campania,  Wine Tasting

Diligence and Determination at Tenuta Cavalier Pepe

Recently, I had the pleasure of celebrating the Wines of Italy Livestream’s fifth anniversary with it’s founder, Katarina Andersson of GrapeVine Adventures. The Wines of Italy Livestream has been instrumental in virtually highlighting wine history, terroir, producers, and wines throughout Italy. In this time of limited travel and social distance, this celebration was most appropriate and absolutely needed.  Moreover, the celebration was accompanied by a guided tasting by Milena Pepe of Tenuta Cavalier Pepe in Campania, Italy. 

Campania is located in southwest Italy, facing the Tyrrhenian Sea, south of Lazio and west of Puglia. Campagna has some of Italy’s most ancient viticultural traditions, as many go back more than 2000 years. Although the ancient Greeks were instrumental in developing viticulture and the Romans further developed the winemaking practices, Antonio Mastroberardino is recognized as the Founding Father of Campania’s wine industry and helped to write the disciplinare for several of its appellations.  Due to its ideal climatic conditions, soil and indigenous grapes, each of Campania’s wine districts produce notable wine styles. For this celebration, we honed in on Tenuta Cavalier Pepe, which is located in the Irpinia wine district of Campania.  In fact, three of Campania’s four DOCG’s appellations are located in Irpinia, making Irpinia the most important wine district in Campania. Irpinia is home to the Taurasi DOCG, Greco di Tufo DOCG and Fiano di Avellino DOCG. Nevertheless, in Irpinia, Aglianico is King. Aglianico is recognized as one of Italy’s noble red grapes and is Campania’s greatest red variety. 

Milena and Tenuta Cavalier Pepe

To begin our virtual transport to Irpinia, Campania, Milena Pepe took us on a virtual tour of their winery and its vineyards. Tenuta Cavalier Pepe has been producing wines for several generations at their winery.  The estate consists of 60 hectares of vineyards and 11 hectares of olive groves. At Tenuta Cavalier Pepe in Irpinia, we find their winery, vineyards and cellar.  It was interesting to learn about their various aging methods (amphora, barriques and cement vats), as well as how each one contributes to the wine profile. The estate also has a restaurant and offers hospitality.

Since 2005, the Tenuta has been under the guidance of Milena Pepe.  Milena is half Belgium and half Italian. Her father, Angelo Pepe, worked and lived in Belgium, before returning to Italy to continue their wine growing tradition. Milena completed her studies in France and Belgium and has won numerous awards for her viticultural work. Today, Tenuta Cavalier Pepe produces over 450,000 bottles of wine each year. Follow along with this virtual tour provided by Tenuta Cavalier Pepe:

Experience Tenuta Cavalier Pepe

The Wining Hour Tasting

After learning a little about the history of the Pepe family and the winery, regional appellations, grapes indigenous to the region and the wines they produce, it was time to explore some of Tenuta Cavalier Pepe’s products. We tasted three wines. 

Vela Vento Vulcano Irpinia Rosato DOC

Vela, vento, volcano, or sail, wind, soil are depicted with the map of Napoli on the lovely bottle label. This rosato of Aglianico (100%) represents the Gulf of Naples, Campania‘s capital city (vela), the winds from the hills and mountains (vento) and the volcanic soil (vulcano) that provides the salinity and minerality on the palate. Vela Vento Vulcano is a pale pink, with cherry and strawberry aromas, along with floral notes. It is dry, fresh, sapid and aromatic.  Make no mistake, this is no ordinary rosato, but one with character and structure that can hold its own, while also possessing the versatility to accompany many dishes.  Great as an aperitivo or with pizza, seafood, fish and antipasto.

Photo from Tenuta Cavalier Pepe

Opera Mia Taurasi DOCG

I just love, love, love the name of this wine, and the story behind it makes it that much more profound. From the careful selection and harvesting of the grapes, to the aging and bottling, this wine speaks volumes about the work of Milena Pena and Tenuta Cavalier Pepe. 100% Aglianico, Opera Mia, or my work, is a most appropriate name for this wine, both literally and figuratively.  In our discussion, I learned that this wine holds a special place in Milena’s heart due to the events surrounding its production. She expressed that this wine is “to remember to be humble and for me to remember where I started and from where I come.” We also addressed the fact that wine production, but specifically, Aglianico, is a heroic work, given the nature of the grape. The respect for her terroir and the fruits of Milena’s labor are manifested and executed impeccably with this wine, which was first produced in 2005. Opera Mia Taurasi offers an excellent balance of fine tannins and marked acidity.  It is dark, bold and aromatic, with ripe cherry, blueberry, chocolate licorice, spice and balsamic notes. What an elegant and balanced wine! 

Photo by Tenuta Cavalier Pepe

La Loggia Del Cavaliere Taurasi Riserva DOCG 

This wine is a special wine, a historic wine, as it is dedicated to Milena’s father, Angelo Pepe. It bares their family crest of 1269, and represents the knighthood of her father. The Italian President, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, appointed Milena’s father, Cavalier Pepe, to “Knight of the Republic” in 1998 for his valuable work. La Loggia del Calvalier Taurasi Riserva is 100% Aglianico, aged in French oak for 24 months, in stainless steel tanks for another 24 months and thin finally an additional 12 months in the bottle. A riserva, yes, but not reserved in delivery.

This Taurasi Riserva definitely delivers, as it is structured and elegant, yet powerful, with notes of black cherry, plum, wild berries and violet, in addition to tertiary notes of tobacco. This wine has layers of complexity with mineral nuances indicative of the volcanic soil, leading to a velvety, lingering finish. This wine would love a juicy steak or lamb chop, and since I have more, that’s exactly how I plan to enjoy the rest of this bottle!

While tasting these wines, I wondered about the impact of climate change and how this winery could produce such fantastic wines, one after the other. Milena elaborated on the factors that help combat climate change and result in her end-products: high altitude, wind, water, sun and soil. The geographic location of Irpinia plays a huge role, as the high altitude of 400-500 meters above sea level. The higher the altitude, the more better it is for the grapes. The hills and mountains facilitate dry winds from the west that lead to less humidity and contribute to the finesse in the wine. The climate is another important ingredient, with mild winters and warm summers. Water is sufficient. Sun is plentiful. The volcanic soil helps the wines to age well. These are all factors that result in good wine production, but there’s something else though…

“Volontá e Passione”

Milena Pepe mentioned, “I’m like a waiter(waitress) in my winery.” She knows what she is offering, every detail, inside and out, and she knows her customers in the way that a good waitress knows their menu, the food and the customers. Milena has a thorough understanding of her craft, her wines and of her people. She explained that “there are no pesticides or additives to the wine.  There is no sugar or alcohol or tannins or acidity added to the wine. It’s not needed.” When one crafts a good product, it shows. Quality is emphasized, instead of quantity. Milena is definitely a dedicated and determined woman of the vine. I marveled at her diligence, attention to detail and care given at every step, from the harvest to the bottle.

Milena Pepe gives attention to the old vine Aglianico

Dall’inizio alla fine, or from inception to fruition, Tenuta Cavalier Pepe’s “volontá e passione” (will and passion) are evident. Aglianico is not an easy grape, however, their wines give a different impression. They glide down the palate with ease and please the soul. While Aglianico is often nicknamed the “Barolo of the South,”  Tenuta Cavalier Pepe’s Aglianicos offer a remarkable balance. They are not exacting.  Instead, these Aglianico wines are the perfect trifecta of fruit, tannins and acidity. This experience and selection of Milena Pepe’s wines is only a taste of what Tenuta Cavalier Pepe produces. I can’t wait to taste more, and to visit as soon as possible. 

Planted, harvested and aged in NY. I have a background in education and marketing, with a love and passion for travel...and all things wine. In addition to writing about wine, I also maintain an online wine boutique (thewininghour.com) that caters to the winelover, as well as the weekly vinous winechat (#WiningHourChat) on Twitter (see page for more info).

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