Just about a year ago this week, I was back from a week in southern Italy with importer Maurizio Farro and wrote you,
“in addition to six more pounds and a bit of extra girth, I’ve come back with a new and much deeper appreciation of two of Campania’s native grapes: Falanghina (white) and Aglianico (red). And a very deep appreciation of the outstanding work done by brothers Giuseppe and Libero Rillo at Fontanavecchia!”
Since then, many of you have enjoyed the Rillo brothers’ wines and some of you got to meet Libero when he was here last fall. So I’m delighted to assure you that their 2013 Aglianico is drinking even better today. And the new vintage of their flagship Falanghina del Sannio is even better than the Tre Bicchieri 2018!
Over 2000 Years
The vineyards Fontanavecchia occupies have been the source of fine wine for more than two thousand years. First planted to grapes like Falanghina and Aglianico by Greek colonists, the hillside vineyards of Taburno were the source of ancient Rome’s most important wines including the famed Falernum. Red Falernum was probably made from Aglianico; white from Falanghina (or, possibly, Greco – we’re not sure!).
Libero Rillo’s ancestors have grown grapes here for hundreds of years and started what would become Fontanavecchia in the late 19th Century. His father began bottling and selling wine with that label some 30 years ago, but it was Giuseppe and Libero who took the estate to new heights over the past 15 years.
As in all great wine, the quality starts in the vineyards. The estate’s 18 hectares of vines grow on the slopes of rolling hills covered in argillaceous soils – fine, powdery, and very old marine sediments that become thick and a bit gooey with rain but shed water quickly before the vines can take up too much. The Rillo family keeps yields low by careful pruning and green harvesting as necessary, and the region’s warm, sunny days followed by surprisingly chilly nights delivers wonderful ripeness and generosity of fruit matched by crisp acids and, for red Aglianico, firm, chewy, tannins.
Winemaking is simple and clean. The whites are gently pressed and fermented cool in tank with some later harvested whites seeing a short stay in used cask. The red Aglianico is allowed to ferment warmer with gently pump-overs to extract color and flavor and then given several years in barrel to soften and mature.
Libero believes in releasing wines when they are ready to drink, which means fairly early for the white Falanghina del Sannio but years after harvest for his Aglianico. But, make no mistake: these wines age wonderfully well. At the generous (and 3 hour long!) “light” dinner and tasting we had at the winery last summer, Libero showed us whites back to vintage 2001 that were mature but still vibrant, full of freshness, and utterly delicious. And the 2001 Aglianico we discovered on a restaurant wine list (for 30 Euro!) the day before was gloriously complex and delicious and still had plenty of time to go.
Worth enjoying now – and later! Fontanavecchia Wines