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.
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…
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).
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