This week’s rare variety takes us to Campania, the southern Italian region that encompasses the famed city of Naples along the coast of the Mediterranean. Falanghina is an ancient variety typically attributed to the Greeks, who first cultivated vineyards in this region in the 7th century. This white variety was also behind Falernian, the most famous wine of Roman antiquity. A wine that’s been written about in history books and famous works of literature alike.
However, after the Roman period, the popularity of Falanghina rapidly declined. Though, thankfully, Falanghina experienced a revival as advancements in viticulture and winemaking in the 20th century arrived.
Falanghina is also grown in the southern regions of Puglia and Abruzzo. There are also some plantings further north in Lazio. But the variety thrives in Campania and is therefore the white variety synonymous with the region.
Within Campania, there are two sub-varieties of Falanghina – Falanghina Beneventana and Falanghina Flegrea. Though according to the pros like Jancis Robinson and Ian D’Agata, author of Native Wine Grapes of Italy, the two are not easy to differentiate. The two sub-varieties are usually blended. Then, simply labeled under the name Falanghina. These white wines are often medium bodied with high acidity, exhibiting aromas of lemon, orange blossom, peach, almond, and a stony minerality.
Supposedly, Falanghina Flegrea was the variety behind Falernian, the famed wine of the Romans. The variety is often at its best in the Falerno del Massico D.O.C. and the Falanghina del Sannio D.O.C. Generally, Falanghina Flegrea produces light, unoaked, and highly aromatic wines featuring a distinctive leafy aroma in addition to notes of citrus fruit, pear, apple, and a stony minerality.
Falanghina Beneventana is the sub-variety often grown in the Benevento province of Campania. In Benevento, you will find quality Falanghina at an incredible value with most wines labeled under the Falanghina Beneventano IGT. The geographic indication is named for the province rather than the variety. Falanghina Beneventana offers dry wines with high acidity, plus floral, herbal, and concentrated citrus aromas.
Additionally, Falanghina grows throughout numerous appellations in Campania.
- Falaghina del Sannio D.O.C. – includes a specific hilly area northeast of Naples
- Beneventano Falanghina I.G.T. – a wider area in the Benevento province where you will find great value wines
- Irpinia Falanghina D.O.C. – just east of Naples
- Falanghina Campi Flegrei D.O.P. – covers the coastal area west of Naples
- Falerno del Massico D.O.C. – located north of Naples in the province of Caserta, the region named for the famous Falernian wine of Roman times
Falanghina in the Vineyards
Considering Campania’s proximity to the coast, the region exhibits a warm Mediterranean climate influenced by the cooling sea breeze. That Mediterranean breeze maintains temperatures in the vineyards and keeps the vines healthy with cooling air currents. Temperatures moderated by the cool breeze allow grapes to mature steadily.
In addition to Naples, Campania has a few other cities and landmarks with which you might be familiar. Does Mount Vesuvius ring a bell? How about Pompeii, the city frozen in time under volcanic ash from a particularly violent eruption of Mount Vesuvius?
Well, Falaghina flourishes in porous soils which abound in Campania. While volcanic soils are obviously present in the appellations closer to Mount Vesuvius, volcanic soil can actually be found throughout most of Campania. The same Mediterranean Sea breezes that moderate vineyard temperatures historically spread volcanic ash throughout the region of Campania. Tufa, a soft, well-draining limestone-based soil, is also common in Campania.
Moreover, Campania is a hilly region, offering especially elevated vineyard sites for the wines of Falerno del Massico D.O.C. Specifically, hilly territory abounds in the communes of Sessa Aufrunca, Cellole, Mandragone, and Falciano del Massico. Vines planted on these hills benefit from exceptional exposure.
The Winery: Donnachiara
Founded in 2005, Donnachiara is a family owned winery almost wholly managed by female proprietors. The Petitto family has lived amongst the hills of Montefalcione for centuries. Today, the vineyards of Donnachiara are planted to ancient vineyard sites. CEO Illaria Petitto dedicates herself to viticulture and is supported by her mother, Chiara, the niece of Donna Chiara Mazzarelli Petitto, for whom the winery is named. Donnachiara produces each of Irpinia’s three D.O.C.G. wines – Fiano di Avellino, Taurasi, and Greco di Tufo. They also produce wines from the region’s traditional varieties Aglianico and Falanghina.
The Wine: 2017 Donnachiara, Resilienza Beneventano Falanghina I.G.T.
The grapes for this wine come from the heart of Taburno within Benevento in the province of Avellino. The grapes were pressed, cooled quickly, and kept chilled for 4-6 hours at 50°F. The aromatics are preserved during this period of cryomaceration. Then, the wine was fermented in steel vats for 15 days. This vinification resulted in a refreshing, zesty, aromatic white wine.
- Beautifully brilliant medium-plus straw yellow color
- Medium or medium-minus pronounced aromas of Meyer lemon, candied citrus, apricot, citrus blossom and a stony minerality
- Medium-minus body, medium plus acidity, dry, more savory on the palate with flavors of minerals, salinity, and bitter orange
Falanghina is the ideal wine to pair with seafood dishes like scallops, prawns, and clams. This wine is also perfect for pasta dishes with light sauces or lots of fresh herbs. Think scallops in a buttery garlic sauce, linguine and clams with lots of fresh parsley, grilled prawns in a chimichurri sauce, or fresh pesto pasta.
Eric Asimov for The New York Times