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Wines From a Unsung Region of Italy You Need to Know — The Magic of Sannio

Around the World of Wine

BY // 03.17.22

Do you know Sannio? Some of you might, but for those who have never heard the word I’d like to provide a primer and recommend some wines from the Italian region, which lies North of Naples and offers lots of value, whether one is discussing wine, travel, food, or real estate.

Perhaps the first thing to know is that Sannio is located in Campania, in Italy’s southwest. It’s a land of hills and the soils which produce Sannio’s wine grapes are mostly limestone and sandstone beneath gravel and stone, along with some volcanic soils, which were deposited by the region’s many active, dormant and extinct volcanoes.

One interesting and notable fact about Campania’s (and Sannio’s) place in the wine world is that it is home to an astoundingly large number of native cultivars, a treasure that all lovers of wine should appreciate. Forastera, piedirosso, sciascinoso and coda di volpe bianca are but four of the region’s grapes that deserve more exposure to the outside world. (The poverty in the region was one reason that farmers did not pull out their “old” vines and replace them with more popular and profitable names, such as merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Simply put, farmers in the area did not have the money to rip out their traditional vines.)

I tasted through a few wines from Sannio recently at a lunch sponsored by the Sannio Consorzio Tutela Vini, an organization that supports the area’s viticulture, and was impressed with the lineup. The quality on display left me with no choice but to recommend all of the following bottles to anyone looking for everyday selections at great prices. A case of any of these wines would be a welcome addition to any party or gathering.

Sparkling Power

We’ll begin our Sannio tour with a sparkling wine, the Corte Normanna Società Agricola Falanghina Brut. It is made by the Charmat method, and one can find it for around $10 a bottle. The perlage here is fine and persistent, which adds to the pleasure of drinking. You’ll enjoy pairing a bottle with salade niçoise — the olives will love this sparkling — or goat cheese and a baguette. Serve chilled, of course, and be sure to have at least two extra bottles on hand, because your guests will want more than one glass.

Falernians

We’ll stay with falanghina for our next wine. It’s a grape that has a long and storied history. Some posit that it is the source of the fabled Falernian, which you might recall reading about in the Satyricon. (Others give Aglianico the nod, but no matter.) Falernian was popular in the classical Roman period, and it was a strong drink. Pliny the Elder was familiar with it, and in the 14th book of Naturalis Historia noted its high alcohol content: “It is the only wine that takes light when a flame is applied to it.”

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Our second bottle is from Cantina Sociale La Guardiense, a cooperative that produces a wide variety of wines, including aglianico, fiano, greco and a very good falanghina, all part of its Janare program, which was instituted to “safeguard and improve local grape varieties.” (I spent some time in Campania a few years ago and was impressed with the stewardship shown by winemakers for their indigenous plants.)

The Janare falanghina offers tremendous value for its $11 suggested retail price, and it is remarkably friendly with food. Want to serve a white wine with aged provolone? Looking for a great pairing for baked rockfish with olives and garlic? This falanghina is a perfect option for both scenarios.

It’s dry, possesses remarkable acidity, and leaves nothing but pleasure. (I love a good ratatouille, and look forward to popping the cork on a bottle of this wine next time I make the dish.)

If you want an excellent wine that goes well with a roast chicken, one that drinks for more 'expensively' than you'll pay for it, this Falanghina is for you.
If you want an excellent wine that goes well with a roast chicken, one that drinks more ‘expensively’ than the price you’ll pay for it, this Falanghina is for you.

A third falanghina was on the tasting agenda during my lunch, and it was from Azienda Olivinicola Terre Stregate. If the phrase “Tre Bicchieri” means anything to you, you’ll be happy to hear that this falanghina, named “Svelato” by the producer, has been awarded that accolade for seven years in a row. I’ve tasted previous vintages of this wine, and I am pleased to report that the quality has been maintained with this bottling. (A recent search located it for sale at K&L for $19.99.)

I love wines that offer exciting minerality, and this one has that quality in abundance. Apple, pineapple and hints of jasmine are all obvious on the nose, and you’ll appreciate the honeysuckle and lemon once you take a sip of this commendable wine. I will pair this bottle with roast chicken or mushroom pâté.

A Bottle of Red From Sannio

The final wine I tasted during the Sannio seminar was from Fattoria La Rivolta — and it had the distinction of being the sole red we tasted. Aglianico del Taburno is a DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) designation for grapes grown around Mount Taburno, and the La Rivolta offering is 100 percent aglianico, one of Italy’s finest wine grapes, an opinion I share with Ian D’Agata — who in Native Wine Grapes of Italy, a must-have for any lover of Italian wines, writes: “Aglianico is one of the world’s great red grapes, one that is finally carving a place in mainstream wine-drinking consciousness. Along with Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, it is generally believed to be one of Italy’s three best wine grapes, but in my opinion, it is far more. At the very least, it’s one of the world’s dozen or so best wine grapes.”

The La Rivolta aglianico, in addition to being the only red wine poured at the lunch session, was also the most expensive wine of the day — the 2017 vintage is available on Wine.com for $24.99 — but it is worth that price, and, according to my palate, will reward a few years of patient aging. Drink this with grilled lamb, pastas with tomato sauce and sausage, or eggplant baked with cheese and tomatoes. It’s a robust and full-bodied wine with gorgeous fruit undergirding impressive structure.

One of the pleasures of navigating the world of wine is tasting around the globe, trying things unfamiliar to you. I urge you to become familiar with Sannio and the excellence it offers.

For more stories from James Brock, check out his Mise en Place.

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