Guest columnist Quentin Sadler continues this week with a look at the fine wines of Italy’s Campania region. For publication in the week starting 10 September 2018.
Italy is one of the great wine producing countries and home to some of the most famous wines in the world. Any serious wine lover, or collector, will know of Barolo, Barbaresco, Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino.
Wine is available in Italy from top to bottom. Tucked away in all sorts of places are fabulous wines that really ought to be better known and more widely enjoyed.
One of my favourite parts of Italy is Campania. This is the beautiful region around Naples and it has much to offer. The Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, the island of Capri, Pompeii, Herculaneum and Mount Vesuvius are all beautiful, quite apart from the mouthwatering food and laid-back lifestyle. I love the place just as much as I enjoy the wine.
Campania produces a lot of wine and you would be hard pressed to find anything bad. Most of the region’s star wines are to be found about 50 kilometres inland, huddled around the small city of Avellino.
Here you can find three wines all designated Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, or DOCG. This is the highest quality level of Italian wines and only the very best vineyard areas produce wines with this classification. The controls imposed on a DOCG wine are higher than those on the more widely seen, but still high quality Denominazione di Origine Controllata, or DOC wine. For instance, the yields for DOCG wines are usually smaller and the ageing times longer.
Two of these wines are white, Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo. This dominance of white wine shows just how cool the region can be. The winters are long and harsh in Campania and while the summers are hot and dry there is always a tempering influence from the mountains that dominate this inland landscape.
For me Fiano di Avellino is probably the most impressive of the white wines, though they are all good. Avellino is ringed by mountains and, apart from grapes, the big crop here is hazelnuts as it has been since Roman times. Although the Italian for hazelnut is nocciola, the Latin is abellana and the Spanish is a still recognisable avellana.
I really love the Fiano grape as it seems to make very fine wine indeed. Pure and acidic to be sure, the area’s volcanic soils make for mineral wines, but the best have lovely deep flavours too. They often taste of hazelnuts, almonds, orange peel and apricot. These flavours put me in mind of Viognier, but with much more acidity.
Producers that I would recommend include: Feudo di San Gregorio, Rocca del Principe, Ciro Picariello and Tenuta Cavalier Pepe.
Greco di Tufo is quite different. The wines made from this grape tend to be leaner and more overtly mineral. In fact some of them reminded me of bone-dry Rieslings, although a better comparison might be to Assyrtico from Santorini. Greco is more widely grown in southern Italy, but can be pretty inconsequential elsewhere. It seems to need the tuff — compressed volcanic ash soils which give Tufo its name — which allows the minerality to really shine through.
Producers that I would recommend include: Cantine di Marzo and Azienda Vitivinicola Le Ormere, as well as the larger Feudo di San Gregorio and Tenuta Cavalier Pepe.
The area also produces a lot of white wines made from Falanghina grapes and much as I love Fiano and Greco, I reckon Falanghina is Campania’s calling card for white wines. It is capable of being much softer and fruitier than the others and can easily be enjoyed without food. This grape has a long history and is thought to be the one used by the Romans to make their favourite wine — Falernum. The name derives from the Latin “falanghae” which means tied to the stake — an early instance of sophisticated vine training perhaps and so worthy of mention in its name?
Most of the large producers make delicious, easy drinking examples, including La Guardiense, Terredora, Feudo di San Gregorio and Tenuta Cavalier Pepe.
Taurasi, the third DOCG wine of the area is a red and arguably the most well known. The dominant grape is Aglianico, but it can be blended with up to 15 per cent of Barbera, Piedirosso or Sangiovese to soften Aglianico’s firm tannins.
Taurasi is rather lazily called ‘the Barolo of the south’ and I can see why. The wines have similar tannins and acidity to Barolo, but in truth are more properly full-bodied and are normally much more mineral. This can be a hard edged and unrelenting wine, but the best examples manage to tame the grape’s wilder instincts and make the wines approachable, if still very savoury and dry. I struggle to see the charms in some, but the best are superb.
As for choosing a Taurasi, Mastroberardino is the original producer and still makes great wines, while many of the newer names are also very good. Cantine Guastaferro is an estate whose vines are between 150 and 200 years old. This means the vines produce tiny amounts of concentrated juice and that shows in the finished wines.
I also found the Taurasi from Feudo di San Gregorio to be very impressive — as well as everything else they make. This is a big, modern winery whose wines are easy to find, but their passion and attention to detail cannot be denied. Try their Serpico Aglianico if you can.
Tenuta Cavalier Pepe also makes superb Taurasi. In fact Tenuta Cavalier Pepe is an excellent winery and I have loved everything I have tasted from them.
Falerno del Massico is another fascinating, high quality wine region in Campania. It’s on the coast north of Naples and is where the ancient Roman Falernum wine was made. Today it produces supple reds from Aglianico and Piedirosso and juicy whites from Falanghina. Villa Matilde is the leading estate.
The next time you are seeking something different, a Taurasi or a fine white from Campania could well hit the spot.
Quentin Sadler is a wine communicator who has spent more than 30 years in the UK wine trade and has done it all from retail, buying and selling through to marketing. Nowadays he trains members of the trade as well as interested consumers in both WSET qualifications and bespoke courses. He is a popular speaker for wine clubs as well as giving presentations to the trade and hosting wine events and entertainments. Quentin also writes about wine and is a cartographer, creating maps used to illustrate wine books and educational presentations, as well as these articles. His web site can be found here.