Gambero Rosso Gala

Gambero Rosso’s “Gala del Vino Campano” event in Naples.
By Brandy Falconer, Grapelive Guest Columnist
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Halloween in my eyes is pumpkins and costumes and candy, and although Italy is a little behind the times when it comes to this creative and fun celebration, this past week I was happy to see Naples come alive with overgrown fuzzy spiders and kids in costumes and spooky window displays.  I got much more than I bargained for when I extended my recent stay in Naples, because I was able to participate in what I consider a delightfully Italian spin on Halloween:  trick-or-treating with a wine glass!
On October 31, Gambero Rosso, producer of Italy’s most renowned wine and food guide “Vini d’Italia”, held a tasting event in Naples celebrating the Southern Italian region’s top-awarded wines and wineries.  The event location, Citta’ del Gusto Napoli, is a purpose-built food and wine event center complete with a test kitchen/professional tasting room, two-level expo area and beautiful outdoor seating area.  Home to monthly wine seminars, tastings and cooking classes, this location signifies a great shift in locals’ interest in wine as a part of their culture and cuisine, a delicious adventure we Californians have enjoyed for years. The event itself was a way for the wineries to showcase their award-winning wines for journalists and enthusiasts alike, and for the participants to discover the region’s treasures and compare them side-by-side in one evening.

Of the 1,019 entries from 200 wineries submitted from Campania’s five areas, Avellino, Benevento, Caserta, Napoli and Salerno, 53 were chosen for the final tasting, and 43 received either the top award, the “tre bicchieri” or 3-glasses, or the “due bicchieri colorati” or two-colored-glasses.  Gambero Rosso is proud to highlight the wines from Campania because, as Daniele Cernilli, Director and co-Founder of Gambero Rosso believes, the region is one of the few dedicated to producing quality wines from ancient indigenous grapes, the major percentage of wineries producing 100% varietal wines without blending, even the 15% that is allowed by law.  In addition to the 24 stands showcasing the wines, seminars held during the event in the beautiful tasting room highlighted different groupings of the wines like “top wines under 15 euros” and “the Veterans, classics of excellence.”
Upon entering the event, my friend Kim and I were handed a press kit and a little fabric bag with a long strap.  Our candy sack?  No, the ingenious item invented to hold a wine glass around your neck, leaving your hands free for writing or grabbing delicious bites of taralli or mini fried ricotta pizzas between visits to the tasting stands.  Is there a better adult version of trick-or-treating?  Heck, we can buy candy any time we want, but going from stand to stand where eager sommeliers in full costume (ok, uniform) were offering exceedingly generous pours of the region’s top wines was a great treat!  The only trick was remembering to spit out the wine or at least pour out the remainder after the first sip.  Now, when it comes to Halloween, I am normally the first to decree costumes a must, but there was no need this year because what’s creepier than glossy eyes and a smile full of purple-stained teeth?!
We started our tasting with the whites and simply went stand to stand, which allowed us to really get a feel for the expression of the grapes from the 5 areas of the region, then doubled back for the reds, which were mainly Taurasis.  Among the featured wines, 19 of which were Tre Bicchieri award winners, the classic Campania grape varietals were on show: Fiano, Greco di Tufo, Falanghina, Aglianico, represented by the Taurasis, and Piedirosso.  Various awards were being announced throughout the evening, including one for sustainability, going to Contrade di Taurasi, and the Grand Mention going to a delicious Taurasi Principe Lagonessa DOCG 2006 by Amarano in Avellino.  Top honors went to Mastroberardino’s Taurasi Radici Riserva 2004, which in today’s news was just declared the top wine in Italy by the foremost guides.  An excellent example of comments by Vini d’Italia’s Gianni Fabrizio who has said that in recent years the benchmark of Italian wines has been placed farther south; first in Sicily and now in Campania, where wineries who have seen a slower growth process have in fact matured with a solid base of winemaking, gaining notoriety not “at once” as their counterparts to the north, but notably “at last.”
One thing about this event and about Naples in general was the expression of personalities, not only of the wines, but of the people who make and represent them.  This was an awards party, more for celebrating, rather than promoting, and the relaxed atmosphere added to the fun.  Notable whites for me were the San Francesco Costa d’Amalfi Bianco Pereva 2009 with its freshness and balanced flavors, perfect for seafood.  While the wine’s finish was adequate, the winemaker’s was rather lingering, as he recounted at length Jessica Biel’s recent excursion to the vineyard…  Another favorite white was the I Favati Greco di Tufo Terrantica Etichetta Bianca 2009 which expressed the typical complex, subtle honey and vanilla flavors which come from the grape, rather than from oak barrels.  This sharp contrast with American winemaking, white wines aged only in stainless, is something I love.
My favorite reds were the Taurasi Riserva 2005 by Contrade di Taurasi, wonderfully balanced between body and flavor and, with great enthusiasm, the Taurasi Radici Riserva 2004 from Mastroberardino-silky smooth, yet complex and elegant.  The only thing better than tasting this wine was sipping a glass at the end of the event with Mastroberardino’s winemaker, Massimo di Renzo and agronomo, Antonio Dente, who, along with Dario Pennino, Director of Sales, make up the team that produces these incredible wines.  As a group they are a great example of the concept of family, whether by blood or by choice, as being a strong and lasting foundation for success.
Like a great wine, the Gala’ del Vino Campano event had all the characteristics of excellence: personality, elegance, expression of the local area and the ability to bring people together to enjoy each-other’s company.  Next time you’re looking for a new wine, don’t be shy about picking up a guide from another country, like Vini d’Italia.  Having a look at how another country sees itself and rates its own wines will give you more of an insight into what’s in the bottle.  Salute!