by Rose Murray Brown MW
Published in The Scotsman 27 June 2015
They call it the Switzerland of the south. Campania is currently Italy’s most dynamic and exciting white wine region – but an area that very few tourists attempt to visit when it comes to exploring the vineyards.
You might well have been to Campania if you have visited Naples, the beautiful Sorrento peninsula, Amalfi coast or Pompei. Inland from Naples is the wine area which has a very special soil: a type of ‘volcanic tufa’ which makes wonderfully racy white wines.
This special tufa is the ash which floated inland when Mount Vesuvius erupted – it spread across the inland hills where Campania’s white wines are now found planted at high altitudes of 600 metres above sea level. The grapes grown on the tufa has high acidity, making them ideal summer white wines.
Viticultural history goes back 2,000 years here in these ancient hills. Vines are planted in the traditional local bower arrangement called ‘tendone avellinese’ usually planted at about 4,000-4,500 vines per hectare. The climate here is mild Mediterranean climate, cooler in Avellino (the main sub-region of Campania), so grapes are harvested quite late into late September and October. Due to the high altitude and proximity to sea breezes, It is often cooler here than in Tuscany to the north – hence Campania’s name ‘Switzerland of the south’.
The three white grapes here which lead the pack are Falanghina, Greco di Tufo and Fiano.
Falanghina is the widest grown, first described in a poem by Cortese in 1666, but believed to have originated from C7 Greece. Named after the way that the vine is trained on stakes – ‘falangae’ – there are actually two different Falanghina varieties: Felegrae and Benevantano– the second being the name of the subzone where it is most found.
Tastewise, Falanghina tends to be herbier with a softer leafier character than the more minerally citric Greco and Fiano.
Greco di Tufo is undoubtedly the oldest of three grapes. A fresco at Pompeii, which has been traced to the 1st century BC confirms the original of this wine. It was originally imported from the Greek region of Thessaly by the Pelasgian peoples. Amazingly there is a poem added to the fresco, apparently by a frustrated lover: “You are truly cold, Bytis, made of ice, if last night not even Greco wine could warm you up.”
Greco is more aromatic than Fiano – and more herbal with apricot notes. It has recently been found to be the same grape as the lesser attractively named Asprinio, but it is not the same as Greco Bianco – used to make sweet wine in Calabria.
However, it is Fiano that is now more fashionable than Greco or Falanghina, although strangely there are only 783 hectares of Fiano and over 900 hectares of Greco. Fiano was first mentioned in 1240 in purchases by Emperor Frederick II ‘de vino fiano saumas’, but became very popular before the phylloxera louse devastated crops across Europe in the late 19th century. In 1970’s Antonio Mastroberardino, who has a winery in Taurasi, rescued Fiano here and revived it.
Fiano has now caught on with wine drinkers in the UK as they love the citric notes and strong waxy glycerol flavours. There are also quite a few Fianos on the market from Puglia, but most of these are not the same Fiano di Avellino – but actually a different grape called Minutolo. For an authentic Sicilian Fiano head to wineries like Planeta or Settesoli, as these two estates grow the real Fiano in Sicily.
Interestingly, Fiano di Avellino is also being planted by wineries in Australia – at least ten Aussie producers claim to be growing it – the best known being Coriole in MacLaren Vale and Jeffrey Grosset in Clare Valley – so it will be interesting to see the future for Fiano downunder.
Serving suggestions: Most Falanghina, Greco and Fiano sold in the UK are all crisp dry and unoaked, but are quite full bodied whites with firm structure and rich textures. They can be served as interesting aperitifs, but are particularly suitable for serving with seafood pastas, squid salads or fish cooked in herby sauces.
CAMPANIA WHITE WINE TASTE TEST:
FIANO DI AVELLINO 2014 Feudi di San Gregorio (£17.50-£18 Luvians; www.winedirect.co.uk)
The best Fiano on the market made by the excellent Feudi di San Gregorio winery (founded recently in 1986) in the Sabato river valley of Avellino province. Light honey aromas, quince notes, pear flavours, nutty undertones with the distinctive waxy flavour you often find in good quality Fiano. Very stylish distinctive screen printed label too. 13% alcohol. STAR BUY
FIANO DI AVELLINO 2013 Vesevo (£13.99 Exel Wines, Harrisons Fine Wines
The Markinch Wine Gallery, Valvona & Crolla, Wine Raks Aberdeen,WoodWinters)
Fresher lighter in style with more citric notes, but not quite so much depth and texture as the Feudi above (as you expect from the price difference). Very attractive as an unusual aperitif or to serve with a light salad. 12.5% alcohol.
TASTE THE DIFFERENCE GRECO DI TUFO 2012 (£10 Sainsbury’s)
Vines are grown at 500 metres in altitude on a 40 hectare vineyard site in Atripalda in the Avellino province. Made by Alessandrio Micholon, this is certainly the best value Greco on the market right now with plenty of character, rich herby notes and an interesting hazelnutty flavour. 13% alcohol STAR VALUE BUY
GRECO DI TUFO 2013 AA Vadiaperti (£14.95 Les Caves de Pyrene www.lescaves.co.uk; also available through L’Art du Vin, Dunfermline; Henris of Edinburgh, Stockbridge)
An interesting new Greco to the UK with a delicious hazelnut, almond and apple blossom flavour, quite full bodied and intense but with its orange-and-tangerine zest flavours, smoky notes and minerally undertones it is a great Greco to match with food. Loved its smooth honeyed finish too. Very classy. 13% alcohol
GRECO SANNIO JANARE 2014 (£7.50 The Wine Society)
A rich Greco with a hint of sweetness, but fresh mid-palate and galia melon flavours from the Sannio subzone; Janare is the premium label of the La Guardiense co-op. This is much weightier and rich than the supermarket versions of this grape, showing us what Greco is really made of – and good price. Very stylish labelling too. Alcohol 13.5% STAR VALUE BUY
FALANGHINA TERREDORA 2014 (£8.99 Majestic Wine)
Much fresher more vibrant and drier than many Falanghina I have tasted, but popular with tasters who liked the crisp style and creamy mouthfeel. Alcohol 13% STAR VALUE BUY
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