Antoine Gaita, Villa Diamante (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
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Last week in Part One of this series on Campania whites (read here), I wrote about the wines of Donnachiara, Feudi di San Gregorio and Mastroberardino. In this post, I will deal with three artisan estates in Irpinia I visited during my recent trip.
At Villa Diamante in Montefredane, Belgian native Antoine Gaita began producing one wine in the mid-1990s at his tiny estate named for his American born wife Diamante. This wine has become legendary in Campania, a single vineyard Fiano di Avellino named Vigna della Congregazione, named as it was once property of the church. Gaita today produces only about 6000 bottles of this superb Fiano, which is aged in steel tanks and sees no oak.
I love the ripe fruit and texture of Fiano; this wine displays these qualities in great style. But it’s the richness and lushness of this wine that really impresses; this is about as full-bodied a Fiano as I’ve ever tasted. Yet, this is not an exercise in intensity, but rather a wine that combines impressive concentration with wonderful texture and a powerful finish of great length. This is why I get so excited about Campanian whites and about Italian whites in general; the sheer individuality of this wine is something to get marvel at. It’s a wine that many famous wine publications don’t even deal with; I can only guess they haven’t tasted it, as they’re too busy trying the latest red from Tuscany or Piemonte. I have to think that if they did try it, they’d praise the wine to the high heavens.
I was able to taste several vintages with Gaita and his wife; the 2010 shows a great deal of potential, but it’s a baby. The 2009 is a five-star (outstanding) wine for me, as it’s got that intensity along with amazing complexity. I describe the aromas as multi-dimensional with notes of apricot, quince, honey and pear, while there is a generous mid-palate and a lengthy finish with excellent persistence. Gaita told me we were going to try the various versions of this wine, “the Sauvignon Blanc, then the Chardonnay and then the Riesling,” and he was spot on with his descriptions, as different vintages did seem to offer those characteristics. It’s this chameleon-like nature of this wine that makes this one of Italy’s – and the world’s – greatest white wines. One final note; for the 2009, I scribbled down 7-10 years for peak consumption, but I’m thinking now, I may be a bit conservative in that estimation.
Raffaele Troisi, Vadiaperti (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Also in Montefredane, less than a mile away, Raffaele Troisi makes lovely Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo at his Vadiaperti estate, which was established in 1984 (Montefrdane, by the way, is in the Fiano di Avellino zone; Troisi also works with vineyards in Prata and Montefusco in the Greco di Tufo zone).
Troisi, make no mistake, is a farmer at heart, just like thousands of other producers throughout Campania and all of Italy, for that fact. He takes great pride in his work in the fields and follows that up with his approach in the cellar. He was kind enough to arrange a tasting of eleven white wines for my guest and I on the day we visited with him; this was much more than we expected, but we loved every minute of our meeting, as Troisi told us about his various wines – new releases and older offerings – with great conviction.
Along with Greco and Fiano, Troisi is also working with the Coda di Volpe grape. Best known as the primary variety in Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio, the ultra popular white wine for tourists that crowd the open air trattorie of Napoli, Coda di Volpe is not generally regarded as a “serious” variety. Yet in the hands of a precise vintner such as Troisi, Coda di Volpe can yield quite a complex wine; his 2011 offering lemon, stone fruit and almond perfumes, impressive concentration and a light minerality in the richly detailed finish. This is a wine to be enjoyed over the next 2-3 years, but instead of the lightest seafood, this is a wine that can stand up to fattier fish and even lighter poultry, it’s also marvelous as a starter white for many meals.
His versions of Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino are so admirable for their varietal purity as well as their subtle manner; these are not powerhouse wines, but ones of notable restraint. Their natural acidity is a dominant feature here, meaning you immediately want to try another glass. Troisi makes two special bottlings that are among the region’s finest; the first, a Fiano labeled as “Aiperti” that has beautifully appealing honey, mango, pear and magnolia aromas and a seductive finish with a subtle hint of almonds. The second wine is a Greco di Tufo labeled as “Tornanate” that has inviting lemon peel, lime and chamomile perfumes backed by excellent concentration and lively acidity as well as distinct minerality. Here is a wine that is pure Greco in its flavors and presentation and teases you with its promise of greatness some five to seven years down the road. While I always think of Fiano as the bigger of the two wines, it’s Greco that tends to reveal more of itself with time, a rather nice quality of this variety.
Troisi also treated us to some older bottles of Fiano di Avellino and if I had any doubts about the potential of this wine to age (which I really didn’t), they were wiped away with these wines. The 2004 has dried pear, herbal tea and sassafrass aromas, admirable ripeness and excellent persistence. It’s still a young wine, very delicious and I don’t expect it to be at peak for another three to five years.
Then there was the 1994 Fiano di Avellino, a wine that showed the promise of this great area. Deep yellow in color (though not as deep as one might expect for an 18-year old white), this combined dried pear and honey aromas with notes of caramel and dried yellow flowers. Medium-full, this was actually a fresher wine than the 2004, though a touch lighter on the palate. The finish has subtle notes of honey; overall the wine displays lovely finesse and elegance – what a light touch Troisi displays in his winemaking. Here’s a wine that I think will peak in another two or three years, meaning that you’ll have a 20 year old Fiano di Avellino at peak condition!
Of course, any white that ages this long has to be expensive, correct? Well this isn’t white Burgundy, so you don’t have to take out a loan; as the current 2011 vintage retails for about $25 on American retail shelves, one can only imagine what this 1994 costs when it was released back in 1996. Again, here’s a wine that the Parkers and Sucklings of the world too often ignore- perhaps it’s because they don’t understand it or think their readers don’t care about it – believe me, there are enough of us that do. It’s a great wine, so thank you Raffaele for such a lovely tasting!
Sabino Loffredo, Pietracupa (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
My final visit was an all-too brief meeting with Sabino Loffredo, the proprietor of Pietracupa, also situated in Montefrdane. Loffredo comes to America each February for the Tre Bicchieri tasting of Gambero Rosso (he’s been honored with this award many times, deservedly so), but as he doesn’t have an importer in Chicago, I always miss out on meeting him during his time in America.
I almost missed him again in Campania, as he wasn’t in the winery the day I was in Montefredane and I was scheduled to leave the area the following day. He was kind enough to meet me for a few minutes on my travel day so he could introduce himself and his wines. While our conversation was brief, I was able to taste both his 2010 Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo and am I ever glad I had the opportunity!
His Fiano is a brilliant light yellow with intriguing aromas of Bosc pear, sassafrass and cinnamon (!); I can’t say I’ve really found a set of aromas such as this in any other Fiano. Meanwhile, the Greco di Tufo displayed perfumes of mango, melon, mint and acacia flowers – here is a wine that has great focus! Certainly the allure of these Pietracupa whites are their uniqueness, which comes from the soils in which the grapes are grown. These are true terroir-driven wines and while that term is rather casually tossed about these days, these wines are first-rate evidence of how climate and soil affect a wine. Both wines are outstanding in my opinion and will be at peak in five to seven years.
Sabino told me that he always wants to meet with someone such as myself at his estate so he can explain his wines and his territory. Based on these highly individualistic offerings, I know that I’ll get a great understanding into what makes a brilliant Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino when I sit down with Sabino during my next trip to Campania. I know it won’t be too many more months from now and frankly, I can’t wait!