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Contrade de Taurasi (Cantine Lonardo), Taurasi DOCG
Contrade de Taurasi (Cantine Lonardo), Taurasi DOCG
Our scintillating little Falanghina discovery this morning started us off on the beautiful Campanian coast, and now we get to make the virtual drive inland and up into the lush, volcanic hills surrounding Avellino. Here is where you will find the home base of Southern Italy’s most noble, and most exciting, red grape: Aglianico! Grown at high altitudes in soils chock full of tuff, a.k.a. rocks formed by volcanic eruptions, the best red wines of Taurasi explode with aromatic complexity and powerful, yet elegantly framed structure. Small wonder that they’re often referred to as the “Barolos of the South.” But the winemaking culture here actually predates that of Piedmont, going back to the ancient Greeks, and at their pinnacle these wines are among the most profound and eye-opening drinking experiences one can enjoy. The tiny production 2015 from Sandro Lonardo is exactly that sort of revelation, and at eight plus years it is just beginning to hit peak deliciousness. Grab some for now, and some for the cellar, and prepare to be wowed for many years to come!
Though it is only 45 minutes from Napoli, and a beautiful 90 minute drive from Amalfi, if you were to be beamed down into the countryside of the Avellino province you would have no idea how close you were to the sun baked beaches and throngs of tourists that invade the Amalfi coast every year. Avellino is still very much tied to its agrarian past, with chestnut orchards and olive groves as numerous as the small villages they surround. Grape growing and winemaking is an ancient tradition here, likely established in antiquity by Greeks who set up colonies all over Southern Italy. And with Mt. Vesuvius just a few miles to the west, volcanos and the eruptions that come with them, are an integral part of the geology. Indeed, the marriage of volcanic terroir and the Aglianico grape has been forged, and perfected, for centuries and it is why these wines are so distinctly profound.
Sandro Lonardo is keenly aware of the special place that Aglianico has in the hills of Avellino, you could say it is in his blood. His family has been involved in agriculture here for centuries, growing grapes, nuts, olives, and various other fruits side-by-side and eking out a humble living like most of their neighbors. Sandro left the farm life early and became a school teacher, however he returned in the mid 1990s and made the consequential decision to devote the full resources of the farm into growing and producing wine. Today he and his wife, Enza, along with family and friends, organically farm five hectares of vineyards and produce small amounts of some of the finest wines in Taurasi.
The late 1990s was a boom time for Taurasi. For decades the only winery that produced wine for the export market was the famous Mastroberardino, but thanks to their success and a few upstarts that got some high press scores, Aglianico had a brief flirtation with fame that began to simmer down in the mid 2000s. But Sandro never tried to make high octane, 100 point monsters to compete with international superstar wines, instead he focused on tradition and the glorious terroir beneath his feet. Farming has always been organic, and cellar work is gentle and very low in interventions. Despite a growing season that can last into November, the Taurasi consistently clocks in at just 13 to 13.5% alcohol, which allows the energy and minerality to shine through. And Sandro is in no hurry either: He ages his wines in large, neutral barrels and in the bottle too, for as long as he deems necessary.
That is why the 2015 we have today is still considered a recent release. Holding wine back until it is ready to drink is very unusual in the wine world these days, but lucky for us a few stalwarts like Sandro Lonardo still keep up this old tradition. After a quick decant, serve this Aglianico masterpiece at cellar temperature in a Burgundy stem and you’ll immediately encounter a raft of aromas and flavors: Spiced cherries, red plums, dried roses, anisette, smoked meat, espresso, lavender, and a core of rich, saline minerality. The tannins are just beginning to soften up, but there’s no doubt that this wine will age gracefully for another decade plus. Any rich, traditional Italian dish would be a wonderful pairing, but I’ll go with the local version of Lasagna. Now that’s a match made in heaven, and one you’ll want to revisit for many years, so stock up now!
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