When one talks about the "legendary" Italian wines of the last century, there are certain ones that come to mind. Of course, `68 Biondi-Santi Brunello Riserva (the wine that put them on the map), `71 Conterno Monfortino and `85 Sassacaia would probably be top of mind for most Italian fans. But for the true "under-the-radar" Italian cognoscenti, one could certainly make an argument for the `68 Taurasi Riservas from Mastroberardino.
In 1968, the vintage conditions were so favorable, Mastroberardino made 3 single-vineyard Taurasis along with their "regular" Riserva, something that was only repeated once, in 1971 (with only one single-vyd). To this day, at nearly age 45, these wines (when properly stored) continue to provide amazingly complex drinking.
Taurasi is made from the Aglianico grape, which according to Sheldon Wasserman has roots in the hillside vineyards of Taurasi since the time of the Roman Empire in 80 BC. Some authorities also think it was actually the first varietal brought to Italy by the ancient Greeks. Aglianico produces deep, powerful and structured wines, with aromas of tar, licorice and minerals, earning it the nickname "the Nebbiolo of the South". It is thought that the great Spannas from Vallana (and even some Barolos) of the `50's and `60's were blended with Aglianico, which has kept them vibrant to this day.
It has been a goal to try and find a "traditional" Taurasi that hearkens back to the early Mastroberardinos. The trouble is, almost all of the wines from the appellation are made in a modern style, with shortened macerations, and aging in new barriques to help to round out the powerful tannins of the Aglianico. We were introduced to Cantina Lonardo through Elisabetta Foradori, who had tasted the wines at a tasting of her savvy English importer.
The property only began producing estate-bottled wines in 1998, before which the grapes were sold to the cooperative. The vineyards have been farmed organically for generations, and they are now in official conversion for organic certification. The winemaking philosophy at Lonardo is one of "enlightened traditionalism". So, macerations are long, and aging is done in 600 liter tonneaux, with only a small percentage of new as to not "mark" the aromas of the wines. The resulting wines are pure expressions of Aglianico, in the old and soulful sense. They are big, deep, powerful and tannic, and unabashedly so. Perhaps they are not for everyone, but then again you could always lay them down for 40 years...