Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Campania Wine Region: Climate, Major Grapes and Four DOCGs

Located about two hours south of Rome, the wine region of Campania is a magical and romantic place. The word “Campania” means “Happy Land”, and the locals told us that the landscape is similar to that of Piedmont.  I would have to agree because Campania is beautiful with rolling hills, vineyards, olive groves, red poppies, and rocky mountain cliffs. The vineyards are also at higher elevations, ranging from 300 to 800 meters above sea level.

The Beautiful Vineyard Landscape of Campania

The climate is obviously Mediterranean, being close to the sea. It has hot dry summers and cool wet winters, with afternoon sea breezes to keep grape acid levels high and grape skins thick.  The soil is a mixture of clay and volcanic rock, with some areas having the famous “tufo” stone, which is similar to a chalky white ash.

Campania is also home to some amazing cultural sites, such as the ancient city of Pompeii, destroyed by the Mount Vesuvius volcano. They still make wine at an old vineyards site in Pompeii using the Aglianico grape.

The Ruins of Pompeii

The Amalfi Coast is also close by with its tall rock cliffs plunging to tiny white sand beaches. Lemon groves cling to the hillsides, and the region is famous for its DOCG Lemoncello di Amalfi. The drive along the coast past charming villages, including Positano, reminded me a bit of the Cinque Terra, but more flashy and accessible. Along the way you see many Ferraris as well as Sophia Loren’s home, and in every restaurant and bar you can buy lemoncello.

The Breathtakingly Beautiful Amalfi Coast

Three Major Grapes of Campania and Four DOCGs

Back in the hills away from the coast is where the abundant vineyards of Campania can be found. The three most famous grapes of the region and four DOCGS are described below.

Fiano an aromatic white grape with notes of pear and white flowers. It is made in two styles – one light and refreshing, and the other heavy and textured, with complex minerality and the ability to age for many years. A few fianos have an interesting sage note on the finish. The best fiano is said to come from the village of Avellino.  Therefore it has been granted its own DOCG: Fiano de Avellino

Greco an aromatic white grape with notes of peach and honey. It is a heavier bodied wine, and some compare it to Viognier. It often has a textured palate with some volcanic mineral notes. The word Greco means “Greek,” and most people believe the Greeks brought the grape to Campania. The best Greco is said to come from the town of Tufo, where the soil is filled with the white chalky ash that makes up tufo stone.  Therefore it has been granted its own DOCG: Greco di Tufo. There is also a red Greco, but it is rarely seen.

Aglianico – the famous red grape of Campania that is known as the “Barolo of the South.” It creates wines that have huge tannins, high acid, and notes of dried cherry, leather, tobacco, tar, black plum, and chocolate. Often lighter in color, but can be blended to make darker, with merlot, cab, syrah, or local grapes. It can age for decades, and is often not approachable until 3 to 4 years of aging, so most producers wait that long before releasing it to consumers.

Aglianico is so famous it has 2 DOCGs in Campania –Taurasi and Aglianico del Taburno, as well as one in the neighboring region of Basilicata: Aglianico del Vulture Superiore. In each of these DOCGs, the Aglianico that is produced is complex and ageworthy.

Campania's Famous Grape Varietals Made into Fine Wines by Mastroberardino

Other Campania Grapes

There are many other interesting Campania grapes.  Several that we enjoyed trying were:

Lacryma Christi – meaning “heavenly tears” this grape is grown on the hillsides of Mt. Vesuvius and is said to be named for the “tears of Christ.” It comes in both a red and white grape. The white produces a rather bland version of wine with citrus and straw, but the red grape creates a wine with a soft creamy texture with velvety tannins and notes of plum, red licourice and vanilla. Many people in our group fell in love with the red version.

Falaghina – an ancient white grape that produces heavy bodied wines with straw, nut and lemon notes. It is also used for sparkling, and we enjoyed several very refreshing brut versions.

Coda di Volpe – meaning “tail of the fox,” because the formation of the grape cluster is very long and looks like a fox tail. A white grape, it produces a mineral driven textured wine with citrus, nuts and straw.

Coda di Volpe Grapes at Cavalier Pepe Winery Where We Visited to Taste their Amazing Wine from this Grape

We visited two wineries in the Campania wine region - Mastroberardino and Tenuta Cavalier Pepe.  Descriptions of these visits are described in separate blog posts.

No comments: