Make no mistake, this is a special wine. It is a wine that transcends the average wines of the Fiano de Avellino appellation and stands alone as a fine wine in its own right.
Perhaps most important of all is that this Fiano isn’t about expensive oak barrels, a fancy bottle, or any other modern trappings. It’s a wine aiming for maximum terroir transparency, aged eight months on its lees in steel and fiberglass and sourced from 20+-year-old vines in chemical-free, “no till” vineyards. Pagano is a fourth-generation scion of a successful, Salerno-based winemaking family, but his Joaquin label—named for a Bourbon Dynasty family who advanced viticulture in Campania in 17th and 18th centuries—is a passion project of modest dimensions (1,500 total cases per year) and earnest ambitions. Hand-farmed, handmade wine from minuscule parcels is Pagano’s labor-intensive mission.
The village of Lapio, whose vineyards rise to altitudes of 600+ meters in soils that mix volcanic material with clay and limestone gravel, is known to some Italian wine aficionados thanks to the excellent Fianos of Clelia Romano, which cite the village prominently on their labels. Joaquin further cements the village’s reputation as the “grand cru” it is, perfectly suited to coax out the floral perfume that separates Fiano from so many aromatically neutral Italian whites. At the same time, Joaquin’s “Vino della Stella” has a Grüner Smaragd-like intensity and a palpable soil character reminiscent of Chablis. In this regard, it’s a departure from the more fruit-driven examples at the higher end of the market. It is unmistakably Fiano, but also unmistakably from somewhere.
In the glass, it displays a deep yellow, slight-copper hue and bursts forth with aromas of bruised pear, orange blossom, yellow peach, acacia honey, green herbs, citrus, wet rock, pine boughs, and a hint of smoke. Its fruit and earth components are precision balanced on the palate, which leans toward medium-plus in body and has some of the wet-stone “grip” of a great white Burgundy. It already has some bottle age but should respond well to a little more, although it’s drinking beautifully right now: Decant it about 15 minutes before serving in all-purpose stems at 50 degrees and allow it to creep up to cellar temperature to get the full effect. It’s a serious white for serious consideration, and it will pair beautifully with whatever ultra-fresh fish your local market has for you.