Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Spring Foods

It’s no secret that we are besotted with the Cilento, and if it’s possible to love seasonally, we absolutely adore spring in this blessed part of Italy.  The weather is delightful, with warm, breezy days and cool nights (Ah, the luxury of sleeping blanketed in June!), the pace of life quickens, and the flowers for which the area has been famous since antiquity are, impossibly, even more luxuriant.  And it will come as no shock to our friends that good food is an essential part of our springtime enjoyment.

Italians tend to eat seasonally in any case.  What a crazy notion!  You enjoy local foods in abundance as long as they abound, and then move on to another perfectly ripe local food and dream of those delicious asparagus or cherries or favas that you anticipate next year.  Meanwhile, American supermarkets in winter are overflowing with produce from Chile and Argentina, and we eat the same foods so continually that they lose their exciting freshness.  I’m not preaching here.  I grow so nostalgic for ripe tomatoes in February that I’ll take my chances on those cardboard abominations from California, only to have my hopes dashed yet again.

So imagine what a treat it has been to experience early spring in the Cilento for the first time!  This was our first May in Italy in some 23 years of Italian travel and living.  And you may be sure we relished seasonal foods.  Here’s a sample.

Wild Asparagus
Italians savor the cultivated variety just as we do, if not more, but there’s nothing to compare with the intense taste of the asparagi selvatici.  I remember Fernando’s shock our first summer here when he discovered I had never tasted the wild variety. I asked if they were really that much better.  His only response was to roll his eyes upward, place his hands together in prayerful stance and waggle them up and down.  Even the voluble Italians know there are some ideas beyond words.

A bunch of wild asparagus

Asparagus have been a delicacy in Italy since antiquity.  The Roman emperor Augustus adored them, but only when cooked to the crunchy-tender stage.  In fact, a favorite expression of his was “quick as boiled asparagus”.  Wild asparagus are part of the Mediterranean scrub, macchia, and these days they grow most often in abandoned fields.  The wild variety is a small, spindly shrub with numerous skinny branches and tiny, spiky leaves.  But the plant propagates by sending up shoots from its extensive root system, and it is these tender shoots that are the prizes.  Unless they are plucked before the buds open, they become woody and unusable, so good timing is essential.

We almost missed out this time; the season was pretty much over in Agropoli, but there was one roadside stand where the purveyor had foraged a late crop from the Alburni plateau, some 2,000 feet higher in elevation.  I almost missed out even then, because the price of a bundle seemed so exorbitant to me, but Fernando was so intent on our tasting this delicacy that he insisted on chipping in half the price.  And then explained that our bunch represented hours and hours of foraging and the price was entirely fair.

But how to prepare them?  A quick trip upstairs to consult our expert on all things culinary, Filo.  But, halfway through her explanation, she paused and said, “On better thought, give me five minutes and I’ll be downstairs.”  Our own personal chef, and not just any chef, but dear Filo, who is an incredibly talented cook.

Filo works her magic.

Filo put a pot of well salted pasta water on to boil and heated a good half cup of the Astones’ exquisite olive oil in a sauté pan, then showed us how to break the little spears into one-inch lengths, starting from the tops and proceeding until they began to resist, discarding the remainder as too woody.  Into the pan of hot oil they went, and an intense asparagus aroma drifted up.  Then she added a handful of pomodorini, our dead-ripe local grape tomatoes, halved, and began to mash them with a fork to create a simple sauce.  Into the pasta pot went 12 ounces of good commercial spaghetti, and while it cooked and the sauce simmered, Filo grated a good cup of Parm.  Filo made us her testers for when the pasta was al dente—sadly, this talented culinarian is gluten-intolerant—in the only proper way to test, namely, by tasting it! Duh!  When it was one minute shy of al dente, into the sauce pan it went to ‘marry’, and then Filo took the pasta to the plates with a nice dusting of cheese.  Paired with a light red or a white wine.  Delicious!

Spaghetti con asparagi selvatici

Tagliatelle con funghi porcini
Another spring delicacy from the wilds is luscious, funky porcini mushrooms.  Actually, these guys show up in fall as well.  The key is that they love cool nights and warmish days.  But this year the drought has taken its toll, and we hunted in vain from our local purveyors.  Fernando suggested the Alburni range might be a possibility here as well, but when we visited the gorgeous little mountain town of Sicignano, we asked our friends Giulietta and Anna Maria about them and they explained sadly that even in the mountains it has been too dry this Spring for mushrooms.

Fresh percini mushrooms

But our friend Katiuscea came to the rescue, suggesting we use frozen specimens from the supermarcato.  Actually, these are a perfectly good substitute for the fresh, and even fine restaurants in the Cilento often use them when fresh are not available, though they dutifully reveal at the foot of the menu that such is the case.  They can be found on-line here in the states, though rather pricey.  I don’t think I would substitute the dried, reconstituted ones, however; this is a delicate dish and the dried variety in my opinion would be overpowering, dearly as I love them elsewhere.

Taglieatelle con funghi procini

This is another simple, perfect pasta dish, but it absolutely must be made with fresh tagliatelle.  Make it yourself or buy it fresh.  Buitoni is a perfectly good product widely available here.  Bring a large pot of well salted water to the boil.  Add a generous half cup of best olive oil to the sauté pan (if this seems excessive, remember that the oil really is the sauce), add the thawed mushrooms to the pan and allow the excess water to cook off, which will take several minutes.  Then add a good handful of grape tomatoes, halved, a generous amount of fresh thyme, and some salt.  Add black pepper if you like, but this dish really cries out for pepper flakes or, even better, a thin drizzle of olio santo, not the Californian stuff flogged but Ina Garten, but good olive oil infused with chili peppers.  As the sauce simmers and marries, drop the pasta but remember it will cook for only 4 minutes or so.  Add the drained pasta to the sauté pan and combine thoroughly and serve immediately with a dusting of grated cheese.  Here in the Cilento this will be a hard cacioricotta goats’ milk cheese, but grated pecorino or Parm would be fine.  Again, pair with a light red or a white wine.  

Fresh Favas
Beans and peas have been a staple of la cucina povera in Italy since time immemorial, but the first, fresh, spring varieties are considered a delicacy and eaten raw.  Fresh favas may be shelled and eaten with the outer skin of the bean still on if especially tender, but you may need to parboil the shelled beans for a minute and then pop them out of this skin.  In Tuscany many years ago these were eaten with fresh pecorino cheese, but here in the Cilento they are paired with fresh (not aged) caccioricotta and little dice of raw pancetta.  Just be sure to buy real pancetta which is hard-cured and, like cousin prosciutto crudo, doesn’t require cooking.

Fave con pancetta cruda

Another famine food, in this case used as such for at least 3,000 years in the Mediterranean, are lupin beans.  Like all the vetches, the seeds contain bitter alkaloids and must be soaked in brine to leach out the bitterness.  In Agropoli’s Thursday street market, now conveniently moved to a special fairgrounds, they can be bought pre-soaked.  The outer skin here must be removed since it’s strictly indigestible, but then the beans are ready to be eaten as an antipasto or snack, salted and drizzled with good oil, and are often toasted and salted and eaten like peanuts.

Lupini, part skinned and part not


Yet another ancient food, these members of the thistle family are really the flower buds of this scrubby little plant.  Today they are cultivated, and just north of Agropoli in the Paestum Plain a special variety called Tondo di Paestum is so famous it has gained IGP (indicazione geografica protetta) status.  Actually, cultivation of these plants here is strictly modern, one of the many new varieties that were planted in the Plain after it was drained and irrigated in the Fascist land reclamation projects of the late 1920s.  Our local variety is eaten roasted,or boiled, but they are so tender when extremely fresh that they are also simply sliced thin and eaten raw under oil or vinegar.

Beautiful carciofi pestani

One that got away, in a field near Paestum

Medlars and Other Fruits

This region is known as the fruit basket of Europe, and rightly so, since fruit of all types is grown in such profusion.  Here on the tenuta we are especially spoiled since all the fruit is organic, what the Italians call biologico, and can be eaten right off the plant.  Right across the terrace there’s a huge, shallow pot where talented horticulturist Filo grows tiny little wild strawberries, so intensely ‘strawberry’ in taste that they practically explode in your mouth.  Then there are the three varieties of mulberries—white, black and purple—each with a distinctive taste, which are also three paces away from our front door.  What a luxury to stand under the trees and pluck fruits directly into your mouth and gorge on these luscious little fruits.  No need to worry about hogging them; the trees produce in such profusion that even the dormice and magpies can’t keep up.

Gelsi (mulberries) come in white, black and purple varieties.

Then there are the local orchard fruits both here on the farm and at local stands:  cherries and apricots and plums and peaches and tiny little pears.  Doubtless our favorite are the June figs that locals call fiori di fichi, ‘flower of the fig’. These are larger and juicier than the August figs and, draped with good prosciutto, make a perfect antipasto.

Apricots across the terrace

And Filo's peaches

Wild cherries

The Astones' plums

Our favorite, fiore di fichi

But a fruit we had never experienced before are medlars, Italian nespoli.  Medlars are a native wild fruit tree which has been cultivated since Roman times.  Actually, there is one form in the U.S., but only in Prairie County, Arkansas, of all places, and critically endangered because there are only 25 trees known to exist.  The Italian medlar is a small tree with beautiful, glossy, dark-green elliptical leaves and ovoid yellowish fruits about the size of a golf ball.  In former times and today in more northerly climates they must be ‘bletted’ to eliminate some of the astringent tannins; that is, the fruits are exposed to frost and allowed to just begin to rot.  Very much like our Southern persimmons.  Chaucer compares his old age to a medlar, apparently when he’s just beginning to ‘rot’, and calls them ‘open-arsed’ because of the calyx which surrounds the fruit before maturity,

Medlars on the tree

Our local variety fruits in incredible profusion and has no need of bletting, being very low in tannins.  The flesh has a soft, cream-colered, custard-like texture and a somewhat peachy taste with citrus notes.  In the center of the fruits is a large, glossy bronze seed, very pretty.


Finally, there is my favorite spring fruit, which comes conveniently in a bottle.  May is when the previous fall’s fresh white wines are released in the Cilento.  No one loves more than I a complex white, aged in oak for perhaps six months and then aged in bottle for two or three years.  But those wines are strictly for Fall and for heavier fare.  In luscious June, with all these luscious spring foods, a fresh, lively, acidic Fiano which has never seen oak is the only way to go. 

In bocca al lupo!


Tuesday, August 1, 2017



        We recently headed out with Fernando for another avventura, this one to the pretty little town of Contursi Terme and its environs, for an experience that was unique for all three of us.  We were off to ‘take the waters’.

Contursi is in a gorgeous locale, in the upper valley of the Sele River at the foot of Monte Pruno and looking southward across the juncture of the Sele and Tanagro rivers to the most beautiful mountain range I have ever seen, the Alburni range.  Not as spectacular as the Rockies or Sierra Nevada, but absolutely stunning in its conformation. But it was not the spectacular scenery we were seeking, though that was a definite bonus.  You see, Monte Pruno is a dormant volcano, and the particular waters we were seeking to take derive from hot volcanic springs bubbling up along both banks of the Sele for about fifteen miles.
Contursi Terme with Monte Pruno in the background

The area has been noted for its thermal springs since Roman antiquity, if not before. The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder mentions thermal springs in the area where the Italic peoples known as the Urseni lived in his time.  That history is reflected in the name.  The terme of the name derives from Latin thermae, the name the Romans gave to their heated bath complexes and obviously the word from which we derive various words referring to heat.  The first element of the town’s name, Contursi, derives directly or indirectly from the name of the tribe.  Contursi may be the Roman town Ursentum which Pliny mentions, although most scholars locate that town at Caggiano, about ten miles further east.  Italic tribes such as the Urseni frequently derive their names from that of their totemic animal, and the Urseni are thus ‘The Bear Tribe’.  

During Lombard times, Contursi was the seat of a county, the count in this case being Count Orso, and it’s possible the name is simply a deformation of Conte d’Orsi and thus, ‘Count Orsi’s town’.

Scenic and historical though the town may be, it was and continues to be the town’s thermal springs which are its real tourist draw.  There are no fewer than fifteen thermal upwellings along the Sele in the area, each with its own character and reputed health benefits.  Specific springs are noted for their use for baths, for massage therapy, for aerosol therapy, and/or for drinking.  For example, Bagni di Contursi’s waters are heavily sulfuric and typically bubble up at a toasty 107° F and are said to be especially good for arthritis.  The water of the Sorgente Contursi is sulfuric and effervescent with CO2, and is recommended for chronic catarrh and gastrointestinal disorders.  The water of the Aqua Radium emerges at 73° and is good for skin disorders, rheumatism, obesity, and female problems.  That of Volpacchio is drunk on the spot and also bottled and is good for ailments of the liver, pancreas, intestine, and lungs.  The waters of San Antonio a Monte have a similar character and are also bottled.

Hotel Capasso

Entrance to the baths

Our destination was in the pretty little frazione of Bagni di Contursi at the famous Hotel Spa Capasso, a luxury hotel right on the eastern bank of the Sele.  The hotel has 87 rooms available and each entitles guests to free access to the baths.  It also features a stunning restaurant.  But you don’t have to be a plutocrat to enjoy the baths.  A separate entrance from a large car park is available for walk-ins like us, and a paltry 15€, about 17 smackers at current rates, gives you access to the huge bath complex all day.  An extra 10€ provides a fluffy robe, bathing cap and a huge towel. Gallant Fernando was nice enough to provide one for Miss Sandy. 

The spa provides access to the baths, of course, but also facilities for massage, inhalation therapy, whirlpool baths, and what is described as an ‘arterial regimen’, plus several shower rooms, changing rooms, and private cabanas poolside for changing as well.

The baths are splayed out along the flank of the hill on four levels.  The uppermost is for changing and showering.  Next down is a huge swimming pool surrounded by lounge chairs.  The water here is a soothing 85°.  My favorite part was a huge terra cotta pot, what the Romans called a dolium, placed on its side and plumbed so that the sulfuric water cascades out into the pool and, if you are patient enough to wait for the spot, you can enjoy a luxurious thermal shower.  

The piscina on an upper level

The next level down is the real business part of the complex, for here is where a natural thermal spring spouts water directly from the earth.  This water is surrounded by a small pool and has sculpted a fantastic moonscape of mineral salts and volcanic mud.  The water here is 140°, very sulfuric and bicarbonate.  Obviously, too hot for bathing, but enchanting in a sort of weird, other-worldly way.  The smell of sulfur pervades the air, but is not at all unpleasant—not the putrid smell of hydrogen sulfide, just the clean, subtle, slightly acrid smell of that first whiff of a match being lit.  This level also has a nice shaded lawn with dozens of lounge chairs, and the young man who introduced us to the facilities conducted us to our own reserved chairs before we showered and changed.

The thermal spring with its hot, sulfuric water

Lounging during a mud bath

     Pool  2 is canted so that the flow of water cascades over the western retaining wall and down to the next level, where a large rectangular pool collects it.  Here the water is still quite hot, 117°, especially as it falls from the upper pool, but on the far side is tolerable for ten minutes or so.  More importantly, the characteristic grey volcanic mud collects on the bottom of the pool, and the standard procedure seems to be to smear this mud all over exposed skin and then climb back to your lounge chair to let it dry and purify and rejuvenate the skin.

Pool 2, with water at 117°

Volcanic mud from the pool

Pool 3 is also canted at the lower side, and yet another cascade conducts the waters to the lowest pool, another rectangular facility where the water  has cooled to a very pleasant 84°, great for a mineral shower and a good, long soak.  More mud collects here and is also used for mud baths.  Another shaded lawn provides numerous lounge chairs for those who prefer to recline here. To one side of the pool, an open sluice conducts water at 84° down the hillside and into the Sele. Several people were actually soaking rather awkwardly in the sluice.

Looking down on Pool 4

Pool 4

I’m happy to say all three of us enjoyed the whole regimen several times in succession.  Sadly, we had another appointment after lunch and so were not able to lollygag all day, but three hours of thermal bathing was a nice sample.  We showered, donned clothing, and headed over to the cafeteria for lunch.  The cafeteria provides access directly from the baths, and many bathers no doubt had a full afternoon of bathing on the agenda as well.
Lounging in the sluice 
Thermal waters enter the Sele River

So, was it worth the price of admission?  Absolutely!  One of the strangest and most enjoyable experiences of nature I’ve ever had, albeit in a very luxurious setting.  There is something strangely affecting about bathing in waters generated by Mother Earth's restless movements, replete with minerals from the center of the earth.  We will definitely return on our next sojourn in the Cilento.  Do I believe in the curative powers of the waters?  Well, I suppose I don’t disbelieve. I think we moderns scoff at the collected folk wisdom of the millennia at our own cost, and these waters have clearly had a salubrious reputation for at least 2,000 years.  At the very least I felt wonderfully cleansed and refreshed when we left.  So, if you happen to see me, just play along and tell me I look ten years younger.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Best Wines in the World You've Never Heard Of

This is wine country

After our delightful giro at Santomiele, we were lucky enough, thanks to our friend Andrea, to visit two more pioneers, in this case pioneers in winemaking. “Now, wait a minute, Dave,” you may be saying, “pioneers in the country which consistently produces more wine than any other country in the world?”  Yep.  Sadly, here in the South, for almost three millennia that wine has been cheap plonk, much of it barely potable.  And these two gentlemen have the audacity to pit their wines against some of the finest, not just in Italy, but in the world.  And they have invested the money and the passion to make that happen.

Our first stop was at the Azienda Vitivinicola De Conciliis, also in Prignano.  I’ve wanted to see this winery for several years, ever since Fernando and I shared a bottle of their Donnaluna Aglianico at a restaurant in Paestum.  I’ve enjoyed wines from this archetypal red Campanian grape for several years in the states, most of it from the Avellino province.  But this one from the Cilento was a revelation:  huge structure, intense color, wonderful aromas of dark berry fruit and tobacco.

De Conciliis Aglianico

Then last fall I was perusing a great book by American Carla Capalbo, The Food and Wine Guide to Naples and Campania, and ran across an article about De Conciliis in which Ms. Capalbo praises the winery for producing some of the most innovative wines in all of southern Italy.  I happened to mention this to our daughter Amy, a sommelier at Leuca, a very fancy restaurant in Brooklyn which specializes in the foods and wines of the Mezzogiorno, and she quickly informed me that not only do they serve De Conciliis wines, but that she had met Bruno De Conciliis and thought he was wonderful.  

Then, two weeks ago, a nice young man named Domeni, who helps the Astones with heavy farm work here, was introduced to me by Rolando as another wine lover, and we had a nice, geeky conversation about Cilentan wines.  A week later, as we returned home from pizza, Domeni and Rolando met us in the driveway and Domeni proudly presented me with a bottle of…Donnaluna!  And the guy hardly knows me!  But that’s wine lovers for you.  Well, we had the wine with a delicious dish of fresh tagliatelli with funghi porcini, a spectacular pairing.  OK, we gotta go.

The azienda is actually a cooperativo, the Italian version of a partnership, in this case of three De Conciliis brothers along with various members of the next two generations.  But Bruno is the public face of the wines and travels extensively to promote them.  Sadly, (for us, luckily for Bruno) he was on just such a promotional trip to Prague when we visited, but nephew Alessan’ was kind enough to give us the tour.  The vineyard is in fact a set of plots scattered around a twenty mile radius.  De Conciliis specializes in only two grapes, red Aglianico and white Fiano, the prototypical white grape of the region.  From the ridge where the winery perches, Giovanni Canu, a son-in-law, pointed out three Aglianico plots close to Agropoli and explained that all their Aglianico plots face westward (afternoon sun) and have a view of the sea (great diurnal temperature variation).  Meanwhile, the Fiano plots are inland and face eastward to shield them from the intense afternoon sun here and maintain their crisp acidity and fruity flavanoids.

Aglianico vineyards facing the sea

The winery itself is completely modern, actually three separate buildings, one a showroom and business office, a second for the cantina with a large bladder press, a series of huge stainless, temperature controlled fermentation vats, and a range of French barriques and Italian botti for aging the Aglianico.  A third building contains the automatic bottling/labeling apparatus and the warehouse and shipping dock.  Clean, well organized, state of the art.  Any decent vigneron will tell you that 90% of a great wine is made in the vineyard, not in the cantina, but the best grapes in the world will produce a mediocre wine or worse unless there is good equipment and compulsive attention to detail at the winery.  De Conciliis has its act together.

De Conciliis lab

Huge stainless fermentation tanks

French oak barriques for aging reds

Italian botto (butt) with its fermentation lock

Aglianico ready to be shipped

We have not yet had Bruno’s Fiano, also Donnaluna, though I hope to try it soon.  But chilling in our frigo is perhaps Bruno’s most audacious entry, a sparkler called ‘Selim’.  Bruno is a music aficionado (Amy says he’s a friend of Robert Plant), especially of jazz, and the name Selim is the name Miles written backwards.  As in Miles Davis.  Alessan’ explains that the wine is roughly 80% Fiano, 20% Aglianico, not a rosé, as some might think, but a true Champagne-style sparkler where the must from the Aglianico is taken from the skins immediately after crush to prevent it from picking up the color.  Most Champagnes are a combination of Chardonnay and the red grape Pinot Noir.  Can’t wait to try this one.

Cantina Barone. "All your ailments cured"

Our next stop took us to Cantina Barone in little Rutino.  Again, we were highly motivated because we had drunk a stellar Fiano called Vignolella from this winery two weeks before at an agriturismo in Rutino.  And again, Andrea was kind enough to make the arrangements and accompany us on the tour.  The cantina and vineyards are the brainchild of Francesco Barone, an absolute dynamo, who started in the business almost 20 years ago and also specializes in the Cilento’s standard grapes.

First Francesco had us hop into his little SUV and off we went to a nearby Aglianico vineyard, on a steep slope with a beautiful aspect.  Francesco’s passion for viticulture was evident.  He showed us the flysch soil, so typical of the western Cilento, and explained that the combination of minerals and the soil structure as the flysch degrades is what elevates Cilentan Aglianico and Fiano above those of other parts of Campania.  I have to agree; I’ve had a couple of Fianos from Avellino, most prominently Feudi di San Gregorio, and they were excellent.  But these Cilentan wines are a step above.  Francesco showed us his Guyot training system and explained how he rigorously limits cluster numbers to concentrate flavors, how he allows the vines to struggle to defend themselves against oidium and insect predators and intervenes only when they are in serious trouble and then only with approved organic (what the Italians call biologico) controls, how maintenance and harvest of the vines is strictly by hand—more expensive, but the only way to produce the best grapes on this incline.  Francesco explained that he has a degree in agronomy, but that it was of very limited utility because the local terroir is so idiosyncratic.  Francesco has been tending vines here in Rutino for well over twenty years, and at this point his understanding of the local terroir is so deep it is almost intuitive.
One of Barone's Aglianico vineyards

Vines love to look at water.  But who wouldn't here?

Francesco shows the Guyot training system

Perfect aspect

We returned to the cantina, the second of Barone’s wineries, this one purchased in 2004 and razed to the basement level and completely rebuilt with state-of-the-art equipment.  Easily a half-million euro investment.  Can you imagine the courage it takes to make that leap of faith in this economically deprived area?  Again, upstairs are the crushing and pressing equipment as well as the bottling and warehouse, downstairs the fermentation rooms and the cellars with the barriques and botti.  But in this case with a twist.  The barrels were arranged in a series of square rooms on either side of a central corridor.  Each room was about 10’ on a side.  In the original cantina, must from the crush and/or press operations on the upper floor was simply dumped through a chute into one of these rooms, which of course at the time had no doors, and was left to ferment in these huge vats, probably a thousand gallons per vat!  No refrigeration, and complete exposure to oxygen at the top! Francesco explained that the only way to keep the wine from acetifying was to periodically dump in more sulphur.  It must have been hideous stuff.  He showed us the little outlets at the bottom of each vat which could be unplugged to drain the dregs and explained that the only way to clean them was with a ladder lowered from above, an extremely dangerous proposition since CO2 from fermentation of course built up in the vats and floated there, being so much heavier than air.  Cleaners would gingerly climb down a few steps holding a burning candle, and if it was extinguished they’d skitter back up the ladder to save their own lives!
Crusher-destemmer in Barone's ultramodern cantina

The key to fermentation in the South:  refrigerated stainless steel.

Ranks of aging rooms with barriques and botti

An experiment with champagne method hand riddling

This is what passed for a fermentation vat in the old days

Francesco took us to the tasting room, with a beautiful vista out over the Alento River Valley with Monte Soprano and the Monti Alburni in the background.  We sampled the Vignolella again:  heavily extracted (carbonic maceration), with luscious mouth feel (the legs on the sides of the glass were a revelation for a white wine), intense over-ripe pear and honey aromas which suggested a cloyingly sweet wine.  But then a sip and a blast of crisp acid and bone-dry flavors.  Every bit as spectacular as we remembered.  
Barone's sleek tasting room

The dynamic Francesco Barone

A stellar Fiano, Vignolella

Francesco's asnwer to pizza beer

Che Fico!

Then an experiment, a clone of Fiano called Santa Sofia, in this case macerated on the stems to extract more tannins.  Definitely a charmer with great potential; it will be interesting to see where Francesco goes with it.  Then the big, powerful 2012 Miles Aglianico (is Francesco another jazz fan?):  tremendous structure, intense berry flavors, tobacco, licorice, huge tannins that are still rollicking like a teenage boy and probably won’t begin to settle down for another 5 years.  Then something playful: a low-alcohol sparkling rosé called ‘Wine Not’ which Francesco carbonates in Grolsch-style beer bottles (the ones with the swing stopper) and markets as a good pizza quaff.  Sadly, young Italians are deserting their vinous heritage in droves and opting for beer; I hope Francesco’s experiment is successful.

Finally, something to round out our day’s excursion, a little digestivo made from an infusion of grappa and figs, called ‘Che Ficho!’.  Sweet, intensely ‘figgy’, and powerfully alcoholic.  And what better way to celebrate this part of the Cilento than with the other archetypal product of the zone, the white fig?