Donnachiara Taurasi and Lamb Spezzatino #ItalianFWT

There isn’t much to be excited about when it comes to coronavirus and sheltering in place, however, one small silver lining I’ve found in this situation is that it’s put me back in regular contact with a few dear friends that I hadn’t had a chance to connect with in a long time. Among them is a mentor of mine from culinary school, who quickly became a friend after I completed my program. In recent years, Chef Annette (my mind still always attaches the moniker of respect to her name, even if I no longer use it to address her), has been traveling continuously thanks to an edutainment position with a cruise line. It’s hard enough to keep in regular contact with friends in other cities. It’s considerably harder when that person is literally always out at sea! As you might guess, the pandemic has brought her back to land, and we’ve been chatting regularly since she’s been back.

Of course, the first thing I wanted to hear about was all her travels and highlights from the place she’d been. Among her most recent travels was a vacation in Italy and we went on a long tangent about the things she ate and drank there. (Also, yes, cruise ships + Italy. She’d been in all kinds of hotspots just before we all got blindsided by this thing. Very happily she’s ok.) In the course of this chat, it came up that her dad used to live in Campania.

A lightbulb went off in my head. I knew I was planning to write about a bottle of Aglianico from Taurasi that I had lined up for this month’s Italian Food, Wine, Travel (#ItalianFWT) blogging event, so I asked her to share some of her favorite dishes from her visits to Campania that might pair with the wine. Spezzatino was her immediate answer.

“Honestly, my favorite dish  . . . that goes great with Aglianico is a very simple stew... spezzatino. Can be beef, pork or lamb. Braised to death with wine, bay leaf, pancetta, sage. I don’t have a recipe but so easy!”


Map borrowed from

Campania is the shin of the boot. Drive south from Rome in Lazio, and this the next region you’ll come across. It’s most famous city is Naples, but also where you’ll find Salerno, Positano, and  Pompei. Of course, this is also where you find Mount Vesuvius, which famously erupted and destroyed the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD. The region is steeped with history and traditions and is home to 10 of Italy’s 55 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Mount Vesuvius is actually only of several volcanoes in the region that make up the Campanian Volcanic Arc. The volcanoes are in all different states – active, dormant, and extinct. Where you find volcanic soils, you often find excellent wines! (See these posts on Sicily here and here for additional examples.) Volcanic soils don’t retain water well and are fairly infertile, which causes stress on the vines. Stressed out vines tend often lead to wine grapes with tons of flavor!

This region delivers in that camp. There are many stunning and affordably priced white wines from grapes like Fiano, Greco, and Falanghina (find a pairing here). The region’s star red grape though is Aglianico, hands down. We’ve talked about Aglianico a couple of times before on this blog. We explored a version from Basilicata to the south, the other main region for this grape. We also took a look at an excellent version from Texas.

You might notice that all of these are warm climates and Aglianico really needs that warmth because it ripens very late. When it gets all the sunshine it needs, this grape can make intense, flavorful, tannic wines that still have plenty of acidity for balance. It’s also drought-resistant, so it has a lot of potential to do well as the climate changes. The grape tends to show flavors of plum, dark cherries, smoke, chocolate, white pepper, and leather. If you’re a Cab lover looking for something a little different, Aglianico is a great option to explore.

In Taurasi, where out wine comes from today, Aglianico often will show some floral notes mixed in. These versions are often some of the longest-lived too and can age quite a whole. Of course, the flipside to that is that they can be pretty tight and aggressively tannic when young.  Our bottle today was from 2013 and it still had plenty of life left to go.


Our wine today is the Donnachiara Taurasi DOCG 2013. The Pettito family, a noble family that has been making wine for five generations. The Donnachiara brand was born in 2005  on land that has been in the family for over 150 years. It’s almost under almost all-female management. The winery is named for Donna Chiara Mazzarelli Petitto, who was able to run and develop the family’s business during particularly difficult times during the two world wars when her husband, Antonio Petitto, who was working as a doctor for the Italian Red Cross. Ilaria Petitto is the current CEO, and she is supported by her mother Chiara, who is the niece of the original Donna Chiara. She built the winery with the help of her husband Umberto. Today they make modern wines from traditional varieties on their ancient lands. They use sustainable practices that are constantly evolving, in the service of making high-quality wines. I’ve come across their wines many times of the years and they always tend to deliver good quality and value (one is featured here). 

The Donnachiara Taurasi DOCG 2013 was received as a media sample. All opionions are my own and no other compensation was received.

On the day I opened the 2013 Taurasi, I picked up notes of red plum sauce with dark cherries, tomato paste, licorice, and violets on the nose. Dried herbs, pepper, and smoke joined on the palate and sour cherries joined in the mix. This is a big wine all-around: full-body, high tannins, and medium+ acid.

I received this bottle as a media sample a while back and I think it’s benefited from time in the bottle because it was quite luscious and smooth. I also decanted it well in advance of dinner to give it plenty of time to open up.

I loved Annette’s spezzatino recommendation and I decided to dig in a little deeper to discover some of the dish’s background. I found lots of recipes from different parts of Italy using various types of meat. I particularly enjoyed this post I found on At The Italian Table by Chef Gina Stipo for the context and picture it painted. She explains that spezzatino means “little pieces” and uses red wine and long, slow cooking to break all the meat into “luscious, tender and flavorful stews and hearty meals.” Well, that sounds fantastic!

My take away from everything I read is that this a dish that evolves wherever it goes to make use of what’s around. In my book, that makes it a perfect dish for the moment. Admittedly, we’re at the tail-end of stew weather here in the Bay Area, but we do still have a few chilly nights mixed in with warmer ones. Moreover, there are lots of ways to use up stew leftovers that aren’t so “stewy.” For example, just reduce it down a little bit and use it as sauce on pasta.

I took the cue of using what I had and ran with it. Greg had recently made lamb stock from bone leftover from other recent dinners and I was able to get lamb stew meat, so I ran with that. I braised it with wine and whatever herbs and veggies I had around. Luckily, I had several braising staples. I didn’t have pancetta, but would certainly use bacon or pancetta next time, so I’m including it in the recipe as an option. A lot of the recipes that I looked at served the spezzatino over polenta, which I love but did not have. I did have an overabundance of potatoes, so I tossed those into the braise. 

Basically, I’m writing up the recipe as I made it using what I had, but you should, in turn, take the license to use whatever you have. Don’t like lamb? Use beef or pork. Don’t have an herb or spice? Skip it. Low on carrots or celery? Don’t stress or add mushrooms or some bell peppers instead. See Annette’s instructions up and the top and take heart. The key components are really some meat of some kind and some wine for braising. And if you’re vegetarian, try a meat substitute (there are so many good ones now) or mushrooms.

Staying true to the moment we’re in, I didn’t really pay careful attention to the timing of things. As Annette suggested, I just ‘braised it to death.’ Make this on an afternoon at home when you can just let it braise slowly in the background. I think many of us are having lots of these days recently.

This was a magical pairing. The wine and the food just danced together beautifully. The wine had the richness to match the food, but still had plenty of acidity to keep things lively. It was such a comforting combo. Just what was needed.


The winery recommends pairing this wine with pastas topped with full-bodied sauces, steak, game, and aged cheeses. This spotlight on  Aglianico on includes a long list of other pairing recommendations, among them suggestions for pairing it with dishes flavored with soy sauce and black bean sauce sparked my interest.

If you’re looking for other wines to pairing with this dish, this is the perfect occasion for bringing out your big reds! Cabernet Sauvignon or  Syrah would be excellent, and from elsewhere in Italy, wines like Sagrantino and fuller Sangioveses would certainly be tasty as well.


Taken from the tech sheet.

Grape Variety: 100% Agliancio
Soil: Clay
Winemaking: Manuel grape picking, after pressing the must is put into stainless steel tank at a controlled temperature. Maturation on the skins for 15 days. Malolactic fermentation takes place in barriques.
Refining in bottle: 12 months
Recommended Temperature: 60-64°F.


The average price on this wine is $35, and while that’s not inexpensive, it’s still a good value. It’s an Attainable Indulgence, and when if you compare it to the price of some other quality big reds, it’s definitely worth the slight splurge. However, the winery also makes two other wines based on Aglianico, an Irpinia DOC and a Campania Aglianico IGT, which are progressively less expensive and still really good introductions to the grape, from what I can recall.

stew, lamb, braise
Servings: 4 to 6

Lamb Spezzatino

Lamb Spezzatino

Prep Time: 15 MCooking Time: 2 hoursTotal Time: 2 H & 15 M


  • 4 oz pancetta or bacon, minced (optional)
  • 1.5 to 2 lbs cubed lamb (Feel free to substitute beef or pork)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 2 to 3 carrots, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 2 14.5-oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup red wine, or more as needed
  • 2 cups of lamb stock, or as needed (if you don’t have lamb stock, feel free to use beef stock or more wine. Many recipes I looked at used 3 cups of wine. I used stock because I had it.)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 rosemary sprigs
  • 3 to 4 sprigs of thyme
  • 3 to 4 sprigs of oregano
  • 4 sage leaves
  • ½ to 1 lb small potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces (halved or quartered, depending on the size of the potatoes. With 1 lb of potatoes you really don’t need any other side. It’s quite hearty.)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
Note: Do not get hung up on the quantities of herbs. Use whatever you have on hand and do not feel that you need to use them all.


  1. Lightly brown the pancetta or bacon, if using, in a large pot or Dutch-oven medium-high heat. Once browned, transfer the pancetta to another dish. Season the meat with salt and pepper. If you did no use pancetta or bacon, add a generous pour of olive oil to the pan and heat until shimmering. If you did use it, use the fat that rendered out for cooking. Add the meat to the pot in a single layer and sauté until browned on all sides, working in batches if necessary. Transfer the meat to another platter (with the pancetta if using).
  2. Deglaze the pot with a little wine, making sure to scrape up any browned bits. Add more olive oil to the pot if needed, followed by the carrot, celery, and onion. Season with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are soft but not browned. (Add a splash of wine or stock to the pot if the vegetables do begin to brown.) Add the garlic to the pot, followed by tomato paste, and flour. The flour and tomato paste will create a paste-like consistency around the vegetables – cook for another a couple of minutes and allow to deepen in color. Deglaze with the rest of the red wine or some of the stock. Add the tomatoes and herbs. Return the lamb and pancetta (if using) to the pot, followed by the remaining wine and stock. Season with additional salt and pepper. Raise heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer over low heat for at least 90 minutes or until fall-apart tender, stirring occasionally and being careful to not allow the bottom to burn. Add in the potatoes about an hour before you intend to serve. If the liquid gets low, add a little more wine, stock, or water.
  3. Right before serving, taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Remove the bay leaves and sprigs of herbs. Serve on its own, with polenta or pasta if desired, or with crusty bread to mop the sauce. Garnish with chopped herbs if you have extra on hand and feel free to top with a little grated Parmesan cheese.

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Created using The Recipes Generator

 The rest of the #ItalianFWT blogging group is exploring the wines of Campania, led by Susannah of Avvinare

Additional resources used for this post:
The Oxford Companion to Wine on 
Oz Clarke: Grapes & Wines 
The World Atlas of Wine 8th Edition

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  1. Sounds like a fab pairing with the spezzatino and Donnachiara wine...they are a nice winery.


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