Rupert Parker travels to Naples to taste the best wines from the region of Campania
It’s said that it was the ancient Greeks who brought the distinctive grape varieties that are grown in the region around Naples. Aglianico is the characterful red grape with Falanghina, Greco and Fiano making up the whites. What’s more, many of these vines are planted on their own root stocks and survived the devastating 19th century Phylloxera epidemic because of the dry volcanic soil. As a result many of the grape varieties are unique, found nowhere else in the world, and the varied micro-climates and soils of the region, give rise to some very interesting wines.
I’ve arrived in Naples for the annual event, Campania Stories, where producers showcase their latest wines. My heart sinks slightly when I learn I’ll have to taste over a hundred reds and a similar number of whites over three days, but it’s certainly an opportunity to get an overview of the region The tastings are held inside the walls of a historic church, Santa Donna Regina, right in the centre of town, and it’s an appropriate place to worship at the temple of wine.
In the past, Campania wines were produced by farmers for their own consumption and the emphasis was on quantity rather than quality. That’s all changed in recent years, with the development of new wineries, using the latest technologies, often headed by enthusiastic small producers. The best reds are made from the Aglianico grape, with Taurasi heading the list. These wines are big shouting beasts with strong flavours of black cherry and chocolate, and respond well to aging.
The province of Avellino, inland East of Naples, leads the white production with Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino, the major players. It’s rare to age them in oak and both are dry with excellent acidity. Falanghina is a fruity white, with pear, lime and apple flavours, coupled with high acidity, and it varies depending on where it’s grown. An inland version, nurtured on slopes where there’s plentiful rainfall is more fragrant than on the sun splashed coast. It’s here where you’ll also find rare local grapes including Ripoli, Fenile, Pepella and Ginestra.
In between my marathon tastings, I take time out to visit a selection of producers to get a better understanding of the climates and soils which are home to around 29,000 hectares of vines. Abundant sunshine and mild winters make a long growing season and much of the soil is volcanic due to the presence of Mount Vesuvius. Reds make up 54% of the grapes with whites making 46%.
Feudi di San Gregorio
In the province of Avellino, and founded in 1986, Feudi di San Gregorio is the largest producer in Campania and takes grapes from over 300 hectares. The winery was completely rebuilt in 2004 with a stylish structure designed by Japanese architect Hikaru Mori, and there’s even room for a Michelin starred restaurant. Their annual production of 4 million bottles includes all the Campania favourites like Greco di Tufo, Fiana di Avellino and Taurasi but I like their 2010 Serpico Aglianico, made from a small parcel of old vines, aged 24 months in oak and then 24 months in the bottle.
Terre del Principe
In Castel Campagnano, in the province of Caserta, Terre del Principe is a tiny operation with just 7 hectares. Peppe Mancini abandoned his profession as a lawyer to explore the potential of Pallagrello and Casavecchia grapes. Pallagrello has both red and white varieties and was probably introduced by the Greeks but in the last 200 years it almost disappeared. Similarly, the red Casavecchia was almost wiped out by an epidemic in the 1800’s but Peppe almost singlehandedly rescued these grapes and managed to get them registered. To prove that Pallagrello Bianco can age well, I get to taste his 2010 vintage and it’s a revelation, good freshness in the mouth with a strong hay bouquet.
At an altitude of 500m, about 20 km west from Castel Campagnano, osteopath Andrea Granito, founded Sclavia in 2004 and also planted Pallagrello and Casavecchia. He now has 14 hectares, all farmed organically, and produces 100% Pallagrello Nero and 100% Casavecchia. What’s interesting is that these wines, grown at altitude, have a distinctly different character than those produced much lower at Terre del Principe.
South of Naples, on the Amalfi coast near Ravello, Ettore Sammarco’s 12 hectares occupy terraces on the steeply sloping hillsides. Red grapes include Aglianico and Piedirosso, whilst whites include Falanghina, Biancatenera and Pepella whose tiny berries are the size of peppercorns. Their Costa d’Amalfi Bianco Terre Saracene is a blend of all three, whilst the Costa d’Amalfi Ravello Rosso is 70% Aglianico and 30% Piedirosso.
Right on the Amalfi coast, clinging to the rocks of Furore, Andrea Ferraioli named his Marisa Cuomo winery after his wife when he founded the estate in 1980. His 10 hectares include Pepella and Piedirosso but also local grapes Tronto, Ginestra, Tintore and Fenile. The adjacent Hostaria di Bacco makes a good base to explore their wines and also serves excellent food.
In the opposite direction, just north of Naples, La Sibilla has vineyards straddling the old Roman city of Baia. Luigi di Meo’s family came here in 1913 and he’s the fourth generation to make wine. Both their white Falanghina and the red Piedirosso, are good straightforward wines with no use of oak. Over an excellent lunch with the family I get to try their Cruna del Lago, a reserve bottling of Falanghina with zesty herbal and mineral aspects, and their excellent red Marsiliano 2010, which goes well with the local sausages.
Campania Stories has information about the wines, and the next event will take place in spring 2018.
Discover Italy has tourist information about Campania.
Palazzo Caracciolo Napoli MGallery by Sofitel makes a comfortable base in Naples.