The Wines of Campania
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.
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.
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!