Taurasi is a town high up in the mountains of Campania, east of Naples, whose roots go back to pre-Roman times. However, today it is best known for the red wine that bears its name. The wine itself has DOCG status, which makes it one of the more important wines in Italy, and the rules for the wine specify that it must contain at least 85% Aglianico grapes and be aged for at least three years. Aglianico is the famous grape in Campania – think of it like Nebbiolo in Piedmont or Sangiovese in Tuscany.
To find out more about this Vinnie and I went to the cantina of Salvatore Molettieri, near the small village of Castelfranci. 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 thirty percent 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 short cuts. He produces three versions of the Taurasi wine, all fermented in steel with a 12 – 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. Furthermore, 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 we tried was 2014 Renonno and Salvatore goes well beyond the minimum legal requirements by using 100% Aglianico grapes 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. The colour is a deep ruby with a bouquet of plums and redcurrants with 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.
We then sampled a 2013 Cinque Querce matured for six years in oak. The name translates to Five Oaks and comes from the eponymous vineyard. This vineyard was described by the legendary Italian gastronome Luigi Vronelli as a ‘cru’ or top quality. The colour 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, we 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 on the palate a deeply satisfying and complex structure.
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.