AN UP-AND-COMING MEZZOGIORNO WINE REGION
One of the oldest wine-producing regions in Italy, Campania is becoming fashionable again. Wine enthusiasts in Italy and elsewhere in the world seem to be looking for flavours other than Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Roman aristocracy admired Campania Felix (Campania the lucky or felicitous) for its wines from vineyards on the coast. Falernian wine, a favourite of Roman nobility was grown on the coast north off Naples. The wines of Vesivius and the famous Fiano d’Avellino from the wooded hills of the town of Avellino were favourites too. Early Greek traders had recognized the privileged nature of Campania and planted vines, which still strand out today – Aglianico, Greco and Falaghina. In fact, Greeks called Sicily and southern Italy Enotria ( the land of cultivated vine), since grape grew better there in hot and dry Greece further east and south.
Yet until recently, Campanian wineries had forgotten about the glories of the past, but now many young , well-educated winemakers with wealthy individuals as backers willing to invest in up-to-date wineries started producing highly flavoured wines from indigenous grapes.
Modernization, however, has by no means swept away respect for tradition and winemakers attempt to improve quality by better vineyard management, harvesting methods, and cellar techniques.
For red wines, the Aglianico, Sangiovese, Piedirosso, Primitivo and Barbera are planted, with preference given to the first variety a requirement of the only D O C G (Denominazione di Origine Contorlata e Garantita) red wine of the region Taurasi.
Taurasi is an appellation 50 Km east and north of Naples, featuring vineyards on slopes that are most suitable for Agnlianico. Elsewhere, wineries market Aglianico with a regional suffix i.e. Aglianico del Taburno. This is a grape rich in ploy phenols, softer tannins, and possesses a depth of flavour other grapes seldom show. Some experts claim it to be the progenitor of Syrah, but this is highly disputable. Syrah, in fact is an accidental natural cross between Dureza from Ardeche in France and Mondeuse Blanche from the Jura in France.
Antonio Mastroberardino, the winemaker of the eponymous winery, claims Aglianico to be the most important red grape of Campania. No one can dispute this claim, since Antonio Mastroberardino is the most experienced, caring, knowledgeable and respected winemaker in the region.
For white wines; Fiano, Falaghina, Aspirinia, Coda di Volpe, Biancolella, Greco and Forastera are planted. Fiano from the town Avellino yields an excellent mineraly wine with bright acidity typical of Italian wines, and which seems to be the best to match with local olive oil fried seafood, and/or olive oil and lemon juice marinated squid and octopus.
Greco di Tufo grown on volcanic soil also yields fine, full-bodied, aromatic wines suitable with local fare. Both Fiano d’Avellino and Greco di Tufo have been elevated to D O C G status recently. Before they became famous, Antonio Mastroberardino produced fine samples of both available in Ontario by special order from Halpern agencies.
Falaghina (means on the stake) was praised by Pliny the Elder as one of the finest grapes “beloved by the bees” because of its sweetness. I remember tasting Falaghina by Mastroberardino in 1970’s. it was highly aromatic, mid-weight, with honeyed flavours exploding in the mouth, and finishing dry and smooth.
Campania’s climate is highly conducive to viticulture with dry and hot summers, mild winters and long growing season. Coastal breezes from the Tyhrrenian Sea and the Apennine Mountains chain in the east act as barriers and help keep a fine acidity in the fruit. Fiano d’Avellino from premium vineyards smells of pears, spice, and hazelnuts, and those of Mastroberardino once again stand out. Much to my dismay, brothers Antonio and Walter Mastroberardino who owned and managed the winery decided to go their own separate ways. Now Anotonio runs with his son his own winery called Terredora.
Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio (red and white), is produced from grapes grown on vineyards located on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, the oldest still active volcano in Europe. The volcanic soils yield wines that are smoky, and minerally reflecting the composition of the soil.
There are a few wineries that blend Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Aglianico like Monte Veterano and which have managed to attract international attention, but generally, indigenous grapes yield the moist characteristic wines. One winery markets a respectable Shiraz but no other has joined it so far.
Campania’s co-operatives pump out huge quantities of bulk wine at low prices but smaller wineries concentrate on quality. They are: Mastroberardino, Villa Raiano, Villa Matilde, G. Apicella, Fontanavecchia, Terredora, Cantina dei Monaci, Caputo, De Conciliis, Fendi di San Gregorio, Grotta del Sole, Di Meo, Caggiano, Ocone and Montesole.
Campania’s Taurasi, Fiano d’Avellino, Greco di Tufo and Lacryma Christi deserve more international attention than they receive, but increasing awareness in world markets depends much on promotion and exposure.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu