Something has been happening to me lately, which I welcome with open arms. For many years, I’ve heard tales of “The Barolo of The South”, otherwise known as Taurasi, made from the Algianico grape in the hills of Avellino, in the region of Campania. Yet, time and time again I would try these wines and find disappointment. Not in the quality of the wine, but in the anticipation of tasting “The Barolo of The South”, which in reality is quite a boast. How do you live up to such a title? Most Taurasi I would taste were of high quality–earthy, dark and full-bodied with structure to spare–but not Barolo.
But then something happened. It was a perfectly-stored, won-at-auction bottle of 1977 Mastroberardino Taurasi Riserva–and it changed my opinion of the wine forever. In its youth, tasting any wine that can live for 40+ years is a challenge, especially without a reference point. This wine was that reference point. Suddenly all of that rich, dark fruit (not sweet or ripe, mind you) contrasted against gobs of soil, minerality and vibrant acidity–suddenly everything started to make sense.
With elevations of 1800 feet and higher, the Algianico grape found the perfect home in these volcanic soils mixed with calcareous marls, strewn with limestone. The dark black fruit and smoky character of Taurasi makes it very easy to connect the wine to the place from which it’s grown, and its imposing tannin, while making them hard to understand in their youth, also lends a staying power that can carry them for decades in the cellar.
Did I mention that Taurasi usually costs about half the price of your average Barolo?
Now fast forward to today and the producer Salvatore Molettieri. In comparison to Mastroberardino (which is an article all to itself), Molettieri is much smaller in production and still a relative newcomer by Italian standards, with its first vintages released in the mid-eighties. However, the family itself spent four generations tending vineyards in the hills of Montemarano to produce grapes that were sold to the top names in the region. Salvatore, who is a humble man with the simple desire to create a great wine, decided to begin bottling his own production, with the first release in 1988.
To say that he succeeded in his quest for a great wine would be an understatement, as Molettieri is thought by most to be one of the top producers of Taurasi today, with the Cinque Querce vineyard considered to be his Grand Cru.
These are imposing wines in that austere, high-acid Italian way that I love. Yet there’s an elegance to them, which provides a level of enjoyment now, even though they beg for time in the cellar to express themselves properly. The nose is all black stone-earth (if black quartz had a smell, this would be it), with its fruit currently as an afterthought. The more I taste the wines of Molettieri, the more I want in my cellar, in hopes of one day finding the next 1977 Mastroberardino Riserva.
But is it the Barolo of the South? My short answer would be… No. Yet that’s because, in my opinion, Taurasi, and especially Molettieri, is good enough to stand all on its own–without the cliche.
On to the tasting notes:
2008 Salvatore Molettieri Taurasi Riserva Cinque Querce – The nose was intense with sweet spice, espresso bean, crushed black cherry, sweet herbs, dusty earth, and exotic floral tones. On the palate, it was firm and tense with concentrated cherry, blackberry, and dark chocolate drying out the senses with its youthful structure. It finished long and tense with hints of citrus and layers of tart cherry and blackberry fruit. This is in need of a decade in the cellar, yet it is so full of potential. (94 points) Find it at Morrell
2006 Salvatore Molettieri Taurasi Cinque Querce – The nose was deeply pitched yet still fresh, displaying blackberry, black cherry, exotic spice, graphite, dusty florals and earth, yet it remained so fresh. On the palate, I found silky textures with blackberry and a bitter twang of citrus, turning more angular toward the close, yet the tannins have pulled back with maturity. The finish was long with palate-staining blackberry and a touch bitter with hints of tart citrus and undergrowth. Beautifully done. (93 points) Find it at Morrell
2005 Salvatore Molettieri Taurasi Cinque Querce – The nose showed radiated dark earth, stone and minerals, with tart cherry and herbal notes rounding out the fruit. On the palate, soil-laden, sour red fruits with rich, focused concentration flowed across the senses. The tannins were chewy, but not overwhelming, leaving an impression of austere elegance. It finished with palate-staining dark red fruits and tannin, which slowly faded yet never seemed to disappear. Day two was even more enjoyable, as this wine darkened even more, while also taking on undergrowth and notes of mushroom, which continued to accentuate the experience. Earthy, so very Italian, and enjoyable to the last drop. (93 points)
2008 Salvatore Molettieri Taurasi Cinque Querce – The nose showed animal musk and undergrowth up front, turning to savory cherry sauce, smoke, dusty spice and dried flowers. On the palate, I found silky textures which soaked the senses, giving way to tart cherry with a hint of citrus. The finish was long with fine tannin gripping the senses yet not overwhelming. This is drop-dead gorgeous but still quite youthful, and it may one day deserve a higher score. (92 points)
2011 Salvatore Molettieri Aglianico Irpinia Cinque Querce – The nose showed cherry and blackberry fruit, with hints of graphite and floral undergrowth. It was rich and silky on the palate, with dark fruits, which were a touch bitter, as they should be in Aglianico. The finish was long with dark fruits, tart cherry, and inner floral tones. This is a tremendous value. (91 points)
Article, Photos and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido