In previous columns, I’ve focused on a number of the 20 Italian wine regions, describing the history, culture and wines of each.
One of the regions that I’ve highlighted is one of my favorites – Campania – for its backstory, its peoples and its wines. This week I’m beginning a multipart series on my personal journey to a specific area and specific town in Campania.
In the next few columns, I will be much more granular, focusing on the subregion of Avellino and the sub-appellations of Fiano, Greco and Taurasi. I’ll conclude with a report on my trip to Cantine Ciani, a winery deep in Taurasi, in which I have recently invested.
My goal is to inspire you to sample the wines of greater Campania and for you to appreciate the inherent beauty of the region through these wines.
How ironic, in the 21st century, that a significant source of Italy’s influence comes not from the cultural city centers of its past but from those areas not known for their historic influence – wine regions. Not from the famous wine regions, but from the agricultural underbelly that has been feeding Italians for centuries, including Campania, the region just south of Rome which incorporates Naples, the Amalfi Coast and the southern Apennine mountains.
Before the Italian Renaissance, there were wines being produced here. Revered wines from Campania date back two millennia to Greek and Roman settlements. Then came a long period of neglect and the near extinction of grapevines which had been planted as early as 1,000 B.C.
The exodus of farmers to urban areas after the devastation wrought by World War II contributed to this demise. But things began to improve in the early 1990s. Winemakers from the north rediscovered the coveted volcanic soil and temperate climate of the Campania region. They researched the history of the indigenous grapes and they began to experiment in applying modern techniques and technology to the production of wines from these ancient grapes. The result – a Southern Renaissance in winemaking that is just now becoming available in the United States.
Today’s Campanian winemakers are plying their trade with a distinct elegance and aplomb that sets them apart from previous generations.
What are they planting? What grapes from this forgotten agricultural paradise are creating a stir?
There are three white grapes and one red from Campania that have surged in popularity in the last 10 years.
Greco. It is the oldest cultivated grape in Campania. Its mild aroma and flavor profile make it perfect as a quaffing wine, but paired with a light seafood dish or a simple vegetable recipe, it seduces you with almond and pear aromas and flavor. This is the wine the Greeks cherished for its ideal balance between fruit and acid. Some wines never go out of favor.
Falanghina. If you like the Pinot Grigio of northern Italy for its aromatic bouquet and crisp palate pleaser, try this alternative. Bright and highly aromatic, it pairs well with Mediterranean white fish and light chicken and pork dishes.
Fiano. In my opinion, this is the most interesting of the Holy Trinity of Campanian whites. It has an intensity not found in its brethren and is redolent of nutty and spicy aromas. Try it with shellfish; you may never go back to white Burgundies.
Aglianico. This red grape is ascending to stardom next to its esteemed Italian brothers, Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino. An intense wine, rich in red fruit aromas, high in acid and tannins in its youth, this wine is made for aging. I rarely drink an Aglianico that is less than five years old. This is a wine I will place in my wine cellar, next to my Barolos and Brunellos, to enjoy with my young grandchildren on their 21st birthday.
Campania’s winemakers are practicing their craft with Sprezzatura – the uniquely Italian art of effortless mastery. It’s in their heritage and defines their destiny. Over the next several weeks, we’ll get to know better my personal connection with the region, one winemaker in particular, and his wines.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is co-chair 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 email@example.com or on Twitter @sharingwine.