Traveling up the boot of Italy and stopping at the shin, you’ll come across a gem of a region named Campania. What you may not know about this region is that it is home to the world-famous pizza Napoletana, limoncello, and the breathtaking views of the Amalfi Coast (to name a few). Campania has an incredibly rich history and even richer soil, with winemaking dating back to 13th century B.C.
“Campania Felix” (the Roman term meaning fertile land), was taken from the Greeks by the Roman Empire in 4th century B.C. Shortly following, in 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius, a volcano near the Gulf of Naples, violently erupted, burying the neighboring cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum under lava and ash. In 1748 the cities were rediscovered and were found preserved underneath a thick layer of volcanic ash. The rediscovery of the buried city has taught us an immense amount about everyday life in the ancient world. The eruption also tells us a great deal about Campania’s unique terroir and viticulture.
Today, Campania is home to five provinces; Avellino, Benevento, Caserta, Naples (its Capital), and Salerno, each of them a wine-producing territory. There are over one hundred grape varieties in Campania, with one hundred more waiting to be discovered.
THE TERROIR OF CAMPANIA
Campania’s viticultural success owes much to the various micro-climates and diverse landscapes. Campania is known to have hot summers, mild winters, and nutrient-dense volcanic soil. The coastal breeze from the Tyrrhenian sea sweeps across the Apennine mountains which temper the heat, promising bright, acidic wines. The mountains also provide a rain shadow, protecting the grapes from rains and frost.
Numerous districts within Campania are gaining recognition for their wine-making practices and native grapes, often producing natural wine. Irpinia is a commune within the province of Avellino and is surrounded by the Apennine Mountains, with hills and valleys spreading throughout. Irpinia is known for its volcanic, porous soil, defined by limestone mixed with clay. This results in high-quality age-worthy wines, such as Taurasi DOCG, Fiano di Avellino DOCG, and Greco di Tufo DOCG.
THE WHITE WINES OF CAMPANIA
Fiano - This excellent white grape variety is best known for producing Fiano di Avellino DOCG from Campania. The first mention of Fiano in the region comes in the 13th century. Fiano flourishes in the slopes of the Apennine Mountains where the soil is porous and volcanic. Fiano has a wonderfully complex texture with nutty, floral, tropical fruit and honey tasting notes.
Greco di Tufo - One of Irpinia’s native grapes and is described by locals as “a red dressed like a white” mainly due to its notable acidity. It is difficult to grow due to mildew formation in lower-elevation vineyards, but well-respected throughout the region.
Falanghina - This is an ancient grape native to Campania, reportedly of Greek origin. The vine thrives in soil that is light, porous, with mineral-rich volcanic qualities that can be found around the famous Mount Vesuvius. The warm Mediterranean climate helps it foster a fresh, mineral taste with accents of the seaside breezes. Flavors include candied orange zest, green apples, and pear. It’s ideal for fresh seafood as well as light and bright tomato-driven dishes.
Biancolella - Likely to be of Greek origin, Biancolella forms the backbone of the white wines of Ischia (an island off the coast of Naples). It is typically blended with other white varietals, mainly another Ischia gem, Forastera. In Ischia, Biancolella is grown on volcanic soils in terraced vineyards. It is simple, approachable, and light with plenty of fruity flavors.
Forastera - Forastera loves to cozy up next to Biancolella in Ischia. The grape produces a wine with aromas of stone fruit and a distinct almond flavor.
THE RED GRAPES OF CAMPANIA
Aglianico - This is a grape native to Southern Italy. Its ability to grow in hot climates and still be able to reach high levels of acidity makes this vine ideal for cultivating in Mediterranean climates. Aglianico produces wines that are full-bodied with firm tannins and musky berry flavors. Aglianico grapes thrive in conditions with volcanic soil and slopes. The most famous Aglianico wines are Aglianico del Taburno and Taurasi.
Pallagrello Nero - This is an ancient grape from Campania, and one of the region's most recent rescues. Unlike Campania’s volcanic white wines, Pallagrello Nero thrives in arenaceous soil (sand-based soils). Pallagrello wine territory grows in the sand-based hills more inland, on the base of the calcareous Marne and sub-Appennines. The wine embodies powerful acidity, with flavors of red fruit and cherry.
Piedirosso - Ancient grape varietal native to Campania used to make easy-drinking wines of character. It's one of the grapes of choice for many natural wine producers in the region and it's vinified into fruit-forward medium-bodied red wines.
THE FOOD OF CAMPANIA
The wonderfully rich volcanic soils combined with the ideal growing climate in Campania makes its cuisine unforgettable. The Romans, as evidenced by Pompeii, knew they struck gold when they found the region's rich soil and beautiful landscape. They didn’t waste time and began cultivating vegetable gardens and vineyards, using the products of the land to develop a rustic style of cooking that carries over to modern-day Campanian cuisine.
The best pizza in the world comes from Naples, along with its renowned toppings of decadent Mozzarella di Bufala Campana and delicate tomato sauce. Other famous cheeses such as provolone, caciocavallo, and pecorino are also produced in Campania. Mozzarella di Bufala, however, is so tied to the area that it obtained the DOP mark - Denomination of Protected Origins.
Pizza in Naples was born more than 300 years ago. Neapolitan pizza is so sacred to the region that its people drew up a specific set of rules that must be followed to make their true pizza. No, pineapple is not one of the toppings allowed by the rules.
Citrus overflows in the Campania region. More notably, if you drive down the Amalfi Coast and head towards Sorrento, you’ll see grove after grove of gorgeous bright yellow limoncello trees. Limoncello isn’t just a fun alcoholic digestif, it’s a variety of lemon that's used to produce Campania’s traditional and beloved Limoncello.
Other famous dishes of the region include:
Baccala’ alla Napoletana: salt cod with black olives, pine nuts, capers, and tomato.
Zuppa di cozze: mussels cooked with tomatoes, white wine, parsley, and hot peppers.
Zeppole di San Giuseppe: puffy pastry fritters with a creamy filling.