Casa Setaro

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Looming threateningly over the Gulf of Naples in Campania, Mount Vesuvius (or Vesuvio) is the only active volcano in continental Europe, and its immediate surroundings comprise the most densely populated volcanic region in the world, with over 600,000 people living within Vesuvio’s danger zone. Tending the vine in the shadow of an active volcano gives a whole new dimension to the notion of “risk-embracing winemaking,” yet the same ash that buried Pompeii and Herculaneum in AD 79 nourishes a host of grape varieties, marking them with a forceful and distinctive imprint of terroir.

The wines of Vesuvio have a long and storied history, but local specialties like the dramatically named Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio (“Christ’s Tears on Vesuvius”) have fallen into relative obscurity in recent decades. While southern Italy’s other notable active volcano, Mount Etna in eastern Sicily, has developed a thriving and internationally acclaimed wine scene over the past 15 years, Vesuvio has yet to… explode. Etna, of course, is blessed with a critical mass of highly committed, boundary-pushing winegrowers, whereas on Vesuvio viticulture is dominated by small, relatively disconnected farmers whose wines are commonly geared toward the area’s robust tourist market.

Massimo Setaro is seeking to transform the zone’s reputation and bring the wines of Vesuvio the modern-day recognition he feels they deserve. Heir to the renowned Setaro pasta-making enterprise, fourth-generation Massimo founded Casa Setaro in 2004, beginning with his family’s small pre-phylloxera holdings around their hometown of Trecase on Vesuvio’s southern slopes. Massimo has since planted new parcels, and today the estate totals 12 hectares–notably, of exclusively own-rooted plant material, as this zone’s unforgiving volcanic sand is inhospitable to phylloxera. He works only with indigenous varieties: Piedirosso and Aglianico for his reds; and, while he does grow terrific Fiano and Greco, the characterful and hyper-local Caprettone is what drives his imagination and forms the basis of his most distinctive white wines.

Interestingly, Caprettone—which takes its name, according to Massimo, from the fact that Vesuvio’s vineyards face the tiny island of Capri to the west (some believe it refers to the beard of a goat, or capra, which Caprettone’s bunches are said to resemble)—was only identified as a separate variety in 2014; previously, it was thought to be simply a clone of the local Coda di Volpe. Caprettone in Massimo’s hands achieves a dynamic combination of ripe, round fruit and vigorous acidity, underpinned by a strong and appetizing smoke-salt interplay; one senses these vineyards’ proximity to the sea even as volcanic-soil-derived notes bellow for attention.

Planted between 200 and 400 meters above sea level, Casa Setaro’s vineyards are farmed organically (certified as such), with biodynamic principles incorporated into the largely manual work necessitated by these ancient plants. Fermentations are temperature-regulated but not sculpted, and the wines undergo relatively straightforward aging regimens which promote balance and transparency. These are place-driven wines to their core, absent the stamp of ideology or striving, and they make an enormously compelling case for the special nature of Vesuvio’s terroir. As we did in the Alto Piemonte and the Valle d’Aosta, we at Rosenthal Wine Merchant are proud to embrace the vanguard of this stunning area’s renaissance.

Falanghina “Campanelle” Campania IGT : Casa Setaro’s bright, clean, smoke-kissed Falanghina comes from vines planted at 250 meters altitude in Vesuvio National Park, in the commune of Bosco del Monaco. It ferments in stainless steel for around 20 days, then spends six months on its fine lees in steel and an additional two months in bottle before being released for sale.

Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Bianco “Munazei” : While Falanghina often makes its way into the final blend of a white Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio, Casa Setaro’s is pure Caprettone—the most adamantly local variety in their zone—planted in the commune of Bosco del Monaco at 250 meters above sea level. Vinified and aged like the Falanghina, with six months in stainless steel on its lees, it showcases the variety’s ability to deliver this zone’s volcanic essence with greater force and more blatant smoke than its peers.

Caprettone “Aryete” Vesuvio : From ungrafted vines in the commune of Tirone della Guardia, within the confines of Vesuvio National Park, “Aryete” is raised in a combination of used barrels and above-ground amphorae for six months. This more oxygenating regimen imbues the Caprettone with remarkable textural cling, as flavors of salt, peat, and stone nudge the fruit into the background. Its acidity is juicy rather than severe, and it finishes with striking length and mouthwatering minerality.

Aglianico “Terramatta” Campania IGT : Setaro’s Aglianico “Terramatta” comes from own-rooted vines planted in Tirone della Guardia in Vesuvio National Park’s black volcanic sand. Fully de-stemmed and given a three-day pre-fermentation cold soak, this ferments briefly—around eight days—and spends a year settling in stainless steel before a brief passage in used oak. This aging regimen emphasizes freshness and lift, which counterbalances the variety’s inherent ruggedness in an appealing manner.

Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso “Munazei” : Casa Setaro’s red Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio is produced entirely from the local Piedirosso variety, planted at altitudes of 250 to 300 meters in the communes of Bosco del Monaco and Tirone della Guardia. These ungrafted vines produce a wine which deftly combines earth-derived notes of smoke and salt with cleanly rendered dark-red fruits, all on a lithe, gently tannic, spice-marked frame. Like the Aglianico, “Munazei” Rosso undergoes a three-day pre-fermentation maceration, but this is raised entirely in stainless steel for six months without any barrel-aging. It too emphasizes drive and freshness, and would even take well to a light chill.

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