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Southern Italian Wines

southernItaly
Naples and southern Italy have been producing wines for 4,000 years.

Wayne On Wine
By Wayne Crawford

  waynecrawford
  Wayne Crawford

Last year I encouraged readers to drink what they like while embracing a shift beyond familiar wines. This brings us to southern Italian wines: The boot of Italy, along with the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, are Old World in both history and wine.

On the northwest coast is Naples in Campania. The third largest city in Italy, Naples is a stone’s throw from the national park at Mount Vesuvius, which destroyed the city of Pompeii in 79 A.D., and north up the coast from Salerno and the island of Capri.

Naples and southern Italy have been producing wines for 4,000 years. Campania is rich in local wines; significantly, the aglianico grape used in the Taurasi wines is similar in quality to the best reds in Piedmont. Additionally, fiano—an ancient white grape with floral, citrus and nutty aromas—more recently has been revived in the region and, now, also in Sicily. Fiano heritage is linked to the Roman wine Apianum.

  aglianico
  "Campania is rich in local wines; significantly, the aglianico grape used in the Taurasi wines is similar in quality to the best reds in Piedmont."

Moving directly across the top of the boot to the east coast, Apulia, or Puglia as the Italians call it, borders the Adriatic Sea. This city once was considered the ‘wine cellar of Europe,” reaching Foggia and Barletta with a tradition for red wines. It is also the location of the Battle of Cannae, 216 B.C., in which Hannibal inflicted, perhaps, on the Roman army its worst defeat. More recently, Puglia winemakers have embraced producing quality Primitivo, better known to us as Zinfandel.

Travel south through the Italian regions of Basilicata and Calabria, with the Gulf of Taranto on the east, and cross by water to Messina in Sicily. Basilicata’s notable wine is Aglianico Del Vulture, but finding a well-crafted wine locally is a challenge.

Calabria, the toe on the Italian boot, is committed to the local Greco blanco grape, which produces a white wine, while Greco nero gives a red wine. Greco bianco is used to produce the sweet dessert wine Greco di Bianco, and the grape is used on the small acreage on the Isle of Capri.

Sicily is experiencing a rebirth of nero d’Avola, a local red grape with blackberry, plum and chocolate flavors and floral overtones. Sicily is also the home for the fortified Marsala used extensively—both dry and sweet—by American chefs.

fianograpes
"Fiano heritage is linked to the Roman wine Apianum."

Travel 320 miles north and west from Sicily to find Sardinia, with a range of delightful wines including the white Vermentino, Nuragus, Nasco and the red Cannonau. Sardinia, unlike most of Italy, has a strong Spanish influence linked to its many years under Spanish rule.

With this wide cross-section, pairing wines to food is about regional favorites and your own personal choices. The whites complement both lighter cheeses and seafood, while the reds support Napoli pizza, pasta and salami.

‘Wines drinking well now’
Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna 2012, Sardegna, Italy, $15.99. Antonio Argiolas and his twin sons, Franco and Giuseppe, are committed to becoming the leaders in Sardinian enology. Made from 95 percent vermentino and 5 percent other Sardinian varietals, Costamolino is straw-yellow in color with green highlights on the rim. It offers aromas of citrus, pineapple, tropical fruits and honey, and, on the palate, it is fresh and dry, with a smooth feel in the mouth. Best Buy.

IL Mantane 2008 Primitivo (Zinfandel) Di Manduria, $25. On the nose, this wine offers black fruit, blackberry, cherry and cranberry. On the palate, it is fruit-forward, vanilla-balanced and smooth, with hints of oak from four months in French oak barriques. Highly Recommended.

  Costamolino
Terredora di Paolo 2005 Taurasi, Campania, Italy, $34. Taurasi is a 100 percent aglianico, considered one of Italy’s three noble grape varieties, often considered the Barolo of the South. The aromas on the nose include minerals, leather, tobacco and spice notes. On the palate, it bears dark fruit with flavors similar to the aroma. This is a balanced wine with a long finish, which will age. Highly Recommended.

Pala 2011 Cannonau Di Sardegna, Sardegna, $16.99. Cannonau is Grenache in the rest of the world. This wine is 100 percent Cannonau from 25-year-old vines. Its ruby-red appearance is augmented with red berry, cherry, blackberry, herb and spice aromas. On the palate, it offers red berries, prune, wild herbs, spice and meaty flavors. The wine is balanced, with a pleasant, earthy medium finish. Best Buy.

Benanti Etna Rosso Serra della Contessa 2004, Sicily, $40. A blend of 80 percent nerello Mascalese and 20 percent nerello, this was the best red wine in our wine tasting. The wine has aged wonderfully over 10 years, smooth with ripe fruit, minerals and hints of licorice. Soft tannins with a smooth mouth feel frame the gorgeous finish. These old vines are grown on the slopes of the volcano. Highly Recommended.

‘Drink what you like’

In my next article, a visit to engaging rose wines is planned.  

Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society.

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