Campania Wine: Something Very Old, Something Very New

By Victor Rallo Jr. and Anthony Verdoni

 


We feel that if a geographic area has shown wine excellence throughout a long history, then even more sublime heights can be reached with the addition of a dose of passion and attention. Campania was the breadbasket of Ancient Rome. Fruits, nuts, grains, seafood, meats, olive oil – authors from Virgil to Pliny to Columella agreed that if those ingredients were of Campanian origin, they were the best. The wine poet Horace was lavish in his praise of Falernian white, which is produced today, as in the Roman era, from grapes grown on the hillsides of Campania.
In the modern era the vineyards of Campania became neglected. In the 1960’s farmers were abandoning traditional vines and replacing them with zippy, international varietals, trying to cash in on the more trendy, easily recognizable, cheap wine boom. Fortunately, a few families stood their ground and a revolution began.
 
The first shots were fired by brothers Antonio and Walter Mastroberardino in the hills of Avellino. Their white wines, made from classic Greco and Fiano vines, became a hit not only locally but also on the most chic wine lists throughout the rest of Italy. Red Taurasi, created from the Ancient Greek Aglianico grape, took the world by storm. Their 1968 Taurasi Riserva is one of the finest Italian reds that we have ever tasted, although the 1961 comes very close to it. These trailblazers fought to keep Lacrima Cristi wines tied to Campania, pointing out in court that the story of Lacrima was clearly linked only to Mt. Vesuvius – and nowhere else. When a Tuscan producer called one of his wine Terre di Tufo, the Mastroberardinos insisted that he change the name, since customers might confuse it with Campania’s own Greco di Tufo, a white wine with a 2000-year history. He changed the name to Terre di Tufi rather than fight. Campania was getting some overdue recognition.
 
After the devastating earthquake of 1980, progress slowed down, but by the 1990’s the landscape once again began moving in a positive flux. New players emerged, becoming instant successes. Noteworthy producers included Feudi di San Gregorio, Villa Matilde, Antonio Caggiano, Fattoria Galardi with their Terra di Lavoro, and Silvia Imperato and her Montevetrano, just to mention a handful. Walter Mastroberardino had left his brother to start his own estate, Terradora di Paolo. The baton of Antonio Mastroberardino’s historic winery was passed to his capable son, Piero. Campania was on the move again.
 
Campania’s Historic Vines
Some of Campania’s historic vines cannot be found outside of the region. They date back to 650 BC. Some were indigenous. Others were introduced to Southern Italy by colonizing Greeks, who also taught local inhabitants more advanced methods of grape growing and winemaking. The Greeks called Southern Italy Enotria Tellus, the Land of Wine. The Romans called the area Magna Graecia, Great Greece. Fertile Campania, with its maritime influences and windy, mountainous interior, became the hub of ancient viticulture.
 
Falanghina: This white wine, probably of Greek origin, was almost extinct until it was rescued by a few families, including that of Francesco Avallone of Villa Matilde. Falanghina thrives throughout the provinces of Avellino, Benevento, Caserta, Napoli and Salerno. It produces a supple dry white with nuances of fruity vanilla notes. The various soils of Campania impart a panoply of distinct flavors. The Greeks taught the Romans to train vines by staking them to a pole (phalanga), thus the name Falanghina.
 
Fiano: This spicy, aromatic white grape was named by Pliny as the bee vine (Apianum). Bees were attracted by its sweet fruit. Eventually Apianum gave way to Afiano, and finally Fiano. Today it grows throughout Puglia and Sicily. The loftiest expression is from Avellino: Fiano di Avellino, DOCG. It is usually full-bodied, fresh, with minerality notes and the fragrance of toasted hazelnuts. It ages well, retaining its vigor for 5 years or more.
 
Greco: Today Greco grows in Calabria, Lazio and Campania, where it is best known for DOCG Greco di Tufo. It is related to the Grecanico and Grechetto, which thrive throughout Sicily and the Italian peninsula. Food friendly, Greco has nuances of toasted almonds, figs, floral notes, peaches and pears.
 
Coda di Volpe: So named by Pliny since its clusters are shaped like the “tail of a fox,” this savory dry white grape is commonly used for blending, imparting crispness and acidity. It is now becoming more and more a standalone varietal.
 
Piedirosso: This is Pliny’s “Colombina,” or pigeon varietal, so named for its red feet; that is, red vine stems. Herbal, with aromatic notes of black pepper, mint, rosemary and sage, Piedirosso is best known as a red blending grape, used to soften the more potent Aglianico in DOC Vesuvio and other wines of Campania. 
 
Aglianico: Considered as highly as Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, Aglianico is a mutation of “Hellenico”; that is, the Greek grape, brought by Greek colonists to Magna Graecia perhaps as early as the 8th Century BC. It is Southern Italy’s most important vine. It flourishes throughout Molise and parts of Puglia, but the best versions are DOC Aglianico del Vulture in Basilicata and Campania’s Taurasi DOCG. Characteristics include complex flavors of cherries, berries, licorice, black pepper, violets and dark chocolate. Certain Aglianico wines can develop in the bottle for a decade or more. Taurasi is a village near Avellino.
 
Asprinio: This crisp, dry white vine grows only in the Aversa area, close to Caserta and Naples. It is trained to grow to heights of 40 to 50 feet in the Etruscan manner. Asprinio is at its best in the production of fizzy (frizzante) and sparkling (spumante) wines. Two producers worth searching out are Caputo and I Borboni.
 
New Kids on the Block
We recently held a symposium for some of the new wave – youthful, energetic, forward-looking Campania wineries. Click through to the next page for some of our notes.

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Comments

  • Snooth User: mjapka
    656126 57

    The greatest thing about the falanghina grape is that it is grown all over the place. On our yearly visit to Pozzuoli and Napoli, we always try to hit Grottt di Sole [they also have a nice dry aspirino, but it sells out quickly] and now the enoteca in Lago di Averno, and if you want to drive an hour go to Mondragone for the most excellent Moio family operations for a variety of falanghina and aglianico products."57" is their signature red, but the Maoitica is my fave. Some producers age the falanghina in oak for up to a year, and I think chardonnay lovers would like it.

    Aug 07, 2015 at 2:55 PM


  • Ubiquitous Gragnano was my gateway to becoming a wine lover when I lived in the region. Fizzy red table wine isn't fine wine and it doesn't pretend to be. However, It is a casual wine deeply engrained in the culture and, for me at least, the natural pairing with a nice wood fired pizza, roadside rotisserie chicken or mozzarella di buffalo.

    Aug 08, 2015 at 8:55 AM


  • Snooth User: Pasquale68
    294932 96

    One of the best Fianos is the Ciro Picariello' DOCG from Summonte (near Avellino). Another good one is the Cantine Marsella still from the same place.

    Aug 08, 2015 at 10:17 AM


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