It is the time of the year we dedicate time to fine wine. The right moment to know more about Aglianico, one of the world’s iconic grapes because from this variety some of the most precious long-lived red wines are created. For those who live in South Italy this seems so obvious but for a big part of the wine world Aglianico still is just ‘one-of-the-many-varieties’, maybe known to experts, but it’s full potential is still not completely discovered. Time to know more about TAURASI DOCG: one of Italy’s finest wines. Taurasi DOCG is maybe the most distinguished expression of Aglianico so it is important to understand the reasons why.
Photo: Aglianico grapes
Aglianico flowers very early in the season and the Aglianico of Taurasi is the last of all Italian grapes to be harvested, sometimes even until half November. It’s berries are quite small and contain a lot of acidity and a high polyphenol content so there is always the risk of making a wine with too excessive tannins, containing also much alcohol and acidity, a wine that can be undrinkable for decades. Nowadays producers look for more balance between tannins, acidity and alcohol. Therefore producers dedicate more attention to obtain healthy fruit from the vineyards and use softer pressing and shorter maceration times during fermentation to avoid too much tannin extract but the wine still needs its aging period. They also diminished the use of new barriques and more often age the wine in more neutral Slavonian oak.
In fact Aglianico for Taurasi needs a slightly longer aging period than Nebbiolo for Barolo but then the wine can be preserved for long periods of 25 or sometimes even 50 years or longer. That is: if the wine is made from the best grapes of the best vineyards in good, healthy vintages.
Photo: Taurasi castle, based on foundations of a Longobard fortress. It is situated along the old Via Appia
Taurasi is a wine region situated in Avellino province, alias Irpinia. Irpinia is for experts South Italy’s most distinguished wine district and Taurasi it’s most important wine. Taurasi DOCG can be produced in 17 municipalities at a height between ca 350 and 800 meters above sea level. Taurasi DOCG is produced from Aglianico grapes with the possibility to add up to 15% of other grapes but many producers continue with 100% Aglianico. Taurasi must be aged at least three years before it can be sold and must be aged at least one year in wood. Taurasi Riserva must be aged at least four years of which 18 months in wood.
Photo: Taurasi region in winter. Strange enough the climate is more similar to Piemonte than to South Italy
Until 1990 there was only one producer for Taurasi: Mastroberardino winery and they have done a great deal to develop the wine and create much knowledge about the wine worldwide. The 1968 Taurasi of Mastroberardino became legendary and did a lot to establish the fame of Taurasi as a great wine and wine region. Nowadays there are some 200 producers of Taurasi, most of them boutique wineries, and some of them are offering excellent quality too, others are developing and new names are on the market soon so there will be much news to discover in the area soon (see my list below).
Taurasi can be such a great wine! When young it can offer black cherry, some violet or spice, often in combination with quite strong tannins. When aged the wine will offer it’s real potential and then it presents such refined fruit in a wonderful elegant style and length. This is really one of the most characterful and at the same time very subtle wines, offering flavors of cherry, combined with a rich pattern of flavors from chocolate and spice up to pepper, truffle, leather, tobacco, and all in such a wonderful, fine balance. The wine always has a good acidity and firm tannins, which create the right potential for aging and create wonderful harmonic and incredbile long-lived wines.
Photo: Aglianico vineyard in autumn
Soils in this area consist of a mix of clay and limestone with sometimes a sand component, but most important is the top-layer of vulcanic soil which can be found in many places in Taurasi district. This gives the wine this extra accent and it allows the plant to survive diseases which can thrive in other areas.
Maybe the most special aspect of this part of Irpinia is the climate: we are deep south in Italy, at the height of Naples but still Irpinia has a cool climate that is more to compare with Piemonte than with Naples. The mountains in the west moderate the sea influence and create this quite rare climatic situation. The high difference between day and night temperatures contributes to maintaining good acidity levels in the grapes. As a consequence the harvest of Taurasi DOCG is usually Italy’s last harvest.
Another special aspect of Taurasi is the presence of ancient vines which survived the phylloxera disease in the beginning of the 20th century. Some of those plants are more than 250 years old, still healthy and used for Taurasi DOCG. Something really unique in the wine world.
Photo: old pre-Phylloxera vineyards of ca 200 years old
And Irpinia is mountainous so many vineyards are high up on the hills of the Calore valley, in a very complex mosaic of hills and mountains. Much discussions are going about the height of the vineyards. Officially it is allowed to produce Taurasi DOCG from 350 m above sea level, but some sustain that it has become too low for Taurasi DOCG as climate change also here brings some change. This discussion is not settled yet. But those Taurasi wines from higher parcels up to 800 meter above sea level very clearly have more acidity and need a longer aging period.
Photo: vineyards in Irpinia
One of the most subtle, wonderful and characterful wines of the wine world is Taurasi. And the positive news is: it is still relatively undiscovered the prices are still pleasantly low. The other positive news is that this wine can age for so many years in your cellar! You really can forget it for two decades and then take the bottle from the dust and enjoy an incredible fresh and lively wine.
NB: This story is not finished yet: I am continuing my search for great Aglianico wines, so in the next period I will publish a more in-depth view of this very interesting wine.
TASTING NOTES (NB THIS PART IS NOT COMPLETE, I NEED TO RESEARCH MORE CELLARS !!)
Perillo Taurasi DOCG 2007
Small cellar producing Taurasi from old vines in Castelfranci. The wine is 10 years old but gives an extremely fresh and lively impression.
Perfume: dark fruit, fresh blackberries
Taste: a combination of black fruit, cedar, tobacco, fine tannins and a wonderful length ( Compliment to the winery to age the wines that long: this is a fantastic way to show the real potential of great Taurasi wines.)
Quintodecimo Taurasi DOCG 2012
It cannot be denied that this is a very serious wine, in fact the most expensive Taurasi at the time. Very fine red wine offering an impressive lenght and style. Professor Moio is an eloquent speaker and did not fail to inspire me to learn more about the wines of South Italy.
The perfume offers beautiful refined and intense aromas of black fruit.
In the taste there are notes of blackberries, dark fruit, cassis, tobacco, plum and in a most elegant way. The wine is extremely well balanced and offers an impressive length and elegance, rare for South Italy, almost academic in style. But the wine is that balanced that this balance almost seems to take away something of that special character of Aglianico (which is why I like those wines so much)… Nevertheless this is a great wine. But I am really looking forward to taste older vintages of this wine in order to see how it will develop.
Luigi Tecce Taurasi DOCG Poliphemo 2012
Small cellar, but among the leading producers. This wine is produced from 85 year old Aglianico vines
perfume: fine and intense black fruit
Taste: dense, and structured, much tar, but also some black fruit, hints of sweet fruit (the wine is dry), and subtle, long finish, wonderful
Mastroberardino Taurasi riserva DOCG Radici 2012
This is a great wine from one of Italy’s most distinguished cellars.
Perfume: complex, with some violet, black fruit
Taste: full-bodied and elegant, with some notes of plum, cherry, jam, pepper and a refined long finish
Tenuta Cavalier Pepe Taurasi DOCG Opera Mia 2012
Important cellar, producing a range of Irpinia wines, presented with flair by the young Milena Pepe, who grew up in Belgium.
Perfume: opulent richt fruit, blackberries, some balsamisc note
Taste: intense full-bodied, lenght and much fruit, nice tannins, freshness, little hint of acidity but also nice complexity
Tenuta Cavalier Pepe Taurasi riserva DOCG La Loggia del Cavaliere 2011
Perfume: very intense and distinguished aromas, some spice and wood
Taste: most intense beautiful fruit. Very complex, elegant with nice mature fruit, dense and impenetrable ruby red. Well-balanced tannins. Beautiful spicy note, some blackberry, balsamic note, length
Tenuta del Meriggio Taurasi DOCG
Interesting new cellar with much potential.
Perfume: some black fruit, cherry, plums and a light peppery note
Taste: elegant, distinguished and nice fruit, blackberry and length, a great Taurasi
Terredora Taurasi DOCG Fatica Contadina 2012
Perfume: Nice black fruit, elegant and fine, dry notes, complex
Taste: full-bodied, notes of dark fruit, cocao, smoke and fresh red fruit. Good, strong tannins. A great wine which needs time to develop
Feudi di San Gregorio Taurasi DOCG Piano di Montevergine 2012
Another leading producer, which grew rather recent to become one of South Italy’s leading cellars. An important voice in Irpinia.
Perfume: some light hints of tobacco, blackberry and spice
Taste: fine structure, fine tannins, some blackberry, cherry, very light spicy note and very refined finish
Donnachiara Taurasi DOCG 2012
More recent cellar offering a range of good quality wines.
Perfumes: Refined aromas of cherry, plum, some dark fruit, freshness
Taste: very complex wine, needs aging. The quite strong tannins need some time but there is great potential of fine fruit, spicyness and length. This will be a wonderful wine after some years of aging.
Antico Castello Taurasi DOCG
One of the more recent cellars in the area: much promise is here in the cellar.
Perfume: black fruit, light spicy
Taste: nice intense and fresh fruit, very subtle and velvety. Nice balance, medium length
I Favati Taurasi riserva DOCG
This is a great Taurasi. I lost my tasting notes but I still remember the high quality of it’s Taurasi riserva. Worth seeking out.
Petilia, Taurasi DOCG 2009
Perfume: wonderful fine and mature aromas, soft fruit, blackberries, some wood
Taste: intense heel intese flavors of juniper, mature fruit, good acidity, fine and delicate tannins and much length
Other cellars worth looking out for: Calafé, Guastaferro, Lonardo, Caggiano, Antica Hirpinia. Also Molettieri, Di Meo and Joaquin are some great cellars for Taurasi. (more news to publish later, follow this blog!)
More about my personal adventures in Taurasi you can watch here:
Many thanks to Piero Mastroberardino, Milena Pepe, Giuseppe, Felice Petrillo, Chiara and Francesco Romano, Irpinia consorzio and many wineries in Taurasi who offered me time and hospitality to tell their stories.