When you think of wine regions in Italy I can tell you one that likely doesn’t come to mind right away… Campania. However that is the region where I was lucky enough to spend the past two weeks. Campania is essentially South/West Italy, south of Rome, but North of Sicily. The shin of the boot, as some like to call it. It’s likely the least known of all Italian wine regions as most famous wines we know and love come from the central regions and north from there. In Campania they don’t make Barolo, Brunello, Amarone, Chianti, or… you get the point. But don’t hold the popularity against them some nice wines are coming out of the region and it is an absolutely remarkable place to visit.
I spent my days on the Amalfi Coast which is one of the most breathtaking places I have ever been too. In all honesty my trip wasn’t based on wine. I spent two weeks with my family, relaxing, eating, drinking, and having a great time. We had an apartment right on the mediterranean sea with scenery and landscapes that could take your breath away. This was all probably a good thing because there isn’t much of a tourist industry for wineries down there. You can’t really visit many so tours and tastings are near impossible to come by. The one winery I set out to visit (Monteventrano) took 1:15 to get to and was closed when we finally arrived. However as a wine writer I did find it an interesting experience and set out to try and explore as many wines as I could. We know a lot about the famous Italian regions further north, but wines from the south are nearly impossible to come by in this marketplace. So to visit the region and explore the wines, was a great experience for me.
While interesting is one way to describe it, my overall thoughts are not completely positive. For the most part the wines are very one dimensional, fruit forward and not overly complex. They are simple wines created mostly to be easy drinking and very food friendly. In that respect they succeed as they pair very well with the seafood, pasta and pizza’s that the region is known for. The simple, easy drinking, nature of these wines however comes at a cost – a very low cost. Our “go to” wine for the family was a 1L regional table wine, which retailed for a whopping €1.5 (approx $1.95 CAN). While far from complex it was a decent table wine and the equivalent of something that would cost you more like $9 or $10 here. That really was a theme throughout. The house wine in restaurants was pretty good for the most part and cost between €8 and €12 per litre. Peroni beer was €1.15 in the store for a 660ml bottle a price which jumped to €3.50 should you buy it at the bar and carry it down to the beach with you. So without a doubt you could certainly enjoy yourself on a budget.
However I’d done my homework and I knew that the region had more to offer me. The wines were sitting very well with my family but I needed to see what else could be discovered. In week 2 I decided to expand my horizons. I tried the wines the region is known for going out and buying myself a Taurasi, a Greco di Tufo, a Falanghina, and a reserve Costa D’Amafi. While I found the Greco a bit underwhelming I had finally discovered a few wines I can recommend if you manage to see them at the LCBO or can get your hands on them.
Taurasi – This is one of the only DOCG wines from the region and probably the most popular and respected wine emerging from Southern Italy. Some call it the “Barolo of the South.” It is made with 100% aglianico grapes and is a big, full bodied red wine, which as I mentioned above seemed a bit tough to come by. These were typically the most expensive on restaurant menu’s, but I tried one bottle at €15 which was actually a poor expression of this wine and still great. I ended up purchasing a 2004 for my cellar which I didn’t try but expect big things from when I open it 5-10 years from now.
Falanghina – These are easy drinking white wines but with a bit more complexity. Some of the best seafood pairing wines I have tried. Loaded with green apple and lemon they also had very nice and refreshing acidity helping balance the amazingly fresh seafood you could get anywhere.
Costa D’Amafi Reserve – Costa D’Amalfi is a broad DOC region covering a lot of ground. However I got my hands on a €20, 2008 reserve, which was a blend of aglianico and piedrosso and I ended up bringing a bottle back for the cellar. A big red wine with structure and balance. Blackberry, olives, smoke, and earth show right through. After being decanted for an hour it was a great pairing with pizza but could also hold up to many red meats or game we might make here at home.
Overall my wallet was very satisfied with the wine experience. So was my curiosity and my need to understand what one of the least known wine regions, in one of the best known wine countries, could offer. At the end of it all I came away with a great understanding and appreciation. As I write this I am on my flight home. A flight which was delayed 3.5 hours due first to a computer malfunction on board, and then by two late passengers who caused not only a further 20 minute delay but also single handedly caused us to lose our takeoff spot thus creating further delays. True story. Once we landed a new spot to fly out we then found ourselves right in the middle of an air traffic control strike somewhere over France and since we were scheduled to fly right through France on route home a further 1 hour delay was caused. But… I am sipping on a tiny little airline bottle of The Whistling Thorn, a Cabernet/Merlot from South Africa. It’s not amazing but it’s decent, and it’s good enough to ease the pain of leaving Italy and bridge the gap back to Ontario.
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