For the last two columns I have been focusing on a subject dear to my heart, dear to my heritage and dear to my wallet: the wines of Campania.
This wine region in Southern Italy, southeast of Naples, has been cultivated for millennia for its indigenous grapes. These wines, planted by ancient Greeks and Romans, flourished for centuries, but were nearly lost over the past two millennia due to difficult economic times and a lack of interest outside the region.
In the mid-20th century a resurgence began to percolate in the undulating hills of the nearby Apennine Mountains. New vineyards were planted, creating local jobs and a budding export trade.
The recent emergence of this region as a producer of world-class wines is in part attributable to a term I introduced in my previous column that encapsulates the underlying theme that runs deep in the veins of the local winemakers – Sprezzatura, the art of effortless mastery.
The new wine economy in Campania has resurrected the inherent talent of the local winemakers as they ply their expertise, their Sprezzatura.
I believe this ancient art of effortless mastery, inbred instinct if you will, is evident in my Italian heritage. My paternal grandfather, a horticulturist in the Benevento subregion before immigrating to the United States in the early 20th century, carried out his craft in the local vineyards. It’s easy to understand why this region is dear to my heritage and dear to my heart.
The land is still an agrarian economy, but no longer an agrarian culture. The local Italians have seen the future and it is green. The green of healthier and more robust crops, a result of newly applied techniques in the vineyard. But also, the green of unencumbered capital being invested in formerly sleepy, family plots, sustaining a healthy business model not enjoyed in prior generations.
Today, as the wines of Campania become more popular, local winemakers and growers are enjoying this 21st century phenomenon, one that was non-existent for centuries before an influx of capital. Wealthy Italian industrialists, successful northern Italian winery owners and adventurous American entrepreneurs are investing in Campania.
The wines produced by these ancient, now burgeoning, wineries are perhaps the best expressions of the local grapes ever witnessed. Accolades abound from Italy to the United States. The most popular wines are compared to wines previously considered the best in the world. The aromatic Falanghina is being lauded in the same context as world-class Chardonnays. The bold, complex Aglianico is spoken in the same breath as Barolo and Brunello.
At Cantine Ciani, 62 miles east of Naples, the winery in which I have a (small) financial interest, millions of dollars are being invested in upgrading the winery’s infrastructure and technology. New stainless-steel silos for storing grape juice and finished wines are near completion. A new laboratory is a 21st century work in progress. A new tasting room and on-property boutique inn are rising from the volcanic soil cultivated for centuries.
The wines being produced? I recently hosted a Campanian-themed wine tasting event in my home. The predominance of wines were Aglianicos, from several prestigious wineries in the Taurasi subregion and from vintages ranging from 2016 to 1998. All were drinking at their peak and offered an in-depth cross section of vineyard terroirs and winery styles.
Although Cantine Ciani wines will not be available in the United States this year, I suggest you sample similar wines produced from grapes grown in the surrounding area: Aglianico from the highly acclaimed Taurasi subregion, Aglianico-based still and sparking rosé (rosato in Italian) from the broader Campania areas, Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo.
This is why I feel so close to this winery. For me the resurrection of this traditional, generations-old family operation represents all of the elements that are dear to my heart, my heritage and my wallet.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.