Luigi Tecce (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
There are producers that should best be described as specialists, just as with surgeons. Luigi Tecce is a specialist’s specialist when it comes to Taurasi, a fact I discovered when I was fortunate enough to taste a vertical of his “Poliphemo” Taurasi, a wine that truly is among the four or five best examples of its type.
Tecce’s small estate is located in the town of Paternopoli, in the southeastern section of the Taurasi zone. He sources grapes from vineyards at his estate here as well as in Castelfranci, situated a bit farther south. These are the traditional pergola vines – known here as pergola avellinese – and have quite a bit of age; some of the vines at his Paternopoli holdings date back to 1930.
Certtainly, these old vines provide a great deal of insight into why Tecce’s examples of Taurasi are so special. But it’s also his minimal, traditionalist style of winemaking that is a key. He ferments his Taurasi in large chestnut casks, followed by maturation in mid-size casks (tonneaux) before being transferred to large oak casks (botti) for twelve months. Finally, the wines are bottled and released about a year later. Needless to say, the wood notes are in the background here, as the lovely dark cherry and chocolate notes of the Aglianico variety shine through.
This long period of aging in mid-size and large casks also results in wines that have a rich, beautifully defined mid-palate. For me, whether we are talking about Taurasi, Brunello, Barolo or any great Italian red wine, a well-defined mid-palate greatly adds to a wine’s complexity and length, rounding it out and rendering it as a more complete wine.
Here are notes on the “Poliphemo” Taurasi of Luigi Tecce:
2009 – Deep ruby red; marvelous array of aromas – black cherry, menthol, tar and black plum and tobacco. Full-bodied with excellent concentration. Rich, layered mid-palate; beautifully balanced wine with nicely integrated wood notes, very good acidity and outstanding persistence. Complete and complex, this has a lengthy finish. Just a gorgeous wine, one of beautiful typicity and finesse and one that offers a distinct sense of place. Best in 20 years plus.
2008 – Lovely garnet color; aromas of dried cherry, currant, thyme and cedar. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Very good acidity (a signature of this vintage), elegant, polished tannins and very good persistence. Lovely, graceful wine. Not a powerhouse, but a wine of finesse. Peak in 12-15 years – although I may be a bit conservative with this estimate.
2007 – Deep garnet; aromas of bing cherry, dark chocolate and thyme. Medium-full with very good to excellent concentration. Rich mid-palate, excellent persistence, very good acidity. Best in 12-15 years.
2006 – Lovely garnet color; aromas of Queen Anne cherry, currant, tea leaf and a hint of strawberry. Medium-fulll with very good concentration. Very good acidity (once more!), lovely overall balance with beautifully polished tannins. A sublime wine, supple and elegant. Best in 15-20 years. Tecce noted that in 2006, it rained throughout August, resulting in a very late harvest (November 26!). How the difficulties of that growing season resulted in such a wonderful result!
2005 – Deep garnet; floral aromas (carnation) and hints of bing cherry and mulberry. Medium-full; the oak is quite subtle; soft tannins and lovely balance. This lacks the persistence and grip of the other wines, but again, it is a wine of supreme harmony. Best in 7-10 years, perhaps a bit longer.
2003 – Labeled as Irpinia IGT, but in all reality, a Taurasi. Deep garnet; aromas of dried cherry, hints of sage, dried currant and cedar. Medium-bodied; the tannins are a bit rough (relatively speaking, though other 2003 Taurasis have this same problem), balanced acidity, with excellent fruit persistence. Peak in 7-10 years.
2001 – Labeled not as Taurasi, but as “Omaggio a Varenne.” Deep garnet; lovely aromas of bing cherry and red roses. Medium-full with very good to excellent concentration. Silky tannins, precise acidity and a lengthy finish with outstanding persistence. A joy to taste, this is elegant with great finesse and is a great wine! Drinking beautifully now, this will be at peak in another 10-12 years.
These examples of Luigi Tecce “Poliphemo” Taurasi do not scream at you. Rather they are reminders that greatness in red wine, is above all, about elegance, finesse and drinkability. Bigger does not make better in my opinion and there are several noted producers of Taurasi that make more deeply colored and extracted wines. If you prefer that style, that’s fine. But for me, I will take the subtleties, intricacies and overall complexity of Luigi Tecce’s wines any day.
Annual production of the “Poliphemo” Taurasi is only about 5000 bottles; Tecce also makes approximately the same amount of another 100% Aglianico called “Satyricon” that is a Campi Taurasini DOC (basically a younger version of Taurasi that has not been aged for the minimum three years as dictated by the disciplinare). So while these wines may be difficult to locate, they are a must-try for any serious lover of Taurasi.
My thanks to Luigi Tecce for presenting these wines and to his friend Sabino Loffredo of Pietracupa for his help in organizing this tasting.