Southern Italy

Fatalone, the best Primitivo ever?

Even though I’d tasted the wines previously, I first met Pasquale Petrera, producer of my favorite Primitivo, in June 2011 when I was a judge at the Radici Wines Festival in Puglia, a celebration of and competition between producers and bottlers of indigenous grape varieties of Southern Italy.

That’s the inimitable Pasquale, above, pronouncing the grape (and wine) name Primitivo in Apulian dialect (Pugliese).

Primitivo — an early ripening grape that delivers juicy, naturally fruit-forward wines — has been grown in Puglia (Apulia) for roughly three centuries and is believed to have originated in the northern arc of the Adriatic basin.

A lot of commercial Primitivo makes it to US shores and a lot of is good. But of all the appellations where Primitivo is allowed, Gioia del Colle — the sole hilly wine-growing area in the region — makes for wines with gorgeous freshness and lip-smacking acidity. It’s always a thrill for me to pour Pasquale’s wines for my Italian wine biz friends: even some of the most veteran tasters will admit that they have never tasted a Primitivo like Pasquale’s and the wine is always a winner.

Pasquale employs chemical free farming and spontaneous fermentation (with native yeasts) and his wines reward me with the freshness, the technical fruit, and the acidity that only Natural wines can.

We’ve featured his reserve wines for some time here at Sotto but tonight, with the launch of our new list for 2012, we’re debuting his entry-tier Primitivo by the glass.

If you come down to the restaurant tonight or tomorrow, I’ll pour you a taste and you’ll see what higher elevation and slopes can deliver — even in sun-burnt Apulia.

It’s one of my favorites and it’s also a staff favorite.

—Jeremy Parzen
wine director

A mini-vertical of Taurasi (Aglianico) with wine director Jeremy Parzen

Above: 2001 vineyard-designated Taurasi Campceraso by traditional-style producer Struzziero. Wine director Jeremy Parzen, Ph.D. returns to Sotto this week Thursday through Saturday.

Over the last decade, as the popularity of fine and collectible red wines from Southern Italy has continued to rise with the tide of the renaissance of Italian wines in the U.S., we’ve seen a lot of Taurasi make the Atlantic crossing.

Taurasi (pronounced tah’oo-RAH-zee) is considered by many to be one of the greatest long-lived Southern Italian wines and its aging potential rivals that of the noble red wines of Northern Italy, like Barolo and Barbaresco.

But as the popularity of these wines continues to expand, so does the field of producers who try to emulate an “American” style in their wines. New French oak cask aging, concentrated and often jammy flavor, and high alcohol are the hallmarks for many of these “important” wines, created almost exclusively for the U.S. market (I’m not going to name any names but it’s not that hard to figure out which ones I’m talking about. Here’s a hint: Al Pacino plays a cop. You’ll never see that wine on our list at Sotto!)

This is just one of the reasons we are thrilled to announce that, beginning Thursday evening, we will be featuring a mini-vertical of Struzziero, one of the greatest (and one of the last) traditional producers of Taurasi:

Taurasi 2001 Campoceraso
Taurasi 1997 Villafosca
Taurasi 1993 Campoceraso

At the center of the appellation, the village of Taurasi lies in the province of Avellino, Campania, about 1 and 1/2 hours inland from Naples. Growing sites there reach 300 meters above sea level and the nutrient poor volcanic soils are ideal for the cultivation of long-lived, mineral-driven red wines.

Taurasi is made from 100% Aglianico grapes (click here to learn how to pronounce Aglianico by a native speaker). Although not related to Nebbiolo or Pinot Noir, Aglianico is similar to its northern counterparts inasmuch as it is a thin-skinned but tannic red grape. In the right growing conditions — sun-drenched slopes of volcanic soil cooled during summer nights by a combination of sea breezes and high elevation — Aglianico delivers muscular, tannic wines, with red fruit flavors and earthy notes.

Struzziero is a staunch traditionalist and still ages its wines exclusively in large, old oak and chestnut casks (Yes, chestnut! this is old-school Taurasi!)

We are thrilled to present this mini-vertical of one of Southern Italy’s greatest red wines.

—Jeremy Parzen, wine director