The Wines of Northern Italy

Vino Toscano

In the last few months, we have traveled together – drinking our way up the Italian peninsula from the volcanic-rich lands of the island of Sicily through the blessed wine country of the Mezzogiorno, all the way up to the vineyards of central Lazio in a comprehensive nine-week wine tasting tour of the southern regions of Italy.

Starting today, we will present italyMONDO! Blog readers and fellow wine lovers with the sublime wines of the north. We will be diving into and getting our hands dirty with the soils that nourish the vines of Umbria and Le Marche, then we’ll be moving up to the “motherland” of Italian wine—Toscana (Tuscany)—followed by the radical Emilia-Romagna plains before moving up to the prized vineyards of Veneto, Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige (Südtirol). And if that wasn’t enough, we’ll continue even further north to taste the delectable wines of Lombardia and Liguria, even reaching the northernmost regions of Piemonte and its spectacular wines before ending our journey in the vine lands of Italy with the Peninsula’s smallest region, Valle d’Aosta (Vallée d’Aoste).

Northern Italy, a relatively small area–roughly half the size of Arizona–is home to many of the best wines in the world.

In Il Bel Paese, one cannot travel five miles without seeing grapevines. Northern Italian vineyards are planted in widely diverse terrains: gritty, high altitude Alpine plateaus, damp foothills, sunny coastal terraced trellises and, of course, lush undulating countryside like that of Tuscany. There is hardly an inch of Italy that cannot ripen grapes suitable for quality wine, and consequently there is a myriad of regions producing a diverse array of great vino italiano. Just think of the cool, mountain vineyards of Piemonte, which produce—among its excellencies—the noble, crisp, austere Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto d’Alba; the Veneto flatlands rearing both classic whites like Soave and authoritative reds like Amarone and Bardolino; the sunny, temperate central region of Tuscany yielding bold, lusty, full-bodied Brunello di Montalcino, Vernaccia and Chianti sensations along with “Super Tuscan” variations; Liguria and its 100 different types of grapes; or the astounding whites produced in the Friuli Venezia-Giulia wetlands and rocky Trentino Alto Adige highlands (…and I could continue!) Northern Italian wines boast a complexity and earthiness that reflects the wide diversity of its soil, the unique grape varietals, and the illuminated Italian winemaker’s craft.

In our tour of Italy’s northern wine regions, we will place special emphasis on wines widely available in markets such as the continental U.S. and Canada, as well as those of superior quality. But we will also mention wines that are harder to find, and even some which can only be purchased in Italy (an excuse to come and visit, maybe?) ;-)

We will begin our journey of the wines of northern Italy by bidding farewell to the south-central grapevine plantations of the Lazio region where we left off, venturing north to explore the picturesque countryside and rolling hills home to the vineyards of Umbria, our gateway to the vino del nord.

Did your family come from northern Italy? Have you ever dreamed of walking in their footsteps, evening finding and meeting your northern Italian relatives still living there as well? Contact us today and find out how italyMONDO! can help you research your nothern Italian (and southern, of course!) family tree or create a vacation of a lifetime with a custom Heritage Tour for you and your family!

Photo Courtesy of “Edoardo Tacconi/ Edward Fònel” at Flickr

Southern Italian Wines, Region-by-Region

Uva Nera

The six regions of Italy’s shining southSicilia (Sicily), Sardegna (Sardinia), Calabria, Basilicata, Puglia, Campania, Molise, Abruzzo and Lazio—take pride in the sun-washed vineyards that prompted the ancient Greeks to nickname their southern colonies Oenotria – “The Land of Wine.” From Greece they brought to Magna Græcia vines that are still planted today, and the promise of Oenotria lives on and thrives to this day each time we uncork a bottle of wine made in the mezzogiorno – southern Italy.

In next week’s appointment with Wednesday Wines we will be introducing the second part of the series – the wines of northern Italy. The regions we will be visiting boast a wine country of classic reds and deep and stylish whites, vineyards that rear unclassified Super Tuscans, DOC excellencies, rare local grapes, elegant spumante and meditative sweet dessert wines. Each week we will be covering each of northern Italy’s regions one by one—Le Marche, Toscana (Tuscany), Emilia Romagna, Lombardia (Lombardy), Liguria, Veneto, Piedmont, Trentino Alto Adige (Südtirol), Friuli Venezia-Giulia, and Valle d’Aosta (Vallée d’Aoste)—exploring their delightful wines one sip at a time.

Salute!

Now that you’ve learned about the wines of southern Italy, how would you like to walk through the same vineyards your ancestors once did – and even have the chance to find your southern Italian relatives still living there as well? Contact us today and find out how italyMONDO! can help you research your Italian (and both northern and southern!) family tree or create a vacation of a lifetime with a custom Heritage Tour for you and your family!

Photo Courtesy of “aldoaldoz” at Flickr

Welcoming… Eleonora Baldwin

When you meet someone with a passion for the Italian lifestyle—food, wine, family, history, culture, heritage—you just know. There is something special about La Bella Italia that creates an immediate bond between people who have been influenced by her charms – and sometimes a shared smile says it all. This is how we felt when we met Eleonora Baldwin, the food and wine writer behind the popular Wednesday Wines series here on The italyMONDO! Blog. Eleonora, or Lola, writes about Italian food and wine with an infectious enthusiasm and warm simplicity that just invites readers to knock on the door, pull up a chair and join her for dinner. (And we know it would be a delicious dinner!) So pull up that chair, raise your glasses and join me in welcoming Eleonora Baldwin to the italyMONDO! family!

Eleonora Baldwin

Born in America, but having grown up in Italy from a young age, Eleonora learned all about Italian family cooking from her mother who was born in Rome. Just like many Italians, her grandmother’s cookbook is a cherished family treasure. Eleonora’s heritage in Italy is from the region of Piemonte—birthplace of her maternal grandmother—and from the city of Sora, Frosinone in the heart of “La Ciociaria,” (Where my great-grandfather was born as well, making Eleonora and me paesani!”) Raised in a bilingual family, Eleonora has a natural talent for languages and now speaks four—English, Italian, Spanish and French—a real advantage in her career as a script supervisor in the film industry. Having come from a family with a strong film making tradition, after a career in graphic design Eleonora eventually felt herself drawn to explore this path – and it’s certainly one with plenty of excitement and adventure!

When asked if she feels Italian or American, Eleonora answers, “I feel Italian.” And her passion for Italian cooking, traditions and culture certainly comes across in her writing for The italyMONDO! Blog and on her personal blogs where she writes regularly on a variety of topics. At her food blog, Aglio, Olio & Peperoncino, you’ll find tempting recipes accompanied not only by charming stories and also a wealth of information about true Italian home cooking. Over at her restaurant review blog, Forchettine (in Italian), you’ll find reviews of Eleonora’s favorite restaurants. And avid photographer as well as writer and blogger, Eleonora also shares a glimpse of daily life in Rome at her photo blog Roma Every Day.

What drives Eleonora’s passion for sharing good Italian cooking? Having cooked her whole life, she realized one day she hadn’t ever fully celebrated the importance of it in her daily life. It was all bubbling up inside until it finally found an outlet through blogging. She shared with us that she was hooked from the first post, and now can’t stop – which is very lucky for all of us Italy-loving readers!

Having cooked her whole life, Lola realized one day she hadn’t ever fully celebrated the importance of it in her daily life. It was all bubbling up inside until it finally found an outlet through blogging.

Here on The italyMONDO! Blog, Eleonora brings a fresh view to the sometimes daunting topic of Italian wines in her weekly Wednesday Wines column. She teaches us about the richness of Italy’s wines while at the same time reminding us that there are no set rules when it comes to wine. It’s not necessarily the name on the label or the price tag that determines a good bottle of wine, but instead it’s what your own taste buds tell you. Or, as Eleonora tells us, “Wine is meant to go well with food, like a good marriage.” Be bold, be daring, try new wines, and don’t be afraid to break some of the rules out there. After all, red wine can be very good with fish.

In the end, Eleonora’s writing reminds us to have fun and enjoy your wine with family and friends when possible. That’s often the best combination – and to us, the true definition of La Dolce Vita.

Stop by every Wednesday to learn more about Italian wines as Lola continues to share her insights, tips and passion for one of the most important elements of the Italian table – a good glass of vino italiano!

Can’t get enough of La Dolce Vita? Visit Lola’s other blogs!
Aglio, Olio & Peperoncino – All about Italian cooking
Forchettine – Italian Restaurant Reviews (in Italian)
Roma Every Day – Rome Photo Blog

The Wines of Lazio

Wines from Rome

Hello, fellow wine-lovers! With this week’s installment of the Wednesday Wines Series, we will be completing the segment on the wines of southern Italy. We have tasted the vino of Sicily, Sardegna, Calabria, Basilicata, Puglia, Campania, Molise, Abruzzo, and today we conclude the first part of this 20-region series with the wines of Lazio, Italy’s central region, and home to la capitale – Rome.

Lazio’s rolling countryside, blessed by ample sunshine on fertile volcanic soils, appears naturally suited to the production of white wines based on various types of Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes that flourish in the area.

There are five provinces in Lazio, each of which has a long and varied wine tradition. Wine production has taken place here since ancient times. While the wines the Romans were drinking 2,000 years ago were quite different from those we drink today, by the middle ages the hills around Rome—the Castelli Romani—were already famous for their white wines made on its rich volcanic soils of the region. These were traditionally abboccato, pleasingly soft, though not so sweet as to overwhelm the flavor of food. They were easy, everyday wines not designed to last long or travel far. Not quality wines, essentially, but nonetheless delightful.

Fortunately the tide seems to have turned, and recognition has finally come to the area, which in May 2008 received its first DOCG rating. DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (Guaranteed Origin Controlled Denomination) and is given to wines made with certain restrictions including lower allowable yields and more restricted areas of production. The coveted DOCG rating was awarded to Cesanese del Piglio and Cesanese del Piglio Superiore. This long-awaited honor will likely smooth the process of bringing back recognition to wines from Lazio.

Rome’s region is naturally linked to white wine, from Frascati and Marino to the other golden-hued easy bianchi of the Castelli Romani area, as well as to the fabled Est! Est!! Est!!! from the northern Lazio town of Montefiascone (a town whose appropriate name is the coupling of the Italian words ’hill of the large flask’). Let’s take a closer look.

Frascati DOC is restricted by law to volcanic soils around the small towns of Frascati, Grottaferrata, Monte Porzio Catone and Montecompatri. The wine is straw-yellow, with a flowery fragrance, a fruity, velvety palate and a young (vinoso) edge to it. The premier grapes used in Frascati wine are Malvasia di Candia, Trebbiano, Greco, Malvasia del Lazio (also known as Puntinata or ’pinpricked’), Bellone and white Bonvino.

The tradition of going to taverns in the town of Frascati dates back to the 14th century. Already in 1450, there were some 1,022 establishments serving this golden wine. Frascati’s taverns, called “Fraschette”, are places that serve the light wines of the area along with traditional cheeses, porchetta, pastas and other simple street food. These unassuming trattorie often have long communal tables where patrons sit and enjoy a glass of chilled Frascati al fresco.

Perhaps the most striking name for a wine in Lazio (or Italy, for that matter) is Est! Est!! Est!!! from Montefiascone, a town that juts up like a tooth from the northern shore of Lake Bolsena on the Via Cassia. In the year 1110, German Bishop Johann De Fugger, traveling from Augsburg to Rome, sent his faithful servant Martinus to taste wines in every village before he arrived. The agreement was that Martinus had to scout and chalk up on the door of every cantina, tavern and hostel (or small vineyard) “Est!” (Latin for, “there is!”) if they stocked good wine, and “Est! Est!” if there was very good wine – “There is! There is!” Happening upon the lake town, Martinus was so enthusiastic about the local wine that it got thrice the accolade. Bishop Fugger never made it to Rome.

Est!Est!Est! is best consumed when young (within a year of the vintage) and goes well with light foods. It is made with Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes and is a light wine, yellow in color and very fresh.

Towns all over the Castelli Romani area serve their own variation on what is a central simple theme – simple, light white wines. The immediacy of these laziali wines is in no way a negative attribute, as evidenced by the established world market for Frascati and Marino and their less publicized but worthy neighbors. Examples to try include Marino DOC, Colli Albani DOC, Genzano DOC, Velletri DOC. Those carrying a DOC label are certified as the best, although it is possible to find a good quality non-DOC wine that are simply not subject to stringent guidelines governing its production and taste. Many small producers sell wine straight from the vineyard, and this can prove a very affordable way to buy, especially in bulk.

The ancient Romans loved their whites, but Horace and his posse reserved their greatest praise for the red Falernian and Caecuban, which were wines made with ancient vines grown along the coast in southern Lazio and Campania. Although white wine accounts for an overwhelming share of Lazio’s output, several of its reds appear more convincing to connoisseurs. Even though production of red wines is very limited, the region has good red grape varieties and in good quantities such as the above-mentioned Cesanese, Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Aleatico. Lazio’s DOC reds cover an expansive territory. The reclaimed stretches of what were once the Pontine Marshes of province of Latina, for example, rear an interesting Aprilia DOC. Equally appealing are the DOC reds of Cerveteri, Cori and Velletri as well as Moscato di Terracina DOC, Circeo DOC, Colli Lanuvini DOC and Nettuno DOC.

Lazio also produces Vignanello DOC, in both white and red. Mater Matuta (named after the Roman goddess of Dawn) is an excellent red wine, made by a single local estate. It has a well-rounded taste and is ripened in barrels for a year prior to being aged a further 6-8 months in its bottle prior to distribution and sale.

And that concludes our wine tour of southern Italy! I hope that you enjoyed your virtual trip through the mezzogiorno (and, unlike Martinus, was able to make it to Rome!). But, with no time to waste, we will now begin a new voyage – with the next half of our tour taking us throughout the world-renowned wineries of northern Italy.

Are you ready? Andiamo!

Would you like to not only visit Rome but also travel out into the countryside of Frosinone, Latina, Rieti or Viterbo to visit the same vineyards that your ancestors once worked, and even find your Roman relatives still living there as well? Contact us today and find out how italyMONDO! can help you research your Italian (and romano!) family tree or create a vacation of a lifetime with a custom Heritage Tour for you and your family!

Photo Courtesy of “Daniele Muscetta” at Flickr

The Wines of Abruzzo

'vendemmia' time!

Welcome back, epicurean oenophile friends! This week’s featured southern Italian wine region is the proud and stunning region of Abruzzo. Sure to surprise and delight, grab your tasting glasses and let’s get familiar with the area.

The Abruzzesi are proud and independent. They resemble the people of Italy’s southern regions in attitude and aptitude, as well as their passion and their strength in the face of misfortune and poverty. Likewise the food and wines of Abruzzo reflect that strength and lack of affluence centered on a hard working community. The stunning hillsides of this region happen to be excellent for viticulture. Vineyards can be found virtually from the coastline right up towards the mountains, where tradition dates the local vines to pre-Roman times.

Abruzzo produces just one DOCG and three DOC origin designation wines that—despite carrying brand names—used to be little known abroad and misjudged as cheap, generic, supermarket varieties. This is changing, however, and like much of southern Italy Abruzzo is undergoing a gradual transition from bulk-wine production to bottled, boutique wines. In other words, a switch from a strictly industrial wine culture to one in which the production is limited and duly cared for – an oenological approach that will favor commercial success and prosperity. Winegrowers are already seeing the effects of this transformation, it has becoming increasingly chic for restaurants in the United States and beyond to carry wines from Abruzzo.

Though the situation is changing, there’s still a tendency by wine critics—including Italian ones—to look down on the wines produced in the Mezzogiorno (southern Italy). What is missing in this blanket evaluation of Abruzzesi wines is the fact that many better regarded French and noble northern Italian wines contain, in various measures, wine from Abruzzo!

The four origin-designated wines produced in Abruzzo are Controguerra, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane. The last two should not be confused with the Tuscan Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. While the Tuscan takes its name from the town where it is made in the province of Siena, the Abruzzo wine is made with an ancient grape actually named Montepulciano. Let’s take a closer look at these.

The stunning hillsides of Abruzzo happen to be excellent for viticulture. Vineyards can be found virtually from the coastline right up towards the mountains, where tradition dates the local vines to pre-Roman times.

In parts of Abruzzo, most notably in the low hills of the northern province of Teramo, Montepulciano grapes become a red wine of irresistible character – full-bodied, robust, with a good capacity to age. The grape responsible for Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC wine originated in the Peligna valley and has been cultivated locally for more than two hundred years.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is characterized by its intense ruby and violet hues and a concentrated perfume. It marries well with red meats, wild game and mature cheeses – conveniently the specialties of this enchanting region. After a limited fermentation, Moltepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes produce a more transparent cherry red wine called Cerasuolo, delicately fruity, fine and intense with a dry, harmonious palate. It is best paired to pasta dishes, white meat and fish entrees, including baccalà (dried, salted Cod).

Controguerra DOC is only produced in five communities in the Vibrata valley in the province of Teramo. Controguerra wine has an intense dark red color and a dry, lightly tannic taste. The white Controguerra DOC is pale yellow, with a fruity bouquet and smooth dry taste ideally suited to accompany seafood.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane—locally produced since 1995—obtained the DOCG (Guaranteed Origin Controlled Denomination) certification during the 2003 vintage. DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita and is given to wines made with certain restrictions, including lower allowable yields. The wines usually have to pass a tasting panel as well, meaning that only the “best of the best” of Italian wines can receive DOCG certification. With an intense ruby color with violet reflections, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane has a characteristic aroma and a velvety, full-bodied taste. If matured for more than three years it can be called Riserva (reserve). Other interesting wines made with Montepulciano include a white spumante, a white and a tawny passito.

Another regional star is Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC. Most Trebbiano is based on the prolific Tuscan Bombino Bianco grape variety, which makes light, rather acidic white wines of subtle aroma and flavor. Locally the grape is called Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, and the wine made from it has a pale yellow color, lightly perfumed bouquet with a velvety, dry taste. Many central Italian producers suggest that it should be matured in small durmast barrique (oak barrels) to better enhance the aroma and taste of the finished wine. Trebbiano d’Abruzzo pairs well with seafood preparations, fresh homemade pasta alla chitarra, risotto with shaved truffles, poultry and white meats.

A few more notable indigenous Abruzzesi vines include: Cococciola is a native vine of Abruzzo that is cultivated mainly in the province of Chieti near Vacri, Ari and Rocca San Giovanni. Cococciola is known for its high acidity and up-front grassiness. Very fresh and vivid, this unusual white wine is delightful with simply prepared seafood dishes.

Pecorino is a vigorous vine present for generations in the central regions of Italy, particularly in Abruzzo. The wine it produces is pale and clear yellow. The bouquet of this interesting white is equally herbal and floral, with a distinctive note of orange blossom. Soft and fresh on the palate, it’s wonderful with or without food.

This is not all, though. Other grapes of note grown in Abruzzo are: Passerina, Coccilina and Sangiovese. It seems like almost too many to try, but for travelers lucky enough to visit the region during the right times of year will find themselves treated to a region-wine open house of almost all of the major wineries in Abruzzo. With typical abruzzese hospitality, visitors can sample local wines and observe the winemaking process in its most authentic form.

As you can see, Abruzzo is a generous place. Thank you for traveling with me through its copious and fruitful vine lands. Stay tuned for next week’s appointment, which will bring us to our last installment of the wines of southern Italy, and that is the region of Lazio, at the very heart of the boot-shaped peninsula, where common knowledge and folklore songs maintain that everywhere “fountains spill wine.”

Salute!

Would you like to travel them mountains of the Abruzzo as your ancestors once did – and even have the chance to find your abruzzesi relatives still living there as well? Contact us today and find out how italyMONDO! can help you research your Italian (and Abruzzese!) family tree or create a vacation of a lifetime with a custom Heritage Tour for you and your family!

Photo Courtesy of “_pop-eye” at Flickr

The Wines of Molise

panorama vicino certaldo

Salve, wine-lovers! After visiting islands of Sardegna and Sicily and then traveling on the mainland through Calabria, Basilicata, Puglia and Campania, are you ready to learn more about yet another southern Italian region? Although lesser known, the region of Molise will not seize disappoint, despite being the second-smallest region in Italy as well as one of the poorest. Come along then and let us explore…

Perhaps the most obscure wine making region in all of Italy, Molise wasn’t even a region until the last half of the 20th century. Formerly part of the region of “Abruzzi e Molise” (with what is now Abruzzo), since 1963 the region has become a separate entity. In fact, the food and traditions of the Molise to this day are still very closely associated with Abruzzo. However, its proximity to both Puglia and Campania lend the region of Molise a distinct southern influence, creating a delightful blend of cultures and traditions.

Only recently have commercial, industrial and tourist industry infrastructures begun to built in the sparse mountain areas of Molise, providing an alternate source of income from the region’s agricultural production. Because of its fatigued economy, this region was—especially during later half of the 20th century—the place of origin of many Italian immigrants flocking to the United States, Canada, Australia and northern Europe (Germany, Belgium, France, etc.). However Molise has recently began to experience a renaissance as tourists—hungry to escape the touristic areas of the north—have started to discover this charming and authentic region. In fact, northern Europeans have even begun to actively purchase property in the Molise, taking advantage of the pristine countryside, enchanting cities and low cost of living.

Molisani wines conquered their own independence in the 1980’s with the creation of two DOC origin designation: Biferno (named after the largest river in Molise) made around Campobasso, and Pentro di Isernia. Molise DOC soon followed, and this wine comes in red and white varietals and is made almost throughout the entire the region. These beautiful hillside areas receive wonderful sunshine and are nestled between the Apennines Mountains and the Adriatic Sea — perfect winemaking conditions.

Biferno wines can be red, white or rosé. The white wines are predominantly made from the Trebbiano grape along with the Bombino grape in smaller proportions. The reds are a blend of mostly Montepulciano with some of the Aglianico grape. Wines from Pentro di Isernia can also be red, white or rosé. The white wines are the same Trebbiano-Bombino grape blend, while the reds (and rosés) are usually a blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese.

Although very closely associated with Abruzzo, its proximity to both Puglia and Campania lend the region of Molise a distinct southern influence, creating a delightful blend of cultures and traditions.

Although the Biferno DOC put molisani wines on the map, it is the boutique Tintilia grape that is perhaps the most “molisano” of the regions wines. Found exclusively in the Molise, Tintilia is colorful with an intense nose and full-bodied flavor. Although not favored by exporters and mass-producers, oenophiles visiting this region are sure to fall in love with this wine – finding it as the wine of choice for most local restaurants and homes in the area.

Molise seems to have all the natural prerequisites for making great wines, thus the oenological future seems bright for the region. The undeniable aptitude for vines on the sunny hillsides between the Apennines and the Adriatic indicates that with a little more effort Molise’s wine producers could match on a small scale the quality of their more well-known neighbors in Abruzzo, Puglia or Campania. New wineries will undoubtedly explore the hillsides closer to the mountains. We all look forward to new producers arriving on the scene from yet untried terroir to untried terroir.

Stay tuned for next week’s installment of Wednesday Wines, as we delve into the vineyards and mighty oak barrels of the wines of Abruzzo.

Salute!

Would you like see the stunning untouched beauty of the provinces of Isernia and Campobasso, walking in your ancestors footsteps and even meeting your long-lost Molisani relatives still living there? Contact us today and find out how italyMONDO! can help you research your Italian (and Molisano!) family tree or create a vacation of a lifetime with a custom Heritage Tour for you and your family!

Photo Courtesy of “francesco sgroi” at Flickr

The Wines of Campania

Wines from the Naples area

Welcome to this week’s segment of Wednesday Wines. Today we will be tasting the trendy wines of Campania and learning a little more about this dazzling region of southern Italy.

The ancient Romans had a keen nose for good wine. The name Campania is actually derived from Latin; as the Romans knew the region as the Campania Felix, which translates into English as “’Fruitful’ Countryside” due to its extremely fertile soil.

In modern times, alas, wine production in the southern regions of Italy suffered a momentary decline, when large portions of wine produced here were sold to France and Germany for local blends. That trend, fortunately, has changed (dramatically). Campania, above all other regions of the mezzogiorno, is at the center of southern Italy’s wine renaissance. This is home to the breathtaking Amalfi and Cilento Coasts, the gorgeous city of Naples, the lush islands of Capri and Ischia, the mighty Mount Vesuvius, and the mineral-rich, sunny, iodine-filled soil and air that blesses each of its natural wonders. These elements constitute the ideal conditions for the plentiful growth of all kinds of fruits and vegetables. And grapes are certainly no exception!

The province of Avellino in Campania has played such a vital role in regional wine production that the railway linking the cities of Avellino to Rocchetta Sant’Antonio is known as “The Wine Line.” Completely planted in vines, the Irpinia—as it is also known—features wines of international reputation, including the DOCG wines of Taurasi, Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino. But let’s take a closer and deeper look at the wines of Campania.

Taurasi is a robust, full-bodied red wine that requires aging, much like its northern cousins Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello. Full of ripe cherry fruit flavors, both earthy and seductive, Taurasi is made mostly of Aglianico grapes, and by law must age at least three years before being bottled, with one of those years spent in wood barrels. It is among the richest, most elegant red wines from the south of Italy.

Aglianico is also the principal grape of Aglianico del Taburno DOC and Falerno del Massico DOC. Deep ruby red color with a bold forward bouquet, whose smoothness lends a depth of rich flavors.

Piedirosso is a red grape grown mainly on the islands of Capri and Ischia. It produces a medium-weight wine, but often with a very distinct fruit-forward structure. Also known as Palummina or Per’ ’e Palummo, Piedirosso is an ancient vine, most probably the praised Colombina mentioned by Pliny The Elder in his Naturalis Historia.

Falerno is undoubtedly one of Italy’s gems. Highly regarded by the Romans who first cultivated it in the area, Falerno grapes rear full, complete and elegant reds, and refreshing, aromatic whites. This lovely wine is produced in Campania’s northern province of Caserta.

Fiano di Avellino, a delightful white wine, refers to the Latin Vitis Apiana. This was because the vine’s grapes were so sweet that they proved irresistible to bees (api). Fiano wines from this grape can be described as dewy and herbal, often with notes of almonds and pear. Fiano goes particularly well with fish, crustaceans and shellfish, especially oysters. And it is a quirky complement to the region’s famous pizza.

A key component in Falernum—treasured wine of the Roman Empire—is the Falanghina grape, one of Italy’s oldest. It takes its name from the ancient Puteulana technique of fixing each vine plant to a wooden pole (phalanx) to help it grow upwards. Falanghina hails from the Sannio area, the area now known as the province of Benevento, but is currently widespread throughout the entire region of Campania, where it is used for making the eponymous wine, and in many DOC wines, both in its pure form (such as the Campi Flegrei, Sant’Agata dei Goti and Taburno Falanghina wines), as well as blended together with other white grapes (such as, for example, islander Capri white wines, Costa d’Amalfi white and Falerno del Massico white). Falanghina wine has good acidity and fine, delicate, fruity notes, with hints of broom shrub. It is full-bodied, fresh and pleasant on the palate. Falanghina’s broad and enjoyably bitter aftertaste recalls the pomegranate. It can be enjoyed with grilled or fried fish, with pasta dressed with seafood or vegetable and tomato sauces; it happily accompanies the most traditional recipes from the Campania region, such as Scialatielli Areganati or Paccheri topped with a white fish sauce, among other traditional (and mouthwatering) pasta dishes.

A popular festa (festival) dedicated to Falanghina is held in the enchanting village of Sant’Agata dei Goti each year at the end of September during which the many wines produced in Campania with Falanghina grapes are showcased. A trip to this event is a definite must on any wine-lover’s wish list.

Greco di Tufo, both a grape and a wine, was introduced to Italy by the Pelasgian peoples of Thessaly, Greece in the 1st century B.C. This white wine is crisp, intensely fruity and aromatic. Straw-colored with a pleasant bouquet and a dry, well balanced and unique flavor, Greco di Tufo is suitable when paired with appetizers, in particular seafood, light salads and pasta, frittura mista, oysters and lobster.

Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio (literally: the tears of Christ at Vesuvius) is grown on the terraced slopes of Mount Vesuvius, the moody, now eerily quiet volcano that looms over the bay of Naples. The area’s rich volcanic soil produces very good red, white, and rosé wines. All three are designated “Lacryma Christi” only if the grapes have reached the stage where they spill “tears” of sweet sugary nectar. There is even a sparkling (spumante) version, but the pleasantly heady white, redolent of ripe quince, pineapple, banana and peach, make it a general favorite among wine-lovers.

Thanks to its soft palate and rich alcohol content, Lacryma Christi pairs well with sautéed clams, crustaceans, fish stews, seafood risotto, grilled vegetables and semi firm cheeses, and the tasty local mussel preparation called “Impepata di Cozze.”

Stop back next Wednesday when we will be exploring the wines of little-known but nonetheless enchanting region of Molise, Italy’s second smallest.

Salute!

Do you have roots in the provinces of Avellino, Benevento, Caserta, Napoli or Salerno and would like to find your “napoletani” family still living there? Contact us today and find out how italyMONDO! can help you research your Italian (and Campano!) family tree or create a vacation of a lifetime with a custom Heritage Tour or Excursion for you and your family!

Photo Courtesy of “payhere” at Flickr