Saturday, February 25, 2012

Wines of Italy Series: Birthday on the Wine Trail

All I can say is if your birthday happens to fall within the dates of an International Wine Tourism Conference do absolutely everything in your power to get invited on the trip! Once again I had the supreme pleasure of celebrating my birthday on the IWINETC FAM trip. Last year in Portugal was a delight, but Italy proved to have charms and surprises all its own. 

Aquapetra Resort in Telese

I woke up on the morning of my birthday in a private villa-ette at the Aquapetra resort. I’d have liked nothing more than to spend the entire day relaxing in the park-like setting and partake of the many Spa offerings, but the weather had turned quite harsh and it was starting to snow.

On schedule that day were several wineries at higher elevations including TerreDora, Mastroberardino and Cantina Feudi di San Gregorio in the Irpinia region, but it became clear as we waited in the cozy lobby of Aquapetra that our plans would have to change. Our intrepid organizers led by Daniela Mastroberardino, president of Moviemiento Tourismo e Vino Campania, swapped some days around and arranged for us to visit Villa Matilde, located in lower elevation Cellole, instead. We were now in the grape land of Aglianico, Fino, Greco, Falanghina and Falerno-- many of them new to me. 

The wine and food parings presented by Villa Matilde were perfection. I liked how Export Manager, Giorgio Imparato guided us through the tasting twice--first without food and then with food to highlight how well they paired and how much the wine was enhanced by the paring and vice versa.

Clockwise from upper left: Pasta sfoglia,
Sausage and broccoli dumpling,
Angello meat pie, and Arancini  

Each pairing was freshly made in the on premise kitchen. These simple small bites were some of my favorite food of the trip. Pasta sfoglia, a delicate empanada-esque pastry filled with ham and cheese; a broccoli and sausage filled dumpling; a savory meat pie of agnello (lamb); and and then there was arancini! Oh yes, the fried rice ball arancini is a veritable cupcake of hearty flavor! My childhood comfort food, this arancini was made with peas just the way my Italian Nonna made it. I was in a food-induced state of bliss.

Tasting Notes

My notes--handwriting is not my forte

Villa Matilde vineyards have a rich volcanic soil spread across several micro climates that experience temperature extremes from warm, hot sea breezes to cold dry air from the mountains.  

100% Falanghina. Light floral scent with some hints of pineapple. Nice round mouth feel with fruity notes of pineapple and green apple. Very refreshing and a steal at 8-9 Euros.
Pairing: Pasta sfogia

100% Falanghina. Straw yellow color. Medium body and flavors of peaches bananas and vanilla. Rich mouth feel. Pairing: Sausage and broccoli dumpling

Aglianico 80%, Piedirosso 20%. Deep garnet color. Scent of rich dark fruits, blackberry and plums with a distinct hit of sea air! Full and smooth on the palate with balanced tannins. Paired great with the arancini. Scrawled on my note sheet--Me Likey!

Aglianico 80%, Piedirosso 20%. Deep dark purple color. Floral and toasty nose. Big flavors, almost like a liquid blackberry pie. Pairing: Agnello meat pie

100% Falanghina. Ohh la la! Golden honey amber color with an apricot and rasin honey nose. Flavor like pancakes with smoky raisin maple syrup. 

Left: Ms. Smarty Party-- Diane Letulle
Right: Giorgio Imparato

Later Giorgio quizzed us on what we learned that day in a Jeopardy style speed round of questions with some lovely wine books as prizes. Ms. Diane Letulle (@Diane_Letulle) proved to be a quick study and more important quick on the buzzer to answer most all the questions correctly. Good for you, Ms. Smarty Pants! I was not as quick or smart, but thankfully it was my birthday and the extremely generous Giorgio presented me with a copy of Le Donne in Vigna (Women in the Vineyard) as a special gift.

More delicious food was presented as part of an informal lunch and we were able to meet owner Francesco Avallone ( shown in right top corner below) and also the talented ladies behind all the cooking and take a quick group photo.

Ladies of the kitchen front and center

What a great birthday gift Villa Matilde turned out to be. I loved their wines and apparently so did many of the bloggers-- practically all of us purchased wine afterwards, particularly the Eleusi a Passito of 100% Falaghina. You have to remember we are not just wine blogging fools…we are consumers too, and you know a wine has made an impression when we all line up to buy more before we go. Especially wines that may be difficult to find stateside.

The hospitality at Villa Matilde was not a special arrangement just for the bloggers, wine tourists can visit Villa Matilde and experience the full wine pairing menu for around 35 Euros a person. I recommend you put them high on your list of places to visit in Campania. You won't want to miss it. 

When we left Villa Matilde the rain and snow began to increase and the roads became quite interesting to navigate. We slowly made our way to Benevento and the Hotel il Molino our lodging host for evening.

Birthday Dinner at Hotel il Molino

Top: Andrew Barrow, Birthday Girl and Gaetano Petrillo
Left Corner: Chef Angelo D'Amico with Birthday Girl

I have to admit I was a bit nervous as to what the evening might bring. The night before at AquaPetra it was David Lowe's (@bigpinots) birthday, and Ms. Melba Allen (@WineProfilers) gave a sensational performance delivering her rendition of Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday, so I figured anything was possible. Perhaps the @wine_scribbler , Andrew Barrow would come waltzing out wrapped in nothing but a Terre Margaritelli apron and give a little show. Or maybe the ebullient Gaetano Petrillio  (@thewinebus) of The Wine Bus might juggle corkscrews and show off the twins. But it was a wonderfully elegant and understated fete. Chef Angelo D’Amico’s creations and the local wines that were served needed no performance enhancements.

Although it sounds odd, the squid sausage (second row left above) with the TerreDora Greco di Tufo was my favorite combination of the evening.

* Polenta with Polpetta di Manzo (pictured above)
* Salsiccia di Calamaro (Squid Sausage!) on a Crostone with Pizzaiola Sauce (pictured above)
* Tortello of Caciocavallo Cheese with Carciofi (artichoke) Cream
* Guancia di Marchigiana a lenta cottura con Cipolle Caramellare e Patate (Slow Cooked Marchigiana Beef Caramelized Onions and Potatoes – No photo for this as I practically inhaled it as soon as the plate was set down.
* Biscotto Ghiacciato con Ricotta Mantecata agli Agrumi a Caramello (center photo above & below right)

Kleos 2010, Maffini
Fiano di Avellino 2010, Terre Dora
Fiorduva 2009, Marisa Cuomo
Fiano di Baal 2010 Casa di Baal
Greco di Tufo 2007, Terre Dora
(Since it was my birthday, I took a break and did not write down any formal tasting notes) 

While we dined the snow continued to fall and speculation about what the next day would bring was the main topic of discussion. Perhaps a blogger snowman building competition would be held? We’d have to wait and see. 


  1. It certainly was a magical visit and I'm glad it made your birthday so memorable. One question though - when on earth was that photo of me taken! I have no recollection at all...

    1. Hmmm...experiencing memory loss Andrew?? Maybe it's part of the magic. All will be revealed in the next post.



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