Campania is home to some of Italy’s most ancient wine varietals. Today fiano, greco, falanghina and coda di volpe are the most commonly used for whites, while aglianico and piedirosso are the usual suspects for the red wines, but this is a generalization which belies the fact that there are still dozens of other varietals in production throughout the region being grown to produces a dizzying array of wines.
When one thinks of the region of Campania, it is natural to think first of its major city Naples, one of Italy’s liveliest and most beautiful, and the surrounding Mediterranean climate. A short drive inland into the Irpinian Hills, foothills to the Apennine Mountain chain which runs through the region, reveals an entirely different face of Campania. Gone are the palm trees, replaced by pine forests. The bright Mediterranean Sea is no longer visible and the only water if found in narrow mountain streams and the temperature is about ten degrees cooler than on the coast. In these hills lies the town of Benevento, just to the east of the Mount Taburno. While tobacco is still the most important crop in these parts, viticulture has made a considerable resurgence in the last ten years or so. There are several DOCs in the Benevento area. Sannio DOC is the most all-encompassing DOC, within which sit the other appellations of Solopaca, Guardiolo, Sant’Agata dei Goti, and Taburno.
Fiano from the region of Avellino has long been Campania’s premier white wine, but of late Falanghina has stepped into the ring with wines that have less of the herbal nuttiness of fiano and more of a bright citrus and pineapple fruit characteristic. While also found in more coastal areas, some of the best comes from the slopes of Taburno, where the cooler mountain climate promotes a brighter acidity in the wine. Another varietal that is very typical to Taburno is coda di volpe, named thus because the shape of the clusters resembles the tail of a fox. The wine of this varietal, while perhaps overall more modest in scale when compared to fiano or falanghina is still crisp and refreshing, reflecting the cooler climate of the Apennine foothills.
In the way of red wines the aglianico varietal runs quite uncontested as king of these hills. It is a late ripening grape that also doesn’t like to be rushed, awarding the patience of growers with marvelously complex and subtle wines with notes of tobacco, black fruit and earthiness. Aglianico is often the latest harvested red varietal in all of Europe. Taburno again is the DOC most closely associated with Benevento for wines of note.
The DOC of Guardiolo, like Solopaca, is relatively difficult to find in this market. Both allow for the usual gamut of varietals discussed above along with a couple of oddities such as sciascinoso and a barbera, that, according to one producer I have spoke with years ago is not barbera, but a local specially called barbetta which took on the name barbera for marketing purposes.
Producers to look for? In the Taburno DOC there is the Tenuta La Rivolta, new in the marketplace with a crisp and pineapply Taburno Falanghina. The Ocone family winery has long been a producer of exceptional wines, particularly their Taburno Aglianico “Diomede”. The Cantina del Taburno is a cooperative winery of noteworthy quality with a Taburno Aglianico “Delius” which frequently finds its way onto our wine list. Fontanavecchia (Taburno), Antica Masseria Venditti (Sannio), and Domenico Pulcino (Taburno) are also producers worth seeking out.