What an incredible night of virtual tasting last night with Piero Mastroberardino!
Piero was our guest yesterday at the fortnightly Zoom event that I host for Roma restaurant in Houston, my client.
Over the course of tasting current vintages of his Greco di Tufo NovaSerra, Lacryma Christi, and Taurasi Radici, Piero talked about something truly remarkable in the world of wine today: A wine-growing region not affected by climate change, Irpinia.
That’s not to say that Piero is a climate change denier. By no means.
He, too, remarked on the remarkableness of the climatic situation in Irpinia, an ancient volcanic plateau east of Naples where some of Italy’s most famous wines are raised.
It’s hard to explain Irpinia’s stunning landscape without actually being there.
As you drive up the highway toward the mountains from Naples, your ears begin to pop because of the rapid change of altitude. Once you make to Irpinia’s edge, you are greeted by a view of a green valley in the sky surrounded by mostly extinct volcanoes.
There’s really not much reason to go there except for the extraordinary wine growing. No Michelin-starred restaurants or resorts, no industry besides winemaking. Just ancient hilltop towns and vineyards and vineyards as far as the eye can see.
And as Piero explained yesterday evening, it’s perhaps the only place on earth where grape harvest times still align with the rhythms of his parents’ and grandparents’ generations and even beyond.
Regardless of the causes of climate change (and I, for one, believe that the scientists are right in their thesis that human industry is the primary motor), grape harvests have been accelerated across the world in recent decades.
“I harvest much earlier than my parents did” is something that you hear European growers nearly without exception.
Most famously in Italy, Piedmont growers point to the string of vintages that began to take shape in the early 1990s as an example of this. More than a decade ago, a famous Rhône grower echoed a Piedmont grower when he told me that “climate change has made me a very wealthy man.” He was referring to the fact that he, like his Italian counterparts, no longer have trouble attaining higher alcohol volumes in their wines now that rising temperatures deliver the necessary sugar levels in the fruit. In another not-so-long-ago era, European growers — both continental and Mediterranean — considered themselves fortunate if they had one vintage per decade where they could achieve the desired alcohol.
As guests asked Piero about the elegant minerality and balance in his wines, he ascribed the savory character and freshness to the fact that he, like the generations that came before him, can ripen their grapes over longer spans of time, in other words, more slowly than winemakers in other parts of the world.
Just ask a grower in Torrenieri or Verduno if they still pick in the same month as their parents or grandparents did. They will both tell you that where their parents harvested in October, they now gather their grapes in September. Piero picks his fruit as late as November — because he can.
Wine knowledge is truly encyclopedic in its breadth. Last night was an example of how just when you think you know everything about wine, you realize that you’ve just scratched the surface of its wondrous and boundless mosaic.
Thank you, Piero, for sharing these super wines with us (at 2:30 a.m. your time!). And thank you Shanon, Roma’s owner, for believing in our campaign to bring Italian winemakers into the homes of wine lovers!