We feel that if a geographic area has shown wine excellence throughout a long history, then even more sublime heights can be reached with the addition of a dose of passion and attention. Campania was the breadbasket of Ancient Rome. Fruits, nuts, grains, seafood, meats, olive oil – authors from Virgil to Pliny to Columella agreed that if those ingredients were of Campanian origin, they were the best. The wine poet Horace was lavish in his praise of Falernian white, which is produced today, as in the Roman era, from grapes grown on the hillsides of Campania.
In the modern era the vineyards of Campania became neglected. In the 1960’s farmers were abandoning traditional vines and replacing them with zippy, international varietals, trying to cash in on the more trendy, easily recognizable, cheap wine boom. Fortunately, a few families stood their ground and a revolution began.
 
The first shots were fired by brothers Antonio and Walter Mastroberardino in the hills of Avellino. Their white wines, made from classic Greco and Fiano vines, became a hit not only locally but also on the most chic wine lists throughout the rest of Italy. Red Taurasi, created from the Ancient Greek Aglianico grape, took the world by storm. Their 1968 Taurasi Riserva is one of the finest Italian reds that we have ever tasted, although the 1961 comes very close to it. These trailblazers fought to keep Lacrima Cristi wines tied to Campania, pointing out in court that the story of Lacrima was clearly linked only to Mt. Vesuvius – and nowhere else. When a Tuscan producer called one of his wine Terre di Tufo, the Mastroberardinos insisted that he change the name, since customers might confuse it with Campania’s own Greco di Tufo, a white wine with a 2000-year history. He changed the name to Terre di Tufi rather than fight. Campania was getting some overdue recognition.
 
After the devastating earthquake of 1980, progress slowed down, but by the 1990’s the landscape once again began moving in a positive flux. New players emerged, becoming instant successes. Noteworthy producers included Feudi di San Gregorio, Villa Matilde, Antonio Caggiano, Fattoria Galardi with their Terra di Lavoro, and Silvia Imperato and her Montevetrano, just to mention a handful. Walter Mastroberardino had left his brother to start his own estate, Terradora di Paolo. The baton of Antonio Mastroberardino’s historic winery was passed to his capable son, Piero. Campania was on the move again.
 
Campania’s Historic Vines
Some of Campania’s historic vines cannot be found outside of the region. They date back to 650 BC. Some were indigenous. Others were introduced to Southern Italy by colonizing Greeks, who also taught local inhabitants more advanced methods of grape growing and winemaking. The Greeks called Southern Italy Enotria Tellus, the Land of Wine. The Romans called the area Magna Graecia, Great Greece. Fertile Campania, with its maritime influences and windy, mountainous interior, became the hub of ancient viticulture.
 
Falanghina: This white wine, probably of Greek origin, was almost extinct until it was rescued by a few families, including that of Francesco Avallone of Villa Matilde. Falanghina thrives throughout the provinces of Avellino, Benevento, Caserta, Napoli and Salerno. It produces a supple dry white with nuances of fruity vanilla notes. The various soils of Campania impart a panoply of distinct flavors. The Greeks taught the Romans to train vines by staking them to a pole (phalanga), thus the name Falanghina.
 
Fiano: This spicy, aromatic white grape was named by Pliny as the bee vine (Apianum). Bees were attracted by its sweet fruit. Eventually Apianum gave way to Afiano, and finally Fiano. Today it grows throughout Puglia and Sicily. The loftiest expression is from Avellino: Fiano di Avellino, DOCG. It is usually full-bodied, fresh, with minerality notes and the fragrance of toasted hazelnuts. It ages well, retaining its vigor for 5 years or more.
 
Greco: Today Greco grows in Calabria, Lazio and Campania, where it is best known for DOCG Greco di Tufo. It is related to the Grecanico and Grechetto, which thrive throughout Sicily and the Italian peninsula. Food friendly, Greco has nuances of toasted almonds, figs, floral notes, peaches and pears.
 
Coda di Volpe: So named by Pliny since its clusters are shaped like the “tail of a fox,” this savory dry white grape is commonly used for blending, imparting crispness and acidity. It is now becoming more and more a standalone varietal.
 
Piedirosso: This is Pliny’s “Colombina,” or pigeon varietal, so named for its red feet; that is, red vine stems. Herbal, with aromatic notes of black pepper, mint, rosemary and sage, Piedirosso is best known as a red blending grape, used to soften the more potent Aglianico in DOC Vesuvio and other wines of Campania. 
 
Aglianico: Considered as highly as Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, Aglianico is a mutation of “Hellenico”; that is, the Greek grape, brought by Greek colonists to Magna Graecia perhaps as early as the 8th Century BC. It is Southern Italy’s most important vine. It flourishes throughout Molise and parts of Puglia, but the best versions are DOC Aglianico del Vulture in Basilicata and Campania’s Taurasi DOCG. Characteristics include complex flavors of cherries, berries, licorice, black pepper, violets and dark chocolate. Certain Aglianico wines can develop in the bottle for a decade or more. Taurasi is a village near Avellino.
 
Asprinio: This crisp, dry white vine grows only in the Aversa area, close to Caserta and Naples. It is trained to grow to heights of 40 to 50 feet in the Etruscan manner. Asprinio is at its best in the production of fizzy (frizzante) and sparkling (spumante) wines. Two producers worth searching out are Caputo and I Borboni.
 
New Kids on the Block
We recently held a symposium for some of the new wave – youthful, energetic, forward-looking Campania wineries. Click through to the next page for some of our notes.
Tenuta Scuotto
Eduardo Scuotto is producing the wines of the Irpinia hills in Lapio, close to Avellino: Falanghina and DOCG Taurasi, Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino. Eduardo’s son Adolfo is the Commercial Director.
 
Oinì 2011: Made from 100% Fiano, this is a late harvest wine vinified dry with prolonged contact with the lees. It is complex, with floral and fruity nuances, hints of roses, magnolias, honey, dried apricots, tropical fruits, fennel and toasted apricots. A winner. It retains its youthful glow, even after 4 years. A wine of meditation. 93 points
 
Cantine di Marzo
Although one of the original producers of Greco di Tufo DOCG, this classic winery and its cellars have received a new vitality. Recently, Ferrante di Somma di Circello bought out all of his relatives and has breathed into Cantine di Marzo a fresh spirit.
 
Greco di Tufo 2014: Brilliant, straw to yellow hue, aromas of peaches and orange blossoms, melons, tropical fruits. We also tasted a 1990 Greco, still remarkable for a white wine of 25 years. 91 points 
 
Macchie S. Maria
Oreste De Santis took us through his wines, grown in the well-ventilated hillsides of Montemiletto near Avellino.
 
Monte Santa Maria Taurasi 2010: This is a bold, dry red, showing its altitude with floral notes and dark fruit, amarena cherries, mild tannins, black pepper, cloves. Spicy and complex. It will develop in the bottle for a decade or more. 92 points
 
Tenute Bianchino
Concetta Bianchino runs the family estate in Falciano del Massico near Caserta. Her wines exhibit a fresh, fruity, lively character.
 
Aglianico 2014: Clean and bright, this youthful, dry red shows notes of strawberries, currants and pleasant minerality. It is one of our favorite young Aglianicos. Good value. 90 points
 
Cantine Rao
In Caiazzo, not far from Caserta, Cantine Rao works not only with the popular local varietals, but also with Pallagrello and Casavecchia.
 
Silva Rubra 2012: 60% Aglianico, 20% Nero Pallagrello and 20% Casavecchia. Harvested late with over two weeks of maceration on the skins, this ripe blend spends over a year in tonneaux and almost another year of refinement in the bottle. Notes of plums, cherries, spices, licorice and cacao. Good balance and structure. 93 points
 
Terre di Valter
Emanuela Landi and agronomist Roberto Landi, together with enologist Raffaele De Martino, are keeping alive the dream of Valter Landi, the late father of Emanuela and Roberto. Their estate is in the Irpinia Valley near Avellino.
 
Ventidue marzo (22nd of March) 2013: Dedicated to their father Valter, this dry, fresh red has a deep ruby color, with overtones of violets and wild berries. Fruitiness is balanced with a judicious use of oak. Enjoy this wine young or in the next 3 to 5 years. 90 points
 
Donnachiara
Umberto Petitto and his dynamic daughter Ilaria constructed the family’s modern cellars in 2005. The winery is named for Ilaria’s mother, Chiara Petitto. We found all of her wines to be true and excellent, and deserving of the acclaim that Donnachiara wines are currently receiving internationally. Angelo Antonio Valentino is the enologist.
 
Taurasi 2011: Both regular and Riserva Taurasi were exquisite. In the regular Taurasi, you can feel the harmony of fruit, acidity and oak. Ruby red with traces of violets in the edges of the hue, intense blackberries, plums, cherries in the fragrance. Overtones of cacao, mocha and espresso in the mouth and on the finish. Dry, warmly elegant. A lingering, persistent finish.94 points
 
Tenuta Cavalier Pepe
Angelo Pepe’s estate is capably run by his daughter Milena, a French-trained enologist. Her wines were a great and pleasant discovery for us. Her Bianco di Bellona was the finest Coda di Volpe that we had ever tasted. From Falanghina to Taurasi Riserva, the verdict was always the same: superb – and we can’t wait to try next year’s production.
 
Nestor, Greco di Tufo 2014: Nestor was the eldest of the Greek warriors during the Trojan War. He was the last to speak at the councils and he was respected by everyone. Nestor, the wine, is a brilliant straw to yellow, with the fragrance of white peaches and notes of flowers and citrus. Spicy and complex. A rich, smooth mouthfeel and a persistent finish. It is a winner that has earned our respect. 94 points
 
Azienda Agricola San Salvatore 1988
We have left the hills of Caserta and Avellino and have journeyed south to Paestum, close to the sea and known for its Greek ruins. Sea breezes touch the hills. The busy proprietor of San Salvatore, Giuseppe Pagano, also owns two beautiful hotels and about 450 bufala, water buffaloes that came from India centuries ago. They provide buffalo mozzarella cheese for us to enjoy with Mr. Pagano’s fine wines. The wines are all top flight, from the Aglianico-based, metodo classico sparkling rose, Joi, to the collectible Paestum IGT biodynamic Aglianico red, dedicated to European artist Gillo Dorfles. The sea, the ruins, the cheese – it all seems to go together. San Salvatore wines are made with the assistance of consulting enologist Riccardo Cotarella.
 
Falanghina 2014: 100% Falanghina aged completely in stainless steel at low temperatures. It is textbook, flawless Falanghina. You want a second glass. Pale straw in color, delicate with notes of vanilla. 92 points