Falanghina, planted in all five provinces of Campania, has been a remarkable story over the past decade, its identity shifting from a simple high acid wine to one of richness and beautiful complexity, thanks to a handful of the region’s vintners.
One of those winemakers is Vincenzo Mercurio, with whom I had the pleasure of spending a day with in Irpinia during my recent trip to that area. Mercurio was winemaker at the historic Mastroberardino winery for a few years last decade and recently began his own consulting firm; today he is winemaker for such Campanian estates as I Favati, Fattoria La Rivolta and Masseria Felicia.
He also handles those chores at a small winery in the Avellino province called San Paolo. Mercurio has made Falnghina there for several vintages, but decided to specialize in this variety a few years ago when he made a more detailed study of the soils from the area in the Benevento province where the grapes are sourced. Benevento, located just north (and northwest) of Avellino, has been known for Falanghina for some time now and is the site of the Sannio DOC for the variety (the province of Avellino is better known for two other Campanian white varieties, Greco and Fiano).
Mercurio saw that in a 1/2 square kilometer area where he sourced Falanghina for San Paolo, there were four different soils; tasting through the various lots, he decided he would vinify and bottle them separately. He did this initially with the 2008 vintage and named the four bottlings of Falanghina: Aria, Acqua, Terra and Fuoco (air, water, earth and fire).
I tasted the new 2009 releases of these four wines side by side with Mercurio at lunch at Ristorante La Marcanda in Avellino and was impressed not only with the winemaking, but the individual character of each wine. Here are Mercurio’s descriptions of the soils:
Aria – argilleous-calcaire soil with a lot of rocks in the soil
Acqua – sandy soils from a river region
Terra – the soils are deep clay
Fuoco – sandy soils but with volcanic influence
Mercurio adds that the first two wines are “more aromatic in nature, while the last two are more structured.”
Tasted in order, the wines increase in concentration – you’d want to consume the Acqua within a year or two, while the Fuoco should have staying power for 3-5 years. Complexity also increases, as the Terra has a chalky finish, while the Fuoco displays the strongest minerality. All of the wines are extremely well balanced with bright fruit and vibrant acidity, a trademark of the variety.
Each wine was harvested at approximately the same time and vinified the same way (with sur lie maturation) and aged solely in stainless steel, so this is a fascinating expression of terroir with one variety from a meso-climate. Natually, these wines are quite limited in production (only about 1000 bottles each), so they will only be available in Italy for the near future. But what a remarkable project that will surely influence other producers and vintners throughout Campania and will result in even higher quality bottlings of this wonderful variety, Falanghina.