Any list like this is bound to cause controversy, both in terms of those chosen and those not mentioned. I genuinely believe that for every exciting wine selected here there are two or three good wines that could justifiably claim inclusion. In narrowing the focus I hope to deliver greater impact for the producers listed. Nevertheless, I have been careful not to position the wines included as the region’s best, although many of them certainly are. Instead I have endeavoured to highlight wines that contribute to the great story that is winemaking in Campania. The vast majority of these wines demonstrate either varietal intrigue or geographical authenticity - ideally both. Consequently, terroir plays a leading role and is behind the decision to organise this list in terms of the region’s five provinces - Napoli, Caserta, Salerno, Benevento, and Avellino. Showcasing the region’s viticultural diversity and stylistic breadth is important, far more so than considerations of the size and gravitas of the producer. My own personal tastes are undoubtedly prevalent, although maintaining a foundation of general objectivity is duly considered. Accessibility in English speaking markets is a sensible, practical constraint, although ultimately I concluded it not critical to inclusion. As such, some of these wines are made in tiny quantities and are not currently exported to the UK, US or Canada.
Campania is undoubtedly one of the most exciting wine regions in Italy at the moment. The last few decades have seen dozens of wineries really come of age. The region’s largest players have adapted to international markets and, generally speaking, are more focussed on quality than ever before. Many grower families whose primary concern was selling fruit to the local co-operative have ventured out on their own and now contribute to a vibrant fabric of experimentation, innovation and entrepreneurialism. Alongside this, a culture of respect for local traditions is re-emerging and with it there is a determination to protect the viticultural and winemaking heritage of the region. There are many projects and partnerships in progress that are designed to rescue ancient grape varieties from extinction and steadily reintroduce them into commercial production. Not all of them will be a success, but the result of this dynamic and active wine industry scene is the growth in diversity and an abundance of new estates and brands. This is wonderful news for wine enthusiasts.
It wasn’t long ago that the region’s key white grapes - Fiano, Greco and Falanghina - lived on the fringes of the Italian wine world. The thick-skinned red Aglianico was also peripheral to fine wine conversations. Not any more. Today they are well and truly part of the establishment and produce outstanding wines. Reinforcing these achievements is a new wave of grape varieties, that under the careful stewardship of dedicated growers and oenologists, are starting to lead put some of the region’s lesser known territories on the modern wine map. The volcanic soils of the Campi Flegrei are proving a fabulous source of Piedirosso, the slopes of Monte Somma are showing the potential of Catalanesca, while near Pontelatone, the velvety texture of Casavecchia seems sure to appeal. Near Volturno, Pallagrello Rosso and Bianco are leading the way, showing their ability to give complex, mineral wines. Along the coast and on the nearby islands of Ischia and Capri, exotically fragrant wines come from Biancolella, Forastera, Ginestra, Fenile and Ripoli.
Such confidence in promoting obscure grapes and territories is enriching the discussion, and creating meaningful opportunities for wine lovers to engage with the region. The future is exceptionally bright. Campania is arguably the only place in Italy that is truly respected for both its red and white wines in equal measure. Perhaps only the great estates of the Veneto can credibly contest such a statement.
So, here are 50 seriously intriguing wines from Campania’s five viticultural territories.
Perhaps the greatest beneficiary of generational change in Campania is the province of Napoli. After decades of mediocre production, the historically significant wines of Vesuvius and Campi Flegrei are enjoying a renewed acclaim once again. Consumer demand for distinctive terroir is highlighting their complex volcanic origins and under the charge of scientifically trained winemakers, the output of premium wine is growing rapidly.
Much of the improvement and excitement can be found on the turbulent contours of the Phlegraean Fields, or the Campi Flegrei. Located just north of the city of Naples, this 13km wide caldera is home to some outstanding wines. Falanghina Flegrea and Piedirosso thrive in the mineral rich soils, particularly around the town of Pozzuoli, and they continue to prove themselves as high quality wine grapes.
Quasi Burgundian in their focus on a single red and white grape, growers here brave the elements to craft wines of depth and personality amidst the swaying seismic earth. The most obvious example of merit is the small production of La Sibilla, whose single vineyard wines deliver a vibrancy that shakes and steams with sulphurous complexity. The white Cruna de Lago comes from old vines planted close to the water’s edge and offers intense lemon fruit notes, while Vigna Madre is an excellent reference for Piedirosso’s ability to age gracefully; it is structured, but silky and ethereal.
Falanghina takes on two clear styles here. Vineyards at lower altitude and close to the water’s edge tend to deliver riper, fuller bodied wines with concentrated fruit and notable salinity. The small family project of Cantine del Mare produces a number of distinctive wines, any number of which could have made this list, but their Sorbo Bianco stands out. In general these wines show their authenticity best without wood influence, but here, the additional use of tonneaux adds to the impact and compliments the salinity, rather than overpowering it. Production is small, and accessibility is an issue, particularly in international markets, but these wines are well worth tracking down.
There are a number of very exciting projects in the Campi Flegrei. Just above Pozzuoli, in the village of Monterusciello, Giuseppe Fortunato produces a lighter, more fragrant pair of Phlegraen wines. An engineer turned farmer, he now seeks to produce low intervention wines from a vineyard prospering through aspects of biodynamics. Having tasted the Falanghina from the tank through to wines with almost a decade of age to them, there is no doubting the quality and longevity of his wines. Bottled under his Contrada Salandra brand, this boutique, sustainably farmed wines are extremely interesting.
Across the water, on the island of Ischia, the local Biancolella grape offers a beautiful mix between coastal shrubbery and exotic fruit. Although much of the variety’s charm lies in its simplicity and suitability to the rhythms of local life, it represents valuable viticultural heritage in the region and should be preserved. Cenatiempo craft a Biancolella that screams island cool. A family winery in operation for almost 100 years, Pasquale and Francesca Cenatiempo oversee ‘Kalimera’, an estate with winemaking lineage dating back to the 1600s. The Kalimera Biancolella is cultivated at 450m in the volcanic soils of the Serrara Fontana. Spending three months on the lees before bottling, it offers simple citrus and sage notes, but dangerously effective.
Another of the island’s local grapes, Forastera, offers a similar experience. A distinctive exotic character compliments its herbal coastal nuances. Casa d’Ambra, the pioneer of winemaking on the island produces a fantastic example from their Tenuta Fratiselli. Vinified in stainless steel to showcase the natural characteristics of the grape, this fragrant, fruit-driven white provides the perfect lunch time accompaniment to local seafood.
Back on the mainland, viticulture and winemaking are improving dramatically around Vesuvius too. Small, family run producers are seeking to express this iconic terroir through grapes such as Caprettone and Catalanesca, varieties that have struggled to compete in recent decades. Better yield control and more understanding around appropriate vinification techniques are revealing a number of attractive wines. It bodes well for diversity and the strengthening of local viticultural traditions.
Under Ciro Giordano, president of the consorzio, Cantine Olivella leads the way, producing a range of different wines from local grapes. He makes an outstanding Piedirosso worth tracking down, but as far as this list goes it is two of their white wines that demand attention and notoriety. The delicate Caprettone grape, with reduced yields and tlc in the vineyard and cellar, can become a crowd pleaser and the estate’s ‘Emblema’ Caprettone delivers, offering a crisp white peach fruit with shimmering acidity. Very different, but hugely appealing, the Catalanesca variety, thought to originate in Catalonia, delivers a more polished, muscular wine with gastronomic appeal.
Now incorporated into the Vesuvio DOC is the much loved Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio style. Traditionally it was the red and white versions of the wine that would grace local restaurant tables, but Casa Setaro produces a delicious rosato exclusively from Piedirosso. Farming 10 hectares of vineyards in Trecase, in the Vesuvius national park, Massimo Setaro and his wife Maria Rosaria produce quality wines. This fresh, vibrant rose captures some of the aromas and energy of this iconic terroir.
Under the shadow of Vesuvius is Pompei and its surrounding vineyards. Although the area is known for its tourism and not its viticulture, there is some small scale production taking place and today around 150 hectares are classified as Pompeiano IGP. Bosco dei Medici’s Dressel 19.2 is aged six months in terracotta amphora which imparts a polished finesse to Caprettone’s natural citrus profile.
Finally, a place goes to the simple, but undeniably fun frizzante from the Sorrentine peninsula. Wine from the commune of Gragnano is considered the wine of Naples and is the source of numerous cultural references. It is celebrated as the perfect vinous accompaniment to Neapolitan pizza. Salvatore Martusciello crafts ‘Ottouve’ an endlessly quaffable red made with up to eight local grape varieties, including Piedirosso, Aglianico, Sciascinoso and Suppezza. Vibrant, fresh, lifted, this is designed to be drunk very young, but delivers enough sweet red fruit justify Gragnano’s special role as a recognised and celebrated sub zone of the Peninsola Sorrentina DOC.
Salerno, located just to the south of Naples has made steady progress too, although arguably not as much as seemed likely just a few years ago. The national park of Cilento offers the largely untouched beauty of rolling green fields, gentle slopes and impressive biodiversity. The DOC, established in 1989, allows for the cultivation of a number of local grape varieties, although reds must contain a majority of Aglianico, while the rose wines require a solid backbone of Sangiovese. Whites must be constructed with a dominance of Fiano.
Luigi Maffini is one of the area’s visionary producers here and his wines from Fiano and Aglianico have helped inspire others to invest and build. He founded his winery in 1996 and has steadily improved the quality and resilience of his family vineyards. His wines have been well regarded since the first vintage nearly 30 years ago. Many appreciate the crisp fruit of his ‘Kratos’ Fiano, but the ‘Pietraincatenata’ from a two hectare plot located at higher altitude gets the vote here. The grapes are left on the vine slightly longer and in the cellar are given some wood influence to deliver a full white wine with intensely exotic fruit aromas. Despite the use of new barrique it is restrained, elegant and delicious.
Hotelier Giuseppe Pagano also spotted the opportunity in the early 90s and has since developed his San Salvatore brand into a powerful local business, operating a number of hospitality sites that focus in on Cilento’s food and wine heritage. Although his wines are bottled under the more flexible Paestum IGP classification, they offer insight into the potential of the territory here. With the town of Paestum littered with ancient ruins and tourism opportunities its promotion is arguably a more sensible commercial move.
With strong distribution and lots of local opportunities to try these wines, they represent a key benchmark for this part of Campania. San Salvatore’s ‘Trentenare’ Fiano is arguably the estate’s key wine and if not, it makes a strong claim, offering weighty citrus and stone fruit, plenty of power and the kind of textured finesse that the variety is capable of. However, it is the rather unusual pursuit of elegant Pinot Nero, a variety rarely seen in Campania, that really raises eyebrows and delivers encouraging results. Pino di Stio is elegant, ethereal, and perfumed while delivering depth and structure. Without quite advocating the proliferation of Pinot Nero down here, this is a worthy take on a very difficult variety.
Paestum is also home to the small winemaking project of Tempa di Zoè. Vineyards of flysch and loam overlook the sea. The XA Fiano is aged in sur lie for 12 months in barrique, taking on moorish properties and weighty complexity. Rather than overpowering the wine, it complements intense notes of peach, melon, honey and herb. Production is small, but its worth the search. This is a name we’ll hear more about in the future.
Viticultural discussions about the Amalfi Coast are generally dominated by talk of Marissa Cuomo. It is true that her estate is the most obvious promoter of this picturesque coastline as a premium winemaking territory. All of the wines are excellent and two make this list. The white ‘Fiorduva’, a fragrantly exotic blend of the local Ginestra, Ripoli and Fenile is a beautiful wine and perfect accompaniment to the local shellfish catch. The red ‘Furore’ a blend of Aglianico and Piedirosso.
There are other worthy producers here though. Ettore Sammarco’s tiny production of ‘Vigna Grotta Piana’ should be followed with interest, as it has been for many years by its cognoscenti. Only around 2000 bottles are made each year, but this blend of Biancolella, Ginestra and Falanghina Flegrea is perfumed and succulent, with just enough mineral salinity to delight. Vinified partly in stainless steel and partly in French barrique, this is both deep and fresh, with waves of exotic fruit.
Montevetrano is another project to indulge in. Following the arrival of high Parker points in the mid 90s the company earned instant notoriety; their wine, with the collaboration of Riccardo Cotarella, was positioned by the critic as the ‘Sassicaia of the South’ and developed cult status amongst Italian wine lovers. Nearly 30 years on it’s intriguing to note where the wine is up to. They are undoubtedly rich and ripe, a style that Cotarella is famous for, yet these continue to exude the kind of herbal, spicy aromatic profile that draws consumers in. The palate is chalky, almost dusty, but padded by black fruit and black olives. Classy, ethereal yet deep and concentrated. Part of the key is the vineyard’s location, just 2km from the sea and as such, protected heat that descends further east.
The new frontier in Campania’s winemaking revolution is on the high fertile plains of the province of Caserta, ironically, one of antiquity’s most treasured and prosperous regions. Known throughout history as ‘Terre di Lavoro’ or Land of Work, a reference to its significant agricultural output, the area is emerging from recent doldrums as a source of interesting local varies such as the red and white Pallagrello, and Casavecchia.
Provincia di Caserta is covered by two IGP appellations - Terre del Volturno in the south and Roccamonfina to the north. Both were established to focus exclusively on local grape varieties and this vehicle is now gathering speed with dozens of producers using them to make their name. There is a lot of work still to be done, with many of the wines imparting a certain country rusticity still, but nevertheless we are hopefully starting the next stage of a movement that will find enough of a commercial footing to sustain the restoration.
These are ancient varieties. Pallagrello Nero was well cited by Pliny in his Naturalis Historia for its high potential and its return to the fore is a welcome one. The variety has long historical traditions in Caserta and now that its potential is back under the spotlight we are reminded of its glory days as one of favoured wines of the Bourbon kings. Perhaps it is not unreasonable to envisage us once again contemplating the subtle differences of micro climates around communes such as Alife, Alvignano, Caiazzo and Castel Campagnano.
During recent tastings, two Pallagrello Nero wines really stood out. Sclavia’s ‘Lucia a Monticelli’ and the monovarietal effort by Vestini Campagnano. Both are bottled under the Terre del Volturno IGP. Back in the early 1990s Vestini Campagnano set out to research and rescue the variety with an almost garage style experimentation with an old vineyard. They subsequently planted again with vines propagated from the original vineyard and today produce delicious wines from clay and volcanic terrain. The Pallagrello Nero spends time in barrique, but like all selections these with wood influence, its impact is low and serves merely to tame and finesse the naturally tannin and acidity of the variety.
Giovanni Ascione, a wine journalist based in Naples helped to lay the modern groundwork for its current revival through his now retired Nanni Copè project. These wines can still be found and are worth trying, but it is Lucia Ferrara’s Sclavia winery that has picked up the mantle. Sclavia continue their collaboration with oenolgoist Maurizio Alongi (known for his work in Chianti Classico and incidentally with Giovanni Ascione) and have released a Pallagrello from complex sandy soils with large elements of clay and silt. To tame the natural acidity of the variety, ‘Lucia a Monticelli’ receives an extended stay in second and third passage in French tonneaux. The result is a beautiful wine with balance and complexity.
When it comes to Pallagrello Bianco, no relation to its red namesake, Alois are the runaway leaders. They have mastered the art of polishing and finessing this variety like nobody else. The ‘Morrone’ is an example of what the white Pallagrello can do when looked after in the vineyard and cellar. Its affinity with the calcareous soils of Morrone della Monica, in the village of Pontelatone, is immediately evident on the palate. It is round, creamy, textured, with moorish stone fruit and salinity.
Alternatively, the fresh, fragrant Pallagrello Bianco from Masseria Piccirillo, a winemaking project underway since 2008, is also very enjoyable. For wine lovers constantly on the hunt for something new this provides the answer. This isn’t a showy, complex wine, but vinified in stainless steel and released early, it offers fruit forward summer drinking at a great value price point. It is low production and not easy to track down but a steal at around 12 euros.
The team at Alois are also responsible for producing ‘Trebulanum’, an impressive velvety expression of Casavecchia. Deep purple in colour, this variety has a lot going for it. Its explosive berry fruit is framed in a soft, almost creamy structure, one that benefits from the minimum 18 months in barrel required for its Riserva status. Casavecchia is arguably a more approachable and enjoyable grape. Now that producers are adapting to its naturally low vigour, the abundant levels of anthocyanin are giving Malbec like wines with wide appeal.
This historic production area of Massico is thought to be the origin of the famous Falerno wine, frequently enjoyed by Roman emperors. Today the appellation is obscure, but a handful of wineries are seeking to revive the name, if only for the sake of story. I jest. Villa Matilde have recently released an excellent white example by the name of Vigna Caracci. It is produced only in the best years from an old vineyard in the village of San Castrese at the foot of the extinct volcano of Roccamonfina. The style is on the international side and from a personal perspective would benefit from a calmer relationship with wood, but this is still a beautiful wine, showcasing the floral scents and fresh acidity of Falanghina.
The area is home to red grapes too. Aglianico is the key variety, but the appellation allows for the use of both Piedirosso and Primitivo. Nevertheless, the small winemaking operation of Torelle Viticolturi makes an unpretentious wine exclusively from Aglianico. Giuliana has taken over after the tragic passing of her brother and now oversees the mineral rich vineyards at the foot of Roccamonfina. The wine is beautiful poised, pitching rustic tannic strength and power with fragrant violets and red fruit. Low production, but a project to watch with admiration and curiosity.
Of course, the list could not be complete without the presence of Fattoria Gallardi’s ‘Terre di Lavoro’. There is a plenty of hype around this wine and price tag has shot up to match it. Nevertheless, this continues to be one of Campania’s best wines. Yes, it’s big and bold, and arguably a beneficiary of the freewheeling power points of previous fashions, but the wine continues to evolve and impress. Recent vintages assure aromatic complexity of herbs and spices alongside depth, concentration and irrefutable longevity. Splash out and stock the cellar.
Finally, Caputo 1890’s simple and austere Asprinio from the Aversa DOC might not be the most obvious inclusion, but the enduring local viticultural traditions and the winery’s partnership with Fabio Mecca, one of Southern Italy’s top oenologists, means we should take notice. Most Asprinio is produced as a sparkling wine due to its steely character and crisp yellow fruit. Still wine is harder to find, but in the small town of Aversa, just west of Caserta and north of Naples, there is still use of the Alberata Aversana technique, where Asprinio is planted up trees as high as 12 metres. Harvesting requires tall ladders and either experience or courage. Probably both. The ‘Fescine’ is crisp, refreshing, well made and attractively inexpensive.
Over the last decade or so the fertile hills of Irpinia have established themselves as one of Italy’s great wine territories. It was not so long ago that white wines such as Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo represented exciting fringe wines on the Italian scene, enjoyed mainly by locals and those in the know. How things have changed! The winemaking scene here has flourished over the last couple of decades and there are now several names that are unquestionably part of the country’s fine wine establishment; the Avellino-Tufo-Taurasi triumvirate of DOCGs are a clear benchmark to aspire to for other developing appellations.
Fiano di Avellino is arguably southern Italy’s best white wine, vying for the accolade with its local neighbour, Greco di Tufo. Produced, as its name suggests, from the Fiano grape, around the town of Avellino, this is a wine capable of ageing and maturing for seven to ten years, with examples currently on the market suggestive of even greater longevity. In youth, the wines present juicy stone fruit notes alongside vibrant floral character - the best also demonstrate mineral complexity and the hallmarks of their hyper local terroir. After a few years in bottle though they all tend to take on the richer characteristics of bruised yellow fruit, almonds and hazelnuts.
Guido Marsella’s Fiano is cultivated in vineyards located in the Partenio Regional Park, at an altitude of approximately 600 meters. The hilly landscape, high elevation, and clayey loam soil enriched with volcanic minerals is particularly well-suited for cultivating Fiano. At the winery, the grapes undergo de-stemming and pressing before ageing on the lees in stainless steel, with a potential duration of up to 12 months. The result is a richly textured wine with fresh acidity and attractive complementary notes of brioche.
Equally moorish are recent releases by Tenuta Scuotto. Founded in 2009 by Eduardo Scuotto and his son Adolfo, the winery isn’t certified organic but the family’s philosophy is one of respect for the vineyard and surrounding area. Their Fiano is cultivated in the village of Lapio, and spends up to six months on its lees. The winery’s ‘Oi Ni’, which spends time in oak carries the higher price tags, but this is a great fruit forward expression of Fiano, offering ripe, succulent fruit with touches of salinity.
Also in Lapio is the outstanding family operation of Colli di Lapio Romano Clelia, which cultivates Fiano at almost 500m. The dry, well ventilated climate and evening reductions in temperature help create an expressive, aromatically complex wine that requires little manipulation in the cellar. Time to settle in stainless steel is all that is needed before releasing this as a fresh, youthful Fiano. This is a wine that showcases the importance of site. Although impeccably well made, it is the natural quality of the fruit that lifts this wine above many others in the appellation.
For similar reasons, Ciro Picariello’s Fiano ‘Ciro 906’ is delightful. Located in Summonte, at an even cooler 650m, the winery has steadily earned a reputation for producing clean, pure wines. This is a wine that is fresh and fragrant in youth but capable of ageing and evolving for many years. Time on the lees and frequent rounds of bâtonnage ensure a full, textured wines with plenty of complexity, but to this we add the vibrancy and energy imparted by the vineyard’s rocky, volcanic soils.
Roberto di Meo’s ‘Vittorio’ is perhaps the best example of aged Greco di Tufo around at the moment. All of the estate’s wines are polished, stylish, and impeccably true to the natural characteristics of the variety, but this stands out above the region’s appellation’s growing roster. Greco can be intensely exotic in youth, but this can quickly fade away in simpler wines. A recent tasting of the 2008 pitched lime, petrol, peach and cream together on a jet of racy acidity. Still energetic and exuberant this is one of Italy’s great white wines.
The town of Tufo, named after the tuff rock that underpins the surrounding hills, has long provided a suitable host for Greco. An affinity with the long, hot days and water retaining soils leads to wines. If anyone understands the significance it is the family of Ferrante di Somma. His family founded the Tufo mines here in the late 1800s and today he runs the family cellar Cantine di Marzo. He produces three single vineyard expressions of Greco di Tufo, each offering subtle markers of differentiation and all of which could be in this list. Inclusion goes to Vigna Laure for its lighter, fruit driven style. There is plenty of freshness and minerality here though and it’s a wine that will likely improve over the years.
Finalising the Greco di Tufo selections is Quintodecimo’s ‘Giallo d’Arles’. This is a deeply coloured oak inspired expression of the variety and will not appeal to everyone. It is however a wine with huge structure and a barrage of complexity. Cultivated in Mirabella Eclano and harvested by hand, it is fermented in steel before a short stay in small barrique. The result unloads layers of apricot, quince and vanilla, with a stylishly long, indulgent finish.
The village of Taurasi has in a very short space of time become one of southern Italy’s most premium red wine producing locations. Much of the success, like with many of the white wine appellations, can be attributed to the work of the region’s key commercial players - Mastroberardino, Feudi di San Gregorio and Terredora - but there are too many wines here that are excessively extracted and clumsily aged. Nevertheless there are some wine boutique wineries producing wines that will hopefully inspire us out of this stylistic trend.
Luigi Tecce produces some outstanding wines from his smallholdings in the villages of Paternopoli and Castelfranci. His vineyards, planted on his grandfather’s farm of sand, limestone and volcanic pumice are located on some of the DOCG’s highest slopes. The Poliphemo, from old vines dating back at least 80 years, is a fantastic benchmark for those wanting to understand the potential of this particular appellation. Although the estate’s other Riserva, the Puro Sangue is arguably a more polished and accessible wine, Poliphemo offers a more ferocious interpretation, delivering brooding, concentrated Aglianico with power and intensity.
Also in Paternopoli is a small parcel of Aglianico vines tended by Joaquin, a boutique winemaking project by the eccentric Raffaele Pagano. His wines are all off the charts with intensity, and as such somewhat atypical, however, the Taurasi takes this power in its stride and manages to capture its own form of stylish elegance. The ‘della Società’ is released as a Riserva and even with its lofty price tag does not disappoint.
Stefania Barbot’s Taurasi ‘Fren’ hails from fruit picked in the same village but with different results. The vines, planted in clay, limestone and lightly volcanic soils, are a combination of young and old, with some over 70 years old now. Benefiting from an altitude of between 450 and 550m it provides rich, concentrated fruit that delivers impressive perfumes and lifted floral notes in the glass.
Capitani cultivates Aglianico as part of their 12 hectares of hillside vineyard in the village of Torre le Nocelle. The variety’s natural propensity for tannin means that restraining its power and concentration in search of harmony and balance is the goal of most. The Cafalo family achieve this through hard work in the vineyard and for the ‘Bosco Faiano’ release, a selection of the vineyard’s best fruit.
Tenuta Cavalier Pepe is a historic and well respected winery located in Irpinia. Today the founder’s daughter Milena Pepe oversees the operation and in ‘La Loggia del Cavaliere’ produces an outstanding Taurasi Riserva. It is ‘Appio’, that makes the list though. Aglianico fruit is cultivated in the middle of the Calore valley, between Luogosano and Sant’Angelo all’Esca, before being hand picked and vinified and aged in ceramic amphora. Named after the Appian Way, which connected ancient Rome to present-day Brindisi, the wine offers the balance between sturdy structure and soft layers of fruit.
Amongst Italy’s IGP appellations, Benevento represents one of the biggest commercial success stories. Regardless of the variety, producers have got behind the territorial brand and stuck with it. Such success means that there is an element of ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’ about the wine business here with producers arguably disincentivised to adjust their proposition upwards. Additionally, strong demand for fairly inexpensive red and white wines has contributed to a strong co-operative scene and a tendency for small land holders to sell fruit rather than embark on small winemaking operations themselves.
Nevertheless, the general trend is for more localised pride and promotion and it is only a matter of time before we see increased chatter around the distinctiveness of smaller villages in the province. Producers in Sannio commenced a campaign of differentiation with the Falanghina grape, while the granting of DOCG status for Aglianico grown in Taburno provides an important geographical reference point. Both appellations are steadily building their reputation and appear to justify the additional costs and bureaucracy of producing DOC wines.
One of the leading producers of both Falanghina del Sannio and Aglianico del Taburno is Fontanavecchia. Libero Rillo and his family’s wines seem to be improving each year and recent releases of the barrel aged reds Grave Mora and Vigna Cataratte have achieved widespread acclaim. His Falanghina, capable of ageing for many years continues to stand out though. This site has published on the longevity of these wines before, but the inherent quality of fruit combined with the willingness to evolve the style away from heavy barrique ensures this remains a very interesting wine and one of the leading white wines in Sannio.
Sannio is the world’s epicentre of Falanghina cultivation. Here the well ventilated hills offer the perfect growing environment for the development of exotic fruit, fragrant floral aromas and lifted freshness. In just a few short years producers have reminded the market (and probably themselves) of the quality the variety can offer when yields are reduced. Cantine Tora is a name to follow and their ‘Kissos’ is a great introduction to the grape. The estate’s wines are produced from 13 hectares of vineyard, and while the ‘Cambioluna’ is an intriguing expression of aged Falanghina, with less than 1000 bottles produced a year, Kissos is the more accessible pick.
Feudi di San Gregorio continues to innovate and is constantly in search of premium wines that can find their place in multiple global markets. The estate, now legendary for its contribution to regional awareness, produces a number of excellent wines. ‘Serrocielo’ comes from a small parcel of Falanghina vines in some of the company’s top vineyards. Vinification is in stainless steel and with the wine staying about six months on its lees with repeated and frequent batonnage this Falanghina is delightfully poised between bright fragrant fruit and its fat, weighty palate.
The sparkling wine craze ripping through Italy has not really taken hold of Campania. Yet. There are some good everyday wines being made, both in the charmat and traditional method, but they are made primarily as simple aperetivo wines. If anyone was going to attempt to make a dent internationally however it would be Feudi di San Gregorio and their traditional method ‘Dubl’, produced entirely with Falanghina, has been such a success that the next stage of the project will seek to establish a traditional method Greco and an Aglianico vinified as rosato. Although not the finished article, this is a wine to keep an eye on over the coming years.
A mention must also go to Azienda Agricola Cautiero for their low intervention wines. Fulvio Cautiero took over an abandoned estate in 2002 and set about converting the management of the vineyards to biodynamic farming. The ‘Trois’ Greco comes from Frasso Telesino and is vinified in stainless steel using indigenous yeasts. After a period of lees contact it gives an appealing wine dominated by orchard fruit, broom, and the savoury notes of sweet brioche.
Like in Taurasi, Taburno is sometimes a victim of stylistic pursuits that no longer align with the nuances of consumer tastes. Big, robust reds with high alcohol levels and excessive extraction, often cynically covered by barrique, are all too prevalent. Nevertheless, there are some that benefit from a more restrained philosophy. Fattoria La Rivolta’s wines lean more towards an international style than anything else, but this continues to be a quality wine. It’s bold and loaded with inky black fruit, but well made and reassuringly consistent. Likewise, Ocone’s ‘Diomede’ receives only a kiss of barrique to complement its extended stay in large barrels and offers up a slightly more rustic and perfumed interpretation of Taburno Aglianico.
With incredible diversity in both red and white wines the region has not needed to venture heavily into the production of rose. In fact, premium rosati in Campania are few and far between. Estates already mentioned here such as San Salvatore, Cantine Olivella and Marissa Cuomo make some good wines at everyday prices and these are worth another look, but recommending something truly memorable is tough. Therefore, here’s a controversial descent to the opposite end of the price spectrum, a deeper, darker, arguably old fashioned rosato from Taburno. Pietrefitte’s Aglianico based rosato is fruit forward, simple, food friendly and excellent value.
Producers in Sannio have started to refer to the Barbera grown there by a new name - Camaiola. It is genetically different to the Barbera cultivated up in Piedmont although offers similar characteristics. Found mainly in the Telsina valley, there is a small but energetic project of revival underway. Monserrato 1973, grow a little from a small vineyard parcel in the village of Pietrelcina at about 290m. Vinification is in stainless steel, before an eight month stay in amphora, resulting in a vibrant, fresh and juicy red. Developments on this front are all very under the radar at the moment but the variety has huge potential, giving notes of plum, spice and violets. An interesting counterpart to the flavour profile of local Aglianico.
We’ve seen how well Piedirosso takes to the volcanic soils of Campi Flegrei, but further east in Sannio it also has the potential to make a name for itself. ‘Artus’, produced by Mustilli, in the officially sanctioned sub zone of Sant’Agata dei Goti, is a high quality release. The family settled here five centuries ago and has apparently been making wine ever since. This wine comes from a small two hectare plot and shows bright cherry fruit, intriguing herbal character and a long authentic finish.
To complete the list, here is one more Aglianico worth looking at. Castelle di Sagnella Maria Pina’s riserva release of Sannio Aglianico by the name of ‘Propyleo’ is a soft, but spicy wine with a lot of personality.