Campania

Don Chisciotte at The Remedy Bar in Fitzrovia, London

2015-07-07 22.05.38

 

A brilliant Fiano from Campania at The Remedy in Fitzrovia (Warren St tube). If I had to taste this blind, I would never know it was a Fiano. The herbal character and the remarkable texture get under your skin leaving you wanting more. Never the same vintage. A very unusual wine, a natural wine, and I love it.

Hint: Ask for the red wine list under counter for rare gems at low margins.

Beautiful Gestures in Campania

After paying for a ticket to see the Palace in Caserta I asked, why is the main entrance in darkness?

To give you an idea of the opulence and amount of marble of this entrance, this is the same place that is used as stand-in for the Vatican in films and also used as a set for Star Wars.

Yet when we arrived, we had to climb the marble stairs in darkness, reducing the grandest staircase I have ever seen to a hollow echo-chamber. The fabulous silk curtains were almost threadbare and sun-damaged, the walls cracked and scuffed.

My friend Emi from Rome, resting on the empty guard's seat in the palace.

Despite this neglect, every room overwhelmed, as if outdoing the previous room in their lavish praise to gold. My calves ached from the amount of walking on marble; it must have been kilometres.

 

There is also something of this forgotten glamour and grandness to the wines here. I tasted some true greats in Campania. They are unquestionably brilliant but… it is like talking on a radio in a power cut. And just as frustrating. It’s not well known and there seems to be a communication breakdown somewhere. For such grandness in the glass, these should be in every serious cellar.

 

After sightseeing at the palace, we visited a friend who runs a few designer fashion shops in town. At his house, he had a cellar of local Campanian wines and I was thrilled he opened and talked about them with me. He wore a hankerchief in his pocket of his very beautiful tailored suit and on the way to dinner walked through the town collecting friends as stylishly and coolly as a character in Reservoir Dogs (English speakers need to consult a dictionary to understand Neapolitan hand-gestures). He dripped with a style that I see in photos of my grandparents but very rarely see today on people my own age: handmade and tailored.

 

We walked into the bar for a quick espresso before dinner. As we walked in, a man walking out said, “Whatever they are having, I’ll pay.” We went to an excellent seafood restaurant and the wines were organised all beforehand. The owner brought out wine after wine for us to try…

Doceassaje by Vinosia

Most of the dinner centred around seafood and a white wine called DOCEASSAjE – a blend of Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo, made by Vinosia (this is quite easily available in UK). Like cool honey, I exclaimed in my basic Italian to many bravissimi at the table and a round of applause.

 

Eating in Italy can be more like theatre compared to the usual stay-at-home DVD experience. The theatre of the table.

 

No one liked the pasta. I thought it was fine, not the best, but fine. But judging by the dark looks around the table, I was worried about the job security of the Chef. These guys took their pasta very seriously.

 

For me, every course of food and wine was like the next room in the palace. One course after another of glamorous indulgence and many unexpected courses. These twists and turns which keep the night interesting and moving.

 

We ended the night opening aglianico and aglianico-blends, grappa, and a few cigars (of course, I don’t smoke cigars but but the bitterness of the tobacco adds an extra level to the taste of the wine).

Mastroberardino Radici 1987 from Taurasi region

Tasting an Aglianico such as this one from the absolute master Mastroberardino is the same ecstasy as tasting Barolo for the first time. It is rare to see Aglianico with age; it is not heavy and dense, but the flavours fall gently onto the palate like ash falling from a volcano: tobacco, cherry and licorice.

For a wine lover, this region is like stumbling upon an empty palace full of gold and velvet. There are a few good wines imported into the UK, but many of the region is like a cultural treasure left to its own devices. When the whole world is moving towards bland, why is Italy’s cultural richness left to the elements? Unlike the important infrastructure that was so fundamental to the development of Tuscany as a region, there is nothing as maintained and reliable as the autostrade 1 south of Naples.

At the train station in Caserta, on the way back to Rome, I thought, do I have to leave? I wistfully looked at the train timetable at the slow trains heading further south…

Image: SUPPLEMENTO AL DIZIONARIO ITALIANO by Bruno Munari

New Italian wines at The Wine Society: bella figura!

The concept of ‘bella figura’ or good image is important to Italians. Bella figura is more than dressing well. It extends to the aura you project too – i.e. confidence, style, demeanour, etc. (From Italy – Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette)

The Wine Society UK has found its Members wines that not only speak of the place but also have an extra flourish of bella figura. You’ll find nearly all of The Wine Society’s Italian wines for Spring have personality and speak of its place and history; in particular, the white wines. At these prices, and in these quantities, that is quite an achievement. Here is the line up for Spring:  Read More »

New Italian Wine range at Marks & Spencer

“What is it? Why does he have to shout? Why!” The Queen turned to say to noone in particular at the G20 Conference in 2009. The collective groan could be heard all the way from Italy after President Berlusconi shouted across The Throne Room in Buckingham Palace to introduce himself to the new US President Obbammmmaaa.

Which brings me to the Marks & Spencer Spring Tasting. One word came to me while walking away: Read More »

Last of the True Romantics: Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio DOC

Often my friend from Rome, perhaps while we are walking down the street to the supermarket on a grey Saturday morning, will abruptly stop, hold his hand over his heart, grab my elbow to jolt me back and say with eyes wide open in shock, “Did you see THAT? That’s IT! I AM IN LOVE!” Meanwhile, of course, his love walks by completely unaware of the near cardiac arrest just caused. To be honest, I often don’t see what all the fuss is about, but for a moment, at least, the day seems just a little brighter for it.
I have to be careful when we are tasting wine together. His sensitivity to beautiful things means he is often in raptures. That’s why, to tone down his enthusiasm about the good wine we tried from the Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio DOC in Campania, I started to talk about rocks and soil types in vineyards.
In particular, the soil type of Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio – near the volcano Mount Vesuvius – which can often be found in most houses on the shelf next to the bathtub: pumice.
As much as I LOVE wines from volcanic regions, the pumice in the bathroom is the closest I have ever got to a real volcano. Stay with me! To understand the pumice soil of Lacryma Christi is to understand the taste of the wine. Like pumice, the wine has a porous, light quality to it, which keeps the fruit in check throughout an entire three-course meal. Whereas some non-volcanic wines from hotter climates can have slightly syrupy or baked characters (with the sun creating ripe fruit with high alcohol) which becomes too much after one glass, especially with a heavy pasta. It could be said it’s the difference in weight between an Aero bar and a plain bar of milk chocolate.
The ornate name, Lacryma Christi (Tears of Christ) del Vesuvio leads you to expect tears of hot, lava flowing with an opening blast of heat, followed by slow and heavy molten lava fruit. And that’s what you don’t get. To be fair, the lightness is not worse for it. Not at all. It is light as the feeling of joy is light. This is a wine that would be more than perfect in a little Italian restaurant with red and white checked tablecloths. It is highly romantic and yet modest, and it does what most good Italian wines do – it leaves space for food and a good story. It doesn’t quite pass by unnoticed and it is not quite as simple as a – ciao bello! SMACK! – but certainly makes the evening a little brighter for it.
Image: Sophia Loren 1961 on the Amalfi Coast, Life Magazine