Italy is an ancient land. So is the wine.
Campania is without a doubt one of Italy’s food and wine capitals. Mozzarella di bufala, pizza margherita, tomato sauce, and pastry soaked in rum. However, much older than any of the foods that define this region, is the wine. In the foothills of the Apennine Mountains, the ancient land of Irpinia is also the land of Campania’s three most famous wines: Fiano di Avellino, Greco di Tufo, and Aglianico.
All of these wines share a similar story. They were around in the time of the Romans, inherited by the Greeks, and played an integral role in society just as they do today.
Fiano di Avellino
A classic wine from a classical vine of Southern Italy. The Fiano grape is quite widespread on Italy’s southwest coast (and abroad!); however, its home and native land are in the province of Avellino in Campania. On the sloping hills that lead to the Apennines, the ancient Hirpini tribe, one of the major Samnite tribes, planted Fiano vineyards. After many decades of fighting against the Romans, the tribe was eventually assimilated into Roman society. So was their wine.
The Romans began calling Fiano vitis apiana because they noted that bees were extraordinarily attracted the grapes. Two millennia later and bees still like to suck up the nectar of this vine. It was the primary grape in the Ancient Roman wine Apanium, and today’s DOCG labelling guidelines still permit the usage of this name on bottles. Over time, the Latin name became corrupted into the Italian Fiano, with the highest regarded being Fiano di Avellino.
Fiano grapes are thick-skinned and produce little yields and juice, which is what led to their decline in the post-War period. However, a Renaissance of sorts has been at play since the turn of the century. Wineries such as Feudi di San Gregorio are planting Fiano vineyards and working with elders in their community to preserve the knowledge of cultivating this grape.
Fiano di Avellino DOCG is an age-worthy white wine, a quality that was highly appreciated by the Roman and continues to distinguish it today. With time, the scents of honey and spice become more pronounced, rounding out the young floral notes.
Greco di Tufo
The Greco grape is another supposed Greek import to Southern Italy some 2500 years ago. While no one is quite sure of its origin, some believing it is a clone of Trebbiano and others believing it is a catch-all for several varieties, it is a vitally important vine in Campania.
Greco can be grown as either a white or red grape, although the white variety is the most well-known as it is the star in Greco di Tufo DOCG. The growing area for Greco di Tufo is just about Fiano di Avellino, where the hills are steeper and made of tuff, a rock formed from volcanic ash, and lends its name to the wine.
It is believed that Greco was a component in the Roman cult wines Falernian and Aminean. These wines held the same power of palate that Barolo, Bordeaux, and Chianti do today.
Similarly to Fiano, Greco was in decline after the Second World War due to mass-migration to urban areas and replanting of vineyards with more profitable varieties. In the last two decades Greco, especially Greco di Tufo DOCG has been surging in popularity and prestige thanks to its mineral freshness, high aromatic profile, deep colour, and ageing-potential.
Aglianico is the King of the South. This powerful red grape is the only ingredient in Taurasi DOCG, a wine that is commonly referred to as “Barolo del Sud (Barolo from the South)”. That is because, just like Nebbiolo, Aglianico is a tannic bomb that produces a full-bodied and well-structured red wine that remains fresh due to acidity and opens up after years of ageing. There is even a similar note of tar that is infamous to Barolo.
It was probably for these qualities that Aglianico was highly prized by the Romans. The vine was originally planted by Greek settlers but became a sensation under Roman rule as it was the main grape in the cult or first-growth wine, Falernian. Roman viticulture gave priority to wines and varieties that could age for a long period and had a high alcohol level. Aglianico was so precious in this regard that Falernian wine had the earliest version of appellations: The Romans distinguished three vineyards for their distinct growing value.
The name Aglianico has two various etymologies depending on who you ask. Some ampelographers, a field of botany that is specifically concerned with identify vine varieties, believe that the name is a corruption of the Latin vitis hellenica, which means “Greek wine.” While another school of thought claims that it is an Italianization of the Latin Apulianicum, which was the term given to the entire area of Southern Italy by the Romans. In either case, Aglianico is today synonymous with notable and refined red wines of the world.
Taste the ancient wines of Irpinia
Although their histories may be long, these three wines have evolved into the modern world. At Feudi di San Gregorio, restoring these native varieties to their proper terroir and preserving the viticultural knowledge of cultivating them is the driving force behind their production. However, they know that tastes don’t live in the past and as owner Antonio Capaldo shared with us, the goal is to make a wine you’d want to drink a second glass of.