling of the Montefusco style.

For Fiano, there are also differences due to origin. Near Sorbo Serpico or Santo Stefano del Sole, the wines are quite aromatic with good structure, while in the towns of Montefalcione and Lapio, the wines offer more mineral notes. The former style is represented by the Pietracalda bottling of Feudi di San Gregorio and the Radici bottling of Mastroberardino, while the latter style is evidenced in wines from Colli di Lapio, Joaquin, San Paolo (Montefredane), Vadiaperti (Aiperti) and Villa Diamante (Vigna della Congregazione).

Raffaelle Pagano, Joaquin, in a Fiano vineyard (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

What’s helpful about touring these vineyards and then tasting these wines is the sense of terroir. Few producers work with much oak for these wines, so the variety is the focal point, meaning the local terroir has a chance to emerge. We don’t often think about terroir for too many white wines, but I can promise you that sampling the best examples of Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino will be an educational and rewarding experience – as well as a most pleasant one!

June 16, 2010 at 12:04 pm 3 comments


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