Campania, the Italian region that includes Naples, has a rich history of wine. It starts with the Greeks, who established colonies there, and continues with the Romans, who vacationed at the coast and turned the inland area into an agricultural center.
But in the intervening centuries, the wine tradition faded. Campania once was home to hundreds of grape varieties, but many have disappeared. Wine was produced for the local market, but Campania didn’t (and still doesn’t) have the international prestige of wine-producing areas like Tuscany.
Its most famous alcoholic beverage might have been limoncello, the ubiquitous lemon liqueur of the tourist playgrounds of Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast.
The past 30 years or so have seen a renaissance in the Campania wine industry. The Mastroberardino winery, which dates from 1878 and is Campania’s oldest, has been joined by newer ventures, like the ambitious Feudi di San Gregorio, founded in 1986, and the small, decidedly low-tech Pietracupa, which started in the mid-1990s. The region’s wines are still little-known, at least internationally, but some of them are outstanding.
Campania’s most famous wine probably is a red called Taurasi, made from the aglianico grape. But I’m particularly attracted to the region’s crisp, aromatic whites, which are a perfect companion to seafood and provide plenty of refreshment for summer’s remaining warm days.
Three of these wines are falanghina, greco di tufo and fiano di Avellino, made from grape varieties that nearly disappeared before being revived in the last half of the 20th century. Much of the work that was done to identify and preserve these and other grapes was spearheaded by Mastroberardino. “The philosophy of the family has always been preserving the native varieties of the area,” says Piero Mastroberardino, president of the winery.
Of the three, falanghina tends to be the least expensive. The wines are crisp and aromatic, with some floral character. Two good ones are the racy 2012 Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina ($15) and the slightly weightier 2012 Mastroberardino Falanghina di Sannio ($20).
Greco di tufo and fiano di Avellino grow in the hills around the city of Avellino. Greco often exhibits a strong minerality, in addition to its racy fruit. The 2011 Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo ($21) has that minerality, along with zippy citrus and green apple. Ditto the 2012 Mastroberardino Greco di Tufo ($25), which also has a note of green plum, and the reserve-level 2012 Mastroberardino Nova Sera Greco di Tufo ($30), which has more weight and concentration. The 2011 Pietracupa Greco di Tufo ($25) is fleshier.
Fiano di Avellino displays a pronounced smokiness, along with notes of hazelnut, citrus and apple. The 2012 Mastroberardino Fiano di Avellino ($25) is an excellent example. The 2011 Pietracupa Fiano di Avellino ($25) is a little fleshier. In top vintages, Pietracupa’s Sabino Loffredo makes a fiano called Cupo; I haven’t tasted the 2008 ($48), which is currently available, but a taste of the 2010 earlier this year was so good that it prompted me to visit the tiny winery.
Pick of the week
J. Lohr 2011 “South Ridge” Syrah ($15)
Year in and year out, J. Lohr’s South Ridge syrah from Paso Robles is a good value. This vintage offers lively, spicy berry and a note of white pepper, leading to a drying finish.