The Modern Classical White Wines of Campania
The Wines of Campania
The Italian region of Campania, whose capital is the beautiful, lively and chaotic city of Naples, has an ancient and celebrated wine history. It starts with the Greeks who colonized most of southern Italy and established vineyards replete with native Greek grape varieties. The new varieties, both red and white, adopted well to the region’s warm Mediterranean climate and rich volcanic soil and over time hundreds of different grape varieties flourished in southern Italy. The Greeks were followed by the ancient Romans who built vacation villas on Campania’s coast and established vineyards with which to quench their capacious thirsts.
However, the fortunes of Campania’s grape varieties and vineyards faded over time. Many of its vineyards were uprooted or simply abandoned in the civil chaos that followed the demise of the Roman Empire. The ancient varieties that had grown over centuries all but faded from sight or disappeared entirely. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that interest in Campania’s indigenous varieties intensified as part of a larger effort to resuscitate the classical varieties.
Two wineries in particular have been instrumental in reviving Campania’s ancient varietals. One is the Mastroberadino winery whose owners have over the course of several generations saved several classical varieties such as Aglianico, Piedirosso, Greco and Fiano from the brink of extinction. In recognition of these initiatives the Mastroberardino winery was appointed by the Italian government to research and reintroduce vine growing and wine production as it existed some 2,000 years ago in the city of Pompeii.
The other is the Mustilli winery in Campania which is credited with the rebirth of the white Falanghina variety.
The wine scene in Campania is a rich and eclectic mixture of wineries. There is a small number of very large wineries with modern, up-to-date facilities that produce a full range of red and white wines.
Mastroberardino is Campania’s oldest winery, dating back to the 1750’s and which today produces a variety of acclaimed red and white wines. Another large producer is the energetic Terredora winery. Started in 1994, it has within its relatively short history achieved a well-deserved reputation as one of Campania's most dynamic wineries. The third major player in Campania’s wine scene is the Feudi di San Gregorio estate. It is a highly-regarded producer with a commitment to quality backed up by state-of-the-art facilities.
But it is the small scale winery offering a limited line-up of wines that is the norm in Campania. These small wineries are typically family-owned and operated facilities that emphasize traditional winemaking practices and procedures in a decidedly low-tech environment. While some small wineries produce insipid wines for local consumption, other more quality-oriented producers can and do produce some outstanding wines that are valued throughout Italy and beyond. The Pietracupa and Benito Ferrara wineries, for example, are both small-scale operations that are not particularly well known by the general public but happen to produce some of best white wines Italy has to offer.
There are also a few wine cooperatives that play an important role in combining the efforts of small producers to create an economically-viable whole.
The Campania region has long been recognized as the source of flavorful and full-bodied red wines that are some of Italy's best. But Campania has in recent decades also gained recognition as the source of some of southern Italy’s most textured and complex white wines.
There are three main white grape varieties in Campania - Greco, Falanghina and Fiano. The three varieties share some of the same aromatic and flavor attributes but each has its own distinct personality and sense of place.
Campania’s star status as an ideal area for production of white wines is attributable to an ideal growing environment that includes soils rich with volcanic minerals, a long growing season and high-altitude, hillside vineyards with good day-night temperature variations. The indigenous Falanghina, Greco and Fiano varieties are also well suited to this growing environment, having had thousands of years to adapt to the particulars of what is now their preferred habitat.
Most white wine producers in Campania ferment and age their wines in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks as opposed to wood which permits the aromatic profiles and inherent flavors of each grape variety to come to the fore and elegantly display each variety’s uniqueness and sense of place.
Some producers will also age wines on their lees, which are the residual yeast cells and other particles that precipitate from the fermentation process. This process, which applies mainly to white wines, imparts additional richness and texture to wines. Frequent stirring of the lees increases the effects of the lees contact with the wine.
Listed below are brief descriptions of each of the three major white wine varieties of Campania as well as a short list of some of the best examples of each varietal wine generally available in U.S. markets. While most of the wines listed are 2012’s, there are sure to be some equally good wines from the 2011 vintage on retailers' shelves.
Fiano is an ancient white wine grape that grows primarily in the Campania and Sicily regions of southern Italy. It is a small, thick-skinned grape variety that can produce full-bodied wines with intense aromas and exhilarating citrus, tropical fruit and/or floral flavors. But the small berries produce relatively little juice so the variety can present some economic challenges for producers.
Like other varieties from Campania, the Fiano variety is deeply-rooted in Campania’s history. Fiano is believed to be the grape used in the production of Apianum, a popular wine from ancient times that was much celebrated by ancient Romans. In a nod to its historic roots, the term “Apianum” is carried on some Fiano wine labels today.
However, the variety went into a long decline but was rescued from the brink of extinction in the latter decades of the 20th century by the Mastroberadino family. They played a major role in identifying, researching and preserving Fiano as well as other ancient varieties of Campania.
While the Fiano variety has spread to other areas of southern Italy, Australia and even the U.S, the Campania region is the variety’s traditional home and the source of the best Fiano wines. The most prized Fiano wines come from vines in the hills around the city of Avellino where the variety thrives in the mineral-rich, volcanic soil. Fiano di Avellino received DOCG status in 2003 and wines from this appellation are generally regarded as the best embodiment of the variety.
Like other white wines from Campania, Fiano wines are meant to be drunk young, generally within 2 to 5 years of the vintage date. But some of the better Fiano di Avellino wines can benefit from additional ageing, gaining additional character and complexity in the process.
Here are some of the best Fiano di Avellino wines - listed alphabetically by producer - that are generally available in major U.S. markets:
Ciro Picariello, Fiano di Avellino 2012 (about $27)
Ciro Picariello has within a very short period of time become one of best producers of Fiano di Avellino. The Fiano grapes are vinified and aged in stainless steel with an extended period ageing on the lees. It is a wonderful wine, rich and textured with good acidity and great ageing potential.
Feudi di San Gregorio, Fiano di Avellino 2012 (about $19)
Medium-bodied with tropical fruit flavors, a lively freshness and pleasing white fruit overtones. Feudi di San Gregorio has good distribution in the U.S. so this wine is readily available in most wine shops.
I Favati, “Pietramara” Fiano di Avellino 2012 (about $20)
This small, family-owned and operated winery produces only wines made from local indigenous varieties. Vinified and aged for 6 months in stainless steel on its lees, it is nicely structured, rich and elegant. In recognition of its outstanding quality this wine won a prestigious Tre Bicchieri award from Gambero Rosso.
Mastroberardino, “Radici” Fiano di Avellino 2012 (about $25)
“Radici” (which means “roots” in Italian) is a proprietary name that alludes to the variety’s historic role as well as the Mastroberardino family’s pioneering initiatives in rescuing this indigenous variety from the brink of extinction. It is made entirely of Fiano grapes aged for 4 months in stainless steel tanks with an additional 3 months in the bottle prior to release for sale. It is a lively and textured wine that can be served as an aperitif or paired with seafood and chicken dishes.
Pietracupa, Fiano di Avellino 2012 (about $26)
With finesse and flair Sabino Loffredo has elevated Pietracupa into the top ranks of Italian wineries. This Fiano wine has magnificent peach and lemony citrus flavors balanced with good acidity and received a well-deserved Tre Bicchieri rating from Gambero Rosso.
Terredora, “Terre di Dora” Fiano di Avellino 2012 (about $20)
This wine is made entirely of Fiano that is fermented and aged in stainless steel for several months on the lees. It is full-bodied, rich and fruity and while ready to drink now will benefit from some additional time resting in the cellar.
Falanghina is an ancient grape variety that grows almost exclusively in Campania. It is believed to be the principal component of the primitive Falerno wine that was much loved and praised by the ancient Romans.
With its warm Mediterranean climate, cool breezes, long growing season and fertile volcanic soil, Falanghina vines thrive in the area around Naples. Falanghina typically produces full-bodied, crisp and aromatic wines characterized by citrus aromas and tropical fruit, apple and pear flavors. They also tend to be less expensive at the retail counter than either Greco or Fiano wines.
The Sannio is a hilly region north-east of Naples that is a major production zone for Falanghina. The Sannio DOC zone has a strong wine tradition that stretches back for millennia. Falanghina is grown here on hilly, high altitude vineyards and the resulting wines tend to be well-structured with crisp acidity.
Falanghina is a versatile wine that makes for a great summer aperitif or a lively companion for seafood and light pasta dishes and sushi.
Here are some of best Falanghina wines - listed alphabetically by producer - all of which are generally available in major U.S. markets:
Cantina del Taburno, Falanghina 2012 (about $17)
Cantina del Taburno is a 300-member cooperative winery in the Taburno DOC appellation that does things right. This wine has floral and fruit aromas, citrus flavors and crisp acidity.
Fattoria La Rivolta, Taburno Falanghina del Sannio 2012 (about $19)
La Rivolta is a family-run and operated winery in the Taburno DOC area of Campania. This Falanghina from the Sannio zone is medium-bodied, tangy and zesty with citrus and peach flavors.
Feudi di San Gregorio, Falanghina Sannio 2012 (about $19)
This is made entirely of Falanghina from the estate’s vineyards in the hilly Sannio region northeast of Naples. It is a textbook Falanghina - fresh and lively with crisp acidity, lemon and green apple notes and a long, pleasing finish.
Fontanavecchia, Taburno Falanghina 2012 (about $19)
This wine is made entirely of Falanghina grapes from the estate’s sunny and steep hillside vineyards in the Taburno DOC and won a Tre Bicchieri award from Gambero Rosso for its elegant structure and crisp, delicious mouthfeel.
Mastroberardino, Falanghina Sannio 2012 (about $15)
This is another balanced, complex and versatile wine from the Mastroberardino estate. It is the perfect accompaniment for summer dining especially if the menu involves grilled fish, shellfish and soft-shelled crabs.
Terredora, Falanghina Irpinia 2012 (about $15)
This is a totally charming summer white wine at a great price. Good structure and acidity with a floral finish.
Greco is both the name of the grape variety as well as the wine made from those grapes. It is an ancient white grape variety believed to have been brought to southern Italy by the ancient Greeks (hence the name). While there are several varieties of Greco that grow throughout southern Italy today, the best known variety comes from around the small town of Tufo, north of Avellino in the Campania region. Here the rich volcanic soil, abundant rainfall and cool, hilly climate with its wide night and day temperature variations combine to produce an outstanding growing habitat for the variety.
Greco di Tufo is arguably Campania’s - and southern Italy’s - most distinguished white wine, praised for its intense aromas, fruity flavor profile and acidic backbone. With good acidity and moderate alcohol, Greco di Tufo is very food friendly and pairs well with most seafood and shell fish dishes as well as simply-prepared white meat dishes.
Greco di Tufo gained DOCG status in 2003. While regulations permit the addition of up to 15 percent Coda di Volpe grapes to the blend, most quality Greco di Tufo wines are made entirely of Greco di Tufo grapes,. While Greco di Tufo wines should be consumed within 3 to 5 years of their vintage date, well-made Greco di Tufo wines from superior vintages will age gracefully for several additional years.
Greco di Tufo is widely available in U.S. markets. Listed below are some of my favorite and readily-available Greco di Tufo wines, listed alphabetically by producer:
Benito Ferrara, “Vigna Cicogna” Greco di Tufo 2012 (about $26)
The wine spends 7 months ageing in stainless steel an 2 months in the bottle prior to release and received Gambero Rosso’s prestigious Tre Bicchieri award. The Vigna Cicogna is one of Italy’s greatest wine wines and exemplifies how a small but dedicated vintner can produce a truly great wine.
Feudi di San Gregorio, “Cutizzi” Greco di Tufo 2012 (about $32)
The Greco di Tufo grapes from the estate’s vineyards are fermented partly in stainless steel and partly in wood. It is aged 3 months on the lees with daily stirring of the lees to impart additional richness followed by an additional 2 months aging in the bottle. It is a delicious Greco di Tufo with depth and character and the recipient of a Tre Bicchieri award from Gambero Rosso.
Mastroberardino, “Novaserra” Greco di Tufo 2011 (about $25)
This pedigreed wine has plenty of class and shows just how good Greco di Tufo can be. Named after the vineyard from which the Greco grapes are sourced, Novaserra Greco di Tufo is celebrated for its weight and concentration, excellent acidity and pleasant note of bitter almond on the finish.
Pietracupa, Greco di Tufo 2012 (about $25)
The young and talented Sabino Loffredo has quickly gained a reputation for producing some of Italy’s best Greco and Fiano wines. Many believe his Greco in particular is one of Italy’s greatest white wines. This Greco shows elegance and restraint and will age beautifully for years.
Terradora, “Loggia della Serra” Greco di Tufo 2012 (about $19)
This wine is made entirely with Greco from the estate’s vineyards in Montefusco. Already well-balanced and delicious, it will only improve with additional time.
Vadiaperti, “Tornante” Greco di Tufo 2012 (about $19)
The Tornante is a gorgeous wine with plenty of character and charm at a relatively modest price.
Note – prices indicated are averages of national retail prices but prices will vary from store to store. Since availability is not guaranteed and stores may sell out of the selections it is best to call or check their website for availability and price before making the trip.
August 2, 2014
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