Tag Archives: de Conciliis

Campania in the glass in England

Tasting in situ is a dangerous business.   Wines can taste so much better when you are in the winery, the sun is shining or if the proprietor is particularly persuasive.  So, it is good to have the chance to re-taste wines in a more neutral setting, with a bit of distance and with the comparison of other styles of wines to hand.  After an autumn visit to Campania, Andover Wine Friends’ recent tasting was an opportunity to try the main styles again. 

IMG_4433 Campanian wines used to be known for the big, slow-evolving reds.  The key wine is a version of Aglianico, the most important red grape, with long ageing potential.  Called Taurasi it is grown around the small town of the same name.  But there is much more to Campania nowadays, especially the whites made from local grape varieties.  This tasting featured wines from three companies, two large players based in heart of the Campanian wine scene, Mastroberardino and Feudi di San Gregorio, and one medium size family firm, de Conciliis, much further south, quite close to the famous temples at Paestum.  These wines are available in the UK, from Raeburn Fine Wines and Winedirect, both with good delivery services. 

The evening started with de Conciliis’ very unusual sparker, Selim, made from the unlikely mix of Fiano (of which much IMG_4411more), Aglianico, picked very young, and Barbera, a bit of a stranger in these parts.  The sparkling bit is actually done up in Prosecco in northern Italy, to de Conciliis’ orders.  These include an unusual 100 days on the lees, using the tank method, to gain extra complexity.  It found favour, even on a cool, damp evening in northern Europe:  bright, decent fruit (you can taste the fruit of the red grapes plus the high acidity of young Aglianico and Barbera), nice yeasty notes and the good acidity that sparkling wine needs. 

At times it’s tempting to jump to the conclusion: although Campania is famous for its grand red wine, Taurasi, the stars of this evening – at least for me – were the three native white varieties.  Falanghina, Greco and Fiano were never cut out to be a rock band or a firm of solicitors, but they are a great a trio of whites.  None is really obviously fruit-led like Sauvignon Blanc or perfumed like Viognier, but they do have decent aroma, excellent texture, weight in the mouth and refreshing acidity. In short, they are full of character and superb food wines. 

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Of the three whites, first up was the staple of Campania, Falanghina.  This can be merely competent, if never really dull like Tuscany’s Trebbiano.  However, Feudi di San Gregorio’s Sannio Falanghina 2008 was much more than competent: pleasantly vegetal (perhaps even the bitterness of olives), almondy, followed by a shot of lime, and excellent texture.   Mastroberardino’s Nova Serra Greco di Tufo 2008 has good citrusy notes, perhaps grapefruit, almost fleshy in substance and very persistent with great acidity.  Then there was the same company’s Radici Fiano di Avellino 2008, rather more neutral on the nose, but herbaceous again and herby, very slightly honeyed, good texture.  Although it is Fiano which is the prized grape, it was the other two in these young and medium priced wines (£11-£14 in the UK) which really stood out. 

Of course Fiano can come in all sorts of styles, fresh and contemporary but occasionally IMG_4440oxidative and aged.  To demonstrate this style we had a bottle from 2003 of de Conciliis’ Antece.  This ‘white made as red’ was an extraordinary colour, verging on amber despite it being only 7 years old.  It leads with a good madeira style nose, marmalade and burnt sugar, but its weight in the mouth makes it a table wine, interesting if quite simple.  Once people got over the shock of the style some warmed to its peculiar charms. 

The evening of course had to end with those famous reds.  Aglianico in Italy itself – especially from the barrel  – can be a bit of an acidic/tannic challenge (see the post on Molletieri).  What the wines need is time in the bottle.   Two of our examples had just that.  First, the ‘simple’ Aglianico of de Conciliis (‘Donnaluna’), not the young, bracingly vibrant examples we tasted in Italy but a bottle of 2004.   This was rounded, dark cherries in there, with signs of good oak ageing … the acidity and tannins civilised by time. 

IMG_4430 Secondly, the classier wines of Taurasi, picked as late as possible in early November for maximum richness, with 12-18 months in oak making up a part of a minimum of three years ageing.  The Radici Taurasi 2005 from Mastroberardino is a highly approachable and balanced wine after ‘only’ five years.  This leads with evidence of oak ageing with mildly balsamic notes and also has a good depth of fruit. 

Finally we had a rather older Taurasi from the single vineyard Piano IMG_4423 di Montevergine 2001 from Feudi di San Gregorio.  This really took time to show itself.  It had been double decanted two hours earlier but it was still rather mute in the glass to start with, but piano, piano it began to emerge from its rest in the bottle.  The colour seemed pretty unchanged, perhaps the slightest hint of browning but still a good dense red.  On the nose there was an initial leatheriness, perhaps the odd whiff of bacon but also good dense fruit and now silky tannins. 

IMG_4436 All in all this was an excellent tasting.   Campania has so much to offer and this was a great opportunity to taste its individual, characterful and located wines.

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Campania 3 – de Conciliis

The Cilento national park is famous for it proximity to the great Greek temples of Paestum and then for white figs – and of course for its wonderful genuinely wild interior. It is not famous for wine. IMG_3970  That hasn’t stopped a handful of family wineries proving the potential of the area, if you have the commitment and above all the imagination. 

The de Conciliis family are originally from Spain and have really only been in the fine wine business for ten years.  Deeply committed to the area, they are showing IMG_3991 what is possible and enjoying the fact that there are few rules down here, well away from the main wine producing areas of Campania.   They love music – the last gasp of the late picked aglianico was being processed by the young work force to the sound of rock music at full blast.

Wineries have only two tempi – still and frantic.  Often you when you visit they are silent and calm.  During the harvest IMG_3993and immediately after they buzz with sound, presses whirring, pumps turning over, water being sprayed for washing down, humans clattering about in what appears a semi-chaotic scene.   And through all this, emerges first the vibrant young wine, then in the silence of the cellar the wine maturing, the clink of the bottling line, the sound of the cork being drawn and eventually the wine in the glass – we hope ready to show its stuff to the best. 

Bruno de Conciliis works mainly with two local grapes, Aglianico of course and, for white, Fiano, another ancient grape of Campania. Out of these he produces a IMG_4004great range of wines, including a completely off-the-wall sparkler.  The tasting here was generous in the extreme.  We started with the sparkler, made from 60% Aglianico picked very early before the grapes turn red and 40% Fiano – some years it comes out with a pink edge because of the presence of the red variety but 2008 wasn’t one of those.  The literature also cites another red grape, Piemonte’s Barbera.  It is an excellent wine, made with the Charmat method (ie secondary fermentation in tanks) up north in the Prosecco area but kept there for a massive 100 days, producing a delicious white sparkler of good acidity (offset by some residual sugar), some yeastiness, and substance. 

The Fiano grape makes wines of some elegance but again substance – pear and dried apricot on the nose, then nuts.  The best have a satiny feel in the mouth.  The basic white, Donnaluna 2008, is held on its skins for a night at a low temperature and then left to its own devices – according to Bruno who was nursing an impressive swelling on his hand from a wasp sting.  He believes in letting be, even in ‘dirty wine’, to allow interesting things to develop. The musical theme continues with musing on whether the wine was more Bach or Mozart. 

The jazz theme really gets going in the single vineyard Fiano, ‘Perella’, which sounds like a perfectly good Italian vineyard name until you realise the pun, ‘For Ella (Fitzgerald)’.  IMG_4013 Here Fiano takes on a yet deeper mid-strawy yellow and intense aromas.  The 2008 is still too young to drink really and will only show its best from  the end of 2010.  On the wild edge of wine making is ‘Antece’, from the same vineyard as Perella, but now made as if it were a red wine  – 10 days maceration on the skins, full malolactic fermentation, made for ageing.  Antece contains no musical pun – we are back to history here as it is the word in the local dialect for the ‘ancients’, wine as made by our ancestors.  Our bottle was 2004, a deep tawny yellow in the glass, nutty, with more than a hint of marmalade.  Production of this has been cut back because there is only a small market, mainly in the States – what a shame for singular style. We agreed that Massa Vecchia’s Vermentino, from the Tuscan Maremma, also made as though it were red, was a rare comparison.

After the Fiano masterclass, on with the Aglianico.  The ‘basic’ Donnaluna rosso is made from 12 vineyards, vinified separately andIMG_3997-1   then blended.  50% is matured in oak (nearly all old), and 50% in stainless steel. The philosophy here is only to replace 10% of barrels per year, even dismantling and reconditioning after three years, rather than mask the flavours of the grape with the vanilla of new oak.  Bruno believes that Aglianico is not noted for its obvious fruit, though the flavour is in the plum and black cherry range and spices, especially black pepper.  It has great acidity and tannin and so great ageing potential.  The other major factor is that this is not volcanic soil, like much around Avellino; rather this part of Campania was under the sea during the period of maximum volcanic activity.

The fruit from the older vineyards, 20 years and more, and closest to the sea is saved for the Naima label.  It is  treated to a year in barriques or tonneaux, then six IMG_4012 months back in stainless steel and finally released after two years.  By any standards it is a big, dense wine.  We took a break from tasting at this point to view the vineyards with Paola and also saw the olive harvest in full flight – tractors adapted to shake the trees to release their black fruit, time-c0nsuming but precious. 

Finally, we tasted the Naimi riserva, 2005, which spends 2 years in barriques (still mainly old) and then aIMG_4015 further year before release.  Even after ten minutes in the decanter, this smells of sotto bosco, the forest floor, opening out to prunes and then even violets and roses.  Indeed Aglianico has been called the Barolo of the south, not for its general profile (too big, too dark, too full-bodied) but for it floral notes above dark fruit. 

All in all, these were brilliant, individual wines. Whatever the music they recall, they are a clarion call to the small and medium producer to work with the local grapes even in unlikely places, to defy expectation (sparkling white aglianico anyone?)  and to celebrate the diversity of the vine. 

And finally, after warm thanks and farewells (the wasp sting having gone down), we eventually found lunch IMG_4017-1 on the busy SS18.  In Italy you can still just pick a restaurant at random on a main road and expect highly competent cooking.  For a comparison we tasted an aglianico from a more conventional source, Rocca dei Leoni, owned by Villa Matilda, up near Benevento.  Dark fruit again, more obvious use of oak (coffee and leather), refined, excellent, but very different. 

 

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