In April we spent a couple weeks traveling in Italy and visiting our friends who produce the wines in the Mucci Imports portfolio and some. We continue to share our experiences with this blog.
After spending a few lovely days in Piemonte – where we actually had the warmest weather on our whole trip – we drove 7 hours down to the Amalfi Coast. We stayed with our dear friend Patrizia Malanga, who produces a wine in the Mucci Imports portfolio called Ragis, a blend of Aglianico and Piederosso on a tiny plot of land somehow hanging from the jagged hillside of the Amalfi coast. Pick this wine up if you’re a fan of Nebbiolo, Sangiovese or any big, bold red.
Patrizia was an extremely gracious host, as always, who even found some time to take us to some of her winemaking friends, a treat for her as well. She lamented to us that she never leaves her work and we gave her a great excuse to briefly get away from life in the vineyard, which is an around the clock job!
The purpose of this blog is to tell you why you should be excited about wines from Campania and should race to your nearest wine shop to pick up a bottle.
First off Campania is home to some of the oldest known varietals in Italy. Falanghina, for example, dates back to ancient Roman times, known to have been produced in mythical wines craved by all kinds of Roman noblemen.
The grapes here are old and therefore so are some of these production zones. That Falanghina I spoke of was produced in a region called Falernum in northern Campania on the border with Lazio. This region of Falernum was praised by Roman loyalty for centuries and this area took on mythical status as it kept many a chalice filled during ancient Rome’s heyday. The neatest thing is wine is still grown here by a small, but dedicated number of producers, producing the same grapes but in just a more palatable, modern style. Amazingly this small region has seemingly been forgotten since the fall of the Roman empire despite the incredibly high quality production still happening here. As wine lovers this excites us, so stay tuned for these wines coming this fall.
The story of this ancient production zone goes:
Baccus, the god of wine, wandering along the Monte Massico (the mountain above Regina Viarum) asking for water and food. In typical godlike fashion, he looked very poor and had nothing to offer those in return for help. An extremely poor farmer named Falernum met the wandering god and immediately shared his dinner despite having very little to begin with. In thanks, Baccus turned Falernum’s water into wine. Falernum was not used to drinking and after a couple of glasses he was out like a light. When he awoke Baccus had seeded vines as far as the eye could see and had blessed the lands as fertile.
Thus Falernum was born.
The fertile lands are why the the area has always been considered some of the best farming soil in Italy and why the Roman’s grew the majority of their wine there. The region was later named after the poor farmer due to the beautiful humility that allowed for such great farming.
Campania also boasts incredible diversity in terms of growing conditions. When we think of southern Italy what comes to mind? Probably a beach, lemon trees, and pizza. What about snowcapped mountains in late April? Strange right. Campania boasts this kind of diversity where one can be sitting on a beach in the Amalfi Coast in April and take about a 45 drive to the town of Avellino and be immersed in this snowy scene I described.
This diversity in climate also leads to a difference in wine styles from the sunny shores of the Amalfi to the rugged elevation of the Avellino. Even with the same grape you can have completely different expressions when grown in these extremes.
What most excites me about Campania is the capability of some of their indigenous varietals to age.
Did you know some whites can age just as long as reds, if not even longer in some cases? We are so used to drinking white wine fresh and thinking that it needs to be consumed one year after the vintage has been released. With red wine we are comfortable drinking it a few years down the road. These are generally good rules to follow, but whites from Campania break the mold. Varietals like Fiano and Greco di Tufo are great examples of this. I tasted these wines first hand on my visit to Campania and saw this potential first hand.
When visiting a producer in the Avellino, this mountainous region I was describing I tasted both Fiano and Greco di Tufo from 2013 (still aging in stainless steel) back to 2010. I even tasted a few wines with some serious age behind them, 2004 being the oldest. My conclusion
was that these wines improved with age. With very high acidity that needs taming, time is something that can work wonders. This acidity is crucial as it is a major factor in the ability for any wine, white or red to age.
If you swear by red wine and shy away from whites I challenge you to pick up a bottle of Fiano di Baal from Casa di Baal at one of my retail friends, or any other Fiano or Greco with a few years of aging behind it and see what you think.
You may just be surprised to find out that these wines are complex, age well in the bottle and you may just want to stash some away your cellar.
Lastly, what excited me most is the massive commitment to indigenous varietals.
Mastroberardino – a winery that has helped the reputation of Campania immensely – essentially revived the Fiano varietal and committed to the wine varietals present in Campania. Many younger producers have followed suit. This collection of producers young and old has led to the production of true terroir driven wines, that represent a territory and a people. In the end this is what wine is all about.
(For more on Mastroberardino, check out the fun map at the top of this page.)