Following the Evolution of Terra Di Lavoro

Italy’s diversity is truly a special thing. The fact is that a wine lover could lose themselves in Italian wine. I often believe that I would have done just that had it not been for my involvement in the wine industry over the past decade. What Italy has that no other nation can lay claim to is a seemingly endless list of both indigenous and international varieties which all react in wonderfully unique ways throughout the country’s many expressions of terroir. What’s more, as Italy was once a nation of city states, each one with its own culture, traditions, dialects and cuisine, their winemaking ideals and practices differ from place to place, just as dramatically as the scenery changes.

Then there is the history, which is rivaled by none other. We often talk about the expansion of the Roman empire and the effect that it had on Europe as they organized and planted vineyards throughout the continent. However, in the south of Italy, winemaking predates the Romans, as the Etruscans and Greeks colonized the region, bringing their viticulture along with them. Imagine living a life of wine in Italy, backed by the experiences of over 2500 years of winemakers before you. Italy’s endless diversity suddenly starts to make a lot sense, as does their ability to create truly soulful wines in nearly every price point.

The Genesis of Italy’s Top Cult Wine

It was with this history in mind, in a location that was steeped in traditions going back to the first Greek colonies, that the Galardi winery was founded in 1991 by three cousins and their families, Maria Luisa Murena and Roberto Selvaggi, along with Dora and Arturo Celentano and Francesco Catello. With a tremendous love for Campania and its native varieties, the two families combined their resources, bringing on Riccardo Cotarella as their consultant, and began to define the blend and plant the vineyards that would one day become Terra di Lavoro. The gently cascading hills surrounding the Volcano of Roccamonfina were chosen, from which you could actually see the Gulf of Gaeta off in the distance. In the beginning, the winery was a garagiste operation, but it didn’t take long before international acclaim followed–however, I am getting ahead of myself.

The choice of bringing on Riccardo Cotarella may seem odd to the Italophile, as he gained international recognition for a popular (at the time), yet almost “normalized” style of Italian wine, particularly introducing Merlot to nearly everything he touched. However, what Riccardo brought to the picture instead was a sincere love for the south of Italy and its untamed potential in the International wine scene. When you think back to the early nineties, much of what came from regions outside of Barolo and Montalcino were looked upon as wild, rustic and often unbalanced. Riccardo’s vision was to create a wine that would blend two of the region’s most historic varieties, Aglianico and Piedirosso, while also having the power, refinement and structure to be considered a wine of serious importance.

The Importance of the Blend: Aglianico & Piedirosso

It’s easy to see why someone would choose the late-ripening Aglianico for this region, with its volcanic soils between 1400 – 1600 feet above sea level, where the warmth of the Italian south is offset by moderating influences of the nearby Mediterranean and the cooling winds that funnel down from the surrounding mountains. This was the ideal location. But why Piedirosso? We find the answer in Taurasi, also within Campania, also made with Aglianico, and benefiting from soils of volcanic origins and cooling influences. If you look back at Taurasi, before the DOC was formed, Piedirosso was seen as the ideal blending partner for Aglianico, softening the austere tannins of the wine while elevating its acidity and adding an almost-savory wildberry tone. Somehow this perfect union of varieties was lost in the bureaucracy of wine law and politics.

With the blend in place and the vineyards situated, the Galardi winery began production, first releasing a bottled wine in 1993; however it was only in 1994 that they created the iconic Terra di Lavoro. At first it was an insider’s cult wine, coming from a region that few collectors outside of Italy had ever heard of, and sporting a profile that combined dark, rich fruit with masses of earth, tobacco, forest floor and elevated acidity–it’s easy to see how the common wine lover would pass on the wine after tasting it in its youth. What it took was the time necessary to watch Terra di Lavoro evolve.

Galardi had created something that was both new yet also steeped in tradition, in a region where no one else was creating a wine that could compare to Terra di Lavoro. The closest comparison would be Taurasi, which at the time was suffering from its own problems, with its most esteemed producer, Mastroberardino, going through growing pains, and the overtly oaked and concentrated Feudi di San Gregorio flooding the market. The Galardi winery simply had to pay its dues and trust that time would bring the rewards that they had hoped for–and it did.

In August of 1999, Robert Parker of The Wine Advocate rated the 1997 Terra di Lavoro 95 points, while also mentioning that there would only be fifty cases for the entire U.S. market. Let’s keep in mind that in 1999, a 95-point score was no laughing matter. Next came the 1998 at 96 points, and again with the 1999. As if that wasn’t enough, the 2001 then received a 99-point score in The Wine Advocate from Daniel Thomases. Suddenly, collectors were scurrying to secure bottles, stimulated by the combination of scores and limited availability. This continued for years, and the fate of Terra di Lavoro seemed assured.

There was only one problem

What most collectors didn’t realize was the amount of patience that the wine required. As an active member of Cellartracker and constantly in conversations with other wine lovers, I cannot recount the amount of times that a bottle of Terra di Lavoro would be opened 3-4-5 years after release, only to receive minimal praise and often confusion from the taster. Remember that this is Aglianico that we’re talking about, the same grape that makes Taurasi, a wine that is also misunderstood in its youth, yet can last and improve in the cellar for decades. With the sheen of new oak (70%) that Terra di Lavoro receives, it’s quite enjoyable in its very young state, but then goes into a period of dormancy, where the wine can seem overly dark, earthy, ashen and almost feral. It’s a wine of patience. Patience being a virtue that isn’t often shared by score-chasers of past decades.

Whether the winery realized it or not at the time, Terra di Lavoro was slowly losing momentum in the United States. It had become a wine that you could easily find at retail, with back vintages available online and often at release prices. The wine hadn’t changed, but the market did. The results, even I can attest to, were bottles of Terra di Lavoro that sat in collectors’ cellars, as we waited for word that the wines were ready to drink.

You can only imagine how happy I was when I learned of a vertical tasting that was coming through New York City, hosted by La Pizza Fresca, with Allegra Selvaggi in attendance. This was my chance to taste all of those vintages that were maturing in my cellar, without fear of opening one of my bottles.

The Broad Perspective

First and foremost, it’s important to know that Galardi is slowly integrating the next generation into the mix, with Allegra taking on the role of Marketing Strategies and International Relations. Allegra brings a fresh set of youthful eyes to the company, coming from a background in the energy sector with ten years of experience working with a worldwide view. The marketing changes at Galardi are already apparent, with a new website under construction and vertical tastings, such as the one I attended, popping up around the world. The fact is that this is exactly what the company needed: exposure, an open line of communication with customers, giving them the ability to taste and understand the wines.

As for Terra di Lavoro, with the exception of the riper vintages, I couldn’t have been happier. Each vintage required time in the glass to shed some of the initial dark, intense fruit, but once they did, I was treated to layer after layer of tobacco, ash, florals, minerals and earth. The younger vintages still showed some wood, yet it never got in the way, as it accentuated the nose and only helped to temper the intensity of firm tannin on the palate.

My takeaway is that I’m very happy to know that there are many vintages of Terra di Lavoro resting in my cellar. I’m sure other longtime collectors can say the same thing, and they’ll be happy to know that with a little patience, and following reports such as the one below, there are a number of vintages that are just waiting to be opened. What’s more, the new 2015 vintage of Terra di Lavoro is drop-dead gorgeous!

I believe we’re witnessing a new day–a rebirth–of Galardi and Terra di Lavoro, and while it may not hold the “cult” status that it once did, it is indeed a major contender from Italy’s south.

On to the Tasting Notes

Galardi Terra di Lavoro 2001 – The bouquet was a mix of dried cherries with dusty earth and minerals, crushed stone, brown spices and hints of animal musk. On the palate, I found silky textures with a mix of red and blackberries, as hints of olive and savory herbs came forward. Its acidity was more forward than expected, making this a better wine with food than without. The finish was medium-long with a display of dried red fruit and floral tones. The ‘01 showed mature, with its fruit starting to dry, yet it was perfectly layered and still full of life. (93 points)

Galardi Terra di Lavoro 2003 – The nose was dark and brooding, almost sappy even, as ripe black cherry and dried plum gave way to balsamic spices, crushed stone and hints of animal musk. On the palate, I found dark, almost-syrupy textures, with notes of prune, green olive, and black fruits overpowering the senses. A twang of heat showed through on the finish, as sappy dark fruits and savory herbal tones slowly faded. Having tasted from two separate bottles, I believe the ‘03 is simply the product of its warm vintage and has probably already seen its best days. (86 points)

Galardi Terra di Lavoro 2004 – The ‘04 was cool and classic, with gorgeous fresh cherry giving way to crushed blackberry, smoky ash, earth, and minerals, as the wine gained richness with time in the glass. On the palate, I found silky, polished textures with a mix of dark red and black fruits, balancing acidity and sweet inner floral tones. A mix of fine tannin and acid clenched the finish to a small degree, yet with youthful potential, as sweet cherry, balsamic spice, and dark inner florals lingered long. (95 points)

Galardi Terra di Lavoro 2005 – The nose showed spiced black cherry and black tea undertones with an incredibly fresh and sweetly red floral display. On the palate, I found silky textures offset by lively acid, which added energy to the wine’s sweet cherry fruit, as inner florals evolved and fine tannin settled in on the senses. The finish was long with saturating cherry and spice, while cleansing acidity added balance, leaving inner floral tones in its wake. This was without a doubt the most giving wine of the night, finding a mix of balance and seated comfortably in its drinking window. (96 points)

Galardi Terra di Lavoro 2006 – The nose was dark and rich with herbal-infused blackberry and haunting florals giving way to layers of balsamic spice, moist earth, marine-inspired minerals, and a hint of green stem. On the palate, I found silky, cool-toned textures with a mix of black fruits, violet florals and sage. Fine tannin coated the senses yet maintained freshness through vibrant acids, as the finish lingered long with crushed black fruit, minerals and woodsy tones. I believe the 2006 to be the underdog of the surrounding vintages, as it’s currently still a bit backward and with a green streak that I particularly like, and likely to continue on a positive path in the cellar. (94 points)

Galardi Terra di Lavoro 2008 – Here I found an intense display, maybe too much so, with baked black cherry and exotic spice giving way to sweet dusty florals in a particularly ripe expression. On the palate, I found rich, velvety textures, showing masses of black fruits and sweet herbs in a slick and weighty display. The finish was long and dark with a tinge of heat, as spiced black cherry faded from the senses. The acidity carried the weight of the 2008, yet its ripeness and scale makes me fear it will mature in the direction of the 2003. I hope to taste this again in the near future, thinking this may have been an off bottle, especially considering the critical praise it received upon release. (88 points)

Galardi Terra di Lavoro 2010 – Here I found a gorgeous expression of power, complexity and refinement. The nose showed black raspberry with savory herbs, giving way to layers of cedar, cherry wood, mulled apple and crushed stone. On the palate, I found silky textures with lifting acidity, as zesty blackberry and balsamic spices washed across the senses, leaving a complex web of tannin in their wake. It was remarkably balanced and spicy, showing lingering black fruits and hints of fine tannin on the long, long finish. It’s a classic in the making. (96 points)

Galardi Terra di Lavoro 2011 – The 2011 was forward and intense, yet it maintained wonderful balance, considering its ripeness. Here I found notes of plum with ripe cherry, brown spices, tobacco and sweet herbs. On the palate, silky, dark textures with cool-toned black fruit gave way to saturating spice and minerals. Zesty acidity maintained balance and accentuated the wine’s spicy nature along with a twang of bitter herbs. The finish was long, showing tart cherry with a coating of young tannin, yet it was still fresh and lively. This may not be the longest-lived Terra di Lavoro, but it has the potential to give a lot of pleasure for many years to come. (93 points)

Galardi Terra di Lavoro 2015 – The nose was intense with cool-toned blackberry and cherry giving way to dusty spice, wild herbs, violets and a hint of wet pavement. On the palate, I found soft textures spiced up through lively acids and minerals, with notes of ripe black cherry and brown sugar touching upon all of the senses. The finish was long and structured yet zesty, as black fruits and mineral tones slowly melted away. The 2015 comes across as both a ripe vintage, as well as an intensely structured wine, which should provided balanced aging over the medium-term. (94 points)

Credits and Resources

Article, Tasting Notes & Photos of The Event by: Eric Guido

Thank you to the Galardi Winery for added Photos and Information

Thank you to La Pizza Fresca for organizing the Terra di Lavoro vertical

For a Wine Collector’s Best Online Tool, Visit: CellarTracker

View The Selection of Galardi Terra di Lavoro at: Morrell Wine

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