Campania's Great Whites
Article and photos © by Tom Hyland

Greco di Tufo
Greco di Tufo vineyards with Monte Vergine in the background. Photo © 2007 by Tom Hyland
The southern Italian region of Campania is known for many things, from Napoli and its famous pizzerie to the stunningly beautiful Amalfi Coast and the nearby islands of Capri and Ischia. But the wines from this region have never become as celebrated as those from other areas in Italy, especially Tuscany and Piedmont. This is a shame, as some of Italy's finest wines, both red and white, are from Campania.

The most famous are from the province of Avellino - known historically as Irpinia - some thirty miles east of Napoli. Three wines - one red and two white - define this territory and are the region's only wines awarded the DOCG designation. The red is Taurasi, made primarily from the Aglianico grape, which yields a wine with firm tannins and good acidity with flavors of black cherry and chocolate. This is one of Italy's longest-lived reds and a few examples from the mid 1960s (especially those from Mastroberardino) are still drinking well.

I'll go into greater detail on Taurasi in a future article, but this text is all about the two Irpinian whites, Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino. The first is made from the Greco grape and is named for the town of Tufo, one of the nine communes in which this wine can be produced. Tufo also refers to the local soil, a type of clay that is rough but breaks up quite easily. Full of calcium, this soil yields a nice minerality to the wine, which often has a light note of almond in the finish. Medium-bodied, Greco di Tufo features aromas of lemon, flowers such as acacia or lilacs and sometimes notes of green apple. To highlight the aromatics, most versions are aged solely in stainless steel, though some producers do use a bit of used wood to add complexity. The crisp acidity and light earthiness of this dry white make it a perfect accompaniment to most shellfish, especially the local clams known as vongole.

Fiano di Avellino is a slightly richer white with aromas of pear, yellow flowers, golden apples and a touch of honey. As this generally has more body than Greco di Tufo, some versions of Fiano di Avellino are aged for a brief period in wood, though many producers opt for stainless steel only for aging. Fiano can be enjoyed just after release, though it is generally a more complex wine with 2-3 years of aging. While this also works well with most seafood, this is rich enough to pair with most poultry or even lighter pork preparations.

In early May, I was able to taste more than 60 examples of the newly released 2006 bottlings of Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino at a special event for the press entitled Bianchirpinia, which was held in the town of Atripalda. The wines as a rule were very good with many excellent and even a few outstanding bottlings. 2006 is the third consecutive successful vintage for these wines, following an outstanding 2004 vintage, with wines of excellent concentration and 2005, which offered slightly lighter-bodied wines, but wines of great purity of fruit, lovely aromatics and pinpoint acidity. 2006 is something of a combination of these two vintages, with the richness of 2004 (2006 was a warm growing season) and the acidity of 2005 (though slightly lower).

While many of the wines I tasted are from small estates with no or little distribution in the United States, there were a few wines that were quite impressive that are represented by large importers. The most impressive performance for both Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino was turned in by Terredora. Look for their 2006 Greco di Tufo "Loggia della Serra" with its delicate aromatics and bright lemon fruit as well as their 2006 Fiano di Avellino "Terre de Dora" which featured aromas of lemon oil and lilacs with excellent fruit persistence. This will drink well for 3-5 years. (Vias in New York City is the national importer of Terredora.)

Mastroberardino, which served as the unofficial host (their winery is located in Atripalda) also released very impressive bottlings for this event. The 2006 Fiano di Avellino "Radici" has exotic aromas of Meyer lemon and chamomile with very good fruit persistence and a touch of honey in the finish. This is aged in oak and has a richer texture than most Fiano. Even better was their 2006 Greco di Tufo "Nova Serra" which features lovely aromas of pear, golden apple and hyacinth and has a legthy finish with lively acidity. This has great richness on the palate and is as complete a Greco as you can find. This is the first time I have preferred the Greco "Nova Serra" to the Fiano "Radici", but both wines are extremely well made and delicious. Also worth a search is the winery's Sannio Falanghina (Falanghina is the grape), which has vibrant acidity and beautiful aromas of lemon peel, geranium and apple that fill the room! (The national importer of Mastroberardino is Wilson-Daniels, located in Napa, CA.)

Among other wines that are imported in the United States are those from Feudi di San Gregorio, Antonio Caggiano and Villa Raiano. Especially recommended from these producers were the "Bechar" Fiano di Avellino 2006 and the "Devon" Greco di Tufo 2006 from Caggiano and the 2006 Fiano di Avellino, which features gorgeous aromas of honey, lilacs, pear and yellow flowers and has a distinct note of minerality in the long finish. This is outstanding! As for Feudi di San Gregorio, I only tasted the regular 2006 bottlings of Greco and Fiano, which were quite good. My favorite white wine from this producer, the Greco di Tufo "Cutizzi" was not shown, but look for the 2005 bottling, which is one of the finest examples of this wine type available today. (Feudi di San Gregorio wines are represented by Palm Bay Imports; Domaine Select in NYC brings in the wines of Villa Raiano, while there are several importers of Caggiano including Vin diVino in Chicago.)

Finally, the most outstanding wine I tried during these tastings was the 2005 Villa Diamante Fiano di Avellino "Vigna della Congregazione." This has intense aromas of Meyer lemon as well as guava and acacia with beautiful texture and a richly flavored finish that is quite long. There is a slight touch of bitterness in the finish, which adds complexity and invites one back for another glass. This has as much complexity and finesse as any white wine from Italy and I would rate this favorably with the rest of the world's greatest white wines. This is extremely limited and you may only be able to locate a bottle in Campania, but there's another great reason to visit this remarkable region!

June 2007

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