Fiano vineyards of Mastroberardino in the Fiano di Avellino production zone. This is one of Italy’s greatest whites, but one that was not given its due in a recent Wine Spectator article. (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
The May 31, 2015 issue of the Wine Spectator featured an article by Alison Napjus titled “The Riches of Campania.” Good headline, especially as the Campanian wine scene is one that has exploded with dozens of first-rate producers over the past fifteeen years.
It’s nice to see this publication deal with Campania, especially as previous writers at the magazine pretty much ignored this region, preferring instead to deal with expensive reds from Tuscany, Piemonte and Veneto. No surprise there, as the famous reds are more exciting, if you will, to write about than other excellent wines from Campania and elsewhere in Italy. However, Campania became a footnote for quite some time as far the the Spectator’s coverage of Italian wines.
So I should be grateful for any article from this publication on Campania, but after reading this piece, I have to express my disappointment. It’s light and breezy and an easy-read, but on the same hand, it barely ripples the surface of the splendid wines produced today in this region. Campania deserves better.
Aglianico Vineyards in the Taurasi zone (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
As you might expect, the focus is on Taurasi, the region’s most celebrated and longest-lived red wine type. As I mentioned above, much of this magazine’s (and several other famous wine journals’) coverage of Italian wines has traditionally been centered on famous reds such as Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino and Amarone, so it’s nice to see some ink on Taurasi, one of Italy’s greatest wines (arguably its most underrated red wine). Napjus rightfully covers the wines of Mastroberardino, the reference point for Taurasi, a producer that has crafted this wine for more than seven decades, with versions from the 1950s still drinking well (I know – I tasted the 1952 at the winery two years ago and was amazed at the freshness of this sixty-year old wine and commented that it had at least 10-12 years of life ahead of it).
Other producers of Taurasi, such as Terredora and Cantine Lonardo are also mentioned as are producers of other reds, such as Montevetrano, a Cabernet, Merlot and Aglianico blend, as well as Fattoria Galardi with their excellent Terra de Lavoro.
So credit to the author for highlighting these wines, but what about reds from other areas of Campania? What about Aglianico del Taburno and its excellent renditions from such as producers as Fontanavecchia and Nifo Sarrapochiello? How about the great red from Nanni Cope called Sabbie di Sopra Il Bosco? This is one of Campania’s – and Italy’s – most acclaimed reds, made primarily from the Pallagrello Nero variety. I would imagine if the author is the “lead taster” for Campania for this publication, she’s heard of it. It is a limited production wine, but one would think that the Spectator would be able to acquire a bottle for this article.
But what bothers me most about this article is the lack of respect given to the region’s white wines, especially Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino. There are many who believe that these two whites are among the very best of Italy, but you wouldn’t know it by the 88 and 89-point ratings given to several of these wines. Many journalists that live in Campania or in other parts of Italy will tell you that in their opinion, Campania is a white wine region; their belief formed with all due respect for the great reds of the territory.
Of course, the thing about rating wine is that there’s no one correct answer; this is not a game of I’m right and you’re wrong or vice versa. If Napjus honestly believes that the best white wines from Campania can only muster 89 points, so be it. But in my opinion – and the opinions of many other journalists that cover these wines on a regular basis – the best whites from Campania deserve higher ratings. I’m not a fan of points and I don’t review wines that way, but 88 points for the Colli di Lapio 2013 Fiano di Avellino (which the author descibes as “mouthwatering”) or the same score for the 2013 Pietracupa Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino? Pietracupa is regularly praised as one of Italy’s – not just Campania’s – finest producers, especially for their vibrant, brilliant whites. The author can only come up with 88 points? Again, I don’t favor points for rating wines, but these are clearly deserving of higher scores – perhaps 92-94 points.
I think the problem here boils down to an old, familiar one for the Spectator and a few other wine publications. The wines that get the highest scores are regularly famous reds; this is true whether we’re speaking of France, Spain, California or Italy. For the most part, white wines will only receive very high ratings (93 and higher) if they’re legendary, such as white Burgundies, German Rieslings from the finest vineyards and producers, or certain powerhouse California Chardonnays. Meanwhile, expressive whites such as Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino (as well as other Italian whites such as Friulano or Soave, or vibrant whites from Spain such as Albariño or Chilean Sauvignon Blanc from Leyda and San Antonio Valleys) are given respectful scores of 88 and 89. It’s as though there is an unwritten law about giving a Fiano di Avellino or Greco di Tufo a 90-point rating, much less, 92 or 93 points. No, gotta save those 90s for the big, powerful reds that are easy to understand. White wines with subtleties? Sorry, you’re not good enough.
Bottom line here: given all the wines reviewed in wine publications these days and how many offerings receive 90 points and higher, it’s hard to get anyone excited about wines that only merit 88 and 89 points. If Napjus thought she was doing Campanian whites a favor, she failed.
The author writes in her article that she reviewed “more than 150 wines from Campania” in her office over the past year. That’s it? I’ve been to Campania and have tasted 150 wines in three days. How can one take the Wine Spectator seriously on the subject of Campanian wines when the lead taster can only sample this small a quantity?
Do you want to truly understand what’s going on in Campania these days? Read what Kerin O’Keefe writes in The Wine Enthusiast or what Monica Larner discusses in The Wine Advocate. These two journalists live in Europe and regularly taste wines from Campania as well as every Italian region. They offer great praise for these wines, as they appreciate the complexities of Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino.
You can also read the musings of my colleague Tom Maresca at his blog, Tom’s Wine Line (click here for one of his recent articles on Campania). I’ve tasted wines in Campania several times with Tom and find his writings on this region to be among the most perceptive anywhere.
So there you go. When you opt to read about the wines of Campania, consider the source.
P.S. One final thought to support my argument about white wines not being treated in the same manner as red wines at the Spectator. Napjus awards the Pietracupa 2008 Taurasi a score of 91 points. Happy to see this, as winemaker Sabino Loffredo does not get enough credit for his Taurasi, so very nice. But again, 88 points for his marvelous Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino, both from 2013, an excellent vintage. Italian red wine trumps the white wines – a notion that’s been promoted for too long. It’s time to change the thinking at the Wine Spectator (I’m not holding my breath).