Posts tagged ‘benevento’

The Future of Falanghina?

Vincenzo Mercurio (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

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).

San Paolo Falanghina, Aria (l) and Terra

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.

June 29, 2010 at 7:12 pm Leave a comment

Great Reds of Campania – Aglianico


Sunset over vineyards in the Taurasi zone (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Sunset over vineyards in the Taurasi zone (Photo ©Tom Hyland)



Along with some superb whites made from Greco, Fiano, Falanghina and a few other indigenous varieties, there are also some remarkable red wines produced in Campania. Without question, Aglianico is the principal variety of these bottlings.



The most famous Aglianico-based wine in Campania is Taurasi, produced from grapes grown in a small zone in the province of Avellino (two great whites – Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino – are also produced in this province; see previous post). Taurasi must contain at least 85% Aglianico and must be aged for a minimum of three years, with one of those years in wood. (While most producers do make their Taurasi exclusively from Aglianico, some blend in small amounts of Piedirosso, a red variety with higher acidity and softer tannins.)

Taurasi features the black cherry fruit and bitter chocolate notes of Aglianico along with its firm tannins. Most examples of Taurasi need a few years to settle down and round out to shed some youthful bitterness. Most examples from average to good vintages are at their best 5-7 years after the vintage date, while the best bottlings from the finest producers in the best years age anywhere from 12-20 years. A few exceptional bottlings, such as the 1968 from Mastroberardino, are still drinking well. This longevity has earned Taurasi the nickname, “Barolo of the South.”


Antonio Mastroberardino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Antonio Mastroberardino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


Among the finest producers of Taurasi are the following:

  • Mastroberardino
  • Feudi di San Gregorio
  • Terredora
  • Antonio Caggiano
  • Vinosia
  • Cantine Lonardo (Contrade de Taurasi)


Most bottlings of Taurasi are in the $35-$45 price range, which puts them well below the best bottlings of more famous Italian reds such as Brunello di Montalcino or Barolo. If you are looking for a lesser expensive example of Aglianico, look for a bottling simply listed as Aglianico Campania or Irpinia Aglianico which will be priced between $18 to $25. Basically, these are examples of Aglianico that have not been aged long enough to be called Taurasi, so they must be labeled differently. These wines are often from younger vines and while they will not age as long as a Taurasi, they still drink well for anywhere from three to seven years, and are much more approachable upon release. Look for these bottlings from Mastroberardino, Feudi di San Gregorio (Rubrato) and Vinosia, among others.



Another great example of Aglianico is Aglianico del Taburno from the province of Benevento to the north of Avellino. This DOC is home to some excellent wines; with less acidity than Taurasi, a typical Aglianico del Taburno will not age as long as that wine, but it has the same flavors and richness and is an impressive wine. Look for examples from producers such as:

  • Fontanavecchia
  • Cantina del Taburno
  • Ocone


A change in style

As with many famous red wines throughout Italy, Taurasi has undergone some changes over the past decade. Most bottlings up until the mid 1980s or early 1990s were aged in large oak casks known as botti grandi; a few producers even aged their wines in chestnut barrels.

Today, however most producers use barriques for aging their Taurasi, which has changed the style of the wine, as there  is more wood influence (vanilla, toast, spice) from these small barrels. Mastroberardino, for example, starts the aging in barriques (only one-third new) and then finishes it in large casks, so their Taurasi has just a touch of modernity; though different from the older bottlings, their newer examples of Taurasi are still subdued when it comes to oak.

Yet other producers use only barriques for aging; several of these wines have been awarded top ratings from certain wine publications, so it’s easy to see why more producers are using small barrels to age their Taurasi. But the question remains if these new examples will age as long as the classically produced bottlings from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Time will tell, I guess.


All text on Learn Italian Wines is ©Tom Hyland

July 7, 2009 at 11:11 am Leave a comment

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