Naturalis Historia is an evocative name from the encyclopedic treatise on nature written by Pliny the Elder. But Naturalis Historia is also the name of a wine of the Mastroberardino winery made from grapes sourced from an old vineyard located in Mirabella Eclano in Irpinia. This vineyard is now more than fifty years old and is registered in the Taurasi land registry.
The vineyard has a south-east exposure and is characterised by a deep soil, with a loam-sandy texture, of volcanic origin, with clay in the deep soil and traces of limestone throughout. The vineyard is at an altitude is about 400-450 metres above sea level, and the training system is spurred cordon on trellises. The planting density is 2,500 vines/hectare, with a yield of about 40 q/ha, roughly a kilo and a half of grapes per vine.
I tasted the 2000 vintage, that at that time was an IGT wine made mainly from Aglianico and the rest was Piediirosso. The wine was made for the first time a few years earlier as an experimental combination of the two most characteristic red grape varieties of the area, from a vineyard that, at the time, was already registered in the Taurasi land registry. The last IGT wine produced was the 2001 vintage as the 2002 vintage was not produced – due to the erratic weather of that vintage – and since 2003 the Naturalis Historia wine has been labelled as Taurasi DOCG.
The winter of that year, despite the good level of rain and some snowfall, was mild, leading to an early budding of the grapes. Rainfall was adequate during spring, and it was followed by a long sunny and windy period in June and July, when fruit set and berry growth followed. From mid-August, véraison occurred under favorable conditions. From September there was a long period of favorable weather, with high diurnal range, that created optimal condition for the aromatic development of the grapes. Since the end of September, the weather conditions have gradually changed with the alternation of rainfall and sunny days. The grapes reached perfect polyphenolic ripening, resulting in a high-quality crop. Harvesting took place at the end of October and was performed by hand.
The vinification took place with long maceration for about 25 days at a controlled temperature of 22-24 °C. The aging was carried out in French oak barrels for a period of 24 months. After bottling, the wine matured for another 30 months before release.
The wine is thick garnet, without any loss of colour despite being over 20 years old. The aroma is closed and austere; it needs time to open up. After time, notes of dark spices and licorice emerge. Toasted scents appear at the beginning, followed by chocolate, forest floor with a finish of red fruit jam and balsamic hints. In the mouth, the wine shows in all its majesticness, with a perfect balance between softness, well perceivable alcohol and a lively freshness with silky and beautifully integrated tannins. The finish is very long with herbal notes.
We paired the wine with a medium-cooked roast beef and a side of broccoli. This was an optimal pairing, with the intrinsic succulence of the meat completely balanced by tannins and alcohol. But it was the day after that the wine has outdid itself.
There was less than a quarter of a bottle left, a little more than a glass, that we paired with pumpkin and mushrooms soup, with a sprinkling of Trentingrana and a drizzle of sweet chili pepper oil. The wine was opened up completely, showing a wide spectrum of olfactory scents. Stunning notes of sweet baking spices, nutmeg, cloves, followed by balsamic hints which were even more intense and lingering. In the mouth, the wine had maintained the same elegance, and coupled with this more delicate and aromatic dish, it played around with its taste-olfactory finish.
What else can I say? We tasted an ancient wine, at the plateau of its maturity, that was able to show a rare elegance.