I don't often have the opportunity to offer truly great wines from Campania, one of my two home away from home regions of Italy (the other being Piemonte), and it's not because they don't exist. There just isn't very much of it being produced and that's a shame. There are plenty of well situated vineyards in the Taurasi DOCG planted with Aglianico, aka the Nebbiolo of the south, but so many producers here have decided on some level or another of "international" style in their winemaking (small or new oak or both, fast fermentations on cultured yeast etc) that there are just tiny handful of growers left making the real thing. With only 200 hectares or so planted, there aren't really very many growers at any rate and Luigi Tecce and especially Sandro Lonardo are the two greatest of these in my mind. That's just two growers you'll probably ever see me offer and with their tiny levels of production it won't be very often.
Great Taurasi is one of the most compelling wines in the world and every bit the equal of Barolo in terms of power, complexity and sheer presence. In fact, its pretty easy to confuse Barolo and Taurasi just from reading tasting notes. Tar, licorice, rose petal etc. Both Nebbiolo and Aglianico tend to be varieties that need long growing seasons to mature, November harvests being pretty normal in Taurasi, though Barolo is generally higher in alcohol and that's mainly due to the altitude on the Taurasi zone which gets up to close to 2,500 ft above sea level. These are also two varietals that seem to be allergic to new oak.
Great examples of Taurasi from the 60s and 70's, almost exclusively the production of the formerly great, now mainly gone over the the dark side, estate of Mastroberardino are some of the greatest wines I've ever had though extremely rare now and likely to be counterfeit if you do run across them. In fact, the last time I found a reliable stash of those was close to 20 years ago at a tiny enoteca, now defunct with the space converted to a touristy shop selling, sadly, limoncello and selfie sticks (see a pattern here?) right across the street from the magnificent Teatro San Carlo in Napoli.
It's also at that very place where I met Sandro Lonardo and tasted his wines for the first time. I'd all but forgotten about those wines for about ten years when I saw a bottle in a local wine shop and took it home to dinner in Naples where the bunch of us including my fickle, Taurasi loving uncle, were just blown away. A few years later and one of my favorite Italian wine importers, Oliver McCrum, had found these great wines and started bringing in tiny quantities which is where these are sourced.The Lonardo estate, the Contrade di Taurasi, was founded by now retired professor of Latin literature Sandro Lonardo in 1998 with just 5 hectares of land and the idea to make great, traditional Taurasi and he's definitely succeeded. These are just beautiful, regal wines made the old way from organically farmed, low yielding vines planted on the the two typical soils out here; volcanic and limestone. The estate is still just 5 hectares and these wines are still made in small quantities and getting rare all the time.
The DOCG Taurasi comes from 25-50 year old vines planted on volcanic clay soils. Fermentation on native yeasts takes place in stainless steel with about three weeks of skin contact followed by a couple of years in large wood puncheons and a further year of bottle aging before release. This is just gorgeous Taurasi. Deep, dark red with the classic tar, rose and licorice profile plus dried Morello cherry, black pepper and old leather. Big, savory mid palate and lots of crunchy minerality on the long finish. Could certainly use a few years in the cellar and I think it'll go for a couple of decades at least, but approachable now. 500 case production.The Taurasi "Coste" is made from 20-40 year old vines planted in limestone/clay soils, rich in potassium, which tend to produce a more voluptuous rendition of Aglianico. Long fermentation with 75 days on the skins followed by two years in large old wood and a further two in bottle before release. This is just brilliant Aglianico showing off the deep, dark fruit of the limestone terroir with a seductive nose of a great cigar, black cherry, savory herbs and a hint of dark chocolate. Focused, tight mid palate with long mineral inflected flavors of dried red and black fruit. Full bodied, very well balanced and very long, precisely detailed finish. This and the equally great (and unfortunately rare) Luigi Tecce Taurasi Poliphemo are the two greatest wines being produced in southern Italy right now, no matter what Robert Parker says. Just 100 cases produced and very little imported.
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