Updated: May 15
The Authentic Irpinia Wine Club brought to you with Schneider's of Capitol Hill
Spotlight: Natural Wines
Lately it seems you can’t look at a wine list or talk to anyone in wine without being hyped up on the benefits of natural wine. By and large I agree wines where chemicals aren’t being added are better than those when the producer is putting god knows what in your fermented grapes.
Less intervention is better, which is why I hand select the artisanal wines sent in wineclub only after getting to know the winemakers and how they work in the vineyard and in their cantinas. That’s the key to great wines. (Read my take on natural wines by clicking here.)
That said, I figured it was time you had the chance to try some more of my favorite “natural wines” from around Campania to see for yourself. You’ve already tasted natural wines from other Irpinia producers in the past, including Il Cancelliere, Azienda Agricola Boccella, Cantina del Barone, Cantine dell’Angelo, and La Cantina di Enza.
What’s new: this shipment includes two bottles from friends in Cilento. While I want you to always love Irpinia first and foremost, I want you to also know quality winemakers from around Italy.
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Here’s a little more on the wines and wineries you’re meeting in this shipment.
Tenuta Vincenzo Nardone:
The Nardone family has been crafting wines since 1810, and the winery was “officially” founded in 1908 by the great grandfather of current winemaker Nicola Nardone, who took over in the cantina 8 years ago. I met Nicola right after the lockdown last year and immediately fell in love with his wines and his approach to winemaking. Nicola, affectionately known by all as Pupo, is a self taught winemaker, using grape growing traditions that date back centuries and is exclusively focused on crafting wines that bring out the flavors of the grapes from the year in which they were grown.
He tastes his wines nearly every day, to attend to the needs and wants of his wines. He says you need to find the synergy in everything, not just wine, and I couldn’t agree more. Pupo is widely regarded as the future of winemaking in Irpinia.
Irpinia Aglianico 2015: Right off the bat, you’ll notice the beautiful deep cherry color in your glass, the amazing smells that bring you directly to a warm summer day in the vineyard with a cherry, strawberry and raspberry mix that balances the big tannins, acidity and alcohol of this easy drinking but complex wine. Nothing has been added to this wine in the winemaking process aside from the love Pupo imparts on his wines at ever stage of their crafting. Pair with just about anything you can think of anytime of day.
Campania Greco: Don’t be fooled by the nose on this wine all soft and floral, kind of like a spring Monet painting. Once you take your first sip, you’ll see this wine is like a fresh winter breeze hitting your face, with hints of lemon and a longevity that goes on forever, begging you to take the next sip. It’s a balanced wine made from Irpinia’s Greco grapes featuring the signature minerality you’ve come to expect from this variety.
Pupo wants you to know weather conditions in 2018 resulted in an early vendemmia, nearly 10 days in advance of the normal time, so you’ll see it’s lighter in color than other vintages of the same wine. The wine spent 16 months aging in steel with a minimal intervention philosophy of winemaking. According to Pupo, you can leave this in your fridge after opening and drink for an additional 30 days. I’ve never had a bottle last longer than a few hours open. But I’m going to try one day. I promise. Drink this with brie, oysters, or pizza with artichokes.
This winery is led by the founders of the natural wine movement not just in Irpinia, but across Italy. I’d first met Daniela and Antonio De Gruttola in the fall of 2019 at Antica Trattoria Di Pietro through Chef Anita, learning the tall and lanky grey haired Antonio along with his wife, Daniela, who could fit neatly under his arm with short dark hair and the energy of a thousand Energizer Bunnies had founded their winery 20 years ago with an idea that wine could be made differently than how so many were doing. Today their winery exists in 3 or 4 different small structures around Ariano Irpinia as they’ve expanded, and they’re crafting 25+ unique wines every year. Their philosophy comes down to what Antonio told me one night when I asked his opinion on the subject of natural wine, figuring he’s pretty much the expert. His point was this: you can do anything you want, try anything, experiment, have fun, but at the end of the day, the wine has to be drinkable. It has to be enjoyable. I couldn't agree more.
Vino Bianco Frizzante, Metodo Olimpia: This is a perfect bottle to welcome in the upcoming summer with tons of little bubbles, and flavors of honey and apple balanced by the big acidity of this sparkling Greco blended with a few other local Irpinia white wines including Coda di Volpe. Don’t be scared by the nose on this wine when you first open it - it’ll mellow within minutes. Serve chilled, and I love pairing this easy drinking bottle along with a favorite charcuterie, or a fresh cucumber and tomato salad sprinkled with oregano. Roberto, the prolific owner of a favorite natural wine bar La Posta here in Irpinia, says just go ahead and drink this with anything you can think of or all on it’s own.
Azienda Agricola Silvio Trama:
I got to know this small Cilento winery, about a 2 hour drive southeast from Irpinia, run by a father daughter team though my friends at Il Cancelliere (you’ve loved their Irpinia Aglianico wines in previous shipments) and thought this Fiano and this Aglianico blend would be a great comparison to taste how the same grapes grown in a different region changes the flavors of the wine.
Like Irpinia, Cilento has a volcanic, mineral soil, but since they’re on the ocean, you’re going to notice a much higher degree of sapidity in the wines. In fact, when I drank their white wines for the first time I instantly visualized sitting on the beach on a hot summer day. Sadly, you’re drinking some of the last bottles from the winery as they’ve decided not to produce wine going forward after Lucia’s father passed away. So let’s celebrate them and salute their incredible dedication to crafting quality wines!
Azienda Agricola Silvio Trama Canto del Cigno (Cilento): This Fiano is going to be much different than the Irpinia Fiano’s you’ve grown to love as it’s been grown in Cilento. You’re going to note honey and apricots - but this is not a sweet wine by any means. There’s also a wonderful sapidità that blends in perfect harmony on the finish. This wine is light and easy to drink and can be enjoyed on it’s own, or with your favorite seafood or a fresh cheese like a mozzarella.
Azienda Agricola Silvio Trama Capotosta: “Capotosta” is dialect for hard headed in Cilento and Irpinia (a word I know well because I can’t tell you how many times my grandfather yelled this phrase when he was frustrated with my dad), and Lucia told me the grapes that serve as the foundation for this wine are the full expression of this hard headedness. And while the grapes may be difficult to grow, the wines they make are fantastic. This super fruit forward red will have notes of plums, followed by an explosion strawberry and blueberry. It’s elegant to drink and will really open up after even just a few minutes in your glass. Serve just under room temperature on it’s own or with your favorite charcuterie, pasta, or roasted chicken.
La Cantina Di Enza:
You’ve previously enjoyed three of Enza’s natural wines back in our inaugural wine club shipment. You’ll remember she’s a fourth generation winemaker, having opened her cantina just a few years ago after deciding her family's grapes deserved their own label. (They previously sold their grapes to a local collective.) In a short time, Enza has become synonymous with crafting fantastic natural wines, hand-pressing her grapes before and during fermentation after also picking the grapes by hand. She just welcomed a daughter, and we can’t wait for you to meet them in Irpinia.
Finding the rare grape used to make this wine is like coming across the Hope Diamond. I only know two wineries producing wine from this grape, and it’s not even officially recognized by the Italian government agency that oversees the rules and regulations of winemaking because of its scarcity. These Coda di Volpe Rossa grapes grow on vines that have existed since the pre-phylloxera era, and sadly, with the changing wine trends, most of these vines were torn up and replaced by Irpinia Aglianico over the years. Thankfully, some old vines have made it through not only the great phylloxera, but also the great grape purge.
This Coda di Volpe Rossa has a beautiful flavor and structure that jumps out of the glass and into your mouth. It’s almost garnet in your glass with notes of violet and dried fruits. It’s elegant, it’s warm, and the acidity is just right. And of course there’s no missing the minerality. Enza only crafted 250 bottles of this singular wine and all from individually hunted and hand harvested bunches of grapes in her vineyard. Now you’re one of very few people to enjoy. Serve with your favorite tomato-based pasta, grilled lamb, or charcuterie.