When wine calls, I follow. Intrigued by descriptions of stellar wines and stunning scenery, I gladly let vino lead me to Naples for the 13th annual Vitigno Italia festival. More than just a showcase for wine, Vitigno Italia was a vivacious celebration of the unique culture of the south of Italy. An ancient city with a modern edge, Naples is the capital of the Campania region and Italy's third largest city.
From the volcanic peaks of Mt. Vesuvio to the blue Mediterranean waters that caress its coast, from the bustling crowds strolling & shopping along the elegant & energetic Via Toledo to the quiet piazzas where locals meet for an aperitivo, Naples is a city of charming contrasts. A bilingual city where its own melodic Neapolitan language co-exists with Italian, Naples is nature and modernity, chaos and calm; and Vitigno Italia captured all of these qualities.
image courtesy of WikiWand
When was the last time you attended a wine tasting in a Medieval castle? Naples' oldest standing fortification, the majestic seaside Castel dell'Ovo was the spectacular venue for Vitigno Italia. For three days (May 21-23), thousands of attendees strolled the Castle to taste a variety of wines from the south of Italy and other regions. Vitigno Italia also showcased a selection of Italian cheeses, cured meats, and other delicacies. A festival without attitude, Vitigno Italia had a welcoming and energetic vibe that attracted multi-generations, couples, singles, many local residents, and tourists.
Yes, Vitigno Italia is a great party but it is also very serious about the business of wine. The festival's Napoli Wine Challenge, led by a judging panel that included prestigious Italian wine writers Daniele Cernilli (Doctor Wine), Chiara Giorleo, and Luciano Pignataro, used a blind tasting format for the final selection of five wines that were honored as the best in their category. (I was honored to be a member of this esteemed judging panel. Visit Chiara's website for the list of winners.) At Vitigno Italia, wine producers also had the important opportunity to meet with an international delegation of buyers from Asia, the Middle East, and other European nations, who would consider exporting their wines abroad.
Stefano Carbone (press official for Vitigno Italia) and a delighted festival attendee enjoy a glass of wine poured by the one-and-only Alessandro Scorsone - the official sommelier of Italian Parliament. (Yes, the Italian government has a sommelier. Can we please do this in the United States?)
Massimo Setaro of Casa Vinicola Setaro and his prize-winning Caprettone Spumante Metodo Clasico from Vesuvio. This unique and elegant sparkling wine, produced from the indigenous Caprettone grape, won the sparkling wine category at Vitigno Italia's Napoli Wine Challenge.
I was first introduced to Ilaria Pettito of Donnachiara when she was in New York City last year promoting her family's superb wines. It was a wonderful surprise to see Ilaria, and her partner in life & business, Francesco De Rienzo at Vitigno Italia. Their participation showed that Vitigno Italia is indeed considered a very important event for the region's winemakers. Donnachiara produces some of the most acclaimed wines in the Campania region. Their vineyards in Montefalcione, an ancient village in the Avellino province, have been in Ilaria's family for 150 years. Their wine portfolio includes elegant expressions of Fiano de Avellino, Greco di Tufo, and Taurasi.
The legendary volcano Vesuvio (Vesuvius) is perhaps Naples' most famous resident and this force of nature also lends its name to the Vesuvio DOC. Ciro Giordano of Cantine Olivella is also president of the Consorzio Tutela Vini Vesuvio. The wines of the Vesuvio DOC were well-represented at Vitigno Italia. One of the unique wines that I tasted at Vitigno Italia was Cantina Olivella's "Katá" - a white wine made from the Catalanesca grape. Catalanesca has its roots in Spain and was brought to the Napoli region in the 15th century.
Winemaker Maurizio Russo of Cantina del Vesuvio proudly shows the mineral-rich black soil of his vineyard on the slopes of Vesuvio - one of the benefits of being so close to a volcano. Wines from Vesuvio have a defined mineral character that add elegant and earthy textures and flavors. The Cantina del Vesuvio portfolio includes Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio which is produced from the indigenous grapes Caprettone (white) and Piedirosso (red).
While in Naples, I took a short excursion to Pompei to explore the legendary ancient city that was destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvio in 79 AD. In addition to the Roman ruins of the homes, market, and spa; there are several small vineyards on the property that recreate the viticulture of that time. This exciting project is managed by Mastroberardino winery and winemaker Antonio Capone was my gracious tour guide for the day. Antonio eloquently described Vesuvio as a "devil and an angel" - capable of great destruction but also enriching the soil to grow rich grapes that beautifully express the terroir. Mastroberardino produces a limited number of bottles of these very special wines from Pompei.
Thank you to everyone at Vitigno Italia, the Consorzio Tutela Vini Vesuvio, the Italian Trade Commission, and all of the welcoming Neapolitans who made my first visit to the south of Italy so memorable. If you've been thinking of visiting Naples, I highly recommend going to Vitigno Italia 2018. Let wine lead you to Naples and so much more will be revealed. Cheers!