A Wine Lover’s Diary, part 841: Salone Vitignoitalia in Naples

Mount Vesuvius

Saturday, June 4th: Flew from Toronto to Amsterdam – KLM business class. Great service. Two glasses of Nicholas Feuillatte Brut Réserve Champagne before going prone in my seat to sleep without dinner. In the Lounge in Toronto began talking to two couples who were flying to Paris. They had been at the airport since early this morning. Their flight had been postponed several times and was finally meant to board at 10 pm. Then their flight was cancelled!

Arrived in Naples at 4:40pm and a car met me at the airport to take me to the Excelsior Hotel, which is on the coast within sight of Mt. Vesuvius and the Castel dell’Ovo, where the Salone Vitignoitalia wine fair will be held June 5–7.

Hotel Excelsior

Castel dell’Ovo

View of Castel dell’Ovo from the terrace of Hotel Excelsior

This information on the castle is from the Regione Campania website:

Castel dell’Ovo stands on the islet of Megaride. According to one of the most fanciful Neapolitan legends, the name of this castle derives from the egg that the Latin poet Virgil apparently hid in a cage placed in the dungeons of the castle. The egg was locked up and kept hidden because “the fortune of the Sea Castle depended on that egg.” Since then, the destiny of that castle has been in parallel with the fate of that egg. Chronicles report that, during Queen Anne’s reign, the castle was heavily damaged when the hump-backed bridge connecting the two rocks the castle was built on collapsed, thus obliging Queen Anne to reveal she had made sure the egg would be replaced so as not to spread panic among her subjects who feared further troubles and disasters.

Thankfully, no troubles or disasters occurred on my free evening as I took myself off to one of to one of Naples’s million or so pizza bars – Vincenzo Capraro – with the intention of having a slice and a glass of red wine. Well, obviously my Italian was not up to the challenge, because the slice of Margherita Bufalo Mozzarella pizza I ordered turned out to be a whole pizza. Left half of it. I’ve had better pizza but when in Naples it’s de rigueur to eat pizza.

My first Neapolitan pizza

Sunday, June 5th: 8:30 Meeting in the hotel lobby for a 9 o’clock departure for a winery visit on the island of Ischia – a 50-minue boat-ride away from Naples. Ischia is a volcanic island in the Tyrrhenian Sea that lies at the northern end of the Gulf of Naples, about 30 kilometres from the city of Naples. The winery we visited was Cenatiempo Vini d’Ischia, owned by Pasquale Cenatiempo, who explained that Ischia is the largest of the three volcanic islands off Naples.

Cenatiempo sign

Vineyards on Ischia

Pasquale walked us up to the highest point of his vineyards (planted at 450 metres elevation). There are six wineries on the island serviced by many small growers who own, on average, three hectares of vineyards. For white wine, Biancolella and Forastera are planted, and for red, Guarnaccia and Piedirosso (known locally Per’ ’e Palummo or La Zampa di Piccione, which translates as Pigeon’s Foot because of its red appearance). Ischia Bianco was the first wine in Campania to be designated a DOC in 1966. Pasquale produces currently 20,000 bottles in glass-lined cement fermenters.

Pasquale Cenatiempo’s cellar

We toured the cellar, which was hand-carved into the slopes of Mt. Epomeo in the sixteenth century, although there is archeological evidence that vines were grown here as early as 700 years BC. Then we had an outdoor tasting of the following wines, before lunch.

  • Cenatiempo Biancollella 2022: Bright light gold colour; minerally, green herbs on the nose with green peach and lemon aromas; full-bodied, dry, beautifully balanced and refreshing on such a hot day (80 degrees). (90 points)
  • Cenatiempo Forastera 2020: Deep golden colour; minerally, floral, ripe nose of yellow fruits; full-bodied, dry, apricot and lemon flavours with notes of green pineapple. Elegant and harmonious. Well structured, with a long lemony finish. (92)
  • Cenatiempo Lefkos Bianco 2020 (a blend of Biancolella and Forastera): Golden colour; minerally, green herbs and citrus nose; full on the palate, dry, firmly structured with surprising tannin but elegant notwithstanding. (89)
  • Cenatiempo Kalimera 2019 (Biancolella): This wine was an absolute treat! Golden in colour; minerally, floral, herbaceous, peach nose; beautifully balanced, elegant and flavourful with a lovely mouth-feel – the star of the tasting! (93)
  • Cenatiempo Rosato 2020 (70% Per’ ’e Palummo with other island grapes): Deep pink (almost cherry red) in colour; a nose of raspberries and wild herbs with an engaging floral note; well-balanced, dry with just a touch of residual sweetness kept in check with bright acidity. (90)
  • Cenatiempo Per’ ’e Palummo 2020: Deep purple in colour; inky, plum bouquet with oak spice; full-bodied, dry, earthy, well-structured with evident but ripe tannins. Need time but should cellar well with its lively acidity. (89–91).

Kalimera 2019 – a sensational wine

Then Pasquale Cenatiempo opened some older wines to show us how well the Biancolella grape ages:

  • Cenatiempo Biancolella 2011: Deep golden colour; floral, dusty, crushed pineapple nose; full-bodied, spicy, herbal, peach flavour; beautifully balanced, still youthful and fresh with great structure. (92)
  • Cenatiempo Lefkos Bianco Superiore 2017: Still fresh and lively on the palate, minerally, with a touch of bitterness on the finish. (89) [Had to rush tasting as we were getting late for the return boat trip.]
  • Cenatiempo Lefkos Bianco Superiore 2013: Old gold colour; waxy, spicy nose reminiscent of an aged Loire Chenin Blanc; still youthful though and remarkably harmonious and well-structured. (91)

A mad drive down the mountain through hairpin blind turns in order to catch the 4:15 pm boat. But we made it!

Dined with the group at Pizzeria Fresco within walking distance of our hotel. Deep-fried appetizers and classic Naples pizza.

Monday, June 6th: After breakfast a Danish journalist, Rolf Madsen, and I were driven to the foot of Mount Vesuvius. Our guide, an archeologist named Girolamo Ferdinando De Simone, toured us around a dig that had unearthed a magnificent two-storey villa dating back to the time of Hadrian in the second century AD. All the decoration on the walls related to the cult of Dionysus. The villa was discovered by a farmer in 1890s but unearthing it didn’t happen until 1929 when the University of Tokyo took an interest in the site. The villa is thought to have been the property of the Emperor Augustus. The diggers unearthed a winery with clay “dolias” (amphorae) buried in the ground.

Restoration of the villa destroyed in the 79 AD eruption

Ancient dolias for winemaking

Statue of a yong Dionysus found in the ruins

De Simone told us that the great eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD buried Pompeii and created a huge lava field on which modern Naples is built. There are, he said, 13 villages on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius and the mineral-rich soils support many vineyards as well as the famous – and expensive – tomatoes, Pomodoro Piennolo del Vesuvio, that sell for 3.50 euros on e-Bay + 1.25 euros shipping. Then we visited a Piedi Rosso vineyard before sitting down to a tasting of eleven volcanic wines, put on by Vesuvio Consorzio Tutela Vini.

Young Piedi Rosso vines

Tomatoes grown on the slopes of Vesuvius

  • Catalanesca IGP del Monte Somma
  • Cantine Olivella Katà 2021: Bright, light straw in colour; dusty, minerally, citrus nose; full-bodied, dry, earthy pear flavour with a round mouth-feel. (88.5)
  • La Cantina del Vulcano Carlina 2020: Bright straw colour; earthy, minerally nose; medium-bodied, dry, slaty, minerally, citrus flavour with lively acidity. (89)
  • Vesuvio Bianco
  • Sorrentino Vini Vesuvio Caprettone Bianco Spumante DòRè: Pale straw in colour; dusty, minerally nose of crab apples: medium-bodied, dry, saline, lemony flavour; quite elegant. (89)
  • Tenuta Augustea Pietrargento Vesuvio Caprettone 2021: Pale straw colour; earthy, peach pit, dusty bouquet; medium-bodied, dry, apricot and lemon flavours. Delicious. (90)
  • Cantine Villa Dora Lacryma Christi Bianco 2021: A blend of Falanghina and Corda di Volpe Biancha; smoky, smoked meat and white peach bouquet; medium to full-bodied, oaky, toasty, saline stone fruit flavours with lively acidity. (89)
  • De Angelis 1930 Vesuvio Lacryma Christi Gaius 2021: Saline nose of green herbs and exotic fruits; medium-bodied, firmly structured. (89)
  • De Angelis 30 Lacryma Christi Rosato 2020: 70% Piedi Rosso 30% Aglianico. Orange-pink in colour; smoky, minerally, saline sour cherry flavours. (89)
  • Sorrentino Vini Vesuvio Lacryma Christi Rosato 2021: 100% Piedirosso; palest pink in colour; floral cherry nose; medium-bodied, dry, elegant, minerally, cherry pit flavour with a saline note. (90)
  • Tenuta Augustea Vesuvio Lacryma Christi Rosso 2020: 80% Piedirosso, 20% Aglianico; dense purple in colour; lightly floral, plum bouquet; medium-bodied, dry, earthy plum flavour (reminiscent of Gamay). (89)
  • Cantine Olivella Lacryma Christi Rosso 2020: 60% Piedirosso, 30% Aglianico, 10% Sciascinoso; dense purple colour; earthy, smoky, lightly floral nose; medium to full-bodied, dry, dense and well-extracted black plum flavour; nicely balanced. (89)
  • Villa Dora Vesuvio Pedirosso 2019: Dense purple in colour; meaty nose of plum and oak spice; full-bodied, dry, richly extracted plum flavour, firmly structured with struck-flint notes, grainy tannins and a dark chocolate finish. (90)

Cantine Olivella Lacrimanero Lacryma Christi

After lunch at our neighbouring hotel, Santa Lucia, I spent time at the wine fair, going from hall to hall in the cavernous castle. Could not find the Amarone tasting – nobody knew in which room it was held.  Concentrated on the white wines of Campania, although there were wines from all over Italy and some from France. In the Tuscan room, a woman was making hand-rolled cigars.

Dinner this evening in a restaurant named Il Cortile, which hasn’t yet opened.

Tuesday, June 7th: 10:30 am, a guided walking tour of Naples for Rolf Marsden and me, which included the Castel dell’Ovo, Piazza Plebiscito and San Francesco di Paola Church, Royal Palace, Galleria Umberto I, Via Toledo, Piazza del Gesù nuovo and Spaccanapoli (17,000 steps in all).

Naples – San Ferdinando

Galleria Umberto I

Part of a huge ceramic wall in Naples’s subway. All hand-placed mosaics by South African artist William Kentridge.

Merchant in the old town of Naples

Good luck charms

Lunch buffet at Hotel Santa Lucia. Spent a few hours at the fair, first attending a tasting of four volcanic wines from Mount Etna in Sicily.

  • Vini Franchetti Passobianco 2019: 100% Chardonnay; straw colour; yellow apple, honey, lemon zest and mineral notes on the nose; medium-bodied, dry, fresh acidity; firmly structured with a thread of minerality and well-integrated oak. Great acidity. (89) (Volcanic wines have a bitter finish, with no residual sugar.)
  • Vini Franchetti C Contrada 2019: 100% Nero Mascalese. Deeply coloured; dusty, cherry and cranberry bouquet with notes of dried herbs and licorice; medium-bodied, dry, savoury, sour cherry and plum flavours; lean but flavourful; firmly structured with evident but ripe tannins. (89)
  • Vini Franchetti G Contrada 2019: Deeply coloured; a nose of dried herbs, orange zest with a top note of violets; medium-bodied, lean and sinewy, savoury cherry and plum flavours with a firm tannic finish. (88)

After this Mt. Etna tasting I toured the halls of the castle to taste more wines from Campania. Dinner at Ristorante Il Coevo (Via Cicerone 23,80070 Bacoli NA) with two stunning wines – Mirabella Saten (Franciacorta) and Tenuta Scuotto Fiano di Avellino Oinì 2019 (Campania).

Coevo restaurant sign

Coevo menu

Deep-fried shrimp

Mirabella Franciacorta

Sensational sparkler

Flag fish

Spaghettone aglio nero

The best Fiano di Avellino I tasted

Naples’s justly famous rum babas

Wednesday, June 8th: Flew home via Paris to chaos at Pearson airport (but the trip was worth the hassle).

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