26.01.2021. Best of the Coast
Wine has been made on the Amalfi Coast and in the upland valleys of the Monti Lattari for centuries, in defiance of the near-vertical terrain. The coastal wineries in particular, like those of Marisa Cuomo or Raffaele Palma, are true examples of what Italians call viticoltura eroica, ‘heroic winemaking’, with vines planted on a series of steep terraces that are accessible only on foot – meaning everything has to be done by hand, from the pruning to the harvesting and transport of the grapes. But even among the marginally milder gradients of the Tramonti valleys or the slopes that descend towards Sorrento, land usage and tradition mean that winemaking is the domain not of large companies but of passionate small producers, some of whom (like the personable Gaetano Bove of Tenuta San Francesco) also have day jobs.
As a consequence, the Amalfi Coast is a great place to discover one of the open secrets of wine tourism – that it’s about people and places as much as it is about rootstocks, visitors’ centres or fermentation in oak barriques. But for curious wine lovers, there is another upside to visiting wineries and tasting their produce in this particular part of Italy. International grape varieties have made few inroads here, partly out of choice, partly because they don’t always agree with the peninsula’s very special climatic and geological conditions. Instead, it’s native varieties that thrive in the volcanic soil. Some – like the red Aglianico or the white Falanghina – are found in many other parts of the Campania region, but others, including red variety Tintore and white varieties Peppella and Ginestra, are rarely planted outside of this area. The result is a voyage of discovery towards aromas and taste sensations that even the most well-travelled amante del vino may never have experienced.
Below, we’re listing five of our favourite wineries in the Amalfi Coast region. Depending on availability, we expect to showcase some or all in the course of Le Sirenuse’s wine amenity programme, which gives guests the opportuity to sample the best of the region’s wines in the comfort of their rooms.
Winery visits can be arranged via the concierge or by contacting Swirl the Glass, a company set up by Le Sirenuse’s sommelier Cristian Fusco and his American wife Jenny Konopasek. If you opt to go it alone, bear in mind that these are all small-scale operations. As the winery CEO is also often the driver, chief vine pruner and cellarmaster, you should be prepared to fit in with their busy schedules.
The Amalfi Coast’s most celebrated winery is a standard bearer for winemaking at its most heroic. On steep slopes above the ‘fjord’ of Furore, between Positano and Amalfi, Marisa Cuomo and her husband Andrea Ferraioli have been cultivating native varieties for decades, since well before it was the fashionable thing to do. (These days they're helped by their children Dora, pictured above, and Raffaele). Their vines, organically tended and hand-picked, extend from 100 to 750 metres above sea level – meaning there can be more than a month’s difference in grape ripening times between the highest and lowest plots. Marisa Cuomo's top wine is the award-winning white Fiorduva, a blend of Ripoli, Fienile and Ginestra, but the whole range is worth sampling. Our value tip is the fragrant, citrusy Ravello Bianco.
This delightful winery in the scattered rural village of Tramonti, high above the coast, is the passion project of veterinarian Gaetano Bove. It’s like a living museum of traditional winemaking: vines are still tended on pergolas strung between chestnut trees, and some are more than a century old (the volcanic soil protected them from the phylloxera outbreak that devastated European vineyards in the late 19th century). All the wines are based on native varieties. The two standout bottlings, in our books, are floral white Per Eva – a single-vineyard blend of Falanghina, Pepella and Ginestra from the estate’s highest vineyards – and red E’ Iss (“It’s him!” in Neapolitan dialect), a 100% Tintore varietal. Don’t miss lunch here, which centres on a seemingly endless array of local specialities, served in a characteristic ancient farm building amidst the vines.
The view from the lawn outside the 11th-century abbey at the centre of this 2-hectare boutique estate is breathtaking, stretching along the whole coast from Procida to Naples, Sorrento and Capri. The wines aren’t half bad either. Two local wine buffs, doctor Fulvio Alifano and businessman and yachtsman Giuseppe Puttini, bought the property in 2007 and bottled their first vintage in 2010. Alongside Campanian varieties like Falanghina, Fiano and the rare red Sabato, a little Pinot Noir is planted here, which goes into the estate’s most sought-after red, Nireo, a 100% Pinot Noir varietal bottled in tiny quantities (around 2,000 bottles a year). Among the whites, flinty Falanghina-Fiano blend Sireo stands out. The ageing cellar, dug out of the Dolomitic limestone bedrock, was once used as a wine store by the abbey’s Benedictine monks.
Above the beaches and gelaterias of Maiori, on the lower slopes of Monte Avvocata, is a terraced natural amphitheatre, like an enormous piece of land art, planted with pergola-trained vines, olives and lemon trees that seem to float above the blue-green sea. This organically cultivated paradiso terrestre is the retirement project of former wood importer Raffaele Palma. He makes four wines here, among them a lovely floral white called Puntacroce, a blend of native varieties Falanghina, Biancolella and Ginestra. As in many micro-wineries, staff here don’t always have time to deal with visitors; we recommend arranging a visit through Swirl the Glass, and booking some time in advance.
Up above the coast, surrounded by high mountain peaks, the paese diffuso or ‘scattered village’ of Tramonti spreads over 13 hamlets, surrounded by chestnut woods and small family-run farms. One such hamlet, Gete, is the home of Gaetano and Gigino Reale, whose family have been tending vines here since the 1920s. In this semi-Alpine climate, at around 500 metres above sea level, the Reale brothers make four wines, all based on native varieties. One of our favourites is Getis, a flowery, fruit-forward rosé made from Piedirosso and Tintore grapes. The family also owns the Osteria Reale, a country restaurant in the centre of Gete, where the wines can be sampled accompanied by tasty dishes based on homemade pasta, Tramonti and Agerola cheeses, locally-grown vegetables and locally-raised meat.
Photos © Roberto Salomone (Cristian Fusco sommelier, Tenuta San Francesco), Oliviero Olivieri (Marisa Cuomo), Lee Marshall (Abbazia di Crapolla)