Vertical Tasting of Mastroberardino's Taurasi Riserva

Taurasi is potentially one of Italy's greatest and most important wines, named after the small town of the same name in Campania that traces its roots back to an ancient Oscan village where wine has been made since at least since 80 B.C.

The trump card of Taurasi is the grape from which it is made, aglianico, arguably one of the world's top wine grape varieties and certainly one of Italy's three best (along with the better known nebbiolo and sangiovese.)  Aglianico is grown all over Campania, and its wines exude aromas and flavors ranging from ripe red berries and smoky minerals to red rose and sour red cherry, the latter two elements being especially typical of wines made in Taurasi.  It's not by chance that experts believe that the wines of Taurasi often resemble those made with nebbiolo.  Furthermore, aglianico has very high natural acidity, and the best wines are characterized by a graceful, refined structure and very good ageability.

As aglianico is also an excellent translator of soil diversity, Taurasi wines can theoretically be differentiated by subzone:  for example, wines made in the areas of Castelfranci, Calore, Montemarano and Montemiletti are all potentially quite different from one another.  Unfortunately, such differences are rarely found in many Taurasi wines made today, as too many wines not only lack a sense of place but are overripe, overoaked or overextracted.  This is almost never the case with the Taurasis made by Mastroberardino, one of Italy's most famous names in wine.  Mastroberardino was officially founded in 1720, although the family traces its winemaking heritage well back into the 16th century.  Located in the small town of Atripalda, in Campania's Irpinia area, the estate owns 200 hectares of vines in total, 35 of which are planted to Taurasi.  The estate  produces millions of bottles of many different wines a year, the quality of which runs from the simple and clean to downright grandiose, and also owns a five-star country resort. 

Taurasi is Mastroberardino's most famous wine:  the Riserva and single-vineyard wines are made only in the best years.  Both large chestnut and oak barrels were used to age the wines until 1998; today, small oak barrels are used, as well as the more traditional large oak casks.  Winemaking is also very traditional, with long macerations and fermentations.  Riserva wines spend a year longer in oak than the regular Taurasi bottling. The best-known Taurasi vineyard owned by Mastroberardino is called Radici, and a single-vineyard Taurasi has been made from grapes grown there in the best vintages, beginning with the 1986.

Radici is situated between 600 and 800 meters above sea level near the favored town of Lapio (an area that's actually more famous for fiano, a variety also planted in the Radici vineyard).  However, Mastroberardino's most famous single bottling to date is the 1968 Taurasi Riserva, unanimously considered to be one of the dozen or so greatest wines ever made in Italy.  Interestingly, this stellar wine was produced from grapes culled from many sites; in that vintage, Mastroberardino also made three other Taurasis:  Castelfranci, Montemarano and Piano d'Angelo.  To be exact, these were not single-vineyard wines but rather "single-subzone" wines, as the grapes were culled from vines growing throughout those specific high-quality Taurasi sub-areas (in many subsequent vintages, this fruit has gone into the estate's Riserva bottling).  In any case, collectors should be aware that these three wines are essentially unfindable today outside of the Mastroberardino estate and a  very small number of well-stocked cellars.  However, Mastroberardino organizes fascinating vertical tastings from time to time, including the 1968, and wine lovers should not miss the opportunity to taste that legendary wine, as well as the very good wines from the '70s.

I have participated in three very large verticals of these wines in the last two years.  The following tasting notes and scores are the result of a recent tasting conducted in Rome, with the majority of wines coming either directly from the estate or from my own personal cellar.  The wines were decanted one hour prior to the tasting and I had the chance to follow their development during the course of the day.

See all the wines (ordered by vintage)

--Ian D'Agata