By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 1 April 2017
If you like dry white wines with stone fruit flavours and herby honeyed undertones, let me introduce you to one of my favourite Italian grapes, Falanghina.
What I love about this grape is its unusual flavours. So many of Italy’s white wine grapes produce crisp dry whites, but often neutral with little real character. Falanghina has it in spades, with its distinct orange peel and quince notes, distinctive herbiness and soft leafy palate which works well as an aperitif, light enough for a summer garden lunch, but also matches brilliantly with crab, mussels and barbecued prawns.
Falanghina’s homeland is an area that few tourists tend to venture, inland from Naples in the Irpinian hills of Campania, one of Italy’s most dynamic and exciting white wine regions. Falanghina is ‘the’ signature white wine grape here, the widest grown of local grapes recently revived by Campania’s producers which grow so well on the rich minerally ‘tufa’ volcanic ash soil, which was blown centuries ago from the Ischia eruption.
Falanghina’s origins have always been something of a mystery. First described in a poem by Cortese in 1666, it may possibly have originated from C7 Greece, but this is unproven. Some also say it could have been the base grape for the Roman’s famous Falerno wine, but again this is unproven.
To many people’s surprise, as recently as 2005 DNA profiling tests discovered that there were actually two Falanghinas. The first is Falanghina Beneventana, which comes from the subzone of Benevento and is largely found around the north and east of Naples, but plantings of this grape are more limited.
The other is Falanghina Felegrae, which is more aromatic, herbier, leafier and now much wider planted than Beneventana. Not only found in western and southern Campania, it is also grown in Basilicata, Foggia in Puglia and Molise regions. It is said to have been named after the way the vine is trained on stakes ‘falangae’. After the phylloxera, the Falanghina Felegrae had decreased dramatically, but thanks to local grape historian Francesco Avallone of Villa Matilde in the Massico area of Campania who revived it in the 1970’s, it is now the widest planted of the two Falanghinas.
Today official Italian records just list ‘Falanghina’ as planted at 1,700 hectares across southern Italy, so it is often impossible to tell how much there is of each type of Falanghina.
The mild Mediterranean climate in Campania suits both varieties well. Thanks to high altitude (often planted at 600 metres) and proximity to sea breezes, it is often cooler here than in Tuscany to the north, hence Campania’s name ‘Switzerland of the south’. Grapes are often harvested into late September and October.
One of the best sub-regions is Sannio in the north of Campania. Named after the Samnites, a pre-Roman people whose wines were recorded by ancient philosophers Cato and Horace.
So move over Pinot Grigio, the racy Campanian Falanghina should be stealing the limelight now.
Triade Fiano/Falanghina/Greco 2015 (£8.79 Waitrose)
A smart blend of three local Campanian grapes offering a chance to see Falanghina in its local setting. It adds apricot and orange peel notes, whilst Fiano gives a creamy nuttiness, Greco adds freshness and zip and a touch of oak adds extra texture: 13%
The Society’s Falanghina 2015 (£8.25 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com)
This comes from the Benevento region, made by the reputable La Guardiense co-operative near La Guardia who employ consultant guru Riccardo Cotarella to mastermind the wine range. An appealing racy Falanghina at a cracking price: leafy, zesty with soft palate texture and a crisp dry finish. Most popular Falanghina under £10 with our tasters: 13.5%
Falanghina Dipaolo 2015 Terredora (£9.99/£11.99 Majestic Wine)
Another unoaked Falanghina with a rich leesy palate. This leafy scented dry white with its stone fruit flavours and fresh acidity makes an ideal aperitif: 12.5%
Falanghina Beneventano 2015 (£7.50 Marks & Spencer)
Nutty zesty zippy version with distinct herby aromas and hazelnut undertones. Made by Marco Giglioli, with consultant Riccardo Cotarella: 12%
Falanghina 2016 Vesevo (£11.99 Valvona & Crolla, Edinburgh; Lockett Bros, North Berwick)
Well made example from the Irpinian hills of Campania, leafy, rounded and soft with plenty of crispness and refreshing acidity. Popular with our tasters: 13%
Falanghina Biblos 2015 (£13.50 Oddbins)
An organic example from Molise region on the Adriatic coast. Fresh blossom, herby with pineapple notes, a rich textured version with leesy character. Tasters thought it was not as zippy and high in acidity as the other Campanian examples: 13%
Falanghina del Sannio ‘Serrocielo’ 2015 Feudi San Gregorio (£17 www.strictlywine.co.uk; Wine Poole; Two Corks)
A leap in quality here (and price). A lovely Falanghina made by Campania’s top producer, Feudi di San Gregorio. Intense spring blossom and tropical fruit aromas, quite weighty textured palate of quince and passion fruit, but still crisp, dry and refreshing: 13%
Join Rose’s Hidden Italian Gems wine & charcuterie tasting at Royal Scots Club, Edinburgh Friday 16 June £45 www.rosemurraybrown.com