A few weeks back Devon Masciangelo of Brand New Day Wines and Spirits asked if I would have the time to taste through the full portfolio of Vini Alois. I first met Massimo Alois in the fall of 2014 when the Italian Trade Commission rolled out the red carpet at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall for the 19th annual tasting of Wines from Italy. At the time I was struck by Massimo’s varietal Cassavecchia called Trebulanum.
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Last March a varietal Pallagrello Nero showed up through a VINTAGES In-Store-Discovery release and once again the light went on. With two memorable wines in the bank I was quick to respond to Devon’s request. IN! And then I broke two bones in my foot. So Massimo had to come to me, with BND chaperone Jarek Morawski. I don’t normally conduct tastings in my home but Massimo was happy to oblige.
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Massimo and his father Michele so perfectly fit the description I had considered after that Italian tasting two years ago. “You can’t help but notice that modern winemakers with a wistful eye are casting reflexively into the past with a hunger for vinous resurrection. By grafting their pre-Phylloxera ancient vines onto healthy root-stock they have turned the varietal compass on its head. As they have moved through their days with an open-mind to the panoply of grape interactions, they have beget the endemic revival. Old is new again. Meet the awakening of the Italian grape vernacular.”
Vini Alois is the dream of Michele Alois, his winery set amongst the Campania foothills of the Caiatini Moutains in the province of Caserta, on a plateau consisted of nine hectares. His family’s roots are in the silk business. “The name Alois is synonymous with quality in the production and creation of silk cloths that are present in the most famous rooms of the world: from the Italian Parliament to the White House, to the Louvre Museum. Born in 1885 in the time of Ferdinand IV of the Bourbon family, the Alois factory built a constant success under the head of the household, until 1992 when Michele Alois planted 9 autochthonous grape varietals and created a double activity for the already established family dynasty.”
Campania has enjoyed success from a holy trinity of whites, of Greco di Tufo, Falanghina and Fiano di Avellino. But it is in the higher altitudes and volcanic soils where these grapes, where aglianico and especially the ancient and endemic varietals, Casavecchia and Pallagrello, really find their special way. The Ponte Pellegrino “entry-level” wines from Alois should do very well and open the door to the rest of the portfolio. So thank you to Devon and Jarek for sending Massimo my way. Such a fascinating tasting to enforce the adage that endemic is the new vino da tavola.
Tasted with Massimo Alois, the first of ten in a line-up covering two ranges, the Alois all estate and this Falanghina-Ponte Pellegrino from 10-15 percent estate plus purchased grapes from two provinces, Caserta and Benevento. There are approximately 200,000 bottles produced and the queu is so named for the tiny cellar and first vineyard location. This is honest to goodness spot on rich, almost waxy and very golden sunshine-amassed falanghina. It is blessed with such terrific acidity despite the warm but balanced vintage cast in a five-year span out of which systemization and harmonization change and challenge every year. This to Massimo is more like 2010, warm and balanced, unrelenting and typical in its assignment off of volcanic soil. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted November 2016
Set up by Massimo Alois to be tasted between the falanghina and the fiano and for very good reason. The 200,000 bottle output of the Ponte Pellegrino “entry-level” wines are sectionally estate and regnant to the provinces of Caserta and Benevento. The greco channels more dry extract than the falanghina so conversely more weight and structure, a bit more intensity and acidity. This is true and yet foiled by a preserved lemon and chardonnay or chenin-like organoleptic quality from a wine that is not easy to vinify because it oxidizes easily. So here it resolves with such evolved flavours quite beautifully archived in a more than affordable entry-level package. Though it won’t age it presents for here and now pretty exposition. Draws less from its volcanic base and more from the clay. Drink 2016-2017. Tasted November 2016
Massimo Alois pours his fiano behind the falanghina and the greco in order to examine the ternary relationship between and the way in which the latter goes to great lengths to elicit strengths from the first two. This is a step up to an even richer pandemic Ponte Pellegrino from sandy soils in the provinces of Caserta and Benevento plus one seventh homespun estate fruit. The chomp down bite and elastic chew are subdued by a swelling tumescence on the palate, closer to greco than falanghina. Possesses that far reaches of the mouth acidity with similar weight to the greco. Really a best of both worlds Campania for either camp to seek indulgence, typicity and above board fiano relevance. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted November 2016
So many things conspire to bring this provincial Ponte Pellegrino aglianico into perfect entry-level form here in the autumn of 2016. First and foremost is a sense of utter freshness from its gifted volcanic soil. Second is the less is more approach from Michele and Massimo Alois. Third is the volcanic terroir. Did I already mention that? It is presciently less pressed, smothered, angular, tannic and edgy than what secretes from other aglianico terroirs. Smoother in texture, red fruit redolent and potent from the Alois vineyard (60-70 per cent) and raised only in stainless steel. The question begs. Why doesn’t everyone make aglianico this way? The answer abjures. Because of the soil. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted November 2016
Caulino is the estate grown falanghina raised of a totally different élevage than the Ponte Pellegrino. It is fermented for more than five to six weeks with regular batonnage and plenty of racking. Massimo Alois is seeking purity and clarity and so the lees are removed, always cleansing the wine. Immediate notice is given by the pure essence of stone edging to citrus, like kaolin liquified (go figure, with poetic namesake extrapolated license) or imagined from hydrous aluminum silica, like clay into china. Caulino comes by way of very low yields (less than 2kg per plant) and so the resulting inward impression is almost impossibly beautiful, so crisp and pure. There are less than 30,000 bottles made and you will note some bonafide structure and a real easy on the palate creaminess. If falanghina like this is approached with ulterior motives and misguided ways it will go dirty (torbido) as it is a grape (not unlike the others) very susceptible to the lees taking on microbes. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted November 2016
Caiatì is 100 per cent endemic to Campania pallagrello bianco, from the Casertan dialect “u pallarell,” or “small ball,” in reference to the grape’s tiny, round shape. Less than half (maybe 33 per cent or so) of the juice is racked to 3rd or 4th (neutral) oak, urged past malolactic with some batonnage into June for a long (seven month) fermentation. The other half makes use of some noble lees stirred once a month for four months in stainless steel. The two parts are bottled insieme after one year. Their accrued accumulation is nothing if not creamy, like unsweetened honey of naked, viscous purity. Such a grape requires the careful calculation of time, like this volcanic and limestone bianco grown at altitudes up to 900m on land friable with clay on the Caiatini Mountains. The name may carry little meaning passed down through generations but the wine shines like Chablis, albeit on a bank more fruit than mineral. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted November 2016
f you are looking for reasons or have ever wondered why aglianico is so difficult to grow successfully beyond Campania you only need a basic 101 sense of ancient geology. Or a few minutes with Massimo Alois. The Campanian simply doesn’t work in limestone insists Alois, why, because in such a terroir it goes strraight to the savoury and gets Damien mean. So if “you give me miles and miles of mountains…I’ll ask for the sea.” Or a volcano. Here from 100 per cent volcanic soil Campole comes across so naturally volcanic with blessedly terrific red fruit, like creamy rice cooked in aglianico, pulsating and alive. It’s simple really. “Volcanoes melt you down.” Drink 2017-2022. Tasted November 2016
Pallagrello is native to the hills around the Campanian town of Caiazzo, and referenced in numerous historical texts, including the Roman “Pilleolata” from the work of Pliny the Elder. In the 19th century it was called by the name “Piedimonte Rosso.” The Pallagrello Nero from Alois sees 18 months in large (85 hL) botti followed by 18 in (25 hL) smaller 10-20 year old casks. The lengthy aging process is necessary for the rustic, natural, perfectly, expertly, so subtley volatile wine. Like greco in hot summers the varietal is subject to certain microbes and the conditioning brings a spicy, subtle volatility or “highlights.” The flavours recall salumi, in cured feelings of gastronomy and this is what makes this wine most drinkable. Such wise older barrel impart but a fruit expression with a citrus, limestone twist. Though this is ready for an immediate go it will offer a 10 year (from vintage) kind of ageablity. Drink 2016-2023. Tasted November 2016
Settimo is composed from casavecchia and pallagrello nero, a working combination of two Campanian horses, vinified separately and then thrown together. Well, not so much thrown as much as the pallagrello sidling up to the casavecchia left overs (as in second wine) after the top tier varietal Trebulanum. This is something special for a “second wine,” a national, seventh heaven, high-stepping over seven bridges affair bringing great breeds together. Shares affinities with high quality reds from disparate places, very Bordelais or perhaps even like a Rhône GSM. Savoury and decidedly Mediterranean, of black olive and tea, garrigue, herbal and dusty. Very cool. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted November 2016
Pliny spoke of a “Vinum trebulanum” from a place called Trebulanis in Campania. In Cicero’s letters a reference is made to Pontius’ house at Trebulanum. From high-level historical figures to a 21st century vine that survived Phylloxera and the parasite fungus of Oidio dated 1851,Trebulanum sits at the pinnacle of the Alois pyramid. The “old house” is from low-yielding hermaphroditic casavecchia, blessedly developed without tight bunches. The antithetical red Campanian, the organic varietal, so resistant to disease, hardy, tough and self-sufficient. Casavecchia is the “cleansed wine,” with 50 of the hL drawn from the 85 hL botti, while the other 35 go to Settimo. After separation it undergoes 18 more months in 25 hL casks, plus one extra year in bottle. A breath of Campania altitude and the frehest of air pervades the perfume. Here the hue is so much deeper, the wine deeply impressed. Unlike the Pallagrello or the blend this represents the perfectly natural expression of Campania, deep and pure. Flowers are redolent for the first time and then there is this exceptional note of citrus. So fresh, for now. I would expect this to gain a smoky stature, some porcine roast and naturally cured, nebbiolo-like tar and roses. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted November 2016
Good to go!