Campi Flegrei, how fire and sea shape the wines
It is not a coincidence that the ancient Romans identified a desertic area North West of Naples, Italy as Hell’s door, in the vicinity of the still active volcano Vesuvio. The lunar region of Campi Flegrei is a breath-taking place also literally because of the sulphur in the air. This volcanic region dates back to 15 thousand years ago and it is made up of active volcanos, and thermal water springs, where the grey of the local volcanic rocks dominates everything. For centuries this has been the main backdrop of legends, like the meeting of Aenea with his dead father, It was also described as one of the most prodigious places in the world by Goethe. And he was not wrong,with its enchanting and scary landscape, Campi Flegrei overlooks the bay of Naples, the island of Procida, the Cultural Capital and the island of Ischia, famous for its warm water springs.
Fire, water, land and air: these are the main elements of Campi Flegrei – translated as burning fields;a region that is living a renaissance lately, thanks to the strong network of the local consortium, with producers and tourists taking key roles. Just in July and August 2022, Campi Flegrei registered 120,000 visitors and an increase of 15% of visitors to the area, producing an income in two months of over 1 million euro. And Campi Flegrei, with its wild beauty, was the backdrop of the 2022 Campania Stories, special edition, the yearly wine event for press and professionals; an unmissable occasion to taste special vintages, new wines and meet the producers. Diana Cataldo and Massimo Iannaccone, ideators and directors of Campania Stories, did their very best with this event, not only by arranging a comprehensive wine tasting but also, with visits and tours to the producers.
The hosting region, Campi Flegrei, is well known for the white grape Falanghina. Campi Flegrei has enjoyed the DOC appellation with the Falanghina grape since 1994, but also, with the red grape Piedirosso or Per’e Palummo. While the Falanghina is known for being grown almost only in the Sannio region, needless to say the one from Campi Flegrei is a different clone, a thinned bunch, lighter and with a distinguish saltiness. The wineries are all concentrated in about 7 towns, including Naples, that is why, sometimes for this appellation we might talk of “metropolitan vineyards”, that are small estates nestled among tall buildings, but still enjoying the sea breeze from the Bay of Naples. Most of them also have few Pre phylloxera plants, as the volcanic, powdery soil has preserved the European roots through the years. A common thought is that Falanghina is an easy wine to drink, to be consumed within a year of harvest, but there was a happy discovery during the blind wine tasting, majestically conducted, at Campania Stories. Tasting a 10-year-old Falanghina was an experience, so while the colour was deeply darker, the typical saltiness of Campi Flegrei area showed an incomparable crispness of this white.
La Sibilla is one of the milestone wineries of the area, based in Bacoli, North of Naples, where the Di Meo’s have run the wine business for over 5 generations on an estate of 10 ha, part of the vineyards even grows in an archaeological place called Villa di Cesare. Few plants in their vineyards date back to even more than a century, still on the European roots, protected by the friable grey volcanic soil. But the gem of La Sibilla is, no doubt, the aging cellar, an ancient tank of tuff where the Romans collected rainwater. A naturally cool, dark place, where old single vineyard wines from Falanghina and Piedirosso keep aging. The classic Falanghina Campi Flegrei 2021 we tasted was shiny and straw yellow, with a herbal bouquet recalling all the herbs growing wild in the vineyards, from sage to mint, with a touch of lemon zest. On the palate, the wine showed agility, freshness and a long lasting saltiness, that definitely makes Falanghina a food wine. A lovely pairing to buffalo milk mozzarella.
Another interesting producer is Agnanum, a smaller producer from the Moccia’s family, whose vineyards are next to the Astroni crater, that was a hunting reserve of the Borbons. A vineyard that tries to survive the advance of concrete, hidden by buildings and challenged by hungry foxes that in harvest time are tempted by the sweet juiciness of Falanghina grapes. The Moccia’s run an estate by Agnano, next to the motorway and this is one of the astonishing places of Naples: in the downtown of such a big city a vineyard of Piedirosso is something unexpected! So, while Raffaele Moccia is well known for being one of the authors of the Piedirosso revival, the tasting of Falanghina Campi Flegrei 2012 was not disappointing at all. A 10-year-old Falanghina is a big challenge, with its deep golden brilliant colour and its intense bouquet of ripe yellow fruit but still keeping a mineral touch recalling wet sand and seashells. On the mouth, the roundness and greasy taste is well balanced by the refreshing saltiness that still keeps the wine incredibly alive. A good way to enjoy the breath-taking view of the islands in the bay.
The press tour of Campania continued with a visit to Sannio, on the northern edge of the region. A historical place, where Roman ruins are side by side to modern buildings, where a stunning aqueduct, a masterpiece of architecture, stands in the middle of the plain around Benevento. Through the years, Benevento has arisen in popularity because of the magic: legends say that it was the homeland of witches who used to reunite around the walnut trees, grown in Sannio. It’s not a coincidence, that one of the world-wide most famous liqueurs, from this place, is named Strega – it means “witch” in Italian and whose recipe is still strictly kept secret. Later, the big plain between Matese and Taburno mountain was mostly converted to vine and olive growing. These crops have represented the main income of the area for years, especially in the 20th century, when Sannio was sadly considered the tank of bulk wine from the white grape falanghina, but also, from other grapes as barbera, aglianico, piedirosso, etc The average style of falanghina, the most known wine of the area, was aromatic, light bodied wine, To be easily drunk in a year. Nowadays, the big surprise is the number of different styles of falanghina and the evolution of the wine, from an easy drinking one to a more complex wine. You would never have said it before, but this is a wine suitable for long aging.
Well, this all came out from a comprehensive tasting of local wines. One of the main producers of the area is Terre Stregate, a historic winery, run by the Iacobucci, family, who for years, have sold their grapes to other producers, but in the Nineties started to invest on their own. The new generation of the family, Filomena and Carlo, have rejuvenated the brand image, the wine line and labels, keeping the high standard of quality in the winemaking process. Their wine, Svelato, is one of the best known falanghinas in Italy, rewarded by several accolades. Svelato Falanghina del Sannio 2021 is a bright straw yellow wine, with a delicate fruity bouquet, that recalls ripe yellow fruits with a touch of exotic ones, well blended with a herbal finish. The sip is nicely refreshing, mouth-watering, warm but with a long finish. A full-bodied wine, unexpected from a grape that people considered for years a jug wine. The estate of more than 20 ha not only includes Falanghina and Aglianico, but also Barbera, Piedirosso and some olive trees for olive oil. The most interesting red was the Aglianico del Sannio DOC Manent 2019, a deep red, as expected from any aglianico, which stands out for fruitiness and cleanness. The wine has been aged for almost a year in both steel and oak, which gives it a smoothness and spiciness well balanced by the body of the wine. The result is an immediate red, good to drink or to keep for some years.
It was interesting to attend a vertical wine tasting of Falanghina from Campi Flegrei, to realise and appreciate its evolution.
Some notes follow.
Cantina Farro – Terra Casata – Falanghina Campi Flegrei DOP 2021
Bright, greenish yellow, herbal on the nose with a nice touch of citrus. On the mouth, it is clean,
savoury and nicely bodied.
Cantine Federiciane – Falanghina Campi Flegrei DOP 2021
A shiny straw yellow colour with some touch of green. A little shy on the nose but with notes of
seashell and honeysuckle. Pleasant on the mouth with juicy white fruit flavours and a salty finish.
Settevulcani – Falanghina Campi Flegrei DOP 2021
Brilliant, straw yellow, delicately scented of cedar and rosemary. Well blended notes that make this
wine vibrant and balanced on the mouth.
Cantine dell’Averno – Falanghina Campi Flegrei DOP 2021
Deep straw yellow, with nice golden touches. The bouquet is enchanting for its notes of yellow
flowers and ripe peach, while the minerality make this wine mouth-watering and enjoyable.
Mario Portolano – Falanghina Campi Flegrei DOP 2020
An elegant sample, in the glass, for its shiny colour and on the nose for the delicate floral touches.
Definitely more opulent on the mouth, as it shows its dryness and cleanness. Salty end.
Cantine Carputo – Collina Viticella Falanghina Campi Flegrei DOP 2019
Intensely golden, floral on the nose, recalling orange blossoms. Dry and decidedly salty on the
mouth, supported by a nice structure, which makes this a food wine.
Contrada Salandra – Falanghina Campi Flegrei DOP 2018
Challenging the time is not easy for Falanghina, but the live golden colour of this sample and the
intense bouquet of exotic fruit and um quat make this wine a surprise. Clean, vibrant, balanced, a
long citrusy back taste.
Cantina del Mare – Falanghina Campi Flegrei DOP 2015
Shiny golden yellow, aged 7 years in bottle. An intriguing bouquet of yellow flowers. On the mouth
it is full and balsamic, with herbal touch at the very end.