25 May,2018 By Jagabond
“Anni e bicchieri di vino non si contano mai”
…or in English, ‘age and glasses of wine should never be counted.’ This speaks to the philosophy of life for many Italians. Enjoy life, minimize the stresses of work, and focus on the company of good friends and great wine.
I may never again live so close to such an amazing wine country. I’ve written previously about this region, and their underappreciated wines. For this excursion I spent 24 hours traversing the lush hills of Irpinia. I took in their great views and drank their amazing wine. I provide below a step-by-step itinerary.
Cantine Antonio Caggiano – Taurasi
This winery has a relatively recent history like most wineries in the region. The famous earthquake that hit Irpinia in 1980 destroyed many of the towns, including the building that now houses Cantine Antonio Caggiano. The owner rebuilt the wine cellar with remnants from the earthquake. As I waited for the tour to begin, I admired the art motif on the inside of the winery. The owner, Antonio, played a starring role in many of the paintings and photographs.
There was interesting art on the walls painted on small, metal squares. These were also leftover structural remains of the earthquake that were put to good use.
The artsy motif seen upstairs continued in the cellars. Roots crafted a depiction of a woman, old barrels transformed into light fixtures, and a nativity scene added a dose of spirituality.
I loved the ode to history in the cellars. Travel back in time with century-old equipment, like this scale from the days of selling wine by weight.
There was also a museum wing that displayed historical grape-harvesting machines, different types of cork, and an exhibition of corkscrews.
The tour closed with a wine tasting. Sample the region’s most famous wine, Taurasi, which is a deep, full-bodied red aged a minimum of three years.
Antico Castello – San Mango Sul Calore
Driving around Irpinia presents challenges. Your GPS often guides you to the wrong location (if you get a signal at all), and many of the roads are rough on your tires. I tried driving to Antico Castello last summer and never made it as Google maps led me down a labyrinth of roads more fitting for a tractor. This time I received detailed directions from the owner and found it with little difficulty. The winery is basically a large, beautiful house with stunning vineyards in the back.
The name of the winery means ‘old castle’ in honor of the nearby castle destroyed by the 1980 earthquake. The quake struck the town of San Mango Sul Calore hard, killing over 80 of its 1,000 inhabitants. This was more than just a tour, it was a wonderful time hanging out with a true wine family. A brother and sister team run all operations, and their mother prepares the food for the tastings. The family dog even greets you as you enter.
The large family room inside the house acted as the tasting area. I spent my time during the tasting chatting with the brother. We discussed the history of Irpinia and our shared love of travel. The food menu included whipped potatoes with mozzarella, local meats and peppers grilled with olive oil. Being a fan of whites, I loved their Fiano. The Taurasi reserve also impressed me, as I liked it much more than the one I tried at Antonio Caggiano.
This was my first time drinking Amarenico, and it blew me away. A local drink of the region, it’s a blend of Taurasi wine, black cherries and sugar. The resulting liquor is strong (30% alcohol) with just enough sweetness.
Hotel Il Ciliegio – Santo Stefano del Sole
After these two winery tours I suggest a short nap. Hotel Il Ciliegio is a ten minute drive from your next stop, making for the best strategic location. The hotel is in a very quiet area. Aside from the barking of farm dogs you likely won’t hear a peep. The grounds are pretty and there is free parking onsite. Rooms are cheap – 40 euro/night for two people.
Feudi di San Gregorio – Sorbo Serpico
This is the largest winery in Irpinia, producing four million bottles annually. My first exposure to their wine was at the Naples airport, as they operate two restaurants near the departure gates. The building is modern, with a style envisioned by a local Japanese designer. The mountain landscape provides a perfect backdrop for the vineyards.
They produce many wine varieties, including the most famous whites of the region Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo. One of their best wines, Campanaro, is a blend of these two. They also have a small production of Merlot, due to the accidental planting of the grape on their vineyards. The branding is top notch, as their bottles look sleek and attractive. There is a nice display of their wines in the cellar’s ‘wine museum’.
The winery also boasts a Michelin one-star restaurant, Marenna. Unlike most Michelin restaurants the price reflects the relative affordability of the region, costing only 80 euros per person, which includes the tour and wine pairings. It’s hard to make truly distinct pasta in Italy, but the ravioli here was a real winner. Pork and ricotta fill the handmade noodles, and caciocavallo cheese and pork rinds round out the perfect mix of flavors.
Panicoteca – San Michele di Serino
Drop your car at the hotel and take a short fifteen minute walk into the adjacent town for a nightcap. During the serene evening stroll you likely won’t even hear the sound of a car passing by. Panicoteca provides the only nightlife in town. They not only have an extensive selection of local wines, but exotic beers as well.
How to get there: Irpinia is only an hour drive from downtown Naples. All the towns I mentioned are within a short distance from each other. I strongly encourage a designated driver, as many of the roads in Irpinia are small and poorly maintained.