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Raffaele Moccia's Piedirosso: an unusual southern wine with a core of minerality

by Claudio Celio

Raffaele Moccia is a simple man. He is also, however, an extremely headstrong one: how else to explain his obstinacy in persisting to grow grapes on one of the most difficult, extreme locations in Italy – Campi Flegrei, a vast area in the gulf of Pozzuoli, northwest of Naples, that is none other than a caldera, a huge, dormant volcanic crater.

What's more, Raffaele Moccia happens to cultivate one of the most problematic grape varieties in existence: Piedirosso, which is not only low-yielding but also highly susceptible to disease. When it does manage to ripen and get to the winery in healthy conditions, though, Piedirosso manages to give us one of the most sublime wines in the south of Italy.

Actually, the resulting red is very unusual for a southern varietal, being as it is low in alcohol and tannin and light in color. These traits are all to be found in ‘Per 'e palumm' (the Campania dialect name for Piedirosso, from the shape of its stalk, similar to a dove's foot). Only in Moccia's version, these hallmark varietal features are further enhanced by two factors: the volcanic soil of the over 10 hectares (25 acres) of Raffaele Moccia's Agnanum winery, and the over 100-year-old vines that make up the winery's main asset.

“My philosophy is, wine is made in the vineyard first and foremost,” says Raffaele Moccia.

Consistent with this principle, he and his son tackle the back-breaking work of cultivating the vineyards by hand: any form of mechanical vineyard management is rendered impossible by the lay of the land.

This painstaking, meticulous viticulture that still uses craftsmanlike methods, respectful of the wine's naturalness, is the true secret to Raffaele's Piedirosso and its utter excellence. The 2015 vintage (the latest on the market) enjoyed very well balanced climatic conditions:

“There was no drought, which is the area's major problem, and maturation of the grapes was ideal,” says Raffaele Moccia, who believes this 2015 ‘Per 'e Palumm' is one of the best versions he's ever produced.

The bouquet shows ripe, wild strawberry notes, hints of Mediterranean brushwood, eucalyptus and spices, notably clove. The palate is juicy and intense, and at the same time, strongly characterized by the volcanic terrain that nurtures the vines. The wine's minerality is powerful, and constitutes its core characteristic. It's a forward varietal, to be enjoyed in youth and paired with medium-structured dishes, fresh cheese, cold cuts and salami or even pizza, especially with rich dressings.