Campania Felix, a walk in history…and through the vineyards!

Campania is a fertile territory for many reasons, both for its wine production and for its unique gastronomic heritage. It is no coincidence that the ancients called it Campania Felix to indicate an extremely generous area suited to agriculture thanks to the volcanic soils that ranged from the Flegrean area to Mount Massico. Taking a food and wine journey in the region means delving into its history, traveling through its five main areas (the Casertano, the area between Naples, the islands and the Amalfi Coast, Irpinia, Benevento and Cilento), which unfold numerous enclaves of different microclimates, soils and vines

The beating heart of the region, Irpinia, is the most evident example of this complexity of landscapes where the mountainous-hilly environment, atypical compared to the rest of Campania, is the cradle of one of the most important grape varieties in the region, the Aglianico, from which Taurasi DOCG is born. This opulent and complex red maintains its link with ancient history, so much so that its name, Taurasi, derives from a small wine village created by the Romans in 80 BC. after the defeat of the Irpini, while its vine, Aglianico, was in the past called “Hellenic”, probably due to its Greek origins.

Those who love this red with great body and intensity must absolutely try the versions given by Professor Luigi Moio, award-winning winemaker and founder of Quintodecimo winery. Amongst the finest and most important connoisseurs of wine aromas, we suggest you sip his Vigna Quintodecimo Taurasi Riserva DOCG, a seductive wine with hints of small black berries, sweet spices and floral notes, complex, very long and elegant mouth, while reading one of his most famous books, “The breath of wine”.

Since reading makes you hungry (!), why not to nibble one of the typical cheeses of Irpinia? We recommend the Carmasciano Pecorino, in the more seasoned version with Taurasi DOCG, in its fresh version with Fiano di Avellino DOCG, another unmissable wine of the area. Also in this case we are helped by the skills of Professor Moio, who produces the Fiano di Avellino DOCG Exultet, a wine with an impressive bouquet and gustatory persistence, whose name recalls the incipit of the “roll of Quintodecimo”, a parchment kept in the Museum of Sacred Art of Mirabella Eclano (currently not open), which reads “Exultet iam angelica turba caelorum”or “rejoice in the celestial choir of angels “.

Among the vines so loved by Frederick II of Swabia, the Fiano di Avellino was probably imported by the Greeks, exactly as it happened for the Greco di Tufo (nomen omen), whose fortune dates back to the 1st century BC, as some Pompeii frescoes confirm. The ideal match with this white wine? Naturally with fish dishes and shellfish, but the Quintodecimo version, the Greco di Tufo DOCG Giallo d’Arles, allows us to enjoy it also with cheeses, even with a young caciocavallo from Irpinia.

Another wonderful winemaking  area to visit is the one between the provinces of Naples and Salerno, which also includes the islands of Ischia and Capri. Piedirosso, also known as Pere ‘e palummo (literally “pigeon’s foot”), a native grape that we often find in blends with Aglianico, is present in many denominations, including Vesuvio DOC, Campi Flegrei DOC, Tramonti Costa d’ Amalfi DOC and Capri DOC. A winery above all? Certainly Masseria Frattasi, one of those within Campania to put absolutely on the agenda for a visit. A particularly successful declination of Piedirosso, blended with Aglianico and other indigenous grapes, is their Capri Doc, just 600 bottles for a powerful and elegant wine, marked by aromas of cherry, plum and spices, with a meaty and velvety sip. When grown on volcanic soils, Piedirosso is enriched with mineral components that can also be found in the wine with a marked flavor. A characteristic which not only marks the wine production, but all volcanic agri-food products, such as the yellow tomato from Vesuvius, with a very savory and soft taste, almost totally free of acidity. A vegetable indicated with intense recipes based on bottarga, to be paired with Donnalaura Falanghina del Sannio DOP Taburno, another wine from Masseria Frattasi, a tribute from Pasquale Clemente, owner of the cellar, to his beloved grandmother. A late-harvested white wine, with tropical aromas of spices and dried fruit, structured sip, full-bodied and with long persistence, which can also be easily paired with medium-aged cheeses.

Among the vines saved from extinction in recent years, on the terraces of the Sorrento peninsula that defy the force of gravity, we also point out Gragnano, a sparkling red cited by Mario Soldati as “a Lambrusco, but with more body” and the protagonist of a hilarious curtain in the film “Miseria e Nobiltà” between the great Italian actor Totò and Enzo Turco (“… and you get two liters of sparkling Gragnano. Make sure it’s Gragnano. You taste it, if it’s sparkling, take it, if not …” And Totò : “I want to!”). Excellent with Italian cured meats, we advise you to try it with lard and battened pancetta produced with the black pig from Caserta.

We move precisely to this last province, which goes from the Campania plain to the slopes of Vesuvius, to talk about an less famous denomination deserving more attention, such as Asprinio d’Aversa DOC. If you happen to be in the area you must go and absolutely see the tree-lined vineyards, truly one of a kind. These are rows of Asprinio that grow up to 20 meters in height, often clinging to poles or poplars, which create an extraordinary plant barrier, so that very tall harvesting ladders are used to harvest. With Asprinio, interesting bubbles are produced, with a marked and pleasant acidity. The combination? With a nice Neapolitan pizza or with a buffalo mozzarella.

Finally, in the province of Benevento, the lion’s share is made by Aglianico del Taburno DOCG, a great red for aging like the brother Taurasi we have already mentioned and like the cousin Aglianico del Vulture DOCG which grows in Basilicata region. If the two versions of Campania have more affinity for organoleptic characteristics, Aglianico del Vulture, grown on the slopes of an extinct volcano, usually has a higher alcohol content and less freshness than its Campania cousins.

But this is another story to discover on the next trip around Italian food and wine! Keep following us.

– by Giordana Talamona, October 6th 2020

Giordana Talamona, a food & wine journalist and consultant, cooperates with major magazines like  La La Wine, Bubble’s, The Italian Wine Journal, Style.it of Corriere della Sera amo Life Style Made in Italy Magazine. To strengthen her knowledge she became sommelier, then giving guided tastings, courses to approach the wine for cooking schools and wine tasting for new product launches with the press.

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