Two years ago I was invited to attend Campania Stories, a press event in the Italian region of Campania. While there, I visited the Michele Alois winery not far form Caserta where I met Michele Alois, his son Massimo Alois and his wife Talita de Rosa. At one point the conversation turned to pizza and I was told the winery was close to Franco Pepe’s restaurant Pepe in Grani, considered by many to have the best pizza in the world. I was promised that if I came to the winery again they would take me there. For lunch that day, Talita, who is a wonderful cook, was making Pasta alla Genovese a classic Neapolitan dish and another pasta with a meat ragu. Unfortunately, all I was able to do was smell the wonderful sauces she was preparing before we had to leave for another winery. Seeing how sad I was, Talita promised me that if I visited again she would make me all the pasta I wanted.
This year, I contacted Talita and told her that my wife Michele and I would be in Naples again. Massimo picked us up and drove us to the winery. When we arrived Talita was already preparing lunch. This time we did not visit cellar but had the wines upstairs in the dining room so we could enjoy them with lunch.
The winery was founded by Michele Alois at the foothills of the Caiatini Mountains in the province of Caserta, on a plateau of 9 hectares. Michele only planted local grape varieties.
Next came the pasta alla Genovese. My wife Michele’s family always made this sauce, but Michele declared that Talita’s version was better than her grandmother’s! The sauce is made with lots of onions, some stewing beef or veal, and salami or prosciutto. Talita’s version was mild and delicate and she added lots of Parmigiano Reggiano just before serving.
Last but not least was Talita’s pasta al ragu, made with a rich tomato sauce, braciole, sausages and cotena, pork skin, for the proper flavor and texture. It was perfect.
Massimo said the name Pallagrello derives from “u Pallarell,” it is local dialect for “small ball” because of the grape’s tiny round shape. Its shape distinguishes the grape cluster. It is a vigorous varietal, producing grapes with high sugar content. Native to the hills around the Campania town of Caiazzo, it may be related to the ancient Roman varietal “Pilleolata” mentioned by Pliny the Elder (d.79 AD) in his Historia Naturalis. The wine was the favorite of the Bourbons when they ruled in Naples.
- Pallagrello Bianco “Caiati” 2016 100% Pallagrello Bianco from a 2.13-hectare vineyard at 280 meters, soil is volcanic with minerals. The training system is guyot, there are 4,800 plants per hectare and the harvest is in the middle of September. Fermentation takes place on the lees for 30 days. Malolactic fermentation is in stainless steel at a controlled temperature. The wine remains in the bottle for 4 months before release. It has hints of almonds, citrus fruit, melon and grapefruit with a long finish and pleasing aftertaste.
We also tasted the 2009 Caiati
Pallagrello Nero “Cunto” Terre del Volturno IGT 100% Pallagrello Nero. The vineyard is 1.46 hectares, the soil is volcanic with minerals, guyot training system and there are 5,200 plants per hectare. The harvest takes place the first weeks of October. Vinification in stainless steel with cold maceration on the lees and malolactic fermentation is in stainless steel. The wine is aged in used French barriques for 12 months and an additional 6 months in barrel before release. This wine has hints of berries, especially, blackberries and cherries and a long finish.
The Casavecchia grape variety is of unknown origin. There is a legend that a small old grape vine was in an abandoned house in the town of Pontelatore, hence the name “Casavecchia”. Massimo said the vine survived phylloxera, and the parasite fungus of Oidio in 1851. Others say that it is related to the ancient Roman varietal “Terbulanum,” praised by Pliny.
Casavecchia “Trebulanum” Terre del Volturno IGT 100% Casavecchia from a 1.5-hectare vineyard at 180 meters. The soil is volcanic with minerals, training system is guyot and there are 5,200 plants per hectare. Harvest is in the first weeks of October. Vinification is in stainless steel tanks with maceration on the skins for 20 days. Malolactic fermentation in large barrels (botti) for18 months and it is in botti for 12 and 6 months in bottle before release.
Optimvm 2001 made from 100% Casavecchia. Talita also made roast lamb which she served with potatoes. This was a perfect combination with the Optimum. We finished with some very fresh mozzarella di bufala and several cakes for dessert.
After all this truly wonderful food and wine Massimo said, ‘a promise is a promise’ and we all went off to have pizza at Pepe in Grani!