Bill Zacharkiw: Campania white wine one of Italy’s best-kept secrets
Most of the world’s “great” white wines hail from cooler growing regions. Greatness happens when the right grape is planted in its ideal soil and climate, resulting in a wine that is unique and tasty, and with an ability to age and develop.
However, there are exceptions to the cool-climate rule. One of those is the southern Italian region of Campania. It boasts not one, but three grape varieties that satisfy my “great” criteria: fiano, greco and falanghina.
Campania extends to the Mediterranean coast, with Naples its largest city. As with the rest of Italy, most regions in the south are best known for red wines. Campania, however, produces more white.
The region is not well-known outside of Italy. And yet it is the only region with two white appellations that have earned the country’s top designation for quality — DOCG (Designation of Origin Controlled and Guaranteed).
The two are Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo.
What this means is that while the fiano grape is grown throughout the region, it is considered exceptional around the village of Avellino. The same goes for the greco grape and the village of Tufo.
In my view, there should probably be a third — falanghina from Taburno.
Mountains and volcanoes
As you move towards the interior from the Mediterranean, Campania is quite mountainous. Formed in part by volcanoes, some of which are still active, this elevation tempers the summer heat, allowing the grapes to cool off at night to help protect their acidity. There is more than enough rain, as well. In other words, the place is in many ways perfect for white wine production.
Fiano: the warm-climate chardonnay
Calling it Italy’s chardonnay might be oversimplifying things, but there are many similarities between these grapes. Both make table wines that are textured, mineral and nuanced, and they produce fantastic sparkling.
Like any great chardonnay, fiano starts to show what it’s all about after three or four years in the bottle. I’ve drunk wines that were over a decade old and they had plenty of life.
Fiano makes very good wine throughout Campania, but it’s in the sand, stone and clay around Avellino that it reaches the next level.
What to look for? Like chardonnay, it is primarily apple and stone fruits. But you will also find acacia, almonds and dried fruit and flowers.
Greco: beyond comparison
In Campania, greco is seen is a white wine that wants to be red.
If I drank a glass wearing a blindfold and near room temperature, I would probably think it was a red wine due to its drying tannins on the finish.
It is not particularly fruity, no matter where it’s grown in Campania. But around Tufo it takes on an intense, almost aggressive character.
The compact volcanic soils give the grape driving acidities, which alongside the tannin, make for a beast of a wine. So unique, and delicious.
With age, they acquire a petrol note, not unlike riesling or perhaps chenin blanc from the Loire.
Falanghina: salt and sage
This has become one of my favourite wines to taste.
The grape is grown throughout Campania. It can be quite a fresh wine near the coast but it is most interesting in the richer clay vineyards in the Sannio region, especially near the Taburno mountains.
Of the three grape varieties, falanghina is the most aromatic — ranging from stone fruit to tropical notes. There is also an undeniable, though subtle, note of fresh sage.
The real joy, however, is in the texture and a very sneaky salty mineral note. These wines make you thirsty because of their mineral quality.
Unfortunately, the selection at the Société des alcools du Québec is woeful, with only one — albeit a great example — of falanghina (see below).
Key producers such as Ciro Picariello, Rocca del Principe, Colli di Lapio, Cantina del Barone, Cantine dell’Angelo, Il Cancelliere, among others, deserve to be on SAQ shelves.
As sales of white wines increase, hopefully they soon will be.
Taburno 2015, Falanghina Del Sannio, Fattoria La Rivolta, Italy white, $23.10, SAQ # 11451851. Lemony, and add some pear juice as well. That’s the extra bit of body right there. Get’s salty. Touch of sage. You don’t really notice the salty minerality at first. But the more you drink, the more it takes up space. It’s almost oppressive. Almost. Bottle gone. Residual sugar: 1.2 g/l. Grape variety: falanghina. Serve at: 10-12C. Drink now-2022. Food pairing: lobster, seafood in cream sauce.
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