Very special white wines from ancient Italian vines

This week, some very special white wines. The rugged volcanic mountains of Campania rise up from the spectacular coastline of the Gulf of Naples and Amalfi. Fifty kilometres east of the tourist hotspots, the province of Irpinia is a sparsely populated mixed-farming region that has seen tragedy in recent times: in 1980, an earthquake killed 3,000 people and left 300,000 homeless. Many left the region entirely, but others remained and successfully fought to establish Irpinia as a centre of viticulture.

This part of Campania produces wonderful wines with a unique personality. These are some of the most ancient vineyards of all, responsible for supplying ancient Rome with her finest wines. The 20th century was less kind, but the last 20 years have seen a great revival, and some of the wines are now ranked alongside the greatest white wines of Italy.

Acquired taste

Camapania boasts three unique white grapes: Fiano, Greco, and Falanghina. The wines are not your standard aromatic, fruity numbers; they may even be an acquired taste, but certainly one worth acquiring. Fiano is one of Italy’s best white grapes. Lauded since Roman times but almost forgotten until  the 1970s and 1980s, it produces medium-bodied wines with floral or herbal aromas, and peach, pear and honey on the palate. With age, it develops flavours of toasted nuts and smoke. As with all wines of the region, it has good acidity, often described as mineral, due to the volcanic soils. Twenty or so communes in the province of Avellino produce the finest examples, under the name Fiano di Avellino.

Difficult to grow

Greco is another ancient variety, brought by the Greeks (hence the name) to Italy. It is difficult to grow, low-yielding and sensitive, and the wines are prone to oxidation. In style, it is even less fruity than Fiano, sometimes tannic, high in acidity and alcohol, flinty and mineral, the nearest white wine gets to red. It has peach fruits, sometimes almonds and a subtle, pleasant bitterness on the finish. The most renowned examples, labeled Greco di Tufo, come from the town of the same name, where sulphur was mined in the 19th century.

Falanghina is the third white variety, again ancient and possibly Roman. Some argue that it was responsible for Falernum, the greatest of Roman wines. More recently, it was considered inferior to the other two varieties, producing wines full of acidity but lacking in fruit. However, over the last decade better producers have been creating very attractive wines full of rich, tropical fruit.

Most of the above wines sell for €15-€25, reasonable value for unique wines generally made by very small producers. They are not really wines to sip on their own, but shine alongside shellfish and other seafood.

Three to try

Greco di Tufo 2015, Loggia della Serra, Terredora di Paolo



 Very appealing rich peach fruits on nose and palate, with a gently refreshing saline finish.

 Stockists: O’Briens

 Paóne Fiano 2014, Cantina del Barone, Campania



 Quite full-bodied with toasted almonds, pears and a lightly smoky touch.

 Stockists: Quintessential Wines, Drogheda; Wicklow Wines; Grapevine, Dalkey.

Greco di Tufo 2014, Cantina dell’Angelo



 Grilled nuts and red apples with a bracing acidity. Serve with a crab salad.

 Stockists: Quintessential Wines, Drogheda; Wicklow Wines; Grapevine, Dalkey.

Posted in: Irish Times

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