Wine of the Week 42 – Campania’s calling card

As regular readers will know, I have recently returned from the wonderful Campania region of Italy. It is an amazing part of the world whose capital is the vibrant and exciting city of Naples and includes the astonishing archeological sites of Pompeii and Herculanium, as well as the dazzling Amalfi coast. Campania also boasts a dramatic and mountainous hinterland that contains several high quality wine regions and is also home to some superb indigenous grape varieties, including Aglianico, Greco and Falanghina.

Naples fishing harbour with Capri in the distance.

Naples fishing harbour with Capri in the distance.

While I was there, my colleagues and I often discussed how the Campanian producers could reach a wider audience with their wines and which of their many excellent grapes would provide the calling card for the region. We pretty much all agreed that Aglianico, with its firm tannins and savoury, bitter flavours, was not a wine for beginners or to be drunk without food – although there are exceptions. Most of us also felt that the white Greco grape, while delicious and very fine, produces very taut and mineral wines with a linear structure rather than a rich, friendly, soft character that most wine drinkers – in the UK anyway – favour for their everyday wines.

Much as we loved those structured grapes that produce serious and fine wines, we were pretty much all of the view that Campania wines will become more popular and well known through people trying and enjoying their other white grape, the Falanghina. In truth this process has started, go and have a look in most wine shops and supermarkets nowadays and you will normally find a Falanghina there somewhere. Hopefully this exciting grape is poised to follow Picpoul de Pinet, Grüner Veltliner and Albariño in a successful breach of the stranglehold that Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio seem to have on the market for everyday drinking white wines.

Falanghina, pronounced falang-geena with a hard G sound, is an ancient grape variety that was almost certainly used by the Romans, experts think it was the base for the famous Falernian wine. I have tasted a good many examples now and think that Falanghina always delivers a good depth of flavour, even at the value end of the price spectrum. The wines are always tangy and drinkable, so could well be the next big thing. They go very well with all manner of lighter foods and are also nice to drink on their own.

The other day I tasted these excellent, good value examples and enjoyed them so much that I have made them my joint Wine of the Week.

Falanghina2013 Sainsbury’s Winemaker’s Selection Falanghina
IGT Beneventano
Benevento
Campania, Italy

Attractive nose of grapefruit, herbs, a little pineapple and a twist of orange zest.
The palate has nice succulence with lovely fruit, orange and peach, which makes for a very soft dry white wine that is easy to drink, but not boring at all. There is even a nice touch of tropical, pineapple, fruit on the palate, balanced by a touch of fresh acidity and a bit of minerality. This is a very attractive easy drinking wine, simple, but very nice to drink – 85/100 points

Available in the UK from Sainsbury’s for £6.50 per bottle.

Vineyards in Benevento.

Vineyards in Benevento.

M&S Falanghina2013 Marks & Spencers Falanghina
IGT Beneventano
La Guardiense
Benevento
Campania, Italy

This example is made by my friends at the La Guardiense cooperative and is actually a tad finer, with greater concentration and richer fruit. It is still soft and easy to drink though and has a gorgeous touch of tangerine fruit to the palate and the nose – 87/100 points

Available in the UK from Marks and Spencer for £7.00 per bottle.

Both of these are very nicely made attractive examples of Falanghina, richer more concentrated and finer versions are available too and I will mention some of those soon.

Go on, give Falanghina a try, you never know, you might even start a trend.

 

 

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.