If you’re keeping tabs on wine quality in Southern Italy with its myriad indigenous grape varieties and oftentimes limited access to distribution, this update on the Sannio DOP should prove to be useful. Through a combination of research trips to Campania and the opportunity to judge the Radici del Sud “Roots of the South” wine competition which has been held in different venues in the town of Bari, Puglia since 2006, it provides a look at the key factors for the region and a snapshot of wine quality.
The Radici competition uses a unique format of two different juries, one composed of international experts and another of Italian experts, both of which taste all of the wines that have been submitted. When a wine captures the attention of both juries, they’ve succeeded in pointing you to a grape, a place and a producer that are worth investigating. The preliminary results from this year’s Radici competition which narrowed 350 entries down to 70 were released this week and among them the 2016 Fontanavecchia Campania Falanghina Taburno was singled out by both juries as one of the first or second wines in its class. The winery’s 2009 Vigna Cataratte Aglianico also scored a first.
Falanghina del Sannio
In fewer than 40 years, Falanghina has emerged as a signature grape for Campania’s Sannio DOP. Although Falanghina is grown across Southern Italy with DOC regions found in Campania, Molise, Puglia and Abruzzo, 80 percent of its hectares lie in Sannio which covers the entire province of Benevento. Falanghina’s point of origin is attributed to the Bonea commune in Benevento which lies at the southern foot of Monte Taburno, an isolated massif that is part of the Campania Apennine Mountain chain. The indigenous grape owes its name to the Latin “falangae,” the poles that were traditionally used to support the vigorous canopy of this ancient Greek-Balkan variety.
Interestingly enough, several different variations of pergola trellising can still be found in Sannio today including tendone, rageria tendone, a connected trellising style known as filare, and espalliera or espaliered vines in addition to modern Guyot and VSP vineyard architecture. Falanghina survived near extinction in the 1970s and has flourished, largely due to its resistance to Phylloxera, with two primary biotypes—Falanghina Beneventana and Falanghina Flegrea—to its credit.
Falanghina del Sannio DOP wines can be made in a range of styles from sparkling using any method, still, late harvest to passito styles. In 2011 Sannio was further defined by the subzones of Guardia Sanframondi or Guardiolo, Sant’Agata dei Goti, Solopaca and Solopaca Classico, and Taburno so named for the towns that anchor these distinct growing areas at the base of Monte Taburno. Taburno sits in the middle of the Benevento province and at 1,393 meters (4,570 feet), its highest peak The Taburnus defines the skyline. The profile of the mountain is described as a sleeping woman whose head points west to the Telese Valley and the Monte del Matese mountains and whose feet point east to the Caudin Valley and the city of Benevento.
Sannio’s sub regions circumvent the Taburno mountain: Guardia Sanframondi or Guardiolo is due north, Solopaca and its Classico region lies in the northwest, Sant’Agata dei Goti in the southwest and Taburno in the southeast. According to Ian D’Agata’s Native Wine Grapes of Italy, Falanghina was first made as a monovarietal wine by Leonardo Mustilli who planted a massal selection of the biotype Falanghina Beneventana at his estate in Sant’Agata dei Goti in 1979.
Falanghina’s preferred soils are chalky tuff formed from the ashy plumes of the region’s numerous volcanos which were active some 5,000 years ago and heavier calcareous clay soils. Often made from a field blend of both biotypes or simply blended, Luigi Moio, Professor of Science and Food Technologies at the University of Naples Federico II, characterizes Falanghina wines as lemon blossom, apple, pineapple, banana, pine needles, cloves and saline minerality. While many wines do show these characteristics, through intentionally lower pH you’ll also find wines with more tropical fruit like melon and those that are picked earlier with greener apple and pear flavors, lime and caraway seed.
The province of Benevento doesn’t lack for water. The area is alive with natural thermal springs and a network of underground rivers. In 2015 the region was subject to violent flash flooding when smaller tributaries fed the Calore River (known as the Beneventano) which flows north through the city of Benevento and then turns west at the northern base of mount Taburno before feeding in to the Volturno River of Telese Valley. The Calore caused damage to low lying vineyards and some losses of bottled wine at the Cantina Sociale di Solopaca among others.
Sannio’s three co-operatives: la Cantina Sociale La Guardiense, la Cantina Sociale di Solopaca and la Cantina del Taburno produce 80 percent of the region’s wine with some truly exceptional bottlings but the Falanghina wines of smaller producers continue to capture the attention of buyers and writers including those who juried the 2017 Radici del Sud competition. Among them are several producers whose estates occupy unique sites and expositions within Benevento and in close proximity to Monte Taburno.
In Guardia Sanframondi at Terre Stregate winery, the Iacobucci family grows Falanghina and several other varieties in the chalky, clay soils of the Gaurdiesi hills on a low-pruned Guyot trellis. Winemaker Carlo Iacobucci and his daughter Filomena hosted a blind tasting of 42 Falanghina wines from the Sannio DOP of which their “Svelato” was among the top ten (see below).
Nearby Masseria Venditti which is located in Castelvenere between Guardia Sanframondi and Solopaca to the south produces an organic Falanghina del Sannio DOP “Vándari.” This wine shows green apple and banana with notable intensity.
In the heart of Solopaca Classico, Masseria Vigne Vecchi President Pasquale Fusco declared, “Wine culture is the identity of Sannio.” A statement that puts the both the historic and economic role of wine squarely into context for the producers of Sannio. The winery’s 2014 Falanghina blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia from sloped clay sites in Solopaca Classico was particularly memorable for its perfumed, chalky structure.
Radici del Sud’s 2017 top performing Falanghina hails from Fontanavecchia which is located in Torrecuso, a town that lies just north of Benevento at the northeastern foot of Taburno. It’s owned by the father and son team of Orazio and Libero Rillo. Libero is also the president of the Sannio Consortium, a group of 400 producers representing a region that produces one million hectoliters of wine annually.
In October 2015 the producers of Sannio hosted a tasting of 42 Falanghina wines of which the following were of note, including the Fontanavecchia 2014:
Corte Normanna Brut Sparkling – Ripe apples, Mauzac-like with baked apples and yeasty lees.
Fontanavecchia 2014 – Honeysuckle, ripe peach, citrus and almond, focused with M+ acidity.
La Guardiense Janare 2014 – Orange blossom, pristine flavors of ripe nectarine, melon and pineapple.
La Guardiense 2014 – Intensity, pronounced minerality, baked apple, pineapple, cantaloupe, M+ acidity.
del Taburno 2014 – Vanilla, green apples and pears, richness with M+ acidity and body.
Solopaca 2014 – Fresh with green apple, pear and lime, M+ acidity.
Solopaca Brut Sparkling – Quince blossom, ripe citrus, lemon zest, balanced.
Terre Stregate 2014 – Floral with cantaloupe and stone fruit on mid palate, M+ acidity.
Torre a Oriente 2013 – Mineral with petrol notes, lean and focused.
Wartalia Brut Sparkling – Creamy melon, spicy galangal (young ginger) clean and gingerale-like.
Additional Falanghina wines from the region singled out by the 2016 and 2017 Radici juries include:
2014 Cantine Kandea
2014 Falanghina Del Beneventano
2016 Sanpaolo Di Claudio Quarta Vignaiolo
2014 Cantina San Paolo Beneventano IGP
2014 Villa Matilde Falerno Bianco
2013 Torre Venere Falanghina del Sannio, IGP Campania