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Aglianico is the famous grape in Campania – think of it like Nebbiolo in Piedmont or Sangiovese in Tuscany – and from it comes the red DOCG wine called Taurasi. To find out more, we went to the cantina of Salvatore Molettieri (www.salvatoremolettieri.com), near the small village of Castelfranci in the mountains east of Naples. Salvatore has been producing his Taurasi since 1983; he now has 14 hectares of vines and an annual production of around 75,000 bottles. His wines regularly win awards and feature in guides like Gambero Rosso and Doctor Wine. He is the fourth generation to run the family business and he has four sons to carry on the tradition.
His vineyards are high up at about 600m above sea level and the harvest is late, starting in November to allow the grapes to mature. He is also fanatical about quality, so much so that every year he has what is called a green harvest when 30% of the grapes are cut away from the vines so that the remaining grapes can reach their full potential – for his Riserva that figure rises to 50%. His harvest is carried out by hand, as tradition demands, but inside the cantina the best of modern technology is utilised.
After taking so much trouble in growing and selecting his grapes Salvatore is not interested in taking shortcuts. He produces three versions of the Taurasi wine, all fermented in steel with a 12 to 15 day maceration period. The Aglianico grape has strong tannins and to mature this takes time and skill. Salvatore uses a combination of large botti and small French oak barriques but it doesn’t end there; the large botti have been custom-made with both French and Slovenian oak used in the construction. The largest of these holds 80 hl which equates to more than 10,500 bottles – an astounding sight!
The first of his Taurasi that I tried was 2014 Renonno and Salvatore goes well beyond the minimum legal requirements by using 100% Aglianico grapes, rather than the basic 85% specified. This is then matured for five years in oak. The Renonno vineyard that gives its name to the wine has been producing Aglianico grapes for over 70 years. Five years ago, a part of the vineyard was replanted with the cuttings taken from pre-phylloxera vines which are over 100 years old and the replanting is continuing today. The colour of the Renonno is a deep ruby with a bouquet of plums and redcurrants and there are leather and vanilla notes coming from the aging in wood. On the palate there is bitter cherry with good acidity and the tannins are strong but not too dominant.
I then sampled a 2013 Cinque Querce matured for six years in oak. The name translates to Five Oaks and it comes from the eponymous vineyard. This vineyard was described by the legendary Italian gastronome Luigi Vronelli as a ‘cru’ or top quality. Some of the vines here pre-date phylloxera and are still on their original rootstock. The colour of the Cinque Querce is a deep ruby, almost impenetrable. The bouquet is full and round with cherries, vanilla, tobacco and leather. On the palate there are cherries and plums with strong but subtle tannins.
Finally, I tasted a 2012 Riserva. The colour is now verging towards garnet reflecting the age of the wine. Seven years in oak have mellowed this wonderful wine. From the same vineyard as the Cinque Querce, it has a lot of the same characteristics but the tannins have softened to produce a deeply satisfying and complex structure on the palate.
These are all wines that need to be paired with strong flavours like game or red meat from the barbecue or even a strong mature cheese. I would love to try one with a bistecca fiorentina which would be a great meeting of the best of northern and southern Italy. But however you choose to enjoy it, when you find a good Taurasi on sale do not overlook it – these are classic wines with great aging potential.