Donnachiara Montefalcione: Five Generations of Wine, Wolves, and Women in Campania (#WinePW)

The intrepid explorers of the Wine Pairing Weekend group are turning their attention this month to women in the wine industry. Our goal is to highlight the efforts of women who are blazing trails in the wine world, be they winery owners, winemakers, or industry movers-and-shakers. We’ll meet Saturday, February 10th, at 11 am ET on Twitter to discuss the exciting people we’ve met and tell their tales. Join us! It’s easy to do: follow the hashtag #WinePW at the appointed time. We look forward to seeing you!

Our host this month is Gwendolyn Lawrence Alley of Wine Predator, and you can read her invitation post here. If you’re curious about who and what we’ll be talking about on Saturday, scroll down to the bottom of this post for a roll-call of participating bloggers and their topics.

Wine, Wolves, and Women

Not long ago, I was invited to a winemaker’s luncheon in Campania, Italy. I didn’t have to travel far, though, just to West 54th Street in mid-town Manhattan, to a chic southern Italian restaurant. As I strolled toward my destination, I marveled at the hustle-and-bustle around me, which seemed exceptional even for New York: construction cranes peeked over office buildings, hinting at the sky-high aspirations of local developers. Traffic alternated between fast and slow, but always noisy. I wondered how newcomers like me ever adapted to the pace.

Amid the crush of pedestrians, automobiles, and traffic cops, I checked the address on my lunch invitation, thinking I’d made a mistake. There, in the heart of the block, stood a majestic townhouse, an anachronistic throw-back to quieter, gentler times. My eyes scanned the façade for some confirmation that I’d indeed miscalculated my route. And then I saw the sign for Il Gattopardo – the ocelot, in Italian. I had arrived.

Il Gattopardo Mosaic
Welcome to Il Gattopardo

When Il Gattopardo relocated to 13-15 West 54th Street, the restaurant took up residence in one of Manhattan’s most architecturally significant spots. Back in 1897 Henry Hardenbergh, who also designed the Dakota Building and the Plaza Hotel, constructed a row of townhouses in the Beaux Arts Renaissance style. Known locally as Millionaire’s Row, this stretch of West 54th Street is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and was once home to John D. Rockefeller. I was awed by the beauty of the exterior; I couldn’t wait to see the inside.

E54th-13-Rockefeller-townhouse-TA01
The stunning facade on West 54th Street (Photo: Manhattan Sideways)

Women, Wine, and Wolves

Our host for the luncheon was Susannah Gold, founder of Vigneto Communications, a boutique public relations, marketing, and educational consulting firm serving the food and wine industries. Looking for a way to mesh her professional experience as a journalist and PR specialist with her passion for wine, Susannah created Vigneto in 2007. One of her goals is to connect women winemakers and family-owned wineries with American consumers.

As we took our seats in the private dining room downstairs, Susannah welcomed us and introduced Ilaria Petitto, Managing Director of Società Agricola Donnachiara, established in 2005. Donnachiara focuses on crafting wines that reflect the ancient traditions of Campania. Using native grapes and drawing on five generations of family winemaking history, Ilaria and her family manage each step of the process, from cultivating the vines to blending the wines.

Ilaria (2)
Ilaria Petitto of Donnachiara

Although the modern winery was built in 2005, the family’s history in Campania traces back several generations to Ilaria’s great-grandmother Chiara – the original Donna Chiara for whom the winery is named. Fiercely protective of her family’s land, Donna Chiara was instrumental in saving it from the ravages of World War II. When her husband, a surgeon in the Italian Red Cross, left home to care for wounded soldiers, Donna Chiara remained on the property she had loved as a child, protecting it as her parents had done during World War I.

chiara-petitto
Chiara Petitto, Ilaria’s mother

And so it progressed, this love of the land, from one strong woman to another, from Donna Chiara to her granddaughter, and then to her daughter, Ilaria who, by the way, has a young daughter of her own named Chiara. Do you see a trend here?

The Italian word chiara means light, bright, or clear. It seems an apt description of the women in this family, who saw a dream clearly enough to build a solid foundation underneath it. And they have shed a bright light on the special wines of Irpinia, a historic region 30 miles east of Naples, which takes its name from the ancient Hirpini tribe. (The tribe itself is named for the local word hirpus, or wolf.)

Highlight of the Meal: Scialatielli ai Frutti di Mare and Greco di Tufo

During our lunch we sampled several courses, each meant to bring out the special qualities of each wine being poured. Every single pairing worked, but one of them blew me away! A deceptively simple seafood pasta dressed in a mild tomato sauce played Yin to the Greco di Tufo’s Yang. To date, I’ve never tasted more perfect food/wine harmony.

Scialatielli are long, square-sided noodles native to the cuisine of Campania. This spectacular dish married the pasta with tiny mussels, shrimp, and scallops in a light tomato-herb sauce. I’ve never had a dish like this. The sauce was faintly sweet, and there was just enough of it on the plate to cloak the scialatielli. As for the pairing, all I can say is Wow! The citrus and soft pear flavors of the Greco brought out the sweetness of the fresh shellfish; the acidity balanced the tomato sauce. One of the most beautiful wine-food partnerships I’ve experienced.

Scialatielli Plate
Scialatielli ai Frutti di Mare

2016 Donnachiara Greco di Tufo DOCG (SRP about $14)

This wine, 100% Greco, was the color of a ripe yellow pear and offered up aromas of white peach, lemon zest, and Bartlett pear. There was also an intriguing floral note that I couldn’t pin down. On the palate there were flavors of candied lemon, fresh pear, and green apple. Its lacy delicacy belied the structure underneath: crisp acidity and a decidedly mineral texture amped up this Greco’s game. I loved this wine! And I swooned over the combination of the Greco and scialatielli! It also had me dreaming of other potential pairings: grilled whole fish stuffed with lemons and herbs immediately came to mind.

Greco di Tufo

Apparently Scialatielli ai Frutti di Mare is one of those recipes that differs from one town to another, perhaps even from one kitchen to another. It is typically Italian in that the preparation is simple, with the quality of ingredients of paramount importance (in this case, the freshest seafood, the best tomatoes, the sweetest olive oil).

In searching for a recipe that closely resembled the version served at Il Gattopardo, I sifted through several pages online before coming across this one from Fresco Pesce magazine. It’s in Italian, but there is an option to translate the page. Let me know what you think. Or, if you’re in New York City, visit Il Gattopardo and taste the original!

More from Donnachiara Winery

As I mentioned at the top of this article, we enjoyed several courses, each paired with a different wine from Donnachiara: Fiano, Falanghina, among the other whites, and a flight of reds. For a complete description of all the wines we tasted (including the classic yet approachable reds made from Aglianico) and the delectable dishes with which they were paired, please click here.

Bottle Line Up

More Women in Wine from the Wine Pairing Weekend Crew

We’ve got a whole host of articles featuring women in the wine industry. Here’s what the rest of the group is contributing:

Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla brings the bubbles with > The Effervescent Nicole Walsh Dishes On Ser And Being a Woman (in Wine) & Sparkling Rosé of Nebbiolo + Fusion Street Tacos.

Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm shares > Women Winemakers~~Introducing Burgdorf Winery.

Nicole from Somm’s Table has us > Malbec, Meat, and Conversation with Hanna Winery’s Christine Hanna

Jane of Always Ravenous is > Celebrating Merry Edward’s Winemaking Journey with a Winter Feast

David from Cooking Chat brings us > Tuscan Kale Pasta with Elisabetta’s Vernaccia.

Susannah at Avvinare shares > Crociani Rosso di Montepulciano and Turkey Chili For A Cold Winter’s Day

Gwendolyn from Wine Predator explains > We’re with WALT: owner Kathryn Hall, Winemaker Megan Gunderson Paredes.

Here at The Swirling Dervish we’re running with the wolves for > Donnachiara Montefalcione – Five Generations of Wine, Wolves, and Women in Campania.

I hope you’ve been inspired by these stories of women who are changing the wine world. If you have, why not track down a few bottles to share with your sisters and girlfriends? I’ll raise my own glass and join you in a toast: To Women in Wine – Long may they live, loudly may they roar!

19 comments

  1. What an amazing story! Some seriously inspiring girl power here. And you had my mouth watering at the description of the combo — I love when a pairing overwhelms that way!

    Liked by 1 person

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