Tasting in situ is a dangerous business. Wines can taste so much better when you are in the winery, the sun is shining or if the proprietor is particularly persuasive. So, it is good to have the chance to re-taste wines in a more neutral setting, with a bit of distance and with the comparison of other styles of wines to hand. After an autumn visit to Campania, Andover Wine Friends’ recent tasting was an opportunity to try the main styles again.
Campanian wines used to be known for the big, slow-evolving reds. The key wine is a version of Aglianico, the most important red grape, with long ageing potential. Called Taurasi it is grown around the small town of the same name. But there is much more to Campania nowadays, especially the whites made from local grape varieties. This tasting featured wines from three companies, two large players based in heart of the Campanian wine scene, Mastroberardino and Feudi di San Gregorio, and one medium size family firm, de Conciliis, much further south, quite close to the famous temples at Paestum. These wines are available in the UK, from Raeburn Fine Wines and Winedirect, both with good delivery services.
The evening started with de Conciliis’ very unusual sparker, Selim, made from the unlikely mix of Fiano (of which much more), Aglianico, picked very young, and Barbera, a bit of a stranger in these parts. The sparkling bit is actually done up in Prosecco in northern Italy, to de Conciliis’ orders. These include an unusual 100 days on the lees, using the tank method, to gain extra complexity. It found favour, even on a cool, damp evening in northern Europe: bright, decent fruit (you can taste the fruit of the red grapes plus the high acidity of young Aglianico and Barbera), nice yeasty notes and the good acidity that sparkling wine needs.
At times it’s tempting to jump to the conclusion: although Campania is famous for its grand red wine, Taurasi, the stars of this evening – at least for me – were the three native white varieties. Falanghina, Greco and Fiano were never cut out to be a rock band or a firm of solicitors, but they are a great a trio of whites. None is really obviously fruit-led like Sauvignon Blanc or perfumed like Viognier, but they do have decent aroma, excellent texture, weight in the mouth and refreshing acidity. In short, they are full of character and superb food wines.
Of the three whites, first up was the staple of Campania, Falanghina. This can be merely competent, if never really dull like Tuscany’s Trebbiano. However, Feudi di San Gregorio’s Sannio Falanghina 2008 was much more than competent: pleasantly vegetal (perhaps even the bitterness of olives), almondy, followed by a shot of lime, and excellent texture. Mastroberardino’s Nova Serra Greco di Tufo 2008 has good citrusy notes, perhaps grapefruit, almost fleshy in substance and very persistent with great acidity. Then there was the same company’s Radici Fiano di Avellino 2008, rather more neutral on the nose, but herbaceous again and herby, very slightly honeyed, good texture. Although it is Fiano which is the prized grape, it was the other two in these young and medium priced wines (£11-£14 in the UK) which really stood out.
Of course Fiano can come in all sorts of styles, fresh and contemporary but occasionally oxidative and aged. To demonstrate this style we had a bottle from 2003 of de Conciliis’ Antece. This ‘white made as red’ was an extraordinary colour, verging on amber despite it being only 7 years old. It leads with a good madeira style nose, marmalade and burnt sugar, but its weight in the mouth makes it a table wine, interesting if quite simple. Once people got over the shock of the style some warmed to its peculiar charms.
The evening of course had to end with those famous reds. Aglianico in Italy itself – especially from the barrel – can be a bit of an acidic/tannic challenge (see the post on Molletieri). What the wines need is time in the bottle. Two of our examples had just that. First, the ‘simple’ Aglianico of de Conciliis (‘Donnaluna’), not the young, bracingly vibrant examples we tasted in Italy but a bottle of 2004. This was rounded, dark cherries in there, with signs of good oak ageing … the acidity and tannins civilised by time.
Secondly, the classier wines of Taurasi, picked as late as possible in early November for maximum richness, with 12-18 months in oak making up a part of a minimum of three years ageing. The Radici Taurasi 2005 from Mastroberardino is a highly approachable and balanced wine after ‘only’ five years. This leads with evidence of oak ageing with mildly balsamic notes and also has a good depth of fruit.
Finally we had a rather older Taurasi from the single vineyard Piano di Montevergine 2001 from Feudi di San Gregorio. This really took time to show itself. It had been double decanted two hours earlier but it was still rather mute in the glass to start with, but piano, piano it began to emerge from its rest in the bottle. The colour seemed pretty unchanged, perhaps the slightest hint of browning but still a good dense red. On the nose there was an initial leatheriness, perhaps the odd whiff of bacon but also good dense fruit and now silky tannins.