Italian Indigenous Varieties: Casavecchia Nero from Caserta

The subject line could have been little known Italian varieties and that is exactly the point. Often people talk about just how many grape varieties Italy has. The numbers differ but Attilio Scienza, a Professor in Milan and an expert on all things related to the grape told me in an interview some years ago that only 350 varieties are “authorized.”

What did that mean exactly? Authorized to be used in the production of wines that have rules and regulations governing their production, meaning all DOC and DOCG wines. Scienza is a font of so much knowledge, speaking with him was a true joy. The number 350 may be one that stays in your mind but the real number of varieties grown in Italy is much higher. Every trip I take there, I meet someone growing a variety I had never heard of and never seen before that particular day and that particular producer.

I have a small obsession with little known grape varieties so even though you may never drink a wine made with Casavecchia nera, I feel it is my duty to write about it on the oft chance you encounter it in your wine travels.

Casavecchia nera is a red grape grown in the area around the city of Caserta in the region of Campania. It was brought back to life by two people, Peppe Mancini and Manuela Piancastelli and their enologist Luigi Moio who believed in the power of this grape and desired to see it grow in its ancient soils. The winery they own called Terre del Principe began as a hobby. Peppe remembered grapes that farmers had grown near relatives’ homes as a boy. He searched and found some old vines and had them replanted on his land. One of these, Casavecchia nera, wasn’t even written into the “albo” or list of indigenous grape varieties in Italy grown in his region. All that has changed after much hard work. The variety can now be grown in 11 areas around Caserta at 250-350 meters above sea level where the soils are vulcanic with sand, limestone and clay mixed into the pot. The micro climate is protected by the mountains and the grapes are concentrated because of significant thermal excursions between day and night.

Terre di Principe even makes a pure varietal wine from Casavecchia called Centomoggia. Some 10 wineries in this area now grow Casavecchia with promising results and the grape is officially listed in the “albo.” The pair feel as though they are the parents of this grape and are an example of one couple’s commitment to bringing back ancient vines in Italy.

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