Wine Regions of Italy – Campania

Campania signifies that we are coming to the south of Italy. Centered around the great city of Naples, Campania is Italy’s most densely populated area. Campania’s wine roots pre-date Rome, stretching back to the Greek colonial period, where the region was part of Magna Graecia. The name Campania derives from the Latin term Campania felix, meaning fertile countryside. Many of the soils are richly volcanic—from the same volcanic activity that buried the storied city of Pompeii in 79 AD. Agriculture and food are the major industries of Campania. Fruit, vegetables, and flowers are prominent, as well as the two often-found Mediterranean partners, the olive tree and the grape vine.

Now that we are in Italy’s south, the grapes change. The big central-Italian trio of Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Trebbiano starts to appear more sparsely, as do international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. From this point on, indigenous southern Italian grapes speak their wisdom in the wine. One of the most impressive is the tannic red Aglianico (originally a Greek grape), found in the denominations Taurasi and Aglianico del Taburno. There is the white Fiano, grown for two millennia, in Fiano di Avellino. The white Greco di Tufo means, literally, “A Greek of the volcanic soil called tufo.” Many other local grapes of both colors express themselves in Campania’s numerous districts. We shall cover the denominations of Campania starting in the north and working our way south.

Falerno del Massico DOC claims a link to Falernum, the most prestigious wine of ancient Rome. We do not have samples of the Roman beverage, but know that it was a sweet white wine produced from the grape we call Greco (Greek) today. The Falerno of today is produced in a white version, from the aromatic Falanghina grape, and a red version, vinfiied from Aglianico and PiediRosso with help sometimes from Barbera and Primitivo (the Italian version of the Zinfandel grape). Falerno del Massico Primitivo is a single varietal wine made from 85% Primitivo.

Galluccio DOC stands on volcanic soils, producing Rosso and rosato wines from Aglianico. The grape ripens late, and is sometimes harvested as late as November, by which time its insistent tannins have relaxed. It thrives, however, in this distinctly southern climate. The Bianco is made from a minimum of 70% Falanghina.

Aglianico del Taburno DOCG is a tannic red wine from the mountains of Taburno, in the northern section of the Campanian interior. The growing season is long enough for Aglianico, with elevation and mountain breezes slowing down ripening and preserving acidity.

Casavecchia di Pontelatone DOC is a fairly new DOC, created in 2001, producing wines from the red Casavecchia grape. The grape (whose name means “old house”) is extremely rare. Today’s few acres of vines are said to be the offspring of a single cutting, rescued from the ruins of a vineyard in the town of Pontelatone. This tannic wine, redolent of dried herbs, black fruit and leather, began its resurrected life as a blending component, but winemakers are starting to produce it as a varietal wine, aged a minimum of two years, one year in barrel.

Aversa Asprinio DOC produces white wines only from the Asprinio grape, also called Greco Bianco, on the northwestern side of Naples. The growing area used to be larger but the city has swallowed chunks of it. The still white wine must be 85% Asprinio, the sparkling wine, which predominates, 100% Asprinio.

Campi Flegrei DOC, on the breathtaking Campanian coast just north of Naples, is closely associated with the Falanghina grape. Here the soils are volcanic, well draining, and mineral rich, resulting in a fragrant white wine, full bodied, with delicate fruit and layers of texture. The lead red is the interesting PiediRosso grape, bringing wine with plenty of dark fruit, lasting tannins balanced with equally ambitious acidity.

Ischia DOC refers to the island of Ischia, most of whose vineyards sit on terraces at altitudes of 600 plus feet. Ischia has its own white variety, Biancolella, which accounts for nearly half of production. Unusually, these vines are harvested using a special trolley that ruins on a monorail, moving up and down the steep slopes from terrace to terrace. The Bianco blend is primarily Biancolella and Forastera, while the red blend is led by Guarnaccia and PiediRosso. Biancolella, Forastera, and PiediRosso are released as single varietals, as is a PiediRosso Passito. A sparkling wine is made from Biancolella and Forastera. The vineyards here are menaced by resort development.

Vesuvio DOC bears the name of the volcano that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum and that still threatens modern day Naples (they have—good luck with this—evacuation plans). Soil here is understandably volcanic. The denomination has an additional designation Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio DOC, meaning “the tears of Christ on Vesuvius,” applying to wines with higher levels of alcohol. White wines lead with a local grape called Coda di Volpe (fox’s tail) or the more widely planted Verdecca grape, with possible contributions from Falanghina or Greco di Tufo grapes. The same grapes are used for a fortified white liquoroso wine, which has dry and sweet versions. Reds are primarily PiediRosso helped by Aglianico. The term “Tears of Christ” refers to the tears Jesus shed (one possibility) over Lucifer’s fall from heaven, or (another possibility) because of the sheer beauty of the area. The tears fell to earth and animated the vines.

Fiano di Avellino DOCG, one of  Campania’s quality leaders, refers to the white Fiano grape that grows in the vicinity of Avellino. The ancient name for the region is “Apianum” (realm of the bees), which may appear on the label. The flagship wine here is a dry white varietal (85%) Fiano, with possible partnering from Greco, Coda di Volpe Bianca and/or Trebbiano. The mineral-rich wine is nutty and citrusy, with persistent acidity that allows it to age well for up to a decade.

Greco di Tufo DOCG is the modern equivalent of a wine that has been extant in Campania since well before the time of Christ. This is high altitude wine (1300 to 1600 feet), grown on sulfur-rich volcanic soil, which brings out a fine minerality. The grapes get a break from the hot summer sun every evening at this altitude, retaining their acidity over a long ripening season. Both still and Spumante wines must be a minimum 85% Greco di Tufo, with a maximum of 15% Coda di Volpe. The Spumante is metodo classic (second fermentation in bottle), and lees aged for 36 months.

Taurasi DOCG is a high altitude red from a minimum of 85% Aglianico (with PiediRosso, Sangiovese and/or Barbera). Soils here are mixed volcanic, calcareous, and limestone, all combining to give many layers to this richly tannic wine, with characteristic notes of red berries, plums, coffee and leather, all of which fan out into subtle layers with age.

Irpinia DOC includes within its borders the three prestigious DOCGs of Greco di Tufo, Taurasi and Fiano di Avellino. Irpinia in its own right produces white wines from Coda di Volpe, Falanghina, Fiano, and Greco, and reds from Aglianico, PiediRosso, and Sciascinoso.

Costa d’Amalfi DOC covers red, white and rose wines produced along the incomparable tourist haven of the Amalfi Coast. Vineyards in this steep terrain are widely terraced and need to be maintained with specialized equipment. White grapes include Biancolella, Chardonnay, Cococciola, Falanghina, Montonico Bianco, Passerina, and Pecorino, reds Aglianico, PiediRosso, and Sciascinoso. The villages of Furore, Ravello and Tramonti are the most widely esteemed (and have the right to add their village names to wine labels). The region has consistently resisted the call for adding international grapes, despite its international tourist clientele.

Penisola Sorrentina DOC (the Sorrento Peninsula) has a temperate maritime climate. The area has three distinct sub-zones. Gragnano and Lettere produce sparkling red wines largely from PiediRosso (with Aglianico and Sciascinoso). Sorrento is known for dry reds (from the same grapes as the others) and whites led by Falanghina (with Biancolella and Greco Bianco).

Capri DOC is the wine personality of that famous island. All its grapes are Campania natives. Capri Rosso must be 80% PiediRosso. Bianco is a mix of Falanghina and/or Greco. Tourist development is rapidly bulldozing much of Capri’s vine growing areas.

Castel San Lorenzo DOC in southern Campania breaks the local grape tradition, producing Rosso and rosato wines from Barbera (60-80%) and Sangiovese (the remainder), and whites from Trebbiano and Malvasia. The denomination also makes sparkling Spumante and dessert wines from the Moscato grape.

Southerner Cilento DOC produces whites from Fiano (with Greco, Malvasia, and Trebbiano) and reds from Aglianico and Sangiovese, with some Primitivo. A poor region without a tourist economy, Cilento puts more effort into olive groves than into vineyards.