Thursday, July 4, 2019

Vesuvius Wines a Gift from Campania Italy near Naples

Volcanic Wines are complex and food friendly due to rich mineral soils from Mount Vesuvius

by Dwight Casimere

Among the many new wines appearing on shelves in fine wine shops and on wine lists in savvy restaurants around the country are the wines of the Campania region of Italy which is situated along the south western coast of Italy near the capital city of Naples. It's one of the oldest wine growing regions of Italy dating back to the Greeks who first cultivated grapes there in the 8th century B.C. It became part of the Roman Empire when the Etruscans incorporated it and began cultivating wine in the 4th century B.C. After that, the land became subject to an alphabet soup of overlords, including the Visigoths (yes, there were such people outside of the old Prince Valiant comic strips), Lombards, Byzantines, Normans, Spanish, Austrians and French. The region finally became part of the Italian unification of the late 19th century, a definite turning point.

In early June, officials and winemakers from the Consortia Tutelar Vini Vesuvius held a Tasting Dinner  in the Atrium Dining Room of New York's Il Gattopardo Restaurant located in the historic Rockefeller Townhouses in midtown Manhattan.  In attendance were 

The story of Campania wines reads like the libretto of an Italian opera. Born of tragedy, the grapes are nurtured in the mineral rich volcanic soils left behind by the cataclysmic eruption of  the volcano Mount Vesuvio, which destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD. The wines remain unchanged to this day, made primarily from the indigenous grapes of the trime, which were rendered free of the Phylloxera virus which destroyed the majority of the indigenous grapes in all of Europe because the  virus can't survive in ash. Thus, these local varietals, with names that sing out like a Neapolitan opera, Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio (the tears of Christ of Vesuvio), Campi Flegrei, Ischia and Capri DOCs., along with Falanghia and Galluccio, another primary DOC, have survived to be nurtured today. Add in the names of Greco di Tufo and Fiano, Biancolella, Forastera, Olivella and Coda di Volpe, named for their shapes, the olive and fox's tail respectively, and you have a thumbnail sketch of the rich and varied wines that account for these food-friendly wines. Aspirino is the foundation of the regions local sparkling wine, Asprinio di Aversa. Its a refreshing, lighthearted aperitif that literally dances on the tongue, much like the feel of pronouncing its name. 

The wines of Vesuvio DOC are all made with organic and sustainable practices, another plus.

A handful of the wines have been introduced to the United States and will be avilable in coming weeks on restaurant wine lists and at fine wine retailers near you. The wines are best with foods readily associated with the city of Naples and the Campania region. Try anything made with fresh tomatoes or basil, such as a spicy tomato sauce with fresh basil, grated Parmesan cheese or a lasagna-type layered casserole made with Baccala (salted cod fish) olives, and, of courses, fresh tomato sauce. A dessert favorite is Rum Babba with a nice coffee or chocolate flavored Biscotti as a crunchy aside with a glass of two of Aspirino. Buon Appetito!

These are just a few of the wines of Vesuvio DOP that you may encounter. :

-Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio bianco from DeFalco Vini-$18
The wine is made from the region's flagship Lacryma Christi grape which is grown at a very high altitude in rich, volcanic soils. The grapes are picked by hand and pressed very softly and fermented at consistently cold temperatures to preserve the intense fruit character of the grapes. The result is an intensely flavorful wine bursting from tropical fruit and citrus flavors with hints of pineapples, banana and peach nectar. The volcanic soils give the wines an added boost of mineral flavor and structure, making it perfect with a hearty meal of fatty white fish, shellfish and rich tomato sauces and flavorful cheeses. This is a wine to serve with pride at any meal.

-Cantine Matrone Territorio de' Matroni DOC 2016-$25
This is a wine created from old vines indigenouse Piedirosso and Aglianico grapes from ther estates own Monaco and Camoanariello vineyards. The soil is a volcanic mix of sand, lava and basalt, giving it a rich mineral base. Cold Fermented in stainless steel tanks with natural yeasts for two weeks on the skins to give it richness and color, it is then pumped over where it undergoes spontaneous malolactic fermentation for a total of three weeks fermentation. The wine is then allowed to age in large wooden tanks for 14 months before resting again for 10 months in stainless steel. The result is an unmistakably local wine bursting with rich, dark berry flavors and overtones that hint of the tastes of olives and local capers, a bit of white, black and green peppercorn blend, a touch of licorice and a surprising afternote of balsam, perhaps from the underlying richness of the volcanic soil. If you're a fan of game meats, like venison, pheasant of duck, this is the wine for you. But its equally at home with spicy Asian or Indian dishes or even your favorite down-home Chile recipe!

-Cantina del Vesuvio Lacryma Chirsti Rosato DOC 2018-$22.99
The wine gets is captivating color from gently pressing the grapes in order to also preserve the kaleidoscopic range of aromas and fruit flavors from its 100% Aglianico grapes which is aged entirely in stanless steel tanks. Aromas of a bouquet of fresh cut flowers are followed with the flavors of white peaches, honey, strawberries and raspberries with just a hint of honey colored raisins. This is a surprisingly complex wine that goes beautifully with grilled fish, a platter of mixed cheeses, salamis and hams and a whole range of light meats and vegetables taken right off the grill. This is truly the wine of summer. 

-Russo Family Black Label Line  Vesuvio Lacryma Christi Rosso DOP Riserva 2014-$24
Ruby red, like the lava of Vesuvius, this is an unbelievable value considering the complexity of this beautifully made wine. Made from indigenous grapes grown in rich, volcanic soils that basked in warm afternoon sun and cooled nights and mornings by Mediterranean breezes, it was then fermented in stainless steel and allowed to age in small oak barrels 6 months before resting another 6 months in the bottle. This is a wine that truly represents the tradition of fine winemaking in the Vesuvio. Enjoy it with aged cheeses and rich meat sauces, or for a variatrion,  a vegetable lasagna made with fresh  eggplant, basil and rich tomato sauce and a hearty mix of soft cheeses. Sprinkle in a layer of crushed olives to give it an added zing. That will bring out the rich, complex flavors of the wine.

-Casa Vinicola Setaro "Munazei" 2018-$12
This is a real value wine worth twice the price in terms of its quality and flavor. Made from the ancient black-skinned Piedrosso grape, which is found throughout Campania. Known for its rich black fruit flavors and rich mineral backbone, the wine is a natural with just about any Italian dish, particularly those made with tomatoes. Rich, earthy flavored tomatoes are everywhere in the region, along with olives and just about every dish from the region features one or both. Baccala or Bacalao, salted cod, is another food that is common in the region and shows up in various incarnations. Surprisingly, this is a red wine that goes with all of the above and more. Served lightly chilled, it goes with many fish and vegetarian dishes. This was my favorite of all.

-Az. Agr. Sorrentino "Vigna Lapillo DOP 2015-$18
Another favorite. This blend of 80% Caprettone and 20% Falanghina is hand-picked then fermented in stainless steel at cold temperatures and matured in oak barrels for ten months. This is a fresh tasting wine with well integrated tannins. The wine is eminently drinkable with refreshing notes of ripe red berries and hints of balsamic vinegar and a back note of ripe olives. The wine truly speaks to the region and the soil from which it came. Each sip reveals a bit more of its distinctive character, made even more luscious with a bite of locally inspired food. Great mouthfeel with a nice long finish, its easy to go through two bottles of this at lunch or dinner without noticing. And at this price, buy an extra bottle for later!