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The “darker” side of DonnaChiara

Winery owner, Ilaria Pettito, tasting at Zachy's
Winery owner, Ilaria Pettito, tasting at Zachy's
Zachy's Wine & Spirits

DonnaChiara produces four red wines from the Aglianico grape variety. Campania is ground zero for this grape, and they generally do a great job with it. Unfortunately, the two wines I tried, Taurasi DOCG and Irpinia Aglianico DOCG, were both from the 2009 vintage. That’s unfortunate because I felt that neither one had any tannic grip. I was not able to try the Taurasi Riserva (which is 2008) or the Campania Aglianico 2009.

About the 2008 wines, I had written: “Taurasi and Irpinia are considered two of the best areas to grow Aglianico in the region. DonnaChiara also produces a lovely Taurasi, but it needs a lot of time before it will come into its own.

The 2008 Aglianico from Irpinia, on the other hand, is an outstanding wine to drink now. On the nose you’ll find both fruit and spice notes, and the palate is beautifully balanced. The fruit is ripe, but not overly so. The acid and tannins come together with the fruit to produce a wine that is elegantly structured and a pleasure to drink.”

Obviously, there is huge vintage variation here. Fortunately, the 2008 vintage is the one you’re most likely to find right now in the New York region. Bedford Wine Merchants has the 2008 Taurasi Riserva for $50. You’ll find the 2008 Irpinia Aglianico at 67 Wine & Spirits for $17.

I reached out to winemaker, Angelo Valentino, to better understand the 2009 vintage. His response was:

“The 2009 vintage was quite cold and rainy (not hot), then this resulted in minor structure in the wines. The result is a wine more slender but with a wider range of odors. That's why you say that you don't not feel that tannin grip. However, although it was not a very good year, the wine has held up well and DonnaChiara has got a product that satisfies them, especially for the Taurasi.”

Finally I tried two very esoteric whites from the 2011 vintage. One was called Esoterico; the other, Ostinato. The English translations are fairly obvious (esoteric and obstinate). These are totally dry wines made with grapes that have hung longer on the vines to develop more sugar. This is a winemaking technique I’ve seen in the Soave region, but not this far south.

Esoterico is made with the Fiano grape. It is the more delicate of the two. The nose is not highly expressive but you will find Myer lemon and white flowers. The palate follows the nose and is full bodied, woody and bone dry. The texture, though, has more in common with a mouth-filling dessert wine.

Ostinato is made with the Greco grape. It is darker in color, and has a more expressive nose with apricot, candied mango and sweet citrus. It’s full bodied with excellent acidity. I find it to have bolder character and flavor.

When I asked Angelo Valentino about these wines, he told me: “Esoterico and Ostinato are very unique, this kind of vinification is not common in Campania.

“The fermentation process is rotatable between wood and steel. These products are practically biodynamic because there is no intervention in the vineyard nor in the cellar, yeasts are present naturally in the cellar, and they are not refrigerated nor filtered.

“They are very unique and although there is wood fermentation, you don't feel a lot the wood. These wines have a huge longevity. DonnaChiara always tries to do something new and exclusive, so the idea was to place beside the regular whites a different line with a very small production.

“Another important thing is that the Greco grapes come from a vineyard planted, in 1992 as an experiment, in partnership with the Campania Region. The experiment showed the high quality of that area with volcanic soil, so DonnaChiara decided to make a different kind of wine which doesn’t following the rules of the DOCG (steel fermentation).

“After some years, the Campania Region said that it was necessary to cut the vines and not continue with the experimentation, but Chiara (mother of current winery owner, Ilaria Pettito) decided not to do it, so the name of the wine is "Ostinato", which means obstinate.”

Both of these wines can be found primarily on wine lists in high-end Italian restaurants.

Also: Part One - DonnaChiara produces stunning wines in the Campania region of Italy

Also: DonnaChiara Irpinia Aglianico 2008

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