The Wines of Campania:
Red, White and Pure Gold
A Selection of Campania’s
The following list certainly doesn’t contain everything there is to know about the wonderful wines of Campania, but it provides a good start: an abecedary of the region. It offers a sample of the best producers of all of the areas, as I at this point know them. The winemaking situation in Campania is fluid and dynamic, with new, high-quality producers steadily emerging: I know I haven’t tasted them all, and I haven’t been able to visit all that I’ve tasted. Ars longa, vita brevis.
A mid-size, steadily improving producer of both red and white Pallagrello and Casavecchia. These are substantial wines, already complex when still young. I especially like Alois’s all-stainless-steel Pallagrello bianco.
A mid-size producer in the Campi Flegrei zone, making very interesting, soft and deep Piedirosso and lovely mineral-inflected Falanghina. I was especially impressed by the cru Vigna Astroni, which rests six months on its lees. This gives the Falanghina greater depth and roundness without losing any of the characteristic Campi Flegrei minerality.
Contrade di Taurasi
A small (5 hectares) family-owned estate in Taurasi with lovingly produced reds and a gorgeous white made from an endangered grape that Alessandro Lonardi is determined to save. It’s locally called Grecomusc’ (that’s the name on the label) but it’s actually Roviello bianco. Good a wine as that is, Lonardi’s Taurasi’s are better: big and austere and needing time to mature.
A small family-owned estate in Irpinia that produces both fine, substantial Taurasi and excellent Greco di Tufo. The latter originates from very high vineyards – 650 meters – in the commune of Montefusco (prime Greco country) and rests eight months on its fine lees before bottling. A lovely wine.
Rapidly improving Taurasi and brilliant white wines issue from the Pettito family’s approximately 23 hectares in Irpinia. The three whites – Fiano di Avellino, Greco di Tufo, and Falanghina, all fermented in stainless steel – are marked by clear varietal character, energy, and vivacity. A few years ago, the Taurasi was less clear-cut, but it has intensified sharply in recent vintages. An estate to watch.
A small (8-9 hectares) Irpinia producer of all three of the region’s DOCG wines. Of these, the Fiano, while perfectly characteristic and enjoyable, is the least, but only because the Taurasi and Greco di Tufo – especially the cru Vigna Cicogna – are so off-the-charts fine.
Feudi di San Gregorio
Started in 1986, Feudi was at first the new kid on the block who stirred things up – to everyone’s benefit, as it has turned out. A large firm and an energetic one, and a quick learner to boot. It started out by over-oaking its wines, but that tendency is being brought under control, and recent vintages of Taurasi are showing better and better. Good Fiano and Greco too, as well as an intriguing Fiano/Greco blend (Campanaro). Feudi too is rescuing an endangered grape variety, Sirica, which yields a really interesting red wine, not as austere as Aglianico, but similarly structured.
Grotta del Sole
Four generations of the Martusciello family have been involved with wine, and for the past 25 years the family has been actively working to save the indigenous vines of its home Campi Flegrei zone. It now makes a lovely range of native Campanian wines, including the too-neglected sprightly white Asprinio and the better-known Falanghina. Notably, Grotta del Sole produces a very fine Brut Spumante Asprinio d’Aversa, as well as an impressive cru red wine, Campi Flegrei Piedirosso Riserva Montegauro.
A small (7 hectares) Taurasi producer, Rafaele Guastferro has the good fortune to own and cultivate very old vines. Two and half hectares of them, which he describes as between 175 and 200 years old, make his Taurasi Riserva – a wine of monumental structure, rich aromatics, and astonishing elegance. Not yet imported, but that will no doubt change soon.
A newish (1997) mid-size estate in Benevento province producing a steadily upward-trending line of wines. Really enjoyable, brisk Falanghina del Sannio, soft, round Taburno Piedirosso, and an impressive, newly DOCG Aglianico del Taburno, all at good value.
Growers in the Campi Flegrei zone for five generations, the Di Meo family began making their own wine in 1997, in a cellar built into part of an old Roman aqueduct. From approximately nine hectares of very old vines, almost all self-rooted, they produce delightful aperitif-style Falanghina and rounder, more substantial Crunadelago from 50- to 60-year-old vines – the latter combining touches of salt, flint, and dried apple in nose, palate, and finish: quite nice. Also fine, earthy Piedirosso and cru Piedirosso Vigna Madre, both marked by soft brambly fruit and a bracing, leathery finish.
So much has been written about the wife and husband team (Marisa Cuomo and Andrea Ferraioli) at this small Costa d’Amalfi estate that my praise would be superfluous. The simple fact is that for over 30 years now, they have been turning out a battery of top-flight wines. Most pleasing to me are their Furore rosso (especially the Riserva, usually 50/50 Aglianico and Piedirosso) and Furore bianco (usually 60/40 Falanghina and Biancolella). In a category of its own is their much honored Fiorduva, an incomparable wine that ought to be sweet but defies sweetness with complexity and depth. It is vinified from the very local varieties Ripoli, Fenile, and Ginestra.
Small (5 hectares), family-owned (Maria Felicia Brini and her husband) Masseria Felicia is situated right in the heart of ancient Roman Falernum district, on the slopes of Monte Massico. Old volcanic soils yield lovely Falanghina (Sinopea) and Falerno del Massico bianco (Anthologia; 100% Falanghina), as well as richly fruited and beautifully balanced reds. The latter run from basic Falerno del Massico (stainless steel) through the lightly barriqued Ariapetrina, to the flagship wine, Falerno rosso Etichetta Bronzo (80/20 Aglianico/Piedirosso), all fine, with great, soft fruit and structure, all – especially Etichetta Bronzo – very age-worthy.
This is the most famous name in Campanian wine, the pioneer, the progenitor. Without Mastroberardino, there might be no Campanian wine in any significant sense. Now headed by Piero Mastroberardino, the firm continues to produce top-flight versions of the wines it saved from extinction: Taurasi Radici, Fiano di Avellino Radici, Greco di Tufo Novaserra, Lacryma Christi red and white, Falanghina – Mastroberardino makes them all at or very near the top of their potential. Still the star of the zone, without question.
Monte di Grazia
The Arpino family produces Monte di Grazia rosso and bianco from a tiny two and a half hectares of vines high (between 400-500 meters) on the precipitous Amalfi coast. Both wines are unique in different ways. The red, vinified mostly from the otherwise almost extinct Tintore, is rich with dark fruits, complex, elegant, and structured for long life. The white, made from the very local varieties Biancatenera, Peppella, and Ginestra, all almost as endangered as Tintore, smells and tastes of dried apple and dried pear and – above all – volcanic minerals: basalty, ever-so-slightly-sulfury, slaty. All told, two intriguing wines, deserving of attention.
Silvia Imparato’s five hectares in the Colli Salernitani – almost a wine wilderness when she began there 25 years ago – have been heaped with honors from the start. The eponymous Rosso Montevetrano is now vinified from 50% Cabernet sauvignon, 20 % Merlot, and 30% Aglianico. The percentage of Aglianico has been steadily growing under Silvia’s insistence: Some say that Riccardo Cottarella, her consulting enologist from the beginning, learned to appreciate Aglianico under her tutelage. Now she has added to her line the 100% Aglianico Core, a wine of great structure and depth, though a little austere on first tasting: It needs time to compose itself.
Mustilli consists of 35 hectares of vines in the Sannio district. The founder of the estate, Leonardo Mustilli, was a pioneer – probably the pioneer -- of Falanghina, which continues to be a major factor for the still-family-owned firm. Mustilli also makes very fine Sannio Aglianico and Piedirosso and, among white wines, good Sannio Greco.
Giovanni Ascione hand-tends every single vine on his 2.5 hectares of mostly Pallagrello nero (plus a bit of Aglianico and Casavecchia) in the Terre del Volturno zone of Caserta. His passion pays big dividends: His sole wine – Sabbie di Sopra Il Bosco (“the sandy soils above the woods”) – has been steadily winning prizes almost since its introduction in 2008. It is big, more powerful and structured than its elegance and easy drinkability reveal at first taste. Nanni Copè is already on its way to being a cult wine in Italy.
Twelve hectares in the Sannio district produce excellent value reds and whites of the classic Campanian varieties. Most pleasing to my palate are the Falanghina called Flora, from 300 meter high, 30-year-old vines, and the estate’s Aglianicos, especially the very fine Aglianico del Taburno cru, Vigna Pezza La Corte – the latter from 30-year-old vines planted up to 400 meters.
Ciro Picariello works ten hectares of vines in the heart of Irpinia to make Fiano di Avellino and only Fiano di Avellino. The vines lie high on the hillsides – 600 meters – and are often harvested late-ish for whites, in October. They are fermented and aged in stainless steel and rest long on their lees before bottling. The results are excellent: wines of subtlety and concealed power, with the structure to age long and gracefully. They are already frequent prize-winners in Italy and should quickly attract an international following among those who love white wines with complexity and staying power.
Another great Irpinia small producer (6 hectares), Sabino Loffredo produces Fiano di Avellino, Greco di Tufo, and Taurasi of the highest quality, though the whites are clearly the stars of his show. Like so many in Irpinia, the vineyards sit high on the hillsides, between 300 and 600 meters elevation, and in good years Loffredo may bottle cru-designated wines from them.
Rocca del Principe
This is another small (6 hectares), masterful Fiano specialist, located in the commune of Lapio, the homeland of Fiano. Ercole Zarella and Aurelia Fabrizia work their wine entirely in stainless steel, with a brief amount of skin contact. The varietal intensity they achieve is amazing, as is this seemingly delicate wine’s ability to mature beautifully: I tasted back to ’06, and the wines kept getting better and better, with no loss of freshness or vitality.
Regarded as a mentor and model by many young winemakers in Irpinia, Luigi Tecce describes himself as “a less than minimalist winemaker.” He admits to no regular method, changing what he does in the cellar to suit the harvest. It may be unsystematic, but it works: His Irpinia Campi Taurasini Satyricon and especially his Taurasi Polifemo receive top honors almost every year – deservedly.
Terre del Principe
In the Terre del Volturno zone of Caserta, Manuela Piancastelli and Peppe Mancini have become pioneers of the vines they rediscovered. They work with all three varieties, producing two big, persuasive reds, a 100% Pallagrello nero (Ambrucco) and a 100% Casavecchia (Centomoggia), and two interestingly different whites from the Pallgrello bianco grape: Fontanavigna, aged only in stainless steel, and Le Sèrole, fermented in barrique and aged on the lees in stainless steel – marvelously diverse readings of the same material.
The other half of the Mastroberardino family soldiers on after the premature death of winemaker brother Lucio. Their large holdings of prime vineyards yield classic versions of Irpinia’s wines: Especially pleasing to me are their Taurasi Fatica Contadina and Pago dei Fusi, but their white wines may be the real headliners. Greco di Tufo Loggia della Serra, for instance, is one the finest examples of the breed.
Another small (approximately 3 hectares), high, family-owned Irpinia estate producing some of the region’s loveliest Fiano – particularly their justly honored Vigna della Congregazione – and, emerging more recently, the very fine Taurasi Riserva Pater Nobilis. Both wines combine power and delicacy in a manner totally true to Irpinian character.
This large (70 hectares) family-owned property pioneered the rebirth of Falerno, and it remains the flagship of the appellation. Consistent quality for price has marked the wines from the very beginning, from the basic Falerno rosso and Falerno bianco through the two fine cru selections, Falerno rosso Vigna Camarato (80/20 Aglianico/Piedirosso) and Falerno bianco Vigna Caracci (100% Falanghina).
An ambitiously improving 20-hectare estate that produces the gamut of Irpinian wine at a high level of quality and a moderate level of price. They make better-than-sound Campania Aglianico and Taurasi, but I enjoy most their white wines. These start with a metodo classico Spumante Brut, called Ripa Bassa, made from a blend of Fiano, Greco, and a touch of Coda di Volpe, and proceed through Greco di Tufo, with a nice cru Contrada Marotta, to culminate in two lovely crus of Fiano di Avellino, Ventidue and – my special favorite – Alimata.