Rediscover these southern Italian wines dripping with history

John Wilson: The regions of Campania, Calabria and Puglia are unfairly overlooked

The Romans originally established many of the great wine regions. Photograph: iStock

The Romans originally established many of the great wine regions. Photograph: iStock

 

One of the things that first drew me to wine was an interest in food and history. Then and now, I am often inspired to try out a wine simply because of what I read about the culture and traditions of a region.

With time on my hands at home, I have returned to my books. In my older publications, the southern part of Italy is usually passed over completely, or given a brief, often unfavourable, mention. Sadly, the 20th century was not kind to these regions, some of the oldest European wine cultures, with a history of growing grapes and producing wine going back to the arrival of the Greeks in the seventh century BC.

The ancient Romans can take credit for spreading viticulture around western Europe. Almost all of the great vineyards, with the exception of the Médoc, which remained a swamp until the 17th century, were first planted by the Romans.  

Campania is probably the most interesting of all. Not only does it have three fascinating white grapes, Fiano, Greco and Falanghina, it is also home to Aglianico, one of Italy’s most noble red grapes. Historically, this was the greatest vineyard in the world. Wines were fermented in dolia – waterproof earthenware amphorae – and shipped around the Roman empire.

It was in Campania that the legendary Roman wine Falernia was produced. It was here the Greeks first colonised. In the Middle Ages, the capital Naples was one of the largest and most important cities in Europe. Naples is surrounded by volcanoes – extinct and active – and volcanic soil is a great medium for many forms of agriculture including viticulture. Most of the finest vineyards of Campania can be found on volcanic slopes usually with marl and limestone subsoils.

I can guarantee few of your wine buff friends will have heard of either Gaglioppo or Toccomagliocco

An ancient variety, Fiano was almost forgotten in the 1970s. Now it produces inspiring wines, the best of which come from the volcanic soils of Avellino. As well as the excellent wine I recommend here, I also enjoyed the Terredora (€17.95 from Monday, O’Briens). The little-known Greco grape has also enjoyed a recent revival; Greco di Tufo, named after the tiny town of Tufo in Campania, produces the finest. 

Further south of Campania is Calabria. If Campania suffered from a lack of recognition, Calabria fared worse. Historically important, and with great potential, there are only few of its wines shipped to Ireland. I can guarantee few of your wine buff friends will have heard of either Gaglioppo or Toccomagliocco, let alone be able to pronounce them. 

For our last red, we cross the Apennines to Puglia on the eastern side of Italy. While it is probably best known for Primitivo, otherwise known as Zinfandel, the cooler Salento region deep in the heel of Italy produces some excellent wines with the local Negroamaro.

Terredora Greco di Tufo 2018
13%, €19.95
A fresh, floral nose, crisp green fruits and almonds finishing long and dry. Drink this alongside fried plaice or grilled sea bass
From: O’Briens, obrienswine.ie.

Fiano di Avellino 2018, Ciro Picariello
12.5%, €27.50
Captivating herbal, floral aromas lead on to wonderful complex flavours of green apple, minerals, racy citrus acidity, a touch of smoke, and a very long, crisp, dry finish. Brilliant wine. Try it with grilled hake or pasta with a herby fresh tomato sauce. 
From: SIYPS.com; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Dublin 2; Kells, Co Meath; Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com.

Negroamaro Parnanio 2018, IGP Salento (Organic)
14.5%, €19.50
Wonderful robust, soft wine with a swathe of rich, ripe dark fruits, layered with a little spice and a subtle earthy quality. There is just enough acidity to retain freshness. Try it with substantial red meats, either roast or stewed. 
From: SIYPS.com; Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1; Sandycove; and Avoca, Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Dublin 2; Kells, Co Meath; Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com.

L’Acino Toccomagliocco 2013 IGP Calabria Rosso
13%, €28.50
Definitely falls into the challenging category; smooth and rounded with distinctly medicinal cherry fruits and an underlying earthiness. A good match for a herby, spicy Mediterranean stew.
From: SIYPS.com; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Dublin 2; Kells, Co Meath; Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com.

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