Naples is the land of palm trees and citrus groves, but travel 30 miles east to Avellino (at once a province and a townwithin the province) and you enter into a completely different landscape where pine, hazelnut, and chestnut trees prevail; this is an ideal habitat for the grape Fiano. The ancient name of the area was Hirpinia or Irpinia in modern Italian, a derivative of the Oscan word hirpus meaning wolf, an animal that is still present in the territory but in greatly reduced numbers.
Fiano di Avellino was known in Roman times as the native variety of the imported Greco vine, (more on that later). Traditionally it was often found in hazelnut orchards, and due to this it was once considered to have an affinity to the hazelnut tree, from which it does appear to derive some character. Fiano di Avellino takes its name from the variety the Romans called Vitis Apiana, or vine beloved of bees: this was because the grapes were so sweet they were irresistable to those sweet-toothed stingers. The wine, which was held in high regard in the Middle Ages, originated several thousand years ago; In the register of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II one can find an order for three salme, or measures, of Fiano and Charles d’Anjou had 16,000 vines of Vitis Apiana planted in the royal vineyards. It is a wine redolent of pears and hazelnuts, and almost always has a vibrant amount of acidity, due to its mountainous location.
So what is Fiano di Avellino DOCG anyway? A dry white, it must contain at least 85% of the Fiano grape, with the remaining 15% left to either Greco, Coda di Volpe Bianca, or Trebbiano Toscano. The last three grapes may be on their own, or a combination of any. Due to the high sugar content of the grapes, a sweet sparkling wine is made in the area, but has yet to find a market outside of Italy.
While our focus this month is the town of Avellino, I mention Greco di Tufo solely due to its fascinating history and because the town of Tufo is in the Avellino province. It is without a doubt the oldest variety of the Avellino area: the Pelasgians imported it from the Greek region of Thessaly and evidence of the origin of the wine was provided by the discovery of a fresco at Pompeii, dated to the 1 st century BC, with the poetical inscription “You are truly cold, Bytis, made of ice, if last night not even Greco wine could warm you up.” The Greco vine was originally cultivated on the slopes of Vesuvius, where it was given the name Lacryma Christi or Tears of Christ- it was later planted in the Avellino town of Tufo and renamed Greco di Tufo. The elegance of the wine represents a stark contrast to the wild landscape of theIrpinia.
Wines also found in the province of Avellino include Taurasi (a previous region of the month- check out our fantastic article in the Archives) and the aromatic Falanghina.
For the month of August, we celebrate Avellino and the bees that make the wines possible. We look forward to seeing you at Babbo.