Vinitaly, the annual wine show devoted principally to Italian wines held in Verona, is always a great opportunity to uncover, discover and explore a bewildering range of regions, varieties and producers. The huge pavilions dedicated to the country’s regions are graced with both the magnificent stands of large, prestigious wineries and smaller, less ostentatious producers with small booths. It’s easy to walk kilometres every day and to lose yourself amongst the overwhelming scale of it all. However, a great place to discover some of the latter, smaller, independent producers is in the FIVI (Federazione Italiana Vignaioli Independenti – Italian Federation of Independent Winegrowers) zone.
One such producer was Emanuela Mastrodomenico of Basilicata’s Vigne Mastrodomenico, who took the time to show me her family’s wines and to tell me something of their activities on the ancient, extinct volcano of Vulture.
Emanuela initial calling led her, like so many from wine-making families, to study something completely different – in her case, law – before being entranced by wine and ending up in the family business after all. Once she’d caught the bug, Emanuela told me she read everything about winemaking she could get her hands on and is now firmly and passionately ensconced in the wine world. Her enthusiasm and passion glow around her, despite it being the last day of an exhausting Vinitaly, as she talks about Vulture and the wines they make there.
Five generations of the Mastrodomenico family have been growing grapes and making wine on the slopes of Vulture, but it was her father who really boosted everything 15 years ago with the first bottling of Likos, their Aglianico del Vulture DOC wine. Previously, they had really only produced wine for themselves, selling the excess grapes.
Nowadays, they farm eight hectares on a small hill overlooking the slopes of Mount Vulture. Their west-facing vineyards have plenty of exposure to the sun and are well ventilated by winds coming from the nearby sea, ensuring the grapes ripen well and remain healthy as well as aiding their ability to work organically. They do everything the traditional way, by hand, and with as little intervention as possible. The area, I learn, had been under the sea millennia ago and the volcano created very hard strata, thus conserving its marine deposits and layers of water amongst the rock, which they discovered when they broke through the rocks. Therefore, the vines also have access to a unique richness of nutrients as well as water throughout the hot summers.
Naturally, as they are on the Vulture, they produce Aglianico, the south’s answer to Nebbiolo, and only Aglianico, Emanuela informs me. The vines on the lower slopes had already been planted by her grandparents, whilst those higher up were planted by her father – this area had previously been given over to cereal.
A tribute to the past yet looking forward to the future
We begin with their unfiltered, cherry-hued IGT Rosato Fonte del Ceraso 2017, a lovely fresh wine bursting with cherry, redcurrants, raspberry and a floral note. Refreshing acidity, a touch of tannins, a good dose of stoniness and a spicy saline finish make this more than just your average summer quaffer. It’s a real wine, reflecting the power of Vulture Aglianico and also harkening back to the past, when it was actually more typical to make rosato on Vulture than rosso, and it was often spumante.
Emanuela dubs the Mòs Rosso Basilicata IGT 2016 the spirit of the volcano and says they decided to make this wine to show the purity of the Aglianico fruit produced on the Vulture’s unique terroir. Fermented in stainless steel and then aged in second use French oak for six months, Mòs is a fresh red-berry-dominated wine with plenty of minerals and spice. Lively acidity, well-managed tannins and beautiful, pure fruit on the palate. Intense and long, it would be the perfect match for the Caciocavallo di montagna cheese typical to Lucania – the ancient name for Basilicata.
Their Likos Agliancio del Vulture DOC is now only produced in the best years, from a special selection of old vines. We taste the 2015, which is rich and dense with chewy yet fine tannins. The intense nose of blackberry, blackcurrant and cherry underlain with plentiful herbs and spices and a touch of dark chocolate is reflected on the palate with bright acidity providing balance to this elegant wine with great ageing potential. I could imagine this with some Easter lamb or perhaps even a dark chocolate dessert.
Our final treat would be an even better pair for dark chocolate or perhaps some blue cheese. Shekàr Passito del Vulture 2012 is a meditation wine produced in limited quantities. The grapes are left to shrivel on the vine, having been selected and had their stems cut during the harvest, concentrating the sugars and further intensifying Aglianico’s already intense stature. The grapes are then macerated on their skins for 15 days, fermented in stainless steel and left to age in French oak for three years in their winery cut into the rock, whose constant temperature and humidity provides the perfect environment for the ageing of this majestic, innovative Aglianico. Beautifully fruity with an attractive tannic structure, plenty of spice and flowers as well as a burst of fresh acidity to balance the residual sugar. Truly a wine with which to contemplate the past, present and future of the magnificent Vulture and those who make wine there, with passion, respect and in harmony with nature, just like the Mastrodomenicos.
Thanks to Emanuela for the first three photos!