The New York Times today carried an interesitng article on Asprinio di Aversa, which brought to mind one of the many white wines I've been sampling over the past several months in an effort to broaden my white wine knowledge to the level of my red wine knowledge. I always enjoy stopping by Vino, checking out their wines by the glass, and shooting the breeze about wines new to me. This wine was one of the delights of my last visit.
2005 I Normanni Asprinio di Aversa Campania Italy. 10.5% alcohol. $14 at Vino, 121 East 27th Street, NYC.
Very light yellow color, light hue, lovely aroma of tropical flowers and mint, light fruit tastes dominated by firm and lively acidity, medium mouth feel, short, intense finish ending with a bit of bitterness -- quite pleasing and mouth watering. Would be excellent with seafood -- but the acidity worked well with an antipasto plate of cheese, olives and meats. 4*.
aka Asprino, Olivese and Ragusana.
Vino: Some believe that Asprinio di Aversa is related to the white Pinot grapes of France, others that it is a cousin of the widely planted Greco grape that, as the name reveals, was brought by the Greeks to Italy. Others yet believe that the Etruscans were already making wine using Asprinio when the Greeks arrived. This delightful white wine, with balanced fruit and acidity, is a perfect pairing for the seafood and spicy tomato sauces served in Campania. The Normanni winery is located in the town of Aversa, where Asprinio gets its name.
Hoke Harden: Fescine Asprinio di Aversa DOC 2003, Cantine Caputo: This one goes to the head of the class (yuk, yuk). From Campania. The varietal is Asprinio, which we all know so well of course. Nervy, bright, taut, with delicious aromas and flavors of pears and lemons. Could there be anything better to drink while lazing on the Amalfi Coast? I kinda doubt it.
Alan Tardi: Tardi is an elegant writer with a new book on Barolo due out this month. He has one of the prettiest author's websites I know: http://www.alantardi.com/
His New York Times article requires free registration at the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/08aspr.html
Bizarre Vines, Old Roots Make Fine Wine
JUST north of Naples, something quite peculiar rises from the hodgepodge of industrial buildings, half-completed apartment houses, stables of water buffalo, sheds of drying tobacco and groves of fruit trees. Green walls appear, some more than 30 feet high, with treetops poking out like pickets at regular intervals.
These unusual walls are grapevines, and the wine that is made from them is quite unusual too. It’s called Asprinio di Aversa. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s not surprising; many people — even here in Italy — haven’t. This might well qualify as one of the world’s smallest and most obscure appellations.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, in “Natural History,” Pliny the Elder wrote: “In Campania the vines espouse the poplars and, embracing their brides and climbing with wanton arms in a series of knots among their branches, rise level with their tops, soaring aloft to such a height that a hired picker expressly stipulates in his contract for the cost of a funeral and a grave!”
Because the phylloxera infestation that devastated European vineyards never happened here (the loose, sandy soil makes it impossible for the insects to burrow into the roots), these vines are all ungrafted. Thus, with asprinio, the connection to the distant past — Greek grape, Etruscan viticulture — is virtually intact.
Now, though the wine has achieved D.O.C. status, there’s another problem; the vineyards are disappearing. Once, this entire area was covered with asprinio vines; today, only a total of 250 acres of scattered sections (most owned by individual farmers) remain. And only half of them are the ancient tall vines known as alberata (literally “tree-ed”).
Alberata are not easy to maintain, and harvesting them is practically an acrobatic feat. Men must climb up tall, skinny wooden ladders custom-made to each individual’s size and position themselves so they can pick with both hands; clippers are not needed because the grapes’ thin green stems are easily broken. The grapes are placed in cone-shaped wicker baskets which, when full, are lowered on a rope, emptied and pulled back up again.
Even moving the tall ladders from one spot to another takes a special knack and years of experience. That’s quite a lot of trouble for grapes which, this year, will fetch about 40 cents a pound. Only the elders have the necessary skills and the stubbornness to continue, but even they are steadily succumbing to the pressures of time.