[This article is inspired by the theme of local restaurant Trattoria Pasquale's BYOB Big Night dinners this march. We will be doing a free wine tasting on Wednesday 3/9 from 6:00 to 8:00 featuring some of the region's wines. Learn more about Big Night here]
When considering the cuisine of Italy, we need to remember that we're not just dealing with one country but rather twenty very individual regions (with plenty of further distinctions within those regions). No other country has such a diversity of cuisines and styles of wines. We must keep in mind that the food and wine of a particular region evolved together to compliment one and other. To elevate your dining of regional Italian specialties be sure to pair the food with the local wines.
The city of Naples is the capital of Campania. Other areas the region is known for include the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius and the island of Capri. Campania is densely populated both with people and an abundance of agriculture products. If there was an overarching culinary philosophy of the region it may be taking a few exceptional ingredients and presenting them in a simple way (as can be said for many Italian cuisines).
The main three white grape varieties that you'll see on bottles from this region are Greco di Tufo, Fiano di Avellino and Falanghina. Greco is an ancient grape that is thought to have been brought to the area by the greeks as the name suggests. More interesting is that Greco is thought to have been the progenitor of many Italian white varieties such as Grechetto, Trebbiano, Verdicchio and Garganega (source: Vino Italiano by Joseph Bastianich & David Lynch).
Greco pairs phenomenally with seafood and vegetable dishes. Recently I drank a glass of Greco with an assortment of Sushi and was amazed how both the wine and the food were elevated. One of the best food and wine pairings I've experienced was a zucchini risotto served with Greco di Tufo at the modern Campanian winery Feudi di San Gregorio.
It's hard to pinpoint the exact flavors of Greco. It typically gives off a clean sensation with fresh acidity and aromas of underbrush or Mediterranean scrub may be evoked. It often has a slight nuttiness like the next wine we'll be discussing.
Fiano di Avellino - Fiano is the grape out of these three with the greatest ability to age well. It can often have a pine and/or hazelnut quality. They may be slightly austere depended on the style of wine being made. Like Greco it is a great accompaniment to seafood and can also be good with poultry or pork.
Falanghina - the most quaffable of these three grapes makes for a refreshing wine to be sipped poolside or with fresh seafood from a small restaurant. It can sometimes be pretty floral and the acidity is usually vibrant. Falanghina is usually best drunk young as possible. In recent years somewhat of a revival has been taking place with certain producers of this grape increasing their focus on quality (as outlined recently in Italy's most important wine guide Gambero Rosso). So start to look for more serious examples in the near future including the 2014 vintage.
Italy's Hidden Giant of Red Grapes
Aglianico - the name is tough to pronounce as even most people in the wine business say it incorrectly (including myself at times) alley-an-ico is not the right way to say it. Here is the phonetic breakdown from Italian wine scholar Jeremy Parzen and link to YouTube video with correct pronunciation: ah-L'Yee'Ah-nee-koh. Don't worry if you can't say it, you can still drink it.
Taurasi DOCG is the most notable area for the production of Agliancio. This grape can be really unforgiving in its youth with wild tannins and rich, dark earthy flavors - almost like taking a mouthful of dirt! If you wish to drink a younger one early it can withstand and benefit from decanting for multiple hours (provided it's a high quality wine). The best Taurasi's can age for many decades or even an entire century. The critic Antonio Galloni recently tasted a 1928 from pioneering producer and says that is drinking incredibly and should continue to drink well through 2030! Aglianico rightly deserves a place among Italy's most prestigious wines.
The best way to learn about the cuisine of Campania (outside of visiting the region) is by attending one of the Big Night dinners this month. Be sure to see us for your Italian wine needs to bring to Trattoria Pasquale and beyond. We currently have a Greco di Tufo in stock from winery Benito Ferrara and we have their Fiano di Avellino arriving Friday 3/4 along with more wines from Campania.