Rome to Guardia Sanframondi
I met Giovanni and Fulvy from Cantina Morone at Taberna Recina, a quiet restaurant near the San Giovanni cathedral. The food was excellent. Rigatoni Amatriciana, perfect fresh mozzarella, eggplant, tender mild tripa Romana. I had time beforehand. Puglian winemaker Paolo Petrilli, who like Giovanni lives in Rome part-time, says it’s impossible to be on time in Rome. “Nothing works! The bus. The metro. It’s not a city where you can work.”
As Giovanni Morone struggled across the capital from his day job as a stroke researcher and rehabilitation therapist, I went into a gem store to buy a souvenir for my six-year-old, who is obsessed with amber. At 8:30pm Taberna Recina was empty, which is a shame because the made-with-care food is uniformly excellent, and frames the continually improving wine of Cantina Morone. The six hundred bottles of col fondo Falanghina made last year aren’t enough for North Carolina, much less the world. The long maceration in amphora Malvasia is fine, dry, and precise: a complete and clean natural wine. The soon-to-be renamed grape Camaiola (currently called Barbera del Sannio, confusion with Piedmontese Barbera is inevitable) seems undamaged by the hours Dani Copeland and I spent harvesting some of the fruit for it in September 2017.
After a very satisfying first meal in Italy, I was led by Giovanni and Fulvy to a crowded part of the city to drink Aleatico made by Giovanni’s friend Andrea Occhipinti, at a bar called Santeria. It’s a fun place, subway tile, appealing oysters, a good range of natural wine. Because of the name I expected some kind of Afro-Cuban influence. Instead it was Edison bulbs, white marble, and craft distillates.
After midnight, long after my day-job compatriots had returned me to the doorstep of a hotel with beds perfectly well-suited to sleeping through these wee hours, I wandered over to a craft beer shop to get something cold and low-in-alcohol. Scruffy dudes hung around outside, smoking. The shopkeeper was friendly and knowledgeable, the selection international, with prominent place given to Italian craft breweries. I grabbed a couple beers and left, happy to be in a city that accommodates my ever-shifting diurnal/nocturnal pedestrian patterns.
Several days later, I made it to the actual Cantina Morone in Guardia Sanframondi, Campania. It was before dusk. Eleonora Morone (Giovanni’s sister) was waiting to greet me. She phoned winemaker Anna della Porta, who showed up in a jiffy. The three of us tasted a comprehensive selection of recent wines from the farm.
The 2018 amphora-aged “Vassalo” is so clean that nobody will believe it’s a long maceration wine.
The 2017 Mariposa Fiano is father/farmer Pasquale Morone’s favorite. It has intense apple flavor, with some hint of alcohol on the finish. Gold color!! And some pleasantly meaty aromas, too.
The 2017 Albanora is a touch more saline. It shows the intensity of a drought vintage.
2019 is the international year of Falanghina, apparently. Four towns in the area of Guardia Sanframondi are mapping their vineyard’s soil types using drones. Among other things, they are looking for clear evidence of erosion, in order to farm more diligently. According to Anna della Porta, the vines around Benevento, Salerno, and Guardia are all in the same climate zone. Avellino is different. Higher, farther inland, more humid.
The 2018 Monaci Falanghina Benevento IGP was bottled one month ago. It’s a winner. It has a gram more total acidity than its predecessor. Bright, clean, fresh, saline: all my favorite markers for a wine of this variety in this area.
The 2018 Albanora was just moved from tank-to-tank a few hours ago. It was picked 10 days earlier than in previous vintages. The pH is 3.1. It indicates a new direction at the estate.
A photographer was taking pictures of Anna della Porta and Eleonora Morone earlier in the day, for a project highlighting women working in viticulture in Campania. Frustratingly, there aren’t many. They are both energetic wine professionals. I hope the project brings attention to their work.
After tasting, we had a great meal. Zucchini with mint. Pecorino di Capra aged under Piedirosso. Pascuale made the cheese. Excellent pasta, and fresh mozzarella di bufala (of course.) A large assortment of pastries, including sfogliatelle and baba rhum.
Pasquale tells me there are 255 English-speaking foreigners living in Guardia Sanframondi. Recently the mayor threw a party to celebrate their contributions to the community. There was a parade, and bagpipes that went on until midnight. The foreigners spend money. Bars and restaurants are thriving. Nestled between striking green mountain ranges inland form Naples at least an hour, I find it puzzling that so many Anglophone residents congregated in Guardia. There is an impressive old stone fortress. The surrounding countryside is verdant, vines and vegetables abound. But these small pleasures are par for the course in much of Italy. Why Here? As I listen to Pasquale Morone’s description of the party in honor of the new arrivals from Scotland, Texas, and beyond, bowls of multicolored cherries, tiny sweet pelicella apricots, and the first ripe green mission figs of the season arrive at our patio table. All the fruit is from Pasquale’s trees.
I’ve determined that I should eat more fruit from gardens and small farms.
A strong wind blows napkins from the table. Night has fallen. We clear dishes into their immaculate new professional-grade kitchen (not a smudge to be seen in a room of stainless and marble tile) and I pour a last Lucano amaro for the hours before time-shifted sleep finds me. Seniors sit on balconies, watching life pass by on the street below. The breeze is restorative.
Unsurprisingly, I slept well in the guest quarters above the cantina. A cross breeze blew through the rooms, rattling windows. By 2am it was cool. In a couple hours Pascuale Morone would wake up and go to the vineyards, to tie new shoots to the trellis before sunrise. Heat will stop work in their fields before noon.
Back to those 255 English speakers in Guardia Sanframondi. It’s five percent of the population! The morning after our feast (ok afternoon) I wander around looking for them. I encounter only Italians. I’m going euro: no undershirt. There is a heat advisory and this mountainous part of Campania has anemic-at-best air conditioning. Heat is the topic of conversation at the bar/gelateria across the street from Cantina Morone. Free plastic cups of cold water accompanying espresso are greedily consumed, even refilled.
A chubby kid wearing a Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey T Shirt exited the appliance store across the street, and climbed into a battered blue Fiat. Three young women (maybe sisters) loitered on the curb beside a very similar car, and took turns going inside to pay phone bills or utilities. They arrived with a toddler riding shotgun in one of their laps.
I’d like to disabuse any notion that 95 degrees in the relatively low humidity of Sannio is comfortable. It is not. I applied deodorant more than once, and took a cold shower. A man is eating gelato shirtless on the balcony facing me. I dreamed of a trip to the cold sulfur springs in Talese Terme, even though a dip in their frigid bubbly waters means I will smell like eggs for the rest of the afternoon.
Old men still wear blue workmen’s trousers and white sleeveless undershirt/tank tops here. Old women still sit in plastic chairs on the sidewalk, dressed in black, or in faded floral house coats. Teenagers still dress in tight trashy flashy provincial apparel, sportswear, t-shirts with bizarre words in English scrawled across the fronts. It’s abundantly clear where you are. Mountains, icons of Catholicism, white delivery vans that bring freshly made mozzarella directly to your door.
I wanted a pizza but I’m going to swim later, so I eat fruit and taralli instead. I’m probably not overly hungry (I had a cream-filled cornetto and cereal flakes for breakfast) but I do need to normalize. Late nights with white wine. Jet lag. An abundance of interaction with foreign hosts.
So I’m eating a bowl of cherries for lunch. One goal is accomplished.