Wine and Dine with Mount Vesuvius

Wine is the only artwork you can drink.

Luis Fernando Olaverri

Wine is such a complex beverage. Not only do you need the right ingredients, but the process, the soil, and the climate are also very important to find just the right balance. It was Luis Fernando Olaverri that said, “Wine is the only artwork you can drink.” Just like a painter uses a paper and a brush to pull colors onto a blank canvas, so does a wine drinker use his glass and hand to swirl the wine in the glass to pull out all of the aromas and flavors. When you look at a painter’s work, you notice visually if the artwork used light colors or dark colors. When you look at wine, you notice the shades of a bianco (white) or rosso (red). A painter uses different colors and strokes to accent the painting. A wine drinker uses his nose and the palate on his tongue to catch all of the different flavors to really enhance the experience.

Through a deal organized by the United Services Organization (remember them from our trip to Salerno?), Adam and I got the chance to go to the Cantina Del Vesuvio winery, tour the local vineyard, and enjoy food and wine tastings. The winery is located on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius and takes advantage of the rich, volcanic soil. We were excited to visit, but less excited to drive on the extremely narrow (and ancient!) roads to get there, even in our small car. When we arrived, we were struck by the gorgeous setting, located right on the edge of Mount Vesuvius. If you look down the sloping rows of vines, you can see all the way down to the city and the bay below with the rocky Sorrentine Peninsula in the distance. Looking up the opposite way, the ground gently rises and the top of the volcano disappears into the fog. This time of the year is not tourist season, which was great for us because we got a private tour!

The Cantina del Vesuvio winery.

As we walked around we noticed that Mount Vesuvius was engulfed in the clouds, making the area look so mysterious. The tour guide informed us that they use the volcanic soil to produce their grapes, which gives them a richer and saltier flavor. She also informed us that they use their grapes not only to make wine, but also to make their own sweet vinegar. The winery plants rose bushes at the end of some of the rows of vines as an early warning system, because bugs will attack the rose bushes first. This helps give the staff time to locate the bug problem and stop them before they can get to the valuable grapes. What a great idea!

The two varieties of grape that grow on Mount Vesuvius are the caprettone and the piedirosso. These grapes are used to make the famous Lacryma Christi wines, available in bianco, rosato, and rosso. The roots of the vines grow deep into the volcanic soil and, as a result, do not need to be irrigated. The soil helps hold in the humidity and traps the water that the roots need. It is said that Aristotle wrote about how the vineyards first came to be here in the 5th century B.C., brought by the ancient people of Thessaly who settled the Magna Grecia region (modern day Southern Italy). Later, the Roman poet Martial wrote about these vineyards, saying, “Bacchus loved these hills more than his native hills of Nisa.”

Walking around the vineyard.

The name “Lacryma Cristi” is in many legends in the Naples area, but our tour guide shared one of the most popular with us. It is said that Lucifer decided to steal a piece of heaven before he was thrown out by God. Later, Christ visited the region and recognized that the Gulf of Naples was in fact the stolen piece of heaven. As a result, Christ began to cry for the loss of the stolen piece. His tears seeped into the ground and out came the vines that are now called Lacryma Christi, the “tears of Christ” in Latin.

Cantina del Vesuvio wine barrels.

Our guide finished the tour by showing us the oak barrels where the wine is aged and telling us that they also make their own apricot liqueur with the help of the volcanic soil. Then she brought us over to their restaurant section of the vineyards, which was so adorable on the inside! It had wooden beam ceilings, rustic style lanterns, and a cozy fireplace with a crackling fire. The room gave off a warm and homey feel.  

We chose the table next to the fireplace and we eagerly began our three course lunch and wine tastings. They informed us that all of the food we would be having was homemade and made with all local products. First they brought out some bread to go with their personal extra virgin olive oil and a few dots of their sweet grape vinegar. They were both so amazing! It was a great start to an unforgettable lunch date.

Bread with the winery’s homemade extra virgin olive oil and sweet grape vinegar. Plus an example of a rooster pitcher!

They also brought out a water pitcher. But not just any old pitcher — this one was shaped like a rooster! Since we first arrived in Naples, we keep seeing these hand-painted rooster pitchers sold all over the place. We had to know the story behind them. The short version is that the Medici family (led by Giuliano and his brother, Lorenzo the Great) ruled the Republic of Florence in 1478. The Pazzi family was not a fan of the Medici family and plotted to kill Giuliano (who, unfortunately, did not have as cool of a nickname as his brother). The Pazzi family knew that Giuliano loved to throw elaborate festivals, so they suggested a grand festival in a new village. After the festival was over and Giuliano was asleep from wine, the Pazzi’s assassins tried to make their way through the village. However, they did not do it quietly and awoke the roosters, which started to crow. This roused he whole village and the assassins were captured and executed. Giuliano was so grateful to the roosters that he held another festival the next night and had the artisans of the area make ceramic rooster pitchers. He then gave these pitchers to all of the peasants in the area as a symbol of good luck and to help ward off evil. For this reason, rooster pitchers have become common housewarming or wedding gifts.

Appetizer included bruschetta with heirloom Piennolo tomatoes, salami, provolone cheese, and a casatiello.

Ok, enough about the water pitcher and back to our lunch. The appetizer consisted of bruschetta with heirloom Piennolo tomatoes (which are tomatoes that are grown on Mount Vesuvius), salami, provolone cheese, and a casatiello (which is a savory, soft bread with bits of meat inside). This appetizer sampler was paired with the Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Bianco DOP (100% Caprettone), Rosato (100% Piedirosso), and Rosso (100% Piedirosso). Adam and I were not the biggest fans of the Bianco, but we absolutely loved the Rosato and the Rosso. The waitress came over and poured each wine sample the way we were told you must pour wine in Italy: toward your body. If you pour it backhanded, then you are wishing that person bad luck. A lot of Italians take this very seriously, so try not to do it the wrong way!

Fresh, homemade al dente pasta.

Our next course was spaghetti that was made with durum wheat flour (or pasta wheat) that was tossed with heirloom Piennolo tomatoes and basil sauce. The spaghetti was a perfect al dente consistency and the sauce was the perfect amount of sweet and tart! Local Italians have told us that, when you eat pasta, you should not use a spoon. You can either take smaller portions on your fork or you can use a piece of bread and twirl the pasta with that. Adam and I tend to use the bread method, because then you can eat the sauce-covered bread afterwards! Also, when eating pasta, it is not custom to lean forward while eating. Instead you must sit upright (Adam and I have not quite mastered that without getting sauce on ourselves). This meal was paired with Lacryma Christi Riserva (80% Piedirosso and 20% Aglianico, which was aged in French oak barrels for 18 – 24 months). We were told that this wine is a crowd favorite and a lot of people seem to like this one the best. It was good, but Adam and I still liked the other two we tried during the appetizer round better. This works out for us because the ones we liked were also less expensive than the Riserva!

Moist cake with powdered sugar (no apricot liqueur yet!).

Finally, we concluded with a traditional cake made from sweetened ricotta, candied fruit, and boiled wheat berries. It was so creamy and delicious! We really loved and enjoyed every element of our meal. This dessert was paired with Capafresca Spumante Rose Extra Dry (100% Aglianico) and Acquavite di Albicocche del Vesuvio (apricot liqueur). The waitress suggested we put a little dab of the apricot liqueur on the dessert and then drink the rest. I decided to just put the whole thing on it! In retrospect, I would not recommend that approach and wished I had listened to the waitress instead. I really liked the flavor of the apricot liqueur, so I thought why not — but there is a reason why not. The picture I took is before I soaked it and had a puddle of apricot liqueur on my plate. Also, I will say that Adam’s and my other favorite wine of theirs was the Capafresca Spumante Rose Extra Dry. It was very well balanced; not too sweet and full of flavor.

Once we were done with the meal, the tour guide took us to their store where the bottling and labeling of the wines takes place. After she explained the process, Adam and I got our first rooster pitchers (a big one and small one; they needed company), some wine, olive oil, and some sweet vinegar. We found out too that you can only purchase their products at their winery or order it on their website. They don’t sell it in the stores.

To top off our trip, we saw three adorable puppies on the way to the car. I just couldn’t help going over and petting them. They were so cute! It was a great conclusion to the tour, and we hope the puppies choose to come out when you visit.

There are still other wineries in the Mount Vesuvius area to see, but I will say Cantina Del Vesuvio will hold a special place in our hearts. As Luis Fernando Olaverri stated, “wine is the only artwork you can drink,” and this winery was a masterpiece in its beautiful views, wines, and food! Salute, to many more winery experiences.

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