By Luciano Pignataro
“There are many different interpretations of Irpinia’s soil and its viticulture, but for us it is important to keep the helm steady, pointed towards the origin from which our story began.” This was the sense of the tasting Piero Mastroberardino organized in the historic Atripalda estate at the gates of Avellino, which ended with his homage to his father Antonio, grandson of Angelo (1848-1914), the pioneer behind this magnificent story, the man with the dream of opening the international frontiers, especially France and the United States. It was Angelo who had the Mastroberardino join the Chamber of Commerce in 1978.
Michele (1886-1945), Antonio’s father and Piero’s grandfather, was behind the success of Irpinian wines in the thirties, their golden viticultural age. Antonio then played a vital role in preserving the indigenous varietals from the phylloxera bug and the disasters brought by the War.
Piero says, “We’re talking about 60 years of history, because in truth we we started up again in the 50s, after the war and after the phylloxera crisis.”
By now it is clear that Aglianico is a varietal that simply doesn’t die. A variety of tastings have shown it to be young and unruly in its first ten years, and barely balanced at twenty. I agree, its olfactory profile is its weak point in a tasting, because it’s a wine that must be sought; it doesn’t impose. Its clear superiority is on the palate, where its freshness is inexhaustible, its substance is pleasant and not encumbering, and its tannins, if well managed in vineyard and cellar, confer great pleasure.
Common features of all the samples, one per decade: unconcentrated colors, noses that only emerge with time, abundant freshness on the palate, vitality, and no signs of slippage or exhaustion.
Mastroberardino maintains its preeminence among Campanian wineries precisely because of the determination with which Piero has accumulated time in his safe. It is difficult for almost all estates to organize verticals that go back beyond the 90s, either because they are newer, or because they sold everything at the outset, without worrying about building up an archive, in other words memory, which becomes the estate’s commercial future.
The point is in fact not quality, which is now a given, nor the score of a vintage. But to have the opportunity to travel in time, living emotions without price, as happened Saturday at Atripalda.
Taurasi Radici Riserva 2006 docg
A complex vintage, with frequent July, August and September rains, and a drop in temperature in August. In October however it proved possible to recover all, with a harvest that was delayed to allow the grapes to ripen completely. The nose is typical of Mastroberardino’s style; it lets you seek it out rather than come forward. It begins with fresh crisp sour cherry fruit. On the palate it is instead quite aggressive; no sweet entry, but great freshness and it deamnds attention. Savory accents, or rather the lack of sugars. On the palate it is full, complete, and with a long clean finish.
A benchmark for traditional Taurasi, a red to serve with foods.
Taurasi Radici Riserva 1996 docg
This is confirmed as a difficult vintage for Southern reds, because after a normal beginning, in August the temperatures were lower than they had been in decades, resulting in very slow grape ripening.
With respect to the 2006 there is a better defined relationship between what the nose expresses and what one feels on the palate. Indeed, the fruity sensations, though present, are quite weak, giving way to ash and underbrush. The wine displays astonishing verve and fills the palate completely. Long, to be served with foods, and still very young.
Taurasi 1985 doc
A precise, textbook vintage: warm rainy May, dry June and July, Rainy but not humid August. Excellent September with up to 30-degree (15 C) day-night temperature excursions that extended into October. It is a post-earthquake vintage, and we must keep this in mind, because times were very hard in Campania, but it was precisely in this period that the foundations for the return to tradition were laid, because the areas leading winery imposed its traditional wines of terroir on the markets.
With respect to the first two vintages, one senses the heat of the South in the very ripe but not the least bit tired fruit. The wine is in fact, and this goes without saying, in perfect condition like the other seven presented. Tertiary aromas are beginning, with leather, mushrooms, ash, and toasted accents. Also animal notes. On the palate the wine is balanced with acidity still upstanding, think, after 27 years, and drawing good fruit that is both precise and satisfying. Long, ethereal, infinite. A wine that will never die.
Taurasi Riserva 1970 doc
This was the first DOC wine, the fruit of a fairly normal vintage whose harvest began on October 20, and finished in mid November.
The nose is an evolution of the 1985, with dried flowers, spice, Mediterranean scrub forest, followed, and this is incredible, by fruit, sour cherries, and sour cherry jam, then candied orange and finally ash. After a while balsamic notes also emerge. On the palate the wine displays frightening energy: surprising well evolved ripe red berry fruit supported by freshness. A Taurasi that takes one by surprise, and – if one had them – a wine to drink by the case to experience its vitality and richness.
Taurasi Riserva 1961
A low-production vintage due to drought and abundant blossoming; the harvest was anticipated because of poor rainfall. The nose is overlain by ash, brambles, and burned twigs, which open to fresh leather, followed by medicinal herbs and dried grass. On the palate the music changes some, with freshness that after opening the way, doesn’t forge ahead, but accompanies fruit that I hadn’t noted on the nose.
A great late harvest from traditionally trained vineyards. In July and August there was heavy rainfall, and this resulted in a delay in ripening. The nose opens with volatile notes but then becomes fairly complex, with Arab medicinal herbs, spice, seeds, dried herbs, and subsequently ash. On the palate it is instead quite vital, demonic even. Acidity and fruit predominate completely, with the balance between them leaving the palate fresh and toned. Aglianico’s Picture of Dorian Gray?
The greatness of Aglianico derives from the consideration hat until the 90s there wasn’t this sort of attention paid to winemaking in Campania; one can only imagine the shape the grapes from Montemarano – a serious journey! – arrived in.
And finally a consideration from an unrepentant whiteist: Greco and Fiano are just as capable of aging as Aglianco. Believe me.
In sum, this tasting shows that thanks to Mastroberardino, wine exists in Irpinia. Not just because it was among the first (there were also Struzziero and Di Marzo) but because of their understanding the value of time as a true, great investment. Sometimes, patience and willingness to wait are worth thousands of marketing offices and wine events.