Joaquin: Auteur of Aglianico; Freethinker of Fiano

Joaquin: Auteur of Aglianico; Freethinker of Fiano

Raffaele Pagano stands in his parcel of 150-year-old own-rooted Aglianico.

The wines of Raffaele Pagano’s Joaquin project made immediate waves upon their US market debut in 2022, as rarely have wines of such captivating individuality and mesmerizing complexity emerged from Campania’s subregion of Irpinia to reach a wider audience. Joaquin fit instantly alongside other boundary-pushing Italian icons in RWM’s portfolio such as Azienda Agricola Paolo Bea and Vodopivec, offering a new lens into a historic terroir while seeming to reveal heretofore unseen truths. The heir apparent to several large-scale wineries owned by his family, Raffaele instead forged his own path, acquiring parcels of staggeringly old Fiano and Aglianico in the communes of Lapio and Paternopoli, respectively, and bottling the first vintage of Joaquin in 2006. Unhindered by overtly commercial concerns, Raffaele prioritizes his freedom—to experiment in the cellar, to work largely without the failsafe of modern enological gadgetry, and to give his wines the time he feels they need to develop before being bottled and sold. 

The wines of Joaquin are bold and startling, offering an experience akin to eating unpasteurized cheese for the first time: a new sensation but one somehow deeply familiar, accompanied by the feeling that this is how it’s supposed to be but so rarely is. Always a gutsy wine, Taurasi under Raffaele’s stewardship, for example, achieves an elemental, feral quality—a clawed-from-the-depths-of-the-earth character matched only by the greatest of Barolo. Part of this is due to the extreme character of its source material: a 1.2-hectare parcel of widely spaced, high-trained, ungrafted Aglianico 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 offer a certain elegance underneath the variety’s layers of rugged ferocity.

Raffaele’s patient, hands-off cellar approach also contributes to the visceral character of his Aglianico. Long, natural fermentations with plenty of skin maceration bring forth the fruit’s every nuance, and the wine touches only old wood at every stage of vinification and aging; not for Raffaele is the inert thermoregulated tank. His lone Taurasi bottling is a Riserva, produced only in exceptional vintages and aged in cask for a minimum of three years followed by at least four in bottle; in other years he produces the declassified “I Viaggiatori” from the same ancient Aglianico parcel, emphasizing minerality and lifted elegance but still with plenty of visceral power. And for his white wines, besides his Fiano di Avellino “Vino della Stella” (a workhorse which comprises the bulk of his production, yet which is anything but basic), Raffaele produces a Fiano aged under veil from vines over 100 years old—a brazenly experimental wine that somehow locates an essence of the variety unencountered elsewhere.

Raffaele’s operation is small by design, and his output consequently low. We are extremely fortunate to have access to such treasures, and we look forward to sharing with our clientele a new round of releases from the singular Joaquin in the near future.

More on Joaquin here.