In the wine world, some villages get all the love: Barolo, Barbaresco, Montalcino. Others remain unknown even in Italy. Taurasi, tucked away in hilly Irpinia barely 2 hours east of Naples, is one of them. And after tasting the wines of Taurasi, you’ll agree: these wines are the best-kept secret in the wine world because those in the know like to keep them that way. How else can you explain the fact that these flavorful, long-lived, well-structured wines that can rival the best reds from the Center and the North at a fraction of the price remain unknown to most consumers?
The village of Taurasi, located in mountainous Irpinia barely two hours inland from the sunny Amalfi Coast, gives name to the most famous DOCG in Southern Italy. But you would never guess that driving down the main street of the village. Yes, there are road signs for wineries. But those signs pale in comparison to the ones for mozzarella and torrone (nougat), the most famous products of Campania.
But back in Taurasi, the outside has stayed outside. The large barrel at one of the village entrances hints this is a wine-making village. But there are no wine stores, no tasting rooms, no tourist shops. But don’t let this fool you. This is the epicenter of the Southern Italian wine rebirth.
The reds of Taurasi, made from the native aglianico grape, are some of the most characterful wines in Italy. They can be approachable and easy drinking (usually labeled Irpinia Aglianico) or full-bodied, brooding, and long-lived (DOCG Taurasi). But whether they are young-drinking or require decades in bottle, aglianico wines are always interesting and thought-provoking. One whiff of good aglianico and you’ll be hooked: aromas of earth, tar, blackberries, and chocolate combine into unforgettable taste memories.
They are wines that reflect the topography of their native land: dark, brooding, and intense like the forests of hilly Irpinia. But like Irpinia itself, once you bravely make an effort to get to know them, these wines open up, revealing layers of tradition and history, loads of flavors that continue to seduce long after the glass is empty.
These wines are also very food friendly. The lighter ones marry well with pasta with meat sauce and even savory pies. The fuller-bodied Taurasi, best enjoyed at least several years from the vintage date, are serious wines that perfectly complement the robustness of red meat roasts or aged cheeses.
So, next time you are at the wine store, look for Taurasi. The best-known producers export to the U.S. and their wines are worth a try: Mastroberardino, Feudi di San Gregorio, Terredora, Antonio Caggiano, Salvatore Molettieri. Or seek out the lesser known, but no less delicious wines of Tenuta Cavalier Pepe, Quintodecimo, Cantine di Meo, Struzziero.
Or, better yet, plan a trip to this less-traveled part of Italy, easily accessed on the A16, which cuts across the mainland connecting Naples to Bari. Get lost on the curvy roads of Irpinia, enjoy its wild beauty and taste some of the life-altering wines made with passion and dedication.
And when you drive through Taurasi, don’t forget to stop at the Enoteca just off the main piazza. Here, in the dark back room, my heart beat always quickens as I carefully handle dusty bottles of old Taurasi vintages: 1997, 1999, 2000 torn between wines I know and love and those I have yet to know. And let this be our secret…
Viktorija Todorovska, Cookbook Author, Wine Educator, Sommelier. Since her days of stomping grapes when her family made wine from obscure Macedonian grapes, Viktorija has been interested in the magic of wine. She writes about food and wine, her first cookbook was The Puglian Cookbook. Her next cookbook tells the story of Sardinia, a beautiful Mediterranean island shrouded in mystique. For more information, visit www.olivacooking.com and www.mywinesmarts.com.