The name is glamorous, the place is wonderful but not glamorous. Antoine Gaita’s house is up a small road well above the zona industriale of Montefredane, North of Avellino. The vineyards fall away from the house on a North and North West facing slope, perfect for whites according to him. The villa is a nice, modern house in the country with the paraphernalia of wine making behind the house amid evidence of the owner’s day job (satellite dishes?). This is a small concern, very, very personal, with a production of 10, 000 bottles a year. But being small means you can do exactly what you like and experiment as much as you like.
In addition to Antoine Gaita and his wife, there was an Italian couple (she a journalist, he a restauranteur) and the two us. We were a bit late but the other couple only preceded us by two minutes and it seemed that within a further two they were into a long debate as to whether Algeria was best understood as a colony or a département of France – it was clearly going to be a tasting of strong opinions, like the wines.
The Gaita philosophy is all about minimum intervention. He achieved organic status in 2003 and what he clearly loves is to talk about the winemaking itself. The thing here is Fiano. There is a little Greco di Tufo and some Aglianico (which needs 10 years of ageing), but relatively speaking they are sideshows. Gaita looks to keep his Fiano on the vine as long as possible, for a super-mature starting point. It’s all in the skins, he says. Fiano is highly resistant to oxygen and so you don’t have to worry about it to much. Complexity is gained by a long time on the lees. Of the 2005 he said ‘it is the apogee of non-working’. Its great clarity in the glass is the product of a long time resting in the stainless steel casks, no filtering or clarification.
We tasted in an unconventional order, starting with the dreaded, rainy year 2002, from which there were two examples. It wasn’t clear if this was bravado, a clever pitch or just what there is in the cellar.
Villa Diamante, Apianum, 2004: mid yellow, tending in the direction of gold. A rather muddled nose but then honey, some apricoty or pale peach flavours, good accompanying acidity.
Vigna della Congregazione, Villa Diamante, 2002 – this is the star wine, which comes from a couple of the best sites. More gold than Apianum, marmalade, wood and smoke on the nose. Palate slightly flat. Interesting, rather than excellent, ‘non è un vino perfetto’ according to its maker.
Vigna della Congregazione, 1998 – there just aren’t many white wines of this age in Italy, so this was a treat. By contrast to the 2002s, the nose has moderated, but on the nose and palate you get a sort of mixture of apple/pear flavours – fresh, dried, oxidised. A long way from visually perfect – slightly cloudy with some black spots. Good refreshing acidity, greater persistence. A great conversation wine.
Vigna della Congregazione, 2005 – startlingly clear mid-yellow, nice honeyed nose, some herbs, pears and apples again. Some sense of yeastiness from the lees, but an easy wine to appreciate in a more or less contemporary style. Excellent – and in a demanding year.
By this stage, our fellow tasters realised that they would be late for their next tasting one hour plus south (de Conciliis, where we had been three days earlier), so it all became a bit of rush. We tasted the Vigna della Congregazione 2007 but didn’t do it justice. It seemed like a fresher version of 2005, if not quite as clear.
Our journalist companion was for not tasting the cru, Cuvée Enrico 2000, as she didn’t want to rush it but fortunately our host ignored this. It is made like Jura’s vin jaune, basically fermented and then sealed in a small barriques for as many years as you dare. As the level drops it develops a heathy flor, a layer of yeast on top of the wine, similar to sherry, which controls the level of oxidisation. You then open the barrel and hope for the best- sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t . Gaita likes to experiment so this was left for seven years (with a bit of peek after three as he was curious!) 15˚ of alcohol, with a dense nose of orange peel and burnt sugar. An excellent ending point and typical of Gaita’s creative individualism.
We spent the afternoon looking at the Roman monuments of Benevento – a handsome city, if very quiet on a Saturday afternoon, the siesta of course.