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The wines of Montevetrano, Campania, Italy
A complete vertical tasting

Campanian superstar wine Montevetrano burst onto the scene in 1995 and achieved cult status almost overnight. Italian photographer Silvio Imparato initially had just 4 hectares of vines south of Naples and made a little wine in 1991. Encouraged by the results she hired winemaker Ricardo Cotarella to help with the 1992 vintage. In 1995 she sent vintages 1991–1993 to Robert Parker who gave it a high score and famously called it the ‘Sassacaia of the south’. With this, the wine became sought after overnight.

Imparato claims to have a simple philosophy, which is to make good wine from the property belonging to her parents. When she began she was part of a consortium of wine lovers, which has now disbanded, all of who shared a common inspiration: the great wines of Bordeaux. The vineyard is on a south-facing slope with gravelly soils, and while the first vintage was 70% Cabernet and 30% Aglianico, the blend is now more typically 60% Cabernet, 30% Merlot and 10% Aglianico. Initialy just 1000 bottles were made; now production is more like 30 000 bottles. Vineyard area has increased from 4 to 6 hectares and is planned to increase to 11 hectares in the near future; the expansion will stop when production reaches 50 000 bottles. Imparato says she wants to maintain the passion she has now and at the same time keep control of the operation from grape to market.

Because the vineyard is less than 2 km from the sea, tucked in behind Salerno, they never get the scorching summer weather of the centre, and this helps to maintain the natural acidity in the wines. This proximity to the sea also means that the season starts a little earlier here, too. The winemaking involves fermentation in short, fat stainless steel tanks with pumping over. The wines are then racked into barrels (half new) for 9 months and lightly filtered before bottling.

The association of the name Ricardo Cotarella (now a famous winemaking consultant) and a high Parker score with this wine might lead you to assume that Montevetrano is just another blockbuster red in the international style. But there’s more to these wines than just modernity, which usually finds its expression in density of extraction, sweet fruit and plenty of new oak—these wines manage to express something of their site. They’ve been described as the least Cotarella-ish of all the Cotarella influenced wines. I liked them a good deal, although it would be amiss of me not to note that I think they are a bit expensive, at around £50 a bottle.

Apart from price (which can only be blamed on the market, if people are willing to pay), my only other concern tasting through this vertical is that as yet none of the vintages have gone through any great degree of positive evolution. They are not particularly more compelling a decade old than they are three years old it seems. That’s not a problem, but when you are paying this sort of money on release you are usually paying for future potential.

This is the first and probably last time that anyone will get a chance to do this vertical: there’s so little left of the 1992 and 1994 that it’s unlikely to be repeated. I’ll let my notes speak for themselves. For the record, Silvia’s favourites are the 1995, 1997 and then, close on their tail, the 1993.

Montevetrano 2002 (barrel sample)
Quite a tight spicy nose with some sweet berry fruit hemmed in by taut, leathery notes. Firm, with some dustiness and ripe black fruits in the background. The palate is very concentrated and savoury, with firm spicy tannins. It’s smooth, mouthcoating and intense. Backward at present, but fairly serious stuff. Very good/excellent 90/100

Montevetrano 2001
Tight nose showing dark fruits with a spicy, dusty overlay. The palate is concentrated, firm and spicy. Very tannic: this is a keeper. Some ripe black fruits bolstered by high acidity and firm tannins. Silvia says that this is less elegant than the 2000 but has more personality. Very good/excellent 91+/100

Montevetrano 2000
The nose is quite rich, displaying ripe black fruits with some tarry elegance. The palate has lovely structure with ripe fruit, firm dusty tannins and good acidity. Some sweetness to the fruit, but the overall impression is savoury. Very good/excellent 91/100

Montevetrano 1999
This was the first wine made from the new vineyards. The nose shows sweet dark fruits with some savoury spiciness and a herby twist (a hint of greenness?). The palate is opening out a little, displaying solid tannic structure and some spicy, ripe black fruits. Nice acidity. Lots of personality: a grown-up, savoury wine. Very good/excellent 91/100

Montevetrano 1998
Elegant spicy, savoury nose with a herby, tarry twist to the ripe berry fruits. The palate is firm and structured with lots of spicy blackcurrant fruit backed up by firm acid and tannic structure. A serious, structured wine displaying nice balance and poise. Very good/excellent 93/100

Montevetrano 1997
Lovely open nose of sweet blackcurrant fruit with a savoury, tarry edge and a touch of chalky minerality. The palate is elegant and minerally with open, ripe blackcurrant fruit backed up by a subtle chalky, leafy edge. Drinking nicely now in a savoury style. Very good/excellent 94/100

Montevetrano 1996
Ripe berry and black fruit nose with a savoury, chalky, spicy edge. A little restrained when compared with the 1997. Chalky, spicy character to the fruit on the palate with firm dusty tannins and quite high acidity. Appealing, but tending towards austerity. Very good+ 88/100

Montevetrano 1995
Tarry, slightly olive-like edge to the berry fruit nose. Savoury in style. The palate is ripe and structured with high acidity and good tannins. A bit of roast coffee character, too? Quite structured, but this is drinking well now. Very good+ 89/100

Montevetrano 1994
A wet, cool year in this region. Quite a tight savoury nose, not showing a great deal. The palate is tasty and approachable with midweight, savoury, herby, leathery notes. Still tasting quite youthful with quite high acid and savoury, tannic structure. Not overly complex but quite elegant. Very good+ 88/100

Montevetrano 1993
According to Silvia, this is one of the best years. There was rain until May but then at the end of August and early September conditions were fine. Unusual nose with an olive/tapenade character and a methylated spirits lift. The palate is tarry and spicy with rich, ripe fruit, good acidity and an almost soft-cheese edge. Firm tannins complete what is a nice but odd wine. Very good/excellent 90/100

Montevetrano 1992
Rich, ripe tarry nose with an appealing spicy character. There’s a touch of balsamic vinegar, too. The palate shows lovely herby, spicy notes and more of the balsamic character. Quite different to the others, this is tasty and appealing but needs drinking up soon. Very good/excellent 90/100

Wines tasted October 27 2003  
Courtesy of UK agents Winetraders
, tel 01865 251851 

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