Wine of the Week – Fiano Spreads its Wings

Hancock & Hancock Home Vineyard – photo courtesy of the winery.

I like Fiano. It is a fabulous white grape from Campania in southern Italy. Campania is a great region, centred on Naples it produces some of Italy’s most exciting wines, using a palate of high quality indigenous grapes including Fiano. The best examples are widely considered to be those from vineyards on the volcanic slopes around the town of Avellino. Fiano di Avellino is a DOCg and is a prestigious, fine and mineral dry white, while other examples from Campania, grown on non-volcanic soils, tend to be softer and easier to drink.

Fiano is an ancient variety that is believed to have been used to make the famous Apianum wine in Roman times. Back then the grape was known as Vitis Apiana beacuse it apparently attracted bees (apis). Of all Campania’s whites I find the best Fiano to be the most refined and most balanced in terms of fruit and acidity.

Fiano is also found in other parts of Campania, including the Sorrento peninsula, and Puglia – the heel of Italy. I was vaguely aware that a few people grew the grape else where. Jenny Dobson makes one at Bush Hawk Vineyards in New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay, but it seems that Australia has really taken this, slightly exotic grape to its heart and around 70 producers have now started making examples of Fiano – which is hardly surprising as Italian food and Mediterranean style is big down under, so Fiano would be a perfect accompaniment.

Well, recently I tasted – actually retasted – one that excited me so much that I have made it my Wine of the Week.

Chris Hancock.

Map of South Eastern Australia, McLaren Vale is to the south of Adelaide – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

2016 Hancock & Hancock Home Vineyard Fiano
Hancock & Hancock
McLaren Vale
South Australia

For the second week running I am telling you bout an Australian take on a Mediterranean classic. It is a bit more widely made than last week’s Montepulciano, but it is still pretty rare. Which is a pity, because it seems to suit the climate superbly, as well as the cuisine.

Many times while in Australia last year I enjoyed some simply cooked prawns, Moreton Bay Bugs or clams with garlic and oil and lemon together with a glass of white wine made from a suitably Mediterranean grape variety – my favourite place for such delights was Claypots Evening Star in South Melbourne Market and my favourite grape was Fiano, although there was one Assyrtiko as well, more of which another day.

Chris and his brother John Hancock have owned their Home Vineyard in McLaren Vale for over 10 years now. They farm some 80 year old Grenache and Shiraz, together with Cabernet and Touriga, as well as having a 2 hectare plot of Fiano that was head grafted, in situ, onto Chardonnay in 2012. Chris Hancock, who is an honourary Master of Wine, worked with Robert Oatley for many years and Chris is still involved with the Robert Oatley company which distributes his Hancock & Hancock wines.

A part of this was fermented in neutral, old, oak barrels to give roundness and volume rather than flavour, but most was fermented in stainless steel at low temperatures.

To look at the wine has a crystalline purity about it, then on the nose it has nectarine and white peach together with some lemon zest, dry honey and herbs. On the palate there slots of fruit giving a juiciness which is then balanced by freshness and a little taut minerality in the background. The texture is succulent, ever so slightly creamy even which together with the lemon, stone fruit and touch of herbs makes it delicious and very drinkable.

It is light and crisp enough to be refreshing, yet juicy enough and succulent enough to feel interesting and more complex. In a kind of way it shows the ripeness of the place it is from and some the beguiling minerality of the grape, which gives it an inbuilt tension. Lovely with fish,chicken, Mediterranean food, or just to drink on its own – 91/100 points.

Available in the UK for around £14 per bottle from:
The Oxford Wine Company, Farnham Wine Cellar, Flagship Wines, The Wine Reserve, Drinkfinder, Amazon.co.uk, Eynsham Cellars, Luvians Bottleshop, Ann et Vin, Warren Wines & Amp Fine Wines.

Happy Christmas and a great 2016 to all plus a review of my year

Wow another Christmas is upon us and I have barely achieved a fraction of the things that I wanted to this year.

However, it was a great year for me for learning about amazing wines and visiting beautiful wine regions, so I can’t really complain. Here a few of my highlights of the year, I hope you enjoy them.

Naples fishing harbour with Capri in the background.

Naples fishing harbour with Capri in the background.

Back in March I visited Campania for the first time, seeing Naples and Pompeii as well as the wine regions of Taurasi, Greco di Tufo, Sannio and many more. It was a great experience full of wonderful wines and interesting stories. You can read all about it by clicking here.

Dobrovo perched on top of a terraced vineyard slope in Brda, Slovenia.

One of my favourite photographs of Slovenian vineyards.

Italy was very much the theme of the year for me as I visited four times in all. The first one was actually an amazing trip to study the wines produced in the north east edge of Italy and over the frontier in neighbouring Slovenia – the tour was called Wine Without Borders. That whole part of the world is very beautiful and produces some stunning wines too and you can read all about it by clicking here.

Typical transport in the countryside.

Typical transport in the Romanian countryside.

One of my most exciting trips of 2015 was to Romania. I had never been to the country at all before and had no idea what to expect from the wines. It turned out to be a beautiful country full of lovely people and some astonishing wines. I did not taste a single terrible wines and was very excited about the quality of most of them. You can read all about it by clicking here.

I toured the vineyards of Chablis by 2CV!

I toured the vineyards of Chablis by 2CV!

In June I was thrilled to go on my first dedicated trip to Chablis and I learned ever such a lot about what makes these wines quite so important. Ever since I have enjoyed talking about Chablis to all my students, but have yet to write about the visit – watch this space.

The beautiful vineyards of Lavaux.

The beautiful vineyards of Lavaux on Lake Geneva’s north shore.

In the same month I was honoured to be invited to be a judge at the Mondial du Chasselas wine competition in Switzerland. Chasselas is a real speciality grape in Switzerland, but comes close to being unloved almost anywhere else. Well I think the breadth of wines that I tasted and the sheer quality of most them proves the Swiss are right to love the grape and I loved the trip, as well as the big trip I made to Switzerland’s wine regions in late 2014. You can read all about my Swiss adventures by clicking here.

The beautiful Neckar Valley is like a mini-Mosel.

The beautiful Neckar Valley is like a mini-Mosel.

New discoveries and experiences continued with a terrific trip to Germany in September. Excitingly I visited Württemberg and the Neckar Valley as well as the amazing Stuttgart Wine Festival. This part of Germany is slightly off the beaten track wine-wise, certainly when compared to the Mosel or Rheingau, but it is well worth seeing as the landscape is very beautiful and some of the wines are stunning. Weingut Wöhrwag‘s 2013 Pinot Noir Untertürkheimer Herzogenberg Großes Gewächs was certainly the best Pinot I tasted in 2015 and one of the very best red wines that I drank all year. I aim to write all about it soon.

Piazza Duomo, Trento

Piazza Duomo in Trento, the beautiful capital of Trentino.

My Italian adventures continued in October with an enjoyable trip to Trentino in the north of the country. It is a fascinating and beautiful region that has only been part of Italy since 199, so is steeped in history. The wines were pretty good too, but then so was the beer – you can real all about it by clicking here.

Verona's amazing Roman Arena.

Verona’s amazing Roman Arena.

One added bonus of this trip was that I managed to stay an extra night in Verona and so saw that wonderful little city and was able to experience the delights of Lugana, a white wine from the southern shore of Lake Garda – it might well be my favourite Italian white right now and this delicious example is my Christmas white wine.

As well as overseas visits I have tasted some amazing wines over here too. I was particularly thrilled to meet the charming David Mazza who farms a tiny estate in Western Australia, but makes an amazing range of wines from Spanish and Portuguese grape varieties – you can read about him by clicking here.

The new discoveries kept coming too, new grapes like Tibouren from Provence and Cserszegi Fűszeres from Hungary, exciting old vine blends from Chile, a light red or a deep rosé from Tuscany, made from Tempranillo at that! Try as I might I simply could not leave Spain alone, I kept finding amazing Spanish wines that moved and excited me and that offered great value for money too – have a look here, here, here and here.

Along the way too I tasted a superb Albariño from California and another from New Zealand – Albariño is on the march it seems and you can read about them by clicking here.

Just the other day I presented my favourite sparkling wine of the year and I would urge you to try it if you can. It’s rather modestly called Apogee Deluxe Brut and is handmade by the great Andrew Pirie from fruit grown on a  2 hectare vineyard in northern Tasmania. I have long admired what Andrew does and if there is a better Australian fizz than this – indeed any non-Champagne fizz, although it had stiff opposition from Gramona’s amazing 2006 111 Lustros Gran Reserva Brut Nature Cava – then I have yet to try it. It is certainly a rich style of sparkling wine, but it never gets too serious, the fruit, freshness and frivolity dominate the palate and made me just want to drink more.

Vineyards in Stellenbosch.

Vineyards in Stellenbosch.

I nearly forgot, all right I did forget and had to come back and add this, the most exciting wine that I drank all year. There was lots of competition from the delicious 2011 Chêne Bleu Aliot, the sublime 1978 Ridge Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon from California and the downright amazing 2001 Château La Tour Blanche Sauternes, but my stand out wine was from my own collection and it was a beautifully mature Merlot-Cabernet blend from Stellenbosch.

Stellenbosch 19891989 Rozendal
Rozendal Farm
Stellenbosch
South Africa
I was very nervous about opening this. For South Africa it is very old, Nelson Mandela was still in prison when this was made and I know nothing about it. The estate seems to have disappeared. Frankly the wine seemed older and looked older than it was – even the label seems ancient. the nose was classic mature wine, smoky, cedar, earthy and overwhelmingly savoury with some balsamic notes and a touch of dried fruit too. The palate was extraordinary, still all there with that hallmark savoury fragility of very mature wine. Good acidity kept it fresh and provided the secret of its longevity. the tannins were almost totally faded, but for me the big revelation was a solid core of ripe sweet fruit that made it a joy to drink despite its venerable age.

Tasting this was a great moment and one worth recording as mature wine from anywhere other than the classic regions – I include California here – is pretty rare, especially of this quality. If anyone knows anything about Rozendal please let me know, I tried to contact them, but to no avail.

All in all 2015 went too fast, but it was good fun – despite me turning 50 in January – so let’s hope for even more excitement in 2016.

Have a great Christmas and a wonderful New Year and thank you so much for reading my wine page.

 

The Good Campanians – stories, grapes and wines from Italy’s deep south

The other week I was a guest at Campania Stories, which is a wonderful event designed to immerse wine writers and wine educators in the exciting world of Campania wine.

The view from my Naples hotel balcony, Mount Vesuvius is pretty dominating and dramatic and could erupt again any time. It last erupted seriously in 1944.

The view from my Naples hotel balcony, Mount Vesuvius is pretty dominating and dramatic and could erupt again any time. It last erupted seriously in 1944.

Campania is a fascinating region, very beautiful, amazingly varied, steeped in history and full of wonderful things to see. Naples is of course at its heart, but there is so much more here too. Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast and the islands of Capri and Ischia all offer rewarding experiences for the traveller, as do the ancient wonders of Pompeii and Herculaneum. However the less well known inland areas are also extremely interesting and whilst they are a little off the tourist trail, they do produce some of the region’s – and Italy’s – most exciting wines. At first glance the wines here seem very traditional and almost the antithesis of the soft, overtly fruity new world wines that dominate the wine selections in supermarkets around the world. They are of course labelled by place name as is the custom in Europe, but many Italian wine names include the name of the grape variety too, as is often the case here. Pretty much everything in Campania is made from local indigenous grapes, some of which are very old indeed, with histories that reach back into ancient times. These grape varieties are the driving force of Campania, they define the types of wine the region can make, while the climate and soils reinforce those definitions. Man of course can make choices and adjustments, so there can be some differing styles and emphasis in the wines.

Naples fishing harbour with capri in the background.

Naples fishing harbour with Capri in the distance.

Ancient Grapes Any search for new flavours and excitement should take in Campania as it is home to such fabulous grape varieties.

The Black Grapes:

Aglianico is the region’s mainstay black grape and its name is either a corruption of ellenico or Helleni that betray Ancient Greek origins, or Apulianicum, the Latin term for southern Italy. Either way we know it is very old and was used to make Falernian which was the most highly rated wine of Ancient Rome, the modern Falerno del Massico is made in the same area. Aglianico is traditionally full-bodied, with high acidity – perfect with food – and high tannin that can seem a little rustic in the wrong hands. Luckily many winemakers increasingly seem to know how to tame those hard tannins.

Piedirosso, was apparently mentioned by Pliny the Elder and its name translates as ‘red foot’ because the stems are red in colour. In fact, in the local dialect it is called Palombina or Per’e Palummo which means ‘little dove’ and ‘dove’s foot’ because the stems are made up of 3 stalks that make it resemble a bird’s foot. This grape also has high acid, but is lighter in tannin, so produces quite soft wines. It is often blended with Aglianico to make the wine fresher, especially in Fallerno del Massico and Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio.

The White Grapes:

Fiano is also an ancient variety that is believed to have been used to make the famous Apianum wine in Roman times. Back then the grape was known as Vitis Apiana beacuse it apparently attracted bees (apis). Of all Campania’s whites I find the best Fiano to be the most balanced in terms of fruit and acidity.

Greco is a fascinating grape, capable of making some great dry whites, the best are traditionally made in the area around the town of Tufo and are very mineral and fine. The jury is out about the origins of the name though. Most books say it was brought to Italy by the Ancient Greeks, but Ferrante di Somma di Circello, whose Cantine di Marzo produces fine Greco di Tufo, told me that it was called Greco because it was the best grape to make Greek style wine, by which people used to mean sweet wine from dried grapes. These were the most sought after wines in the middle ages and were known as Romneys by the English wine trade.

Falanghina, much as I love Fiano and Greco, I reckon Falanghina is Campania’s calling card for white wines. It is capable of being much softer and fruitier than the others and can easily be enjoyed without food. Again this was used by the ancient Romans to produce the famous Falernian.

Coda di Volpe was apparently even named by Pliny the Elder, because the bunches are thought to resemble a fox’s tail. The wines seem to have less acidity and to be more textured than the other Campanian whites. The Caprettone, which is used to make white Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio, was long thought to be Coda di Volpe, but recent research has shown it to be a variety on its own.

Ancient Wines I have never been anywhere where so much of the ancient world is still visible and all round you. The Campanians are very proud of their past, both as part of the Roman world and as the separate Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and some producers are keen to keep the links with the ancients alive and I came across two fascinating projects that do just that.

A restaurant in Pompeii, busy, but a little understaffed.

A restaurant in Pompeii, busy, but a little understaffed.

True Amphora Wine
Villa Matilde is a terrific producer which specialises in Falerno del Massico – every time I tasted their wines I marked them very highly indeed – and farms some of the original vineyard slopes that made the Roman Falernian wine. This was the first cult wine of Rome and  records show that it was served to Julius Caesar and even shipped to England. Salvatore Avallone owns Villa Matilde and wanted to create a wine that harked back to how the Romans made it, but was also recognisably wine – the Romans made wines that as far as we can tell were like a sweet syrup to which they added water and spices.

Villa Matilde's Amphora wine, the seal has just been broken and you can see the grape matter in the wine.

Villa Matilde’s Amphora wine, the seal has just been broken and you can see the grape matter in the wine.

So he created a wine that is a blend of Aglianico di Falernia with 3% Piedirosso that was fermented and aged in 25 litre amphora that are lined with bee’s wax. The resulting wine is rich and delicious with concentrated fruit and lots of character.

Up From the Ashes
Every region needs a large scale pioneer and guiding hand, and Campania is lucky enough to have at least two, but the original is Mastroberardino which for a century, between 1878 and about 1980, was the only important commercial winery in the region – everyone else made wine for local consumption. Mastroberardino intially led the way to produce quality wines, to breathe new life into this region and to rescue its indigenous grape varieties. That task has now been taken up by others including Feudo di San Gregorio, but Mastroberardino are still important and make some very fine wines indeed.

One of the Mastroberardino vineyards in Pompeii with Vesuvius in the background. Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 destroying the city and killing everyone within it.

One of the Mastroberardino vineyards in Pompeii with Vesuvius in the background. Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 destroying the city and killing everyone within it.

In 1996 they helped the archeological superintendent of Pompeii to investigate five vineyard sites within the boundaries of Pompeii town itself. They carefully made casts of the vine roots from the holes that had left behind – just as they famously did with the human victims at Pompeii – and identified the vines. They were Piedirosso and Sciascinoso and both are still grown here. Then using all the sources they could they replanted the vineyards using the same viticultural techniques they think the Romans used, which I have to say look very modern to my eye. The resulting wine is called Villa die Misteri and is named after the large villa just outside the city walls that has the most spectacular wall paintings. Sadly I have not tried it as it is very expensive, but the whole project is very exciting and thought provoking.

Stories of Wines & Wineries
Frankly I was spoiled for choice on this trip, so many producers went out of their way to show me wonderful wines and to give me great experiences. Here are the ones that stay with me and for me sort of encapsulate the region. As there is so much ground to cover, I will restrict myself to the highest grade of Italian wines, the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita / DOCGs – I will tell you about some of the other wines another day.

Campania watermarked

Wine map of Campania – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Campania’s most well known and leading wines all come from the Irpinia region, which covers the same territory as Avellino province around 30 miles inland from Naples. The three most important DOCG, one red and two white, nestle together. This dominance of white wine shows just how cool the region can be. The winters are long and harsh judging by the conditions in March and while the summers are hot and dry there is always a tempering influence from the mountains that dominate the landscape.

Vines in Taurasi.

Vines in Taurasi.

Taurasi DOCG is arguably the most well known wine from the region and was made famous by Mastroberardino, which was the only serious, export led winemaker here until the late 1980s, there are now nearly 300 producers. The dominant grape is Aglianico, but it can be blended with up to 15% of Barbera, Piedirosso and Sangiovese, all of which have softer tannins than Aglianico, so make the wines fresher. To give you an idea of what it is like, Taurasi is rather lazily called ‘the Barolo of the south’ and I can see why. The wines have similar tannins and acidity to Barolo, but in truth are more properly full-bodied and are normally much more mineral – I always think you can taste the slate and the salt in Taurasi. The soil is actually sand and sandstone and so the area is Phyloxerra free and the vines are on their own roots. This can be a hard edged and unrelenting wine and so not to everyone’s taste. The best examples though manage to tame the grape’s wilder instincts and make the wines approachable, if still very savoury and dry. I struggled to see the charms in some, but my favourites were simply superb.

Raffaele Guastaferro of Cantine Guastaferro.

Raffaele Guastaferro of Cantine Guastaferro.

Cantine Guastaferro This small estate made the most impressive Taurasi wines that I tried all trip, indeed they were some of the best red wines that I have tasted over the last 12 months. Raffaele Guastaferro farms 7 hectares at around 300 metres above sea level on south east facing slopes. The great secret is that the vines are – are you sitting down? – between 150 and 200 years old! This means they produce tiny amounts of very concentrated juice and that shows in the finished wines. Raffaele modestly told me that he has a magic vineyard and so he does not have to do much work in the cellar!

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Ancient vines at Cantine Guastaferro. The Pergola system is a traditional way to train vines in Campania. It allows the farmer to use the land below for growing food crops and keeps the grapes away from the humid conditions on the ground.

All Cantine Guastaferro’s wines are superb, although I didn’t taste his white, but his Primum Taurasi  and Primum Riserva was magnificent with great concentration, ripe fruit, beautifully managed tannins, lots of minerality and even a twist of blood orange. My favourite was the 2006, but they all wowed me and deserve a place in any serious cellar.

Primum2006 Guastaferro Primum Riserva Taurasi DOCG 1-2 years in Botti (large barrels) From 150-200 year old vines. Opaque, almost black and treacley colour, some slight tawny on the rim. Smoky nose, cinders, meat, ash, caramel, dried red fruit, blood orange and some leather too, as well as that tight minerality. Gorgeous palate, really oily rich and mouth coating, totally dry wine with a fine balance between the fruit and austerity, makes it taut, that slate taste creeps in here too. Glorious, with fine grain tannins, tasty, smoky wood, cooked fruit, gamey and absolutely superb. Some refreshing blood orange acidity lends purity. Lovely spicy tingle on the finish. Simply stunning, the tannins are firm but not too much, they are enjoyable and the finish is epic – 94/100 points.

Feudo di San Gregorio
Produced on an entirely different scale and readily available all around the world, I also found the Taurasi from Feudo di San Gregorio to be very impressive – as well as everything else they made in fact. This is a big winery, but their passion and attention to detail cannot be denied. They have only been in existence since the mid 1980s, but in many ways are the engine – the Mondavi, the Torres – of Campania and put it on the map at least as much as Mastroberardino. For many of us our first taste of this region was a wine from Feudo di San Gregorio. When I visited it was a bitterly cold day, so sadly I saw nothing of the vineyards, I was just grateful to get into the warm of the winery, which also boasts a Michelin starred restaurant.

Antonio Capaldo the energetic and knowledgable chapman of Feudo di San Gregorio.

Antonio Capaldo the energetic and charismatic Chairman of Feudo di San Gregorio.

feudi-di-san-gregorio-taurasi-aglianico-vino-02010 Feudo di San Gregorio Taurasi Taurasi DOCG Deep opaque colour, deep ruby with just a garnet tinge. Gamey, basalt nose, smoky, iron, roses, plums, red cherry, it still offers primary fruit despite being 5 years old. Beautiful palate, very tight and drying fine grain tannins, loads of black fruit, it’s earthy and beginning to be leathery, with coffee and mocha oak and running through it all is some refreshing, balancing acidity. Really good wine, gamey, meaty, rich and fine with liquorice spice and that touch of slate. The fruit carries the tannins and drying character well, without being aggressive – 91/100 points.

There is plenty of Aglianico grown outside the Taurasi zone of course, and many of them are very good wines indeed, have a look at this one which is a very drinkable IGT from Benevento. Tenuta Cavalier Pepe too make a very wide range of quite excellent wines. This blend of 70% Aglianico with 30% Sangiovese was quite delicious and would be my Wine of the Week if it was available in the UK.  In fact Tenuta Cavalier Pepe is an excellent winery and everything I have tasted from them has been very well made, including their Taurasi and Aglianico rosé.

The White DOCGs

The view from my hotel in Avellino - it was bitterly cold.

The view from my hotel in Avellino – it was bitterly cold.

Fiano di Avellino DOCG is probably the most impressive of the three white wine styles produced in Irpinia, although they are all good. Avellino is ringed by mountains and apart from grapes the big crop here is hazelnuts as it has been since Roman times. Although the Italian for hazelnut is nocciola, the Latin is abellana and the Spanish is a still recognisable avellana. I really fell for the Fiano grape, it seems to me that it makes very fine wine indeed, mineral and acidic to be sure – the area has volcanic soils which often make for mineral wines, think of Etna and Santorini – but the best have lovely deep flavours, often of hazelnuts and almonds. The best examples often had orange peel characters too that I like very much, as well as apricot, which put me in mind of Viognier or Gewürztraminer, but with much more acidity, in fact by having texture and acidity, they remind me of the best examples of  Godello from Galicia.

I tasted many fine Fianos, but the stand out wines came from Rocca del Principe. This delightful winery is in Lapio, right on the border between the Taurasi and Fiano di Avellino zones, which means they can make both wines here. The name means fortress of the Prince, because a local royal house were based in Lapio in the early middle ages. Rocca del Principe Fiano vines are grown high at 500-600 metres above sea level, on south east facing slopes. They age the wines for 6 months on the fine lees, which imparts complexity and a delicately creamy richness.

Ercole Zarrella and his wife Aurelia Fabrizio who own Rocca del Principe.

Aurelia Fabrizio and her husband Ercole Zarrella who own Rocca del Principe.

I tasted 9 vintages of the Fiano here, from 2014 tank samples, which were delicious, lovely and fresh, to the 2006 which was showing some age, but was still a great wine. The young wines had a more linear style, while the older bottles had more rounded richness, which suits the wines, I think. They were all superb dry white wines, but my absolute favourite was the 2009. roccadelprincipe_fianodiavellino_bianco09__74317__27016.1407758626.1280.12802009 Rocca del Principe Fiano di Avellino Fiano di Avellino DOCG Musky notes, butterscotch, cinder toffee, apricot and orange peel on the nose, together with some hazelnuts. The palate offers lovely sweet fruit, making it round and rich, but balanced by the minerality and cleansing acidity. I found it very like a dry Gewürztraminer, or perhaps a Godello. The texture is big and mouth coating, oily even, while the fruit and complexity gives it elegance , which together with the acidity and minerality give superb balance. A great dry white wine – 92/100 points.

I also tasted a range of vintages at Ciro Picariello, which is another superb little, 7 hectares again, estate that produces excellent Fiano di Avellino, as well as Fiano Irpinia from outside the boundaries of the DOCG, and once again the wines are well worth trying.

I also found the 2013 Fiano di Avellino from Feudo di San Gregorio was very good indeed, while their single vineyard version, the 2013 Pietracalda Fiano di Avellino had a little more fat on its bones, so was richer and finer, yet still very mineral and had great finesse.

Vineyards in Lapio.

Vineyards in Lapio.

The fortress in Lapio.

The fortress in Lapio.

Fiano is also grown outside the boundaries of Avellino too and especially good examples are available from the Sannio DOC just to the north, take a look at this one here.

Greco di Tufo is quite different. The wines made from this grape, in the area around Tufo anyway, tend to be leaner and more overtly mineral. In fact some of them reminded me of bone dry Rieslings, although a better comparison might be to Assyrtico from Santorini. Greco of course is more widely grown in southern Italy, but can be pretty inconsequential from elsewhere. It seems to need the  tuff soils of Tufo, after which the town is named, which is compressed volcanic ash, which allows the minerality to really shine through.

Once again Feudo di San Gregorio’s wines were a very good introduction to the grape, both their normal Greco di Tufo and their single vineyard Cutizzi Greco di Tufo are very good quality indeed. I loved the taut mineral style, but with concentrated fruit and just a touch of richer cream adding weight.

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The flamboyant and charming Ferrante di Somma di Circello of Cantine di Marzo, whose ancestor brought the Greco grape to Tufo.

I was also very impressed with the Greco di Tufo made by the venerable Cantine di Marzo, I really approved of the lithe, taut, mineral style, which also suits their excellent traditional method sparkling Greco called Anni Venti.

Equally good were the Greco di Tufo from the wonderful Tenuta Cavalier Pepe, all of whose wines seem to be first rate, and the excellent low sulphur example from the Azienda Vitivinicola Le Ormere, but I will tell you about those producers another day.

One last DOCG Aglianico is widely grown and the increasing quality caused the authorities to create a new DOCG in 2011. This is Aglianico del Taburno which covers the Benevento area, where much more easy drinking Aglianico is produced as well, much of it IGT. The vineyards are often very high, up to 650 metres above sea level and the wines that I have tasted certainly have a fresher style than the intensely mineral Taurasi wines. I especially enjoyed the two example that I tried at Fattoria La Rivolta. This is an excellent winery that is one of the leading lights of  Benevento and farms in a near organic way. Their wines pleased me greatly, but then I was eating a rather lovely rustic lunch at the same time, so I might be biased!

Vincenzo Mercurio the winemaker at Fattoria La Rivolta.

Vincenzo Mercurio the winemaker at Fattoria La Rivolta, which is a rising star in Benevento.

AGLIANICO TABURNO  ROSATO2013 Le Mongolfiere a San Bruno rosé DOCG Aglianico del Taburno Fattoria La Rivolta 100% Aglianico The colour was most attractive, a sort of cross between copper and coral with ripe strawberry and cherry. The palate was very pure and fresh with high acidity and ripe cherry all the way through to the end. I enjoyed this very dry rosé, which was perfect with the local salami – 88/100 points.

Fattoria La Rivolta vineyards.

Fattoria La Rivolta vineyards.

Rivolta AGLIANICO DEL2011 Terra di Rivolta Aglianico del Taburno DOCG Aglianico del Taburno Fattoria La Rivolta 100% Aglianico aged 18 months in barriques The nose was rich and offered ripe black cherry and plums, some coffee spice, earthiness, liquorice and dark chocolate too. The palate had lovely supple tannins, sugar plums and black cherry flavours and some refreshing high acidity. There was a savoury bitterness that built up from the mid palate, but it was delicious, like the inherent astringency in Nebbiolo. I thought this wine was very good indeed – 91/100 points.

The Good Campanians

There is much to enjoy from Campania. There are good wines, exciting grapes and fascinating stories everywhere you look. There is so much passion there, so much dedication and so much determination to make great wines. I have only scratched the surface in this piece with a peep at the DOCGs, and a few other delights, but I hope that something took your interest. Anyone who loves good wine would enjoy most of the wines that I have mentioned. The variety of wine in Campania is enormous, but so too is the potential. We shall return to Campania soon, so keep dropping back.

Wine of the Week 41 – an approachable and attractive Aglianico

Firstly, my apologies for not publishing a Wine of the Week last week, I was in Italy’s Campania region and I just could not make the internet work. I was a guest of the wonderful Campania Stories event that aims to immerse wine writers and wine educators in the wines of the Campania. Naples is the local capital, so as you might imagine, it is a beautiful and fascinating place and I was able to taste a great many terrific wines while I was there. I will write about it at some length soon, but by way of a teaser, my Wine of the Week is made from Campania’s classic black grape – Aglianico.

wine map of southern Italy - click for a larger view

wine map of southern Italy – click for a larger view

Aglianico can produce all manner of wines from rustic and earthy, through bright and enjoyable to classy, serious and elegant. If you have never tried an Aglianico – the g is silent by the way – then you have a treat in store. Be warned though, Aglianico can pack quite a punch of tannins and has equally high acidity, so is almost never a wine to drink without food. At its best I think the wines made from it, which include Taurasi and Falerno del Massico, as well as Aglianico del Vulture in the nearby Basilicata region, are among the most delicious and exciting in the world. They are usually pretty big wines, think Priorat or the red wines of Douro, what’s more they have very hard edges in their youth, so need a fair amount of ageing to soften the tannin and to let their complexity show. The effort is worth it and I will be writing more about some of the region’s fine wines soon. However, luckily for us some producers are also now making more approachable examples of Aglianico, so we can enjoy this exciting grape without waiting for them to soften.

Here is one that’s juicy, drinkable, widely available and great value for money, so I made it my Wine of the Week.

P1120129

Marco Giulioli, the talented and engaging winemaker at La Guardiense.

Aglianico

2013 Marks & Spencers Aglianico
IGT Beneventano
La Guardiense
Benevento
Campania, Italy
This wine is not a DOCG, or even a DOC, but a more humble IGT which means it is made in a less classic wine region with fewer rules and regulations about how it can be made. Benevento is quite a large IGT production area in the east of Campania, north east of Naples and near the border with Puglia. The first winery visit I made in Campania was to the superb La Guardiense cooperative who make this as well as their own higher quality and more serious wines under the Janare label, one of which was my first ever Wine of the Week.

The nose gives off lovely red plum fruit, soft spice and herbs with a note of rich red earth that lends it an attractive savoury character, it smells very Mediterranean in fact. The palate is smooth, with firm, yet supple tannins and refreshing acidity that makes it perfect with food. It tastes of plum and blackberry together with black pepper and a smoky, earthy flavour. The fruit dominates this Aglianico and there is no oak here, which makes it a perfect example for beginners to this extraordinary grape. It’s drinkable and delicious, yet gives a pointer to what this grape can do. 86/100 points.

Try it with charcuterie and all manner of pastas, the acidity makes it very good with tomato based dishes, as well as barbecues, shepherd’s pie or bangers and mash, actually any informal meal.

Available in the UK from Marks and Spencer for £6.50 per bottle.

Aglianico can be a difficult grape to grow, that can produce wines that are difficult for some palates to enjoy as they are often very serious wines, very dry, tannic and savoury. They need food frankly, which is how the locals enjoy them. This wine from Marks and Spencers though shows the grape’s softer, gentler side and will make a perfect starting point in any discovery of Campanian reds.

Do try an Aglianico soon, anyone whole loves red wines would find them worthwhile.

 

Wine of the Week 1 – Janare Colle di Tilio Fiano

colle_di_tilio2012 Janare Colle di Tilio
Fiano Sannio D.O.C./D.O.P.
Campania, Italy
This rather confusingly, but elegantly, labelled wine was a great find as it is utterly delicious, effortlessly classy and goes with fish perfectly.

It is made by La Guardiense which is a large cooperative in Italy’s Campania region, Benevento in fact, where a great many exciting wines seem to be made – read about more here. Their main label is the stylishly packaged Janare range whose aim is to protect the local grapes – especially the wonderful Falanghina and Aglianico and to perfect modern style wines made from them. The Janare Cru range of wines, of which this wine is part, come from specific places so are more terroir wines than varietal wines.

wine map of southern Italy - click for a larger view

wine map of southern Italy – click for a larger view

Fiano is a wonderful grape that comes from Campania and it usually offers nice weight and roundness, even some waxy characters as well as lovely aromatics, often with a honeyed and floral quality. Apparently Fiano was originally called Vitis Apiana, which means vine beloved of bees. The grape is traditionally famous for producing Fiano di Avellino D.O.C./D.O.P. wines, well Sannio is just 12 km or so to the north of there and shares similarly volcanic soils to produce enticingly mineral, yet rich wines.

It is unusual for me to be confused by a wine, but none of the terms on the label are explained at all, so if I had not known that Fiano was a grape I would have really been struggling. So, it needed bit of decoding, Colle di Tilio is an area in Sannio which was a historical and geographical region of Italy, inhabited  by people known as the Samnites in Roman times. Today it is the region around Benevento in Campania. As the wine is made in Sannio from Fiano it is a Fiano Sannio D.O.C – D.O.P. in the modern parlance.

None of which matters at all. All that is important is, do I like and do I think you will?

Well, yes, I do like, enjoy and admire this wine – I think it’s really rather fine.

The nose is aromatic, floral and lemony with lemon pith herbs and enticing stony mineral notes together with that touch of honey so beloved of bees.
Actually it smells like a being in a garden in the Mediterranean in summer.
The palate gives a wonderful combination of crisp mineralality, lively, bracing acidity and some texture, rich lemony fruit which means it has poise, elegance, richness and a bracing quality, all of which makes it dry, medium-bodied and full-flavoured.

All that means balance, finesse and elegance and it is a lovely dry white wine and quite superb with a bit of swordfish – 89/100 points.

Which brings me to where you can buy it:

The Wine Society stock it for the stunning low price of £8.95 – hence the high mark.

If you are not a member of the Wine Society then Jeroboams sell it for £12.50 per bottle, which is still well worth it.

I hope you like this new Wine Of the Week feature, let me know? I will try and publish a weekly post about anything interesting that has come my way, please leave a comment.

 

 

Classic Wines at GREAT Value Prices

A couple of times over the years I have mentioned Aldi in these pages because I really like their Toro Loco Tempranillo red and Toro Loco Bobal Rosado / Rosé from the Spain’s Utiel-Requena wine region. They are extremely good quality wines, deliver loads of pleasure and will disappoint no one at the £3.69 asking price.

Well, Aldi seem to have noticed as they recently sent me a few of their other bottles for me to try:

Gavi2012 Gavi ‘The Exquisite Collection’
D.O.C.g. Gavi, Piemonte, Italy
Made by Fratelli Martini Secondo Luigi / Casa Sant Orsola

I like Gavi and think it is one of the best of Italy’s traditional dry white wines from indigenous grapes – of course recently I have discovered the wonderful whites of Etna and Campania. This had the little bit of weight, almost creaminess like a Mâcon, that I associate with good Gavi and a slightly nutty character, fresh acidity and was just a tad richer than crisp making it very attractive and enjoyable.
Extraordinaryly good wine for £4.99.

The beautiful rolling hills of Piedmont - photo courtesy of Made by

The beautiful rolling hills of Piemonte – photo courtesy of Fratelli Martini Secondo Luigi.

Albarino2011 Albariño Rías Baixas ‘The Exquisite Collection’
D.O. Rías Baixas, Galicia, Spain
Made by Bodegas Martin Codax

Another stunning value bottle of wine made by one of the top producers of the region. This is not the finest Albariño I have ever tasted – it lacks a little acidity, minerality and poise for me – but only a little and it is a lovely and enjoyable dry white wine. It is concentrated and tasty with some succulent fruit and some freshness from the acidity. An excellent aromatic, floral and peachy dry white wine  and a good Albariño for beginners. And the price is just £5.99!

Macon2012 Mâcon-Villages
A.C. Mâcon-Villages, France
Henri de Lorgère

I like Mâcon wines and think they can be really very attractive indeed, provide value and sometimes really great quality too. Well, this is a nice wine, it is very classic and European – not a fruit bomb – there are discrete apple and pear notes, nice acidity and flinty minerality even. This is very much on the light end of the Mâcon spectrum, but it isn’t dilute, it is fresh, very dry – verging on crisp –  and just medium-bodied, so refreshing and gently rounded too, but clearly unoaked. It is nice and great value, but the Gavi is better – £4.99.

Rosé(2012) Côtes de Provence Rosé ‘The Exquisite Collection’
A.C. Côtes de Provence, France

I don’t often choose to drink a Provence rosé – I don’t really know why, I just never think of it, so did not know what to expect from this Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah blend. It looked attractive having deeper colour than I often associate with Provence and was in the classic curvaceous bottle. Incidentally I have been informed that this was from the 2012 vintage, but I searched the bottle in vain for that information. This is a very drinkable rosé – judging by how fast the bottle emptied – very fresh and lively with good acidity and a core of juicy  red currant, cranberry and strawberry fruit. A great deal of pleasure for just £5.99.

Pinot(2011) Pinot Noir
Vignobles Roussellet, Vin de France

To be honest I put off trying this. Cheap / inexpensive Pinot always makes me wary and Vin de France is roughly what used to be called Vin de Table, so it theoretically pretty basic stuff, but I tried it in the end. Again you will scour the label in vain for the vintage, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is the wine and this is quite remarkably good, soft, juicy and fruity. It has the soft tannins and bright fruit of a nice Beaujolais, but some Pinot-like earthy fruit quality too. It is not a great Pinot by any means, but it is a very good Pinot for the price and a nice drop of easy drinking, soft red wine. Amazing value and very versatile, with food, without food, room temperature, chilled, even mixed with lemonade and all for £4.49.

ChampagneN.V. Champagne Veuve Monsigny Brut No: 3
Champagne, France
Made by Champagne Philizot & Fils

I was half looking forward to this and half dreading it. Somedays I thought it was going to be ok and others undrinkable. Well it was better than both those thoughts. This is genuinely a nice bottle of Champagne, fresh, lively and very appley with a soft mousse and palate. Frankly for the £12.99 price tag it is stunning!

The only odd thing about really is the back label, where it claims; ‘Ageing in cellars 5 years more than the legal minimum has enhanced its complexity.’ Really, this spent 75 months on the lees – the legal minimum is 15 months for Champagne – it doesn’t taste like it, which is a good thing I think in this instance and it would cost an enormous amount to do that!

The vineyards of Champagne.

The vineyards of Champagne.

I haven’t given these wines any points as that would be, er well… pointless actually. All of them are just right, absolutely what you want, extremely well made and very good value for anything like the price. So, if you want nice wines and no surprises – except for the low price tag – then it seems to me that Aldi can offer much more pleasure at their normal on the shelf prices than most of their competitors do with their special offers.

Aldi didn’t only send me wine by the way, there was also a bottle of Oliver Cromwell London Dry Gin in the box and as I type this I am enjoying a rather good Gin and tonic made with it. As a republican – American readers note the small ‘R’ – and admirer of Cromwell, given the times he lived in, I could not resist trying it and I am glad that I did because it really is pretty good, nicely perfumed and aromatic with a good depth of flavour and at just £9.65 per bottle it is a steal for a properly made gin – where the botanicals have been redistilled in a pot-still with the base alcohol.

You can find your nearest UK Aldi branch here.

Inventing Wine – the history of wine debunked

Ancient amphorae at Domaine Gerovassiliou in Greece

Ancient amphorae in the wonderful wine museum at Domaine Gerovassiliou in Greece

I love history and part of the pleasure I take in wine comes from this interest. Anyone who has attended one of my courses or tastings – and if you haven’t you really are missing out on something – knows that to me wine is closely intertwined with history. It has always seemed to me that there is a cultural identity and rationale for all wines and wine styles. This is by definition stronger in Europe where wine making has been a part of the landscape for far longer than it has in new world regions.

A glimpse of how it was - Priorat 1997

A glimpse of how it was – Priorat 1997

For a long time though I have questioned whether we get it quite right and if these identities are as strong as we like to believe. In the wine world we take for granted that there is a continuum from the Ancients to now. Wine originated somewhere near Georgia, Transcaucasia, and spread from there to the Greeks and Romans who took the vine and wine making to other parts of the Mediterranean and, more importantly France.

But in truth I know how great the improvements in grape growing and wine making have been in my time in the trade. So, I wonder how true this continuum really is? I have suspected that wine in the past was very different from how it is today. I am certain it is riper, cleaner, fresher, fruitier and technically better than at any previous point in history and many developments have made it that way.

I certainly like the idea of being in touch with the ancients when I drink wine, that feeling of beeing at one remove from the Roman tending vines in Campania or the monks of Clos Vougeot when we drink a modern wine from those same slopes, but how true is it?

The original wine press at Clos Vougeot, still in occasional use

The sixteenth century wine press at Clos Vougeot, still in occasional use

I do wonder, given how recent many of the things are that we think of as traditional. Fish and chips and eating chocolate only appeared a few years before my grandfather was born while Indian food must have been entirely different before Portuguese sailors brought the chili to Asia and Italian cuisine must have been similarly unrecognisable before the tomato arrived in Europe. As for wine traditions, I am well aware that contrary to the dry examples we expect today, Entre-Deux-Mers and Savennières were sweet until the 1950s.

Recently I discovered a wonderful new book on the history of wine. It questions many things that marketeers want us to believe and constantly made me look at many aspects of wine afresh:

Inventing Wine Cover ImangeInventing Wine: a new history of one of the world’s most ancient pleasures
by Paul Lukacs
Published by Norton at $28.95 / £20.00
Also available from Amazon.com as well as Amazon.co.uk and Waterstones in the UK.

Reading Paul Lukacs’s book has reinforced my suspicion that in reality there is very little link between wine as we know it and what was consumed in the past. Nowadays we choose wines for different reasons and we expect different things from them compared with wine drinkers of yesteryear.

Paul Lukacs points out that today’s well made wines in fact have very little in common with the rudimentary liquids our forbears drank. Central to this fascinating book is the realization that for most of history wine has not been drunk out of choice at all but nessecity. What’s more there has been little to chose between wines from individual places as they would all taste unpalatable to our modern palates. Indeed unless one was lucky enough to drink it very soon after harvest, all wine would have tasted sour and unpleasant throughout much of history. As Paul Lukacs says, wine was simply “a source of nourishment and inebriated escape.” Therefore it was not until quite recent times that wine came to be enjoyed for its taste, but for what else it could provide. Wine was mysterious, early man could not understand how it was made and so it was widely believed to have magical powers and to be a link to the gods, a view that persisted for thousands of years. What is more water was largely impure and dangerous to drink, so wine was the safer option, whatever it tasted like.

The evolution of the wine bottle was crucial to the development of wine as we know it today. These are at Domaine Gerovassiliou in Greece.

The evolution of the wine bottle was crucial to the development of wine as we know it today. Before wine could be bottled and sealed with a cork it was a race against time to finish the cask before the wine turned completely sour.These examples are at Domaine Gerovassiliou in Greece.

The mention of Pliny as being more a connoisseur of resin than the actual wine was a fascinating insight into how awful ancient wine must have tasted for the flavourings to be so important. Pliny’s writing about the characteristics of the different resins though did put me in mind of how we discuss oak today – and although it does other things, surely most oak is merely a flavouring for most modern wines?

Lukacs makes a pretty convincing argument that true modern wine as we understand it has only emerged from about 1660 onwards when Arnaud de Pontac began selling his wine as the product of a single estate. This wine was Château Haut-Brion and Samuel Pepys tasted it on Friday 10 April 1663, memorably recording in his diary; “drank a sort of French wine, called Ho Bryan, that hath a good and most particular taste that I never met with.”

Another glimpse of the past, vino rancho ageing outside in demijohns, Castille 1997

Another glimpse of the past, vino rancio ageing outside in demijohns, Castille 1997

It was only handful of wines though that could become such vins fins, as they needed to command a high price and be sold to consumers who were happy to pay that price. Most consumers had little or no choice about what they drank until many hundreds of years later when technology was finally applied to even the most ordinary wines – I well remember how basic Jumilla wines tasted during the 1970s and would not like to experience them again. Broadly speaking until quite recently, in historical terms, a high quality wine was one that had few or no defects. Only relatively recently did it come to be seen as one with “particularity and provenance” – the concept that came to define vins fins. It was these different characteristics – or particularity – that made some wines more famous and sought after than others.

I found it especially illuminating that the word terroiris actually a recent one, certainly less than a hundred years old and not the ancient term that I had always assumed. Which begs the question if the concept existed before the word and if so, how did they explain it?

What is more wine does not exist in isolation, so this book touches on social history generally. The urbanisation and secularisation of Europe, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, beer, spirits, tea, coffee and chocolate and the industrial revolution all play their part in the story, as do more modern developments in wine making and globalisation.

A modern winery in Bordeaux 2012

A modern winery in Bordeaux 2012

This is no holiday book for the average consumer, you need to be interested and it leans towards an academic style – indeed I much preferred the content to the writing, but Paul Lukacs’s story of how fine wine – vin fins as opposed to vin ordinaries – slowly developed in various places from the seventeenth century onwards is a fascinating read. I certainly feel enriched and better informed for reading this book. It seems to have something new to say on every page and puts a great many things into context that have perhaps been falsely romanticised for too long.