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I confess to a near-total addiction to Ian d’Agata’s Native Wine Grapes of Italy. If you are even a fraction as interested in Italian wine as I am, you really should own a copy. It is a most remarkable book, and I know that every time I open it I will wish that I had at least an hour to wander the fascinating and eminently readable paths it takes. For example: “Aglianico is one of the world’s great red grapes, one that is finally carving a place in mainstream wine-drinking consciousness. Along with Nebbiolo and Sangiovese it is generally believed to be one of Italy’s three best wine grapes, but in my opinion it is far more: at the very least, it is one of the world’s dozen or so best wine grapes.” Maybe everyone else already knows this, but it’s a bold claim, and after reviewing the competition in my head, I’d have to agree (in any case it’s an interesting game to play). One difficulty is that Aglianico is still not very well known, so I was thrilled earlier this year when John Gilman (another on my very short list of most esteemed wine writers), devoted an article to Taurasi in his newsletter, The View from the Cellar. John has kindly allowed us to link to the article, which gives a full history of Taurasi which I highly encourage you to read – and to subscribe to his amazing publication (the perfect holiday gift for the wine-lover who doesn't already have it). I have extracted two salient quotes: “…for much of the twentieth century Taurasi and Mastroberardino were virtually synonymous, with the winery responsible for at least ninety percent of all the Taurasi that was bottled in the region through the end of the 1980s… There is no doubt that back in those days, Taurasi was a better-known wine than it is today, and many commentators of the time were prone to call Taurasi “the Barolo of the south”, referring to both its quality and the impressive longevity that Taurasi possessed, like its more famous cousin to the north.”
For several years, I’ve visited the hysterically funny Irpinia “pavilion” at VinItaly; it’s funny - and frustrating – because it’s elaborately constructed of fresh raw lumber, and the air reeks of 2x4s. Maybe somebody’s cousin owns a lumber business? You might as well build using manure-based adobe for aromatic neutrality. Those intense wood aromas carry through on the palate on most of the wines – there are a lot of oaks dying in order to give new wood character to many Taurasi.
This isn’t really surprising considering how recent the post-Mastroberardino era is, and that most of the producers only began making their own wines in the last 15 years, a period which coincides with the boom for international-style wine in Italy (now beginning to decline). But I know of at least a few people making great old-school wines: Tecce, Perillo, Il Cancelliere, Lonardo, and likely others I haven’t tasted. Recent vintages of classic versions are not exactly easy-going or what you could call cheap-and-cheerful, but having tasted a number of old Mastroberardino wines, there’s no doubt that Taurasi can age beautifully.
This vintage chart for Taurasi is copied from Sheldon Wasserman’s The Noble Red Wines of Italy – another book that everyone who loves wine should have. It’s been out of print for 25 years, but you can find copies in the usual places. Note that the chart is based on "Vintages Evaluated By Mastroberardino"; it's interesting that the results are quite different from elsewhere in Italy - "1973*** - only 1977 was better in the decade."
The following list includes more recent vintages from some newcomers (well, newcomers in comparison to Mastroberardino, which started selling wine in 1878). There are a few bottles of the famous, modern style Feudi di San Gregorio; mags from the critics’ favorite, Antonio Caggiano; and some wine from Molettieri, who mostly dodged the new barrique issue when it was foisted on them by their importer of that time (de Grazia). Finally we have three stars of Taurasi: Il Cancelliere, Perillo and Tecce; these are the wines that build on the fine work of Mastroberardino and demonstrate the potential of Taurasi. Jamie Wolff
PS: Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio is made of Piedirosso, with the likely addition of Aglianico (and Sciacinoso, which Agata says adds some freshness and fruit). I have no idea if Piedirosso ages well – these are rare bottles which I’ve never seen before. Certainly the Aglianico in the blend would help. My impression of Piedirosso is often Cab Franc-like, with what I find to be pleasant herbal notes, at least in ripe versions.
PPS: Irpinia (here also called Hirpinia, in homage to the original Greek settlers of the area) is the region that includes Taurasi; wines labeled Irpinia Rosso must (nowadays) be 70% Aglianico (the wines in this offer are likely to be 100% Aglianico - I know the Tecce is). The whites are Coda di Volpe, plus Falanghina and / or Greco, and / or Fiano.
The Perillo 2006 Taurasi Riserva is a classic example of Aglianico, showing how interesting it can be to drink this structured grape with a handful of years of age. Ripe, not jammy, black berries dominate the nose with red florals, sweet spice, hints of chocolate, and a slight gamey note. The palate is full bodied, braced by plenty of tannin just beginning to soften up with a nice mineral focus. The wine is drinking well now with an approachable structure after a short decant but won't show full maturity for quite a while yet. Pair with roast beef, hearty stews, or sharp cheese. Open early or put in the cellar for a cold winter night down the road. Andy Paynter
Good thing it’s Aglianico weather! Tecce Irpinia Aglianico is not far short in depth and intensity from the Taurasi. The nose is of blackberry and plum, smoky volcanic rock; the palate is lifted and energetic, the fruit rich and a little creamy to cover the ripe tannin. An impressive wintery wine – it reminded me of a visit to Taurasi when our host built a bonfire; when it had burned-down to coals they put a grate right on top and grilled lamb chops which we with our hands, standing by the fire with glasses of Taurasi… Jamie Wolff
“I took one taste of my first Tecce wine on my second evening in Campania and thought here is the Bruno Giacosa of Taurasi! Presently, Signor Tecce produces about three thousand bottles of each of his cuvées. While his wines are not particularly well known today outside of Campania, Luigi Tecce is clearly amongst the very finest, if not the finest, winemaker in Taurasi today and he will be a superstar in the very near future! I cannot urge readers strongly enough to search out some of Signor Tecce’s wines soon, as these are going to be hard to find and far more expensive in the years to come. The comparison to Bruno Giacosa is not far-fetched, I assure you!” John Gilman in The View from the Cellar. If I said this you might assume I was just trying to sell wine, but I think John has the authority and gravitas to get away with such claims! It’s true for me that the Tecce wines are fabulous Aglianico – dynamic and burly in their youth but with underlying finesse; certainly my favorite newer Taurasi. Anything that makes us recall Giacosa has something right going on! Jamie Wolff