Campania: Forgotten Realms

“As a child, I took solace in reading and immersing myself in fantasy novels. Reading about ancient cities and cultures, giant fortresses, marble statues, and great walls, sometimes formed by mountains or built by man. These books would often be filled with beautifully illustrated maps depicting haunted forests, troll lairs, enchanted lakes, and ancient castles. Over time, this led to a fascination with the reality of ancient cultures, as I delved into the histories of the Greeks and Romans, studying their heroes and mythologies. It wasn’t long before I found my way to stories about volcanos enveloping entire cities and cultures overnight. The histories of these ancient lands became as interesting to me as any fantasy novel, and they are my fondest memories of childhood and adolescent life. So, you can imagine that when the wine bug bit me and Italy became my passion, my exploration of Campania was immediately one of the most thrilling chapters of my journey to understanding Italian wine. Here I was, once again reading about these same ancient cultures, but this time with a new dynamic to thrill me, that being the myriad of grape varieties and viticulture ways of these civilizations. The best part was that the majority of producers in the region were just as excited about exploring, honoring, and in some cases, attempting to recreate the wines and ways of this ancient world. It also didn’t hurt that modern-day Campania already had a lot to offer. It was with this in mind that I decided that my first piece on Campania at Vinous would be less focused on the newest vintages, which may not even be arriving at retail stores for some time, but instead focus on the wines that are in the market right now. You see, that’s another feature of Campania: the vintage releases are different for every producer. So, while one might be releasing their Taurasi from 2016, another is just sending out their 2014, or even older. This provides consumers with the ability to pick wines based on vintage, producer or sub-region. It is unfortunate that many readers haven’t had the opportunity to properly explore those sub-regions. It also doesn’t help that Taurasi, one of Campania’s most popular DOCGs, has seen turbulent ups and downs, even in the cantinas of some of the region’s most highly regarded producers. The “Barolo of The South”, as it’s been marketed, has been plagued by lazy winemaking practices, dirty cellar conditions, and producers that have masked Aglianico's varietal characteristics under a dark sheen of new wood. The good news is that conditions have drastically improved, and wine lovers who have been paying attention have a source of well-priced, world-class wines with remarkable aging potential. To dive a little deeper, and staying focused for now on the reds, it’s also important to note that Aglianico doesn’t begin and end with Taurasi. A savvy lover of wines from Campania will find other expressions to equal its power and prestige with just a little exploration. On the coast near Mount Massico, with its purely volcanic soils, we can find potent yet less tannic expressions of Aglianico, as well as focus on another of Campania’s great varietals, Piedirosso. In Taburno, with its high elevations and a mix of volcanic and calcareous soils and high content of limestone, we witness the same tannic power of Taurasi, but in a bigger and brawnier expression. Then there’s Salerno and Cilento to the south, a hotspot for Aglianico which seems to capture all of its best qualities, yet fruitier and fleshier, which doesn’t mean fruit-forward. Lastly, the wild, steep elevations of the Ischia island, where cable cars are used to move harvested grapes from mountainside vineyards. Here the combination of old vines, volcanic soils and the influence of the Tyrrhenian Sea, create wines with dark, textural depths, yet also tension and poise. In other words, if Taurasi is your only “Barolo of The South”, then you’re missing out. When we add the recently revived varieties of Casavecchia and Pallagrello Nero to the mix - and trust me, you want to be paying attention to these obscure wines - then what you have is a paradise for red wine lovers, just waiting to be discovered.” --Eric Guido, Vinous , Campania: Forgotten Realms, May 2020 To read Eric’s full report and read all about how the recent vintages performed, check out the full article on Vinous now. Below is a selection of notes from the report.