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Raffaele Pagano’s family thinks he’s crazy. This fourth-generation heir apparent to his Salerno-based clan’s income stream—two million bottles per year spread among three wineries—chose a wildly different path, and today Raffaele produces a mere 18,000 bottles annually, from three and a half hectares in Irpinia and Capri. But they’re his wines, made according to his vision, and this Campanian maverick wouldn’t have it any other way.

Pagano began his passion project in the early 2000s, acquiring several parcels of extremely old Fiano and Aglianico in the towns of Lapio and Paternopoli, respectively, and bottling his first vintage in 2006. He christened his winery Joaquin, after the French-Spanish Bourbon dynastic family who planted vines throughout the area and contributed hugely to Campania’s gastronomic and viticultural life in the pre-unification era. A few years later, Raffaele was, amazingly, able to purchase a 0.8-hectare parcel of co-planted Greco, Falanghina, and Biancolella on Capri off the Amalfi Coast, a splendorous and heavily touristed little island where only 20 hectares of vines exist in total.

While Campania issues forth an ocean of well-produced, varietally typical product from its unique set of terroirs, Joaquin strikes a far deeper chord. Like the wines of Giampiero Bea in Montefalco, or Paolo Vodopivec in the Carso, Raffaele’s wines veer aesthetically from the mainstream of their appellation while simultaneously seeming to reveal something even truer and more visceral about their place of origin. To taste Joaquin is not only to experience a stunning bottle of Fiano or Aglianico, but to undergo a paradigm shift—to sense things heretofore unencountered in these varieties and these terroirs. To the extent that Raffaele experiments, it is never motivated by whimsy, but by a desire to access the very soul of his land. And while the flavors and textures of his wines may be occasionally unfamiliar, the sense of un-pandering somewhereness is a familiar friend.

In his quest to create wines of unparalleled depth and resonance, Raffaele uses extraordinarily old plant material. Many of his Fiano vines approach 100 years of age, and his Aglianico is a single parcel of ungrafted vines between 150 and 200 years old in the commune of Paternopoli. Not only does Raffaele eschew the use of chemical products in his vineyards, but he foregoes tilling the soil entirely, keeping his parcels permanently grassed in order to preserve microbiological diversity. Vines this ancient and this well-tended engender a gravitas that simply cannot be obtained in any other manner, and indeed Joaquin offers an “X-factor” rarely encountered in the wines of Campania—or anywhere else, for that matter.

The Fiano di Avellino appellation encompasses 26 municipalities, but Raffaele’s Fiano is all from the commune of Lapio—the high-altitude easternmost “cru” of the appellation where the variety itself originated, and where the most complex and historically vaunted examples of Fiano di Avellino come from. Lapio’s high-altitude vineyards (between 550 and 600 meters above sea level), large diurnal temperature shifts (20° Celsius or more), and distinctive volcanic soils of clay-limestone and gravel produce wines of striking finesse and intense minerality, and even in Joaquin’s “Piante a Lapio”—an old-vines Fiano which Raffaele does not top up and which develops a “veil” (as in the Jura) during its long aging in chestnut and acacia—the nervy, cool-microclimate character of Lapio emerges forcefully.

The provenance of Raffaele’s Aglianico is truly astonishing: a 1.2-hectare parcel of widely spaced, high-trained, ungrafted vines between 150 and 200 years of age in the commune of Paternopoli, in Taurasi’s southernmost subzone. This is the coolest area for Aglianico in the entire appellation, with harvest taking place in late October at the earliest, and the wines from here—while amply structured and exceptionally long-lived—tend to temper Aglianico’s rugged ferocity with a sense of underlying elegance. As with his Fiano, Raffaele’s Aglianico expresses a distinctive combination of old-vines intensity and cool-microclimate tension, along with a sense of unapologetic wildness that speaks to his low-intervention cellar approach.

Like his fellow mavericks mentioned above, Raffaele dislikes technological interference in the cellar, and he produces his wines in an exceptionally straightforward manner: no outside yeasts, no temperature control, minimal sulfur additions (25 to 30 milligrams per liter on average), no new oak, and no fining or filtration. His Fiano sees non-thermoregulated steel or fiberglass, or chestnut and acacia, depending on what he’s after, and he ferments his Aglianico in old open-top Slavonian oak barrels, aging it for far longer than the appellation requires in vintages where he decides to bottle a Taurasi Riserva. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, Raffaele is unafraid to change his lineup from year to year, depending on his feelings about the vintage or harvest.)

We at Rosenthal Wine Merchant are remarkably fortunate to be able to bring the wines of Joaquin to the market. Our clients, who have come to cherish our commitment to deeply characterful wines with a profound sense of place, will feel right at home with Raffaele’s wines, even as they offer new sensory experiences and reveal heretofore hidden truths about the terroirs of Campania.

Fiano di Avellino “Vino della Stella”: Raffaele’s largest-production wine at around 6,000 bottles per year, “Vino della Stella” comes from a 0.9-hectare parcel of Fiano between 20 and 30 years of age planted in the commune of Lapio’s volcanic clay-limestone soils. Situated in the far eastern reaches of the Fiano di Avellino appellation, Lapio is where Fiano originated, and it is considered not only the variety’s spiritual home but its greatest terroir. Lapio’s cool microclimate, high altitude, and huge diurnal temperature shifts allow for Fiano of exceptional precision and complexity, and Joaquin’s combines those traits with a magnificently concentrated palate which swells dramatically on the finish. “Vino della Stella” spends eight months on its fine lees in steel and fiberglass without temperature control, and it undergoes an additional stint in bottle before release—a purposeful delay which allows the variety’s youthful floral aromatics to subside a bit while its signature note of toast begins to emerge.

“Piante a Lapio” Campania Fiano: Raffaele’s “Piante a Lapio” is truly outside of category. Made from 80-to-100-year-old Fiano planted in Lapio’s high-altitude volcanic soils, it is fermented spontaneously in casks of chestnut and acacia from local forests, and aged in those same vessels for nearly five years with no topping up. Incredibly, it develops a yeast veil just as a Jura wine would, although “Piante a Lapio” is marked notably less by veil-derived elements than a Jura Savagnin. This unorthodox aging regimen manifests itself in a combination of breadth and salinity, but variety-typical notes of lemon confit and jasmine still manage to ring strongly through the wine’s manifold layers. A stunning testament to Raffaele’s unique vision, “Piante a Lapio” avoids any trace of gimmickry and comes across as a wholly singular and profound creation. (Its highly unorthodox nature, however, prevents it from bearing the “Fiano di Avellino” DOCG.)

“Joaquin Dall’Isola” Campania Bianco: The glamorous highly touristic island of Capri, just off the Amalfi Coast, is home to a mere 20 hectares of vines, and Raffaele Pagano owns a 0.8-hectare parcel of co-planted Greco, Falanghina, and Biancolella here, from which he produces only about 1,200 bottles per vintage. “Joaquin Dall’Isola” (“Joaquin from the Island”) expresses Capri’s wind-buffeted limestone-rich terroir through Raffaele’s highly personal lens, as he co-ferments his varieties and allows them to macerate on their skins for five days before a six-month stint on the lees in non-thermoregulated stainless steel. Rich but not unctuous, mineral-saturated but not austere, this wine vividly evokes the sea in its whomping saltiness, yet possesses a sense of caressing serenity at its core.

“I Viaggiatori” Campania Aglianico: Raffaele’s Aglianico holdings are the stuff of legend: 1.2 hectares of ungrafted pre-phylloxera vines between 150 and 200 years of age, trained high above the ground and spaced widely, with gnarled trunks and vast arms that occasionally touch across the rows. This astonishing parcel is located in the commune of Paternopoli, in the Taurasi appellation’s southernmost and coolest subzone, although Raffaele produces a Taurasi DOCG only in certain vintages. In other vintages, he produces this wine: “I Viaggiatori” (“The Travelers”), a gutsy but finesse-driven Aglianico that spends slightly less time in barrel and typically bears a slightly lower alcohol level than the Taurasi proper. Aged in used oak barrels following a 15-day maceration in old open-top wooden casks, “I Viaggiatori” combines tangy, resonant acidity with dark cherry fruit, and while its tannins are a bit punchy as per the variety, the lingering impression is one of freshness.

Taurasi “Riserva Della Società”: Joaquin’s Taurasi “Riserva Della Società” (“Company Reserve”) is a bold, singular wine of remarkable presence and depth, one which Raffaele only bottles in certain vintages. The Taurasi appellation requires a minimum of 18 months in barrel and a release date no earlier than four years after harvest; Raffaele, by contrast, ages this for at least three years in previously used oak and acacia casks, plus an additional four or more years in bottle before releasing it. “Riserva Della Società” is rife with earth-derived aromas and flavors, evoking damp woods, cool herbs, and wild fruit, and it manages to remain nimble despite its fearsome density; Raffaele certainly does us a favor by holding it for so long first. These remarkable Aglianico vines have spent between 150 and 200 years developing their root systems, and have been disrupted neither by phlloxera—these are own-rooted vines—nor by tilling. The resulting wine, though new to the RWM portfolio, is nearly certain to become one of our most iconic.

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