The verdant hillsides of Irpinia, the mountainous province an hour’s drive inland of bustling Napoli, are home to one of Italy’s greatest and most ancient wine traditions. It is here that the noble Aglianico grape, cultivated for centuries and prized since Roman times for its superlative quality, produces the crown jewel of southern Italian viticulture: the profound, commanding, mystifying, one-of-a-kind Taurasi DOCG. Until a recent renaissance, however, very few estates produced and bottled this storied appellation. Small family farms in these remote hills traditionally grew grapes, among other crops, but only in the last fifteen years has estate bottling become more widespread. For many decades, the only winery to commercialize Taurasi in bottle was Antonio Mastroberardino’s eponymous estate. Restructured in the post-WWII era, Mastroberardino would go on to produce Taurasi of legendary complexity and longevity from carefully selected grapes purchased from small growers throughout the region. These soulful reds ultimately put Campania on the map as a serious wine-producing region, proving that Aglianico from Irpinia’s best terroirs could be as grandiose as anything made in Italy’s top appellations. But Signor Mastroberardino did not act alone. Giovanni Molettieri worked by his side for many years through the 1960s and ’70s, seeking out quality vineyard sites and brokering deals with local farmers for their fruit. In doing so, he not only secured the best provenance from the area’s finest terroirs for Mastroberardino’s final blend, but he assured the survival of many a contadino dependent upon these contracts to make a living off their grapes. Eventually, Molettieri set out on his own, choosing to focus his efforts on a small vineyard in the commune of Montemarano, which had been in the family for generations. His grandfather had farmed this very site, shipping bulk wine on the ferrovia del vino (wine railroad) to phylloxera-devastated France and northern Italy around the turn of the twentieth century. Having observed the genesis of many great vintages of Taurasi in his time with Mastroberardino, he had picked up key pointers to vinifying the hardy, rustic Aglianico grape, aging the wine in large casks for as long as necessary until he deemed it ready for bottling. Giovanni Molettieri released his first Taurasi under his own label in 1982. In 2005, Giovanni’s daughter, Giuseppa, took over management of the family vineyards. “Growing up, I was always around wine and often helped the family. I remember my parents telling me, ‘No school this week! It’s harvest.’ ” Giuseppa’s brother worked for several years alongside their father, but when he lost interest, she chose to pick up the pieces. “First, I tried doing things my own way. Then, I realized my father always knew best!” Nearing ninety years old, papà can still be found ambling about the vineyards and winery, watching over as Giuseppa carries forth the family legacy crafting stately, chiseled Aglianico from the high-altitude limestone slopes of Montemarano. Giuseppa bottles under a new label to differentiate her wines from the many other Molettieris of Montemarano, choosing instead to honor the town’s patron saint (Vescovo), but not much else has changed since her father’s inaugural vintage. She farms her four hectares without herbicides, using the traditional high pergola training system to protect the grapes from the meridional sun and ensure freshness in the wines. Crucially, she ages her reds for several years in neutral wood until Aglianico’s assertive tannins have reached a velvety apogee. At our request, she has bottled everything unfiltered, preserving vital pulp and fleshiness in reds known for being rather austere. Given their rich character and undeniable authenticity, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that each bottle from Terre del Vescovo contains a taste of Campanian wine history.
With a small plot of Coda di Volpe, a white grape native to Irpinia, Giuseppa makes a bit of bianco to supplement her stable of Aglianicos. Unpretentious and easy-drinking; perfumed of crisp stone fruit, Mediterranean herbs, and wildflowers.
Aged only four years before release, this young-vine Aglianico belies its humble appellation: chewy and dark with loads of bloody, briary wild fruit, along with remarkable freshness, this is one of the best values we import from anywhere.
Campi Taurasini is an Aglianico appellation with less stringent aging requirements than Taurasi—what Rosso di Montalcino is to Brunello. Having rested for several years in cask, this 2014 could be a Taurasi, but Giuseppa chooses to declassify all but the most sumptuous, powerful wines in her cellar. It feels rustic but has polished tannins, deftly sustaining a racy core of inky black fruit.
Planted in 1952, the Largo Madama parcel sits at high altitude and has precious water reserves in the subsoil—keys to producing fresh, balanced wines in a southern climate. Intensely fragrant, with a myriad of spices, black cherry, and licorice along with a nostalgic scent that recalls flipping through the pages of an old leatherbound book. A wine of imperial structure, built around a backbone of lively acidity and dense, chalky tannins.
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