Italy is replete with well-known wines and wine regions: Barolo and Barbaresco from Piemonte; Amarone from Verona; Pinot Grigio and Prosecco from several regions in the northeast; Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti and the “super Tuscans” from Tuscany.
Another significant wine-producing region in Italy is Campania, in the southwestern part of the country, with Naples serving as its capital. The food from the area is what is most identified as Italian cuisine, at least outside of Europe: pizza, lasagna, spaghetti with tomato-based or seafood and garlic sauces; and cheeses like mozzarella and ricotta. However, its wines, most of which are made with indigenous grapes from the region, are by no means household names.
At an “Italian Wine Dinner” on April 29, organized by Tortuga Fine Wines and Spirits at the Beach House restaurant in The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa, the wines of the Campania producer Terredora di Paolo were featured during a five-course meal.
Coda di Volpe
Campania presents unique conditions because of the volcanic soils created by eruptions of Mount Vesuvius, the most famous of which occurred in 79 A.D. and led to the destruction of the city of Pompeii as well as other settlements in Campania. The volcanic soil not only adds district minerality to the wines produced in Campania, but has also kept the deadly Phylloxera louse away from many of the region’s vineyards, allowing vines to grow naturally on indigenous root stock.
Because of the soil conditions, Campania’s winegrowers have largely stuck to traditional grape varietals, many dating back more than 2,500 years.
“People have been drinking these wines since before the Romans,” said Massimo Consolini of Tortuga Fine Wines and Spirits.
One of those old wines is Coda di Volpe, which literally translates to “fox’s tail,” and is named such because of the shape of its grape bunches. It is often blended with Greco, another grape grown in Campania, but Terredora vinifies it as a single varietal that is light and fresh, with floral and fruit aromas. It’s an unoaked wine that is meant to be consumed young. It’s ideal for Cayman’s climate and the popular light lunch fare here, and was a good match with the first course of the dinner, Prosciutto Burrata Salad that featured a citrus vinaigrette.
There was a time when it was rare to see Falanghina as a single-varietal wine, especially outside of Italy. That has changed in recent years as winemakers realize the grape’s potential to make one of Italy’s best white wines.
Although Terredora was founded in 1978, Consolini explained that its principal owner, Walter Mastroberardino (who owns the winery with his children), decided to embrace modern technology while remaining dedicated to producing high-quality wines using Campania’s indigenous grapes.
“He started making wines that were focused more towards the new markets,” Consolini said.
Terredora’s Falanghina comes from the Irpinia appellation to the east of Naples, where the winery is located.
“It has aromas of green apples and white flowers,” said Consolini.
With refreshing acidity, good structure and rich flavors, this is an unoaked wine that is perfect to serve with seafood and made for an outstanding pairing with the seared snapper second course.
Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso
Unlike Coda di Volpe and Falanghina, Lacryma Christi isn’t the name of a grape, but of a type of wine. The name Lacryma Christi literally means “the tears of Christ,” which comes from the myth that when Lucifer fell from heaven, Christ cried tears on the land, giving divine inspiration to the grapes that grew on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius.
Lacryma Christi can be made white, rosé or red, and the red version was served with lamb ragu ravioli at the wine dinner. Terredora’s expression of the wine uses only Piedirossa grapes, although other wineries use Sciascinoso grapes as well.
“It’s a very unusual wine,” said Consolini. “It’s very, very different; it’s one of those wines that people either love it or hate it.”
On the nose, Terredora’s Lacryma Christi Rosso smells earthy, almost leathery, with spicy notes, similar to Syrah. Its flavors highlight mature red fruit, with notes of coffee, black pepper and tobacco. This is a soft red wine with an easy-drinking 12 percent alcohol by volume content, making it an ideal wine for the specialities of Naples: pizza and pasta with red sauces, as well as red meats and pungent cheeses.
If you had to point to one wine as the shining star of Campania, it would be Aglianico.
Sometimes called “the Barolo of the south,” Aglianico dates back to the earliest Roman times and was actually brought to Italy from Greece.
“Now this grape doesn’t exist anymore in Greece, so it became an Italian grape,” Consolini said.
Aglianico displays firm flavors of mature fruits and has good acidity and tannic structure, giving top expressions of this wine the ability to age well for at least a couple of decades while retaining vibrant color and fruit flavors.
While not on the same level of the best expressions of the grape, Terredora’s Aglianico Campania is an inexpensive crowd pleaser that is made to be drunk immediately, even though it will improve with a bit of aging.
It’s a wine that is ideal with red meats, charcuterie or Italian soups like minestrone or pasta fagioli, and it paired nicely with the peppered beef tagliata served by the Westin’s chefs.
Campania is a wine-producing region in Italy where quality doesn’t necessarily relate to price. Land and labor costs are lower in Campania, meaning production costs are lower.
In addition, because many of the wines from Campania are relatively unknown in export markets, the lack of demand helps keep prices down.
Three of the four wines served at the wine dinner are sold for under CI$20 retail at Tortuga Fine Wines & Spirits. The Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rossa is a little more expensive, but still under CI$24. All of the wines represent good value for money, given the quality of the wines, and would make excellent “house” wines.