Slow Food is an organisation with its roots firmly in Italy. It was founded in 1986 by an activist, Carlo Petrini, in response to McDonald’s trying to open a branch at the bottom of the Spanish Steps in Rome. Now an international movement, it is all about preserving regional gastronomic traditions (so important in Italy) and to glory in local food, locally produced. The only surprising thing about Slow Wine is that it took so long for Slow Food to come up with the guide, for pairing food and wine is very important to Italians. However, it has now been producing this guide for 10 years and inside those pages you will find the Taurasi wines of Michele Perillo – and his wines are indeed produced slowly.
Michele’s house in the countryside outside the village of Castelfranci, east of Naples, looks like many others in the mountains. Indeed if you did not know, you would not suspect there was a winery there at all. But there is, and a little bit of magic and a huge amount of patience produces fabulous award-winning wines. The vineyards are at an altitude of around 500m above sea level. At this height the climate is continental, with the long hot summers that are necessary to allow the Aglianico grapes to mature before they are harvested in November. In winter you can expect snow. Total production is a modest 20,000 bottles from 4.5 hectares.
This is true family business; Michele works with his wife, Anna Maria, and his two children Felice, an oenologist, and Nicola, who is finishing a degree in agronomy. The founder was Michele’s grandfather who planted most of the vines in the 1920s when he returned from the First World War and so these are now over ninety years old.
Vinnie and I were here for the red DOCG wine called Taurasi that Michele prepares with such care from his Aglianico vines. This is a grape with strong tannins and so needs long careful maturation and in Michele’s hands that is precisely what it gets. His Taurasi spends 18 months in botti of Slovenian oak, but that is only the beginning; after that, they are returned to the steel containers and held for about another nine years before being bottled. In other words, Michele is just releasing his 2009 Taurasi at the moment. In colour it is a rich deep garnet as befits a wine of its age made from 100% Aglianico. The bouquet is full with cherries and plums and a whiff of cigars. On the palate the tannins have softened and balance nicely with the acidity. There is also a note of warmth from the alcohol.
We also sampled the 2008 Riserva which has spent two years in botti before returning to the tanks to allow the tannins to mature and the results are spectacular. The colour is the rich deep garnet as in the 2009 but the nose is more complex and also very elegant – there are plums and cherries and tobacco but also leather (think of beautiful old leather-bound books) and a hint of oranges. On the palate there is bitter cherry with good acidity and dense, soft tannins. These are wines with an aging potential of at least 30 years. Enjoy them with the strong flavours of wild game or meat from the barbecue.
When I met Michele he was gracious and happy to show me around his little winery with its precious contents even though he was due to set off at eleven o’clock that evening for an overnight drive to Milan to collect another prize for his Taurasi. We left with a gift of dried peppers from Anna Maria’s kitchen garden and memories that will always be with us of a family content with what they do and almost surprised by the response their wine has received in the wider world of wine.
Michele doesn’t have a website but you can find them at www.facebook.com/cantinaperillo/