Monthly Archives: August 2010

Taurasi:One of Italy’s Noble Red Wines


When I want to know anything about the wine and food of Naples and Campania, I ask Maurizio de Rosa.  I am not the only one to take advantage of his knowledge. Mr. de Rosa was born in Naples and his mother still lives there.  Marurizio is now the export manager for Feudi di San Gregorio one of the leading producers in the region.

Maurizio De Rosa Speaking about Taurasi

 I asked Maurizio, who is writing a book on Taurasi wines which will be out at the end of the year, to be the guest speaker at a tasting and lunch featuring Taurasi for the Wine Media Guild at Felidia Restaurant.  He agreed and said he would supply the wines and group the producers according to the vineyards where they sourced their grapes because, just like the crus in Barolo, different vineyards give a different character to the wine. There were 19 wines from 19 different producers.

 There are many great red grape varieties in Italy but three seem to stand out above the rest. They are Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Aglianico.  Aglianico finds its greatest expression in Taurasi in Campania and Aglianico del Vulture in Basilicata. In fact Taurasi is produced less than 40 miles from Aglianico del Vulture.

  Aglianico was brought to Southern Italy by the Greeks and many believe that its name comes from “Hellenico”. Jeremy Parzen has an excellent article “Aglianico does not equal Ellenico” at   and Mr. de Rosa seemed to agree with his interpretation.

 Mr. De Rosa said the Aglianico grape thrives in vineyards of very high altitudes of 400 to 500 meters above sea level. The vineyards for Taurasi are located in the Province of Avellino. Total area is about 750 hectares of volcanic soil. He went on to say that the volcanic soil of the Taurasi region demonstrates the potential of the Aglianico grape as one of the best in Italy.

 Taurasi was awarded the DOC in 1970 and the DOCG in 1993. Taurasi must be aged for at least three years before it is released, with at least one year in wood. The Riserva must be aged at least four years. It must be at least 85% Aglianico and 15% of Piedirosso, Barbera and Sangiovese can be blended in. In my opinion the best is made from 100% Taurasi but I do not mind a little piedirosso being added.

 The five-star vintages of Taurasi that can still be found are: 1968,1977,1985,1987,1988,1990, 1993,1997,1999, 2001 and 2004.

 For many years only Mastroberardino was producing wine for the export market.

Taurasi really did not become popular in the U.S. until the 1990’s. More wineries opened in the zone and began to export Taurasi into the U.S. Today there are over 293 producers in the Taurasi zone but still very few import their wines into the U.S.

Older Vintages of Mastroberardino Taurasi

 I have been drinking Taurasi from Mastroberardino for over 30 years. At one time these wines were undervalued and could be brought at auction for very little. Even a case of the legendary 1968 could be purchased for a few hundred dollars. Today the older wines have become very expensive. With the 2001 vintage, Mastroberadino went to the “dark side” with the use of barriques. I have tasted almost all the vintages produced by Mastroberadino from 1968 to 1999 and consider them some of the finest wines produced not only in Italy, but in the world.

 My favorite wines overall at the tasting came from producers that obtained grapes from vineyards in Castelnetere Sul Calore, Paternopoli, Castelfranco and Monteramarano.

 Maurizio said that most of the vineyards in this area were over 500 meters and it was the most homogeneous so that the terroir was very important.  Except for the Montemarano area which had a less southern exposure. There is clay soil here rich in piroplastiti. The grapes ripen later here and the harvest usually takes place in mid-November. The higher the altitude the more complex the wine and he pointed out that the grapes here are more vibrant with higher tannic expressions. I liked all five of the wines from this zone but the Perillo and Molettieri were really outstanding.

 Urciolo “Monte Faliesi” 2005 (Castevetere) $45

 Perillo 2003 (Castelfranci) $60

 Boccella 2005 (Castelfranci) $56

 Molettieri  “Cinque Querce” 2005 (Monteramarano) $55

 Castello dei Monaci “Monaco Rosso” 2003 ( Monteramarano) $?

 These grapes from the vineyard from Pietradefusi,Torre Le Nocelle, Venticano, Montemietto and Montefalcione were at elevations of 300-500 meters. The soil has a clay component and co-exists with marly limestone layers in lose layers. More extreme hydrostress.  The harvest here is early and is normally completed by the middle of October. I liked four wines from this zone.

 D’Antiche Terre 2004 (Pietradefusi) $95

 Villa Raiano 2005 (Venticano) $50

 Cantina Crogliano “Santo Stefano” 2002 (Montefalcione) $?

 Romano Clelia “Vigna Andrea” 2005( Lapio) $43

  Producers harvesting from vineyards in Mirabella Eclano, Fontanarosa, Sant’Angelo All’Esca and Taurasi. The vineyards are 350-500 meters from Mirabella Eclano to Fontanarosa respectively.  It is a more diversified zone. The soil here is clay with layers of limestone and sand but there is a difference in the various terroir and therefore the style of the producer is more important in this zone.

 From this zone I liked three wines

 Lonardo “Contrade di Taurasi” 2001 (Taurasi) $70, this is a big wine and my favorite of the tasting.

 Di Prisco (Fontanarosa) $?

Feudi di San Gregorio “Piano di Montevergine” 2001 (Taurasi)  $55

  Mixed Areas -The grapes for these wines came from two different zones for example the Di Meo Riserva 2001 has grapes from the Taurasi and Montemarano zones. $38

 When we sat down to lunch besides drinking what was left of the Taurasi, we had the Feudi San Gregorio “Campanaro” 2007. It is mostly Fiano di Avellino with a small amount of Greco di Tufo $ 45. It went very well with the first course.

 Mr. de Rosa, with the use of slides and his vast knowledge of the Aglianico grape and of Taurasi in particular, gave a truly interesting and informative presentation.


Filed under Italian Red Wine, Taurasi

When in Naples- PIZZA

            When asked for directions to Da Michele, one of Naples’ most famous pizzerias, the hotel concierge told us, “I would not go there,” implying that it was not in a good neighborhood.  Of course, we went anyway.  True, the neighborhood was run down, but outside the restaurant there were late model Mercedes’ and BMW’s parked all over, and a line of well-to-do Italians in designer clothes stretched far out the door.  It was so busy that we couldn’t get in and decided to return the next day for an early lunch. 

           The next day we left the hotel early so that we would be sure to get a table.  On the way we passed through an outdoor market and saw a crowd standing around two men. The men had a big pot of hot oil and were making fried pizza. We were only a few blocks from Da Michele, but we had to try one anyway. What if we could not get into Da Michele?   We ordered a fried pizza stuffed with tomato and mozzarella and watched as one of the men flattened a disk of dough, while the other topped it with the fillings.  He folded into a half moon, and dropped it into the boiling oil.  A minute later, it came out crisp, brown, and delicious.

Da Michele

The Pizza Oven at Da Michele

            When we reached Da Michele, we had no trouble getting in.  The walls are white, decorated with a few framed poems and quotations about pizza.  The tables were bare marble.  Simplicity is what makes it special.  Da Michele serves only two kinds of pizza:  marinara and margherita.  There is no other food.  Beer, coke, or mineral water are the only drinks.  When you are that focused you have to be good, and Da Michele’s pizzas are some of the best I have ever eaten.   Light and tender, they seem to melt in your mouth.  Each one costs only five euros. 


            Diagonally across the street from Da Michele is Pizzeria Trianon.   It has dining rooms on three or four stories, but only one has air conditioning.  There are many different pizzas to choose from, though my favorite here is the Margherita DOC.   This is a type of margherita made with halved, tiny, sweet Neapolitan tomatoes known as pendolini.   In each bite, you get the sweet, juicy flavor of the tomatoes combined with the tanginess of the mozzarella di bufu1a — a great combination.


             My wife, Michele, favors Da Ettore.  Here they make great pizza and fried zucchini flowers as well as a stuffed pizza called the pagnotiello.   It looks like a stuffed pita sandwich but it is made with pizza dough.  Her favorite is made with fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, and arugula.

            Ciro a Santa Brigida was the first place I ate pizza when I fell in love with Naples and its pizza in 1995. I was gripped by a pizza frenzy and ate pizza several times a day in restaurants and while walking in the streets.  This is a great place to eat pizza and to sample the classic cooking of Naples as well a fine restaurant with a good wine list.  They tend to seat all the non-Neapolitans downstairs, so ask to sit upstairs for a more interesting experience.

             Europa is another excellent place to go for both pizza and other food.  It is a bit more rustic than Ciro and we have always eaten well here.  In Spaccanapoli, the old quarter in the heart of Naples, is Lombardi a Santa Chiara.  Here we had a great margherita topped with prosciutto and rughetta, leaves of small wild arugula. 

        Antica Port’ Alba has a stand in front of the restaurant.  When the pizza was ready a bell would ring and people would come to buy their take-away pizza, which was folded into fourths, a portafoglio meaning like a wallet, and eaten as they walked. This pizza is a little smaller than the regular margarita. Legend has it that when the Spanish ruled Naples, Spanish soldiers ate their pizza this way so that they could hold on to their weapons with their free hand.

            Not far from Naples in the town of Vico Equense is Da Gigino Universita’ della Pizza, better known as Pizza a Metro.  Here they serve pizza by the meter and the waiters will help you to decide how many meters you need. 

The Queen of Pizza- The Margarita- There is NO King

             On our first visit we ordered a Margherita.  It tasted great, but I said to Michele “I tastes like prosciutto, but I don’t see any prosciutto on it.”  She agreed and on the way out we stopped to watch the pizzaiolo.  Michele noticed that just before sliding the pies into the oven, he drizzled a thick milky-looking liquid on them.  The pizzaiolo told her it was strutto, liquified lard, which Michele remembered her mother making once a week by rendering pork fat.  The pizza mystery was solved!  Strutto is, or was, the quintessential Neapolitan cooking fat, though sadly, most cooks today have switched to olive oil.  For a very large place that caters to enormous groups, the food at Pizza a Metro is very good.  Last time we were there you could order your pizza with or without lard.

Bufala Mozzarella and Tomatoes

            On Capri, Villa Verde, not only makes delicious pizza but also great antipasto.  One of the highlights was the fresh bufala mozzarella and red ripe tomatoes.

If you are in Salerno a great place for pizza is Antica Pizzeria Vicolo della Nieve.  They also serve a delicious seasonal antipasto assortment.    

              Neapolitans like to drink sparkling beverages with their pizza including beer, soda, aqua minerale gassata and sparkling wine such as the locally produced red Gragnano made from piedirosso and sciascinoso grapes. 

            Other wine choices I like include the white Falanghina (now very popular in Rome), Asprinio di’Aversa, and Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Bianco made from the coda di volpe grape.  For red, Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio made with the piedirosso grape is my choice.  When I am in NY I Iike to drink Barolo, Barbaresco, Taurasi, Chianti, Barbera , etc. with my pizza margherita.   In fact since I believe that pizza margherita is the perfect food it will go with almost any wine that is not international in style- no barriques etc.

 The two places in NYC that I go for pizza are Keste and La Pizza Fresca. In my opinion Keste has the best Neapolitan style pizza in the city. La Pizza Fresca has good Pizza and other foods, plus a great wine list.


Filed under Pizza