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The 2018 journey through the Campania wineries.

Happy New Year from the wine voyager. We turned the book of our lives into a new chapter: 2019. However in the same way we read a good book, lets refresh our memory from the prior chapter:2018. As wine voyager, we traveled throughout the Campania region to discover great wineries and finally, in December, we also traveled to Basilicata, the land of the Vulture.

There is nothing more exciting than seeing the world through the lenses of a winery, the beauty of Mother Nature, the enchanted process of wine making when the grape juice turns into an elegant set of aromas and flavors.

Lets review the ones we visited, their locations, their great wines.

Cantine dell' Averno

Naples is the city of many faces.

You can walk through crowded and narrow streets in the center where the smell of fresh made pizzas or fried zeppoles fill the air, or when an improvise singer plays few classic neapolitan songs from the balcony of his apartment. All around .... little shops selling nativity sets and their best figures (pieces of arts, for the imagination of the believer). You can jog downtown near the sea with the Mount Vesuvius watching over you and the Capri island silently showing off its beauty; or you can walk through the winterized vineyards that surround Lake Averno in the Campi Flegrei area, near Pozzuoli (10 mins from the center of Naples).

I think the view of vineyards in the winter is absolutely beautiful, the vines are bare, but proudly sleeping, resting in preparation of the activity coming in the spring.

Getting ready to grow the best grapes, for the best wines. In February, in a beautiful spring like day, we walked to the terraced vineyards of the Cantine dell Averno, passing through the arch of an ancient Apollo temple overlooking the lake.

Lake Averno was used by the Romans to store their ships during the winter to protect them from the rough seas. A lake well known as the entrance of the kingdom of Hades, according to the Dante's inferno. It is here that Dante meets Virgilio who will accompany him through the journey. The legend also goes that the lake was the home of the Sibilla, a priestess who predcited the future, Aeneas met her in this area, after escaping Troy's destruction. Therefore a place full of history and legends, today an oasis of Mother Nature.

The lake is just the crater of one of many volcanos present in the area. Campi Flegrei is a very volcanic zone, filled with the perfect terroir. The largest production is Piedirosso dei Campi Flegrei DOC and Falanghina. Piedirosso or also known "Pier e Palumm" in Neapolitan dialect for Pigeon feet. Although it is an ubiquitous indigenous grape in the Campania region, especially at low altitudes; i drank a great Riserva from this winery, a full body, perfect bottle of wine.

See my tasting notes about this unbelievable surprising wine. The winery also has Falanghina and Piedirosso wines. See my tasting notes.

It is owned by the Mirabella family.


Feudo di Castel Mozzo

As we drove through the winding roads of the Irpinia region, we approached Santa Paolina that with Tufo is the main Greco land.

The spring was already in full swing in the middle of May anticipating a very hot summer with the sun already very warm and pleasant, even at 1500 feet.

Feudo di Castel Mozzo is a small winery, producing a well balanced Greco di Tufo DOCG , the winner of the best new wine for 2017. The wine is a perfect balance of acidity and flavors. It is refreshing, with a good body, definitely a wine to be discovered in Campania and overseas. As we tasted it, Leo Annicchiarico confessed us his plans to create a bed a breakfast in the farmhouse on the property.

The view of the valley was just too beautiful and enchanted. It showed the potentiality of a wine producing land so ancient and still so unknown to the world.


Tenuta Cavalier Pepe

The Pepe family is an ancient one in Irpinia, which has for generations been dedicated to the production of wines, marketed throughout Italy and internationally.

Entrepreneur Angelo Pepe, following his intuition and driven by a love for his land, worked hard to write the next chapter in the family’s history. The result was Tenuta Cavalier Pepe, a cellar, winery, restaurant and bed and breakfast that has become a centre for wine production and tourism of the highest quality.

Angelo Pepe’s foresight was rewarded in 1998 when then Italian President, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, appointed him a “Knight of the Republic” for the value of his work. The CavalierPepe’s eldest daughter, Milena, is a graduate of viticulture and oenology in France and marketing in Belgium. Today, she leads the family estate with charisma and expertise, ensuring that the wines meet the highest standards.

We drove to this "State of the art" winery in the middle of May.

After the flowering, the plants already set their fruits, pointing at a vintage for the ages.

Tenuta Cavalier Pepe shows how advanced the winemaking of this beautiful region has become.

We were welcomed by Milena and I was immediately conquered by her knowledge and passion for their production.

The winery produces a selection of all the wines from the Irpinia's appellations (DOC, DOCG), whites and reds with many different levels of complexity. Some of their blends are absolutely outstanding, their presentations are beautiful.

In other words a total experience.

Milena was very gracious in her hospitality and invited us for lunch in their gorgeous farmhouse, now an "Agriturismo" with a beautiful view of the small medieval hamlet of Sant'Angelo all'Esca, with the bell tower watching over the Valley. From the outside tables we could enjoy the tasting of their wines , the air was filled with the smell of the flowers and of the Olive trees that surrounded us. This is one of my favorite winery in the region, a production not well known in US yet, but it is in Europe and the rest of Italy.


Fattoria Alois

Do you believe in fairy tales? This is the first thing that came to mind when we drove through the gate of this beautiful estate in the Caserta province (Pontelatone), land of Pallagrello and Casavecchia grapes. There is a Casavecchia di Pontelatone DOC appellation. Here is where silk and wines meet.

Sometimes when you travel around the world you may end up very close to home when you least expect it. For instance, the mythical Silk Way identified by geographer Von Rikhtfongenn, sharing the same old memories and stories of civilizations and customs was also, in some cases, the Wine Way.

To verify how naturally wine and silk meet, it is sufficient to arrive in San Leucio. There, as in the rest of the world, the name Alois is synonymous with quality in the production and creation of silk cloths that are present in the most famous rooms of the world: from the Italian Parliament to the White House, to the Louvre Museum.

Born in 1885 in the time of Ferdinand IV of the Bourbon family, the Alois factory built a constant success under the head of the household, until 1992 when Michele Alois planted 9 autochthonous grape varietals and created a double activity for the already established family dynasty.

In a plateau comprised of nine beautiful hectares, Michele Alois made his dream come true: the vineyard, the cellar and a rural home with Bourbon origins dates from the early eighteen hundreds.

Tall and sturdy, with a face which seems moulded by the earth, Michele is a lover of fresh air and the countryside. It was during his hours of meditation in the family home of Pontelatone, absorbed by old memories and friendly bet, that he planted his first precious vine of the autochthonous Casavecchia grape variety.

We were welcomed by Michele's son , Gianfranco. He walked us around the beautiful estate, offered an extensive tasting of his wines in an ancient cellar, surrounded by family photos and old vintages. We discussed the beauty of the region, his family history and his political involvement with the prior mayor of Naples. The wines were absolutely delightful, especially the pallagrello nero and the casavecchia. The "Gambero Rosso" awarded them with their famous three glasses, the highest recognition in Italy of an excellent wine. Wine spectator also recognized them with a 92 for the 2017 vintage. The heat of the beginning of August was almost unbearable , the sun truly was challenging the grapevines but also promising a quite good vintage.

This is another great example of the beautiful landscapes and the great quality reached by the Campania wines. Cantine Alois have a great presence in the US market.


Villa Matilde

The August heat was still very strong towards the end of the day when we drove from Cinderella Kingdom ( Alois) to another great reality of the Campania region. The Falerno del Massico DOC and the vineyards near the Volcano di Roccamonfina.

Falernum was the most expensive and sought after wine in the Roman Empire and has been documented as far back as the 1st century BC when it was considered a commodity, almost a currency, and even accepted as payment for slaves.

Given that it was a must on the tables of the rich, it became a status symbol and having several amphoras was a measure of one’s social position. Evidence of this was the funeral epitaph of Caio Domizio Primo, who lived in Ostia in the IV century, which read: “It is I in this tomb, the celebrated Primo. I ate the oysters of Lake Lucrino, I often drank Falerno. Over the years, the thermal baths, the wines and loves all grew old with me".

Severus, fortis, ardens”: such was the description of this ancient ancient literature’s most famous wine, lost to views in the early 199s and re-introduced in the 1970s in Ville Matilde’s  hillside vineyards of on the slopes of the extinct Roccamonfina volcano.     The bond with the local culture and its winemaking traditions thus constitutes the beginning of the history and the foundation of the production philosophy of this winery.

The history of Villa Matilde began in the 1960s, when Francesco Paolo Avallone, a lawyer with a passion for ancient wines and an abiding interest in the “vinum Falernum” described in the accounts of Pliny and in the poetry of Virgil, Martial, and Horace, decided to bring back to life that legendary wine, which had disappeared in the early 20th century.

With the assistance of a group of friends, including professors in the department of Crop Sciences at the University of Naples, Avallone was able to identify, after years of study, the grape varieties that had produced Falernum in Roman times. With the help of local farmers, he re-planted the handful of vines that had miraculously survived devastation by phylloxera in the late 19th century, right in the Monte Massico area where they had flourished in ancient times, and he then founded Villa Matilde.

Today, the winery is managed by his children, Francesco Paolo, Maria Ida, and Salvatore Avallone, who have single-mindedly dedicated themselves to their father’s dream and winemaking project.

They not only cherish an important patrimony but direct their gaze outwards as well: from the Ager Falernus to the provinces of Benevento and Avellino, with new plantings, new projects, and new wines that express the self-confident identity of Campania Felix (Blessed Campania, in ancient times). In 2000, in fact, Villa Matilde introduced Tenuta Rocca dei Leoni and in 2004 Tenuta d’Altavilla, respectively in the heart of Benevento’s Sannio district and in the Irpinia DOCGs, in the province of Avellino

As we arrive, after a nice ride over the Domiziana road that runs along the coast from Naples to Rome, a beautiful farmhouse welcomed us, we learned later that it is now an " agriturismo" where a night in the tower for newlywed or for a love nest weekend can cost few hundreds of euros. The estate is just magnificent as we walked with our guide.

Villa Matilde offers a large selection of wines made from their estates throughout the Campania region, their quality is well known in the region, however their large production allows also the presence of everyday wine and some value bottling.


Regina Viarum

The Massico Mountain, in the large Caserta province has multiple realities. After the visit to Villa Matilde we ended the August day at a small family owned winery which produces Falerno del Massico made with the Primitivo grape. This area of the Caserta region is optimal for Primitivo. Although small compared with the prior experiences, Regina Viarum shows the same passion and dedication to produce great wines which are representations of their terroir. Regina Viarum means the Queen of the Roads in Latin. The name given to the Appia road, which connected the southern part of Italy(Brindisi in Apulia) to Rome. The old road bordered the winery estate , that explained its name.

The wines from Regina Viarum are truly gems, from this small reality near the Appia Road. Their Falerno del Massico made from the Primitivo grape is a full body wine with intense aromas of black fruits, tobacco and a well balanced acidity and tannins.

Falerno del Massico can be produced with Primitivo or with Aglianico as dictated by the "disciplinare". We learned that depends from what side of the Massico hills the vineyards are located. Aglianico requires higher altitude and more exposure to the sun, so the south west facing vineyards are of course planted to Aglianico; the East and North facing vineyards are planted to Primitivo ( a well known grape indigenous to Apulia but we a large presence in this area of Campania) .

As we arrived unannounced, we were welcomed by Pasquale one of the founder of the winery. He proudly showed us around, telling the story of his family and their ancient vineyard which is documented in the records of the region.