If you’re just beginning to explore Italian wines, chances are you’ve sampled wines like Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, or Moscato, and have at least heard of wines like Barolo, Chianti, or one of the Super Tuscans. While these wines are excellent in their own right, they only fill out some of the map for Italian winemaking regions.
Another area that’s lesser known but has a surprisingly lengthy history is the Campania region. What is Campania wine? Read on for a deeper look at this ancient region and how it is reclaiming its viticulture roots.
Introduction to the Campania Wine Region
Campania, located along the western stretch of southwest Italy, is a region of diverse landscapes. Along the coast, where land meets the Gulf of Naples and the Tyrrhenian Sea, you’ll find dramatic cliffs and terraced homes. Love all those sun-soaked images of the Amalfi Coast and the island of Capri? You’re looking at just one part of Campania.
Further inland, you’ll see a mixture of foothills, steep mountains, large plains, deep valleys, and gentle hills. This varied landscape reveals the vineyards that make up the Campania wine region.
A Brief History
As a region, Campania is no stranger to new faces and cultures. First, there were small Greek cities in the region around the 8th century BC. Italian groups like the Etruscans and Samnites, along with the Phoenicians in Carthage, fought the Greeks for this region.
The Greek city of Naples appeared in the 5th century BC, with settlers there spending time planting and tending grape vines brought from home. In fact, it’s believed that Greek settlers and indigenous groups in and around Campania have been tending grape vines since the 12th century BC.
By the 4th century BC, the Romans were claiming some control. Later groups like the Goths, Byzantines, Normans, and other Europeans influenced the region and its wines, finally leading to a decline in winemaking. However, interest began rising with Benedictine monks during the Medieval age. Modern interest is even stronger.
Campania and Its Ancient Wines
Winemaking is an ancient art in Campania, and it was during Roman times that much was written about winemaking in the region. These writings offer up references to some of Campania’s most ancient wines. Romans like Pliny the Elder, Marcus Aurelius, Horace, and Catullus all mentioned Falerno (or Falernum), the most coveted wine of the day. But what was Falerno, and where did come from?
Falerno, a cru wine that demanded a higher price, was beloved by all who could afford it. There were two types of Falerno—white and red—that came from ancient varieties, likely Falanghina and Aglianico. These wines were high in alcohol, sometimes as much as 15 percent, and they were heavily aged. Most wines were left to age in amphorae jars for anywhere from 15 to 20 years. The resultant wine? A dark amber or brown liquid the Romans adored.
The Ager Falernus wine region was located north of Naples in an area now called Caseta. Interestingly, Caseta is near Santa Maria Capua Vetere, the first city of the ancient Greek settlers—then called Capua—dating back to the 7th century. That’s some history!
Fun fact: Falerno saw a comeback in the 1950s after scholars from the enology department of the University of Naples investigated ancient texts.
Today, you’ll find this wine in the Falerno del Massico DOC under two main types. Falerno Bianco is at least 85 percent Falanghina. Falerno Rosso is at least 60 percent Aglianico, with the remainder from Piedirosso. Sometimes it is a blend with other varieties.
Climate for Wine in Campania
What is the climate like in Campania? This often-hilly region benefits from sun-drenched days, with hot summers and milder winters. Plus, there’s enough of a sea breeze to create the cool zones that these grapes love. It also helps to retain their bright acidity. Some of the soil is highly volcanic, especially around Mount Vesuvius. Other soils are more clay and limestone-rich, with tufa limestone creating a rich base for the Greco grape variety.
Fun fact: The volcanic soil of Campania can act as a deterrent to phylloxera insects. Many of the vines in this region made it through the phylloxera epidemic and are considered original rootstock.
A Look at Campania’s Modern Grape Varieties
This is one of the most cherished reds. A late-ripening variety, it grows well in volcanic soils. Aglianico produces a full-bodied, tannic wine with a highly complex nature. Its flavor profile often features raspberry, cherry, and coffee notes, along with a musky smokiness.
Wines made from Aglianico grapes:
- Aglianico del Vulture
- Aglianico del Taburno
- Falerno del Massico Rosso
This black-skinned grape has unique russet-colored stems and softer tannins than Aglianico. Its flavor profile is rich in plums, bramble-type berries, and mushrooms.
Wines made from Piedirosso grapes:
- Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso
- Falerno del Massico Rosso
This ancient grape has yellow skins and a waxy coating, producing a wine with crisp acidity, minerality, and a lighter body. In these wines, you’ll detect plenty of citrus, orange blossom, and apple notes, often with candied fruits or tropical notes.
Wines made from Falanghina grapes:
- Falerno del Massico Bianco
- Campi Flegeri
A yellow-skinned grape, Greco offers up a rich variety of fruits like apple and nectarine, along with florals like chamomile and almond blossom. It is high in minerality with a bold personality, alcohol content, and structure, making it more like a red wine.
Wine made from Greco grapes:
A grape variety that ages well, Fiano produces a medium-bodied, more acidic white wine with an aromatic flavor profile and noticeable honey notes. You’ll also detect plenty of nuttiness, tropical fruits, and florals. Sweeter styles often have dried fruit notes as well.
Wine made from Fiano grapes:
Coda di Volpe
This grape, named for how the clusters resemble a long fox’s tail, is small and golden skinned. Coda di Volpe grapes produce an aromatic wine with medium body and moderate acidity. Tasting the wine reveals a flavor profile that’s intriguingly spicy, salty, and fruity—especially citrus, peach, quince, and pineapple.
Wines made from Coda di Volpe grapes:
- Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Bianco
Are you ready to discover Campania wine for yourself? Explore the online catalog at JJ Buckley Fine Wines and take advantage of expert advice from our consultancy services. We can’t wait to introduce you to your new favorite wine.