I met Karen Phillips, an American wine writer who lives in Naples, last year at Mastroberardino's stand, where we tasted some impressive older wines. This year before Vinitaly she asked me to stop by some friends of hers, at a winery called Terre del Principe. It was my first stop, and an excellent beginning to the show.
Terre del Principe is in the Alto Casertano, between the Taburno and Monte Matese. The area is well ventilated, with sandy marine soils that are quite fossiliferous, and also contain clays and volcanic sediments.
They work with a number of older indigenous varietals, in particular Pellagrello, of which there are both white and red versions; in the white the bunches have small tightly packed berries that ripen very well if left to their own devices; they used to harvest at the end of September but now harvest earlier to obtain greater acidity from the grapes. They have been working the vineyards for more than 20 years, and have some vines on native, prephlloxera rootstock.
As is the case with many more obscure indigenous varietals, they initially had problems with the wine bureaucracy, which didn't recognize the varietal, and went so far as to fine them for putting its name on their labels. That is fortunately a thing of the past.
Pellagrello Rosso ripens later, in late October - early November. The grapes are thick skinned, and this is a good thing because the bunches are tightly packed, and the thickness of the skins helps protect the grapes from rot, as do the steady breezes. At harvest the grapes are covered with pruina (Watson kylephillips nacheroo), which makes them look pale
Pallagrello Rosso is an interesting varietal, which goes in a different direction than the French varietals; there's not that soft smoothness to the tannins one finds in Merlot (and to a lesser degree in cabernet) , but rather a degree of zesty aggressiveness.
Terre del Principe Fontanavigna Pallagrello Bianco IGT Terre del Vulturno 2010
This is fermented in steel. It's pale papery white with slight greenish reflections. The bouquet is delicate, and savory, with some mineral acidity and quite a bit of sea salt. Fresh, and considering how young, promising too. On the palate it's bright, with rich tropical fruit -- pineapple -- that's not sweet, however, and backed by considerable savory minerality that flows into a finish an Italian would say is sapido -- salty -- and this is a good thing. It will drink very well with fish, especially grilled or fried, and also with risotti and vegetable based pasta dishes -- not tomato, but green vegetable. A very pleasant discovery. Also is quite ageworthy.
Terre del Principe Le Sèrole Pallagrello Bianco IGT Terre del Vulturno 2010
This is a cru, and is barrel fermented , a long slow fermentation that takes several months with battonage, and is then bottled. This is the last vintage that they will be releasing the spring after the harvest -- the 2011 will be held in bottle for an additional year prior to release. Pale brassy yellow with brilliant brassy reflections. The bouquet is elegant, with considerable finesse, and delicate white flowers with some savory minerality, though it's not as pronounced as in the basic wine. Harmonious. On the palate it's elegant, with rich pineapple fruit that is again not sweet, supported by considerable minerality that is slightly more polished, an effect of barrel fermentation, and also savory accents that are present but not as brash. If the former was a bit of a tomboy, here she has an evening gown and the transformation is impressive. Very nice, and will work well with foods, fish but also white meats, and vegetable dishes, and would be nice as an aperitif too.
This is Pallagrello Nero and Casavecchia, the other varietal they work with
Terre del Principe Roseto del Volturno IGT Terre del Volturno 2010
Pale pink with white rim. The bouquet is muted, though swishing brings up some minerality and tart acidity. On the palate it's delicate, with moderately intense savory raspberry fruit -- savoriness considerable here too -- and by tannins that are light, and it flows into a decidedly savory finish. Pleasant, in a light simple key, and will drink quite quickly with summer foods, would be a good picnic wine or with simple summer dishes such as -- thinking of Tuscany -- panzanella. Expect it to go quickly. More savory and less fruity than some.
Terre del Principe Castello delle Femmine IGT Terre del Volturno 2009
Near their winery there is a castle that has a castrum femminarium, where young women went to learn how to be sirens before being admitted Alfonso d'Aragona. Hence the name of the wine, which is a blend of Pallagrello Nero and Casavecchia; it's fairly deep ruby with black highlights and brilliant ruby reflections, and has a deft bouquet with ripe red berry fruit supported by graphite shavings and slight iodine with mineral acidity and some sea salt. On the palate it's medium bodied, with moderately intense rather dry berry fruit supported by tannins that are fairly dry, and flow into a clean dry finish. There's a hint of balsam to it, and chestnut leaf bitterness that is grape not wood,a nd because of it I wouldn't recommend one drink the wine by the glass far from the table. It will however work quite well with foods -- meats with red sauces, for example, or rich pasta dishes -- supporting rather than hogging the stage, and go quickly.
Terre del Principe Lambruco Pallagrello Nero IGT Terre del Volturno IGT 2008
Deep pigeon blood ruby with garnet highlights and purple in the rim. The bouquet is fairly rich, with red berry fruit supported by toasted hazelnuts and spice, with a fair amount of alcohol as well, and peppery spice. On the palate it's fairly rich, with berry fruit supported by moderately intense tannins that have a dusky overlay that's more grape than oak, and flow into a clean cedar laced finish with some toasted almonds and lasting warmth. It's charged -- lots of alcohol -- and isn't a wine to be drunk by the glass, but will drink well with hearty roasts or stews, and will also age nicely for 3-5 years.
Terre del Principe Centomoggia Terre del Volturno IGT 2008
This is Casavecchia, an indigenous varietal of the Province of Caserta that draws its name from the discovery of a vine near a Roman house, hence the name. It's present in the older vineyards, but little else is known about it. Impenetrable pyrope with cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly rich, with prune and plum fruit, a mix of ripe and slightly dried, supported by alcohol and some cedar with a fair mount of peppery spice as well. Nicely balanced and fairly fresh. On the palate it's fairly rich, with clean bright prune fruit supported by savory notes and moderate mineral acidity that flows into a clean fresh savory finish with some tannic underpinning that has a mix of cedar and vanilla to it, from grapes. Pleasant, and an interesting discovery; it's the sort of wine that will attract wine lovers because it's unusual, and that their friends will then enjoy, assuming they drink it with a hearty stew, or a pot roast even.
Terre del Principe Vigna Piancastelli Terre del Volturno IGT 2008
This is a blend of Pallagrello and Casavecchia from a single vineyard, and every year the label, done by an artist friend, changes. It spends 12 months in barriques and is bottle aged for another 18 prior to release. The bouquet is fairly rich, with alcohol and berry fruit supported by balsamic notes and some sea salt, with underlying spice as well. On the palate it's full and rich, and also a touch sweet -- some of the Pallagrello grapes are late harvested in December, and this has an impact -- with smooth sweet tannins and fairly bright acidity that flow into a clean fresh finish. It's quite elegant, and more polished than the other wines, and is also more approachable, thanks to the sweetness, which also confers a rich smoothness to it. In short, if you're traditionally minded and have experience with Campanian wines it isn't necessarily your glass. However, if you're more generally minded and enjoy rich nicely fruit driven wines you will enjoy it considerably. In terms of accompaniments, hearty stews and roasts.
Terre del Principe Vigna Piancastelli Terre del Volturno IGT 2007
Impenetrable pyrope -- poured ink -- with violet pyrope rim. The bouquet is deft, with rich prune plum fruit supported by some cedar and delicate spice; it's quite harmonious, and as it opens some graphite shavings also emerge. On the palate it's bright, with slightly richer fruit than the 2008 -- more berry fruit and a touch more acidity -- supported by moderately intense smooth sweet tannins and by fairly bright acidity that flows into a clean bright sour cherry plum finish. Pleasant, and will drink quite well with roasts or stews; it is a bit brighter than the 2008, and a touch defter on its toes, though it displays a similar richness and approachability, and the comments for the 2008 vintage also apply, perhaps even to a greater degree.
Terre del Principe impressed me enough that upon leaving the stand I immediately looked about for others pouring Pallagrello and came across Nanni Cope, a young winemaker who has recently begun working with vineyards dating to the 80s -- and therefore mature -- which are planted atop sandstones, which are less fertile than the volcanic soils commonly found in Campania.
Nanni Copé Sabbie di Sopra il Bosco Terre del Bosco Terre del Volturno IGT 2008
This is a blend of Pallagrello with some Aglianico and a touch of Casavecchia; it's impenetrable pyrope with slight hints of almandine -- the color is a touch orange. The bouquet is intense, and brooding, with balsam-laced spice and red berry fruit supported by minerality and savory notes, with hints of lathered horse as well. On the palate it's medium bodied, and deft, with lively acidity supporting sour cherry fruit and tannins that are decidedly savory, and flow into a warm savory tannic finish with considerable minerality. It's quite deft, and very fresh, and also particular; if you like the style, which is bright and brash, you will enjoy it considerably. If you prefer smoother softer wines it will leave you perplexed, tho9ugh if you give it some thought you may find yourself enjoying it. If you are instead more traditionally minded (for want of a better term) you will enjoy it considerably.
Nanni Copé Sabbie di Sopra il Bosco Terre del Bosco Terre del Volturno IGT 2009
Slightly deeper ruby that has more purple to it -- youth. The bouquet is rich, with elegant sour red berry fruit supported by minerality and some savory accents and pleasant acidity. Considerable finesse, and brighter than the 2008. On the palate it's medium bodied and bright, with lively sour berry fruit supported by bright sour cherry acidity that has some brambly greenish accents, and by tannins that are smooth and glancing, and flow into a long warm sour berry fruit finish. Quite pleasant in a bright scrappy key, and will drink very well with roasts or stews, or even an elegant platter of fried meats and vegetables. It's not a wine for everyone, but if you like brash bright wines you will enjoy it very much.
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