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The region of Campania with its capital city of Naples is situated along the south western coast of Italy, or the “shin” of the boot. The name is derived from the Latin phrase Campania Felix, meaning fertile land. It’s one of the oldest regions, dating back to the Greeks, who first cultivated locally indigenous grapes somewhere around the 8th century BC. The Etruscans took over around the 6th century BC, then the land was absorbed into the Roman Empire in 4th century BC. It was here that the Romans began cultivating what became the cult wine of the era, Falernum (probably out of Aglianico and Falanghina grapes). The region saw many landlords after that over the centuries from the Visigoths, Lombards, Byzantines, Normans, Spaniards, Austrians and French, before finally becoming part of the Italian unification beginning in the late 19th century.
The wines of Campania were originally intended as food-friendly table wines to be consumed young, which didn’t much impress wine aficionados. But things changed toward the end of the 20th century, as wine-makers sought to bring more focus to local wines, realizing the potential of certain local varietals for unique characteristics and age-worthiness.
The red Aglianico is one of those varietals, with deep dark cherry flavors, savory spices and leathery goodness. In the right hands, these wines can last decades, but even younger, midpriced wines from Aglianico are a great value. Taurasi is the Aglianico DOCG, and the primary DOC is Aglianico del Taburno, though it’s a supporting act in many others including Cilento, Falerno del Massico and Sant’Agata dei Goti.
Mount Vesuvius erupted in Campania in 79 AD, covering Pompeii and Herculaneum with ash. This served to keep the region mainly Phylloxera free since the mites don’t like ash. There are indigenous grapes known as “vines of fire” that have risen from these ancient ashes and dwell on very old vines. The most prevalent is Piedirosso, “red feet,” which comprises the Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio (“the tears of Christ of Vesuvio”), Campi Flegrei, Ischia and Capri DOCs among others. The aromatic, honeyed white varietal Falanghina, often the Ginger to Aglianico’s Fred, is another. Its main DOC is Galluccio, though it appears in many others.
Besides Falanghina, an assortment of character-driven white grapes are also indigenous to Campania. Greco di Tufo and Fiano both have their own DOCGS, the latter is Fiano di Avellino. Then there is Biancolella, Forastera, Olivella (named for its shape) and Coda di Volpe (named for the way the grapes bunch to look like a fox’s tail). Aspirinio is the base for the local sparkling wine, Asprinio di Aversa. ~Amanda Schuster
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