Let’s shift our thinking and tasting for a moment away from cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir, away from chardonnay and sauvignon blanc and other familiar varieties that dominate the wine landscape here in America.
Instead, let’s consider some whites like falanghina, fiano, coda di volpe and greco, as well as the red aglianico. Never heard of them? As the names suggest, they are from Italy — from the Campania region in the south — where these ancient, native varieties grown in volcanic soils make for some very different and interesting wines.
Highly aromatic and complex, they show a real sense of place and “want company,” as one colleague in the wine business put it, meaning that they come into their own when matched with food.
I’ve tasted a number of them in recent weeks from Mastroberardino, the most important winery in Campania and one of the oldest in Italy, dating back to the 1750s. The crisp whites are defined as much by mineral and herbal and floral notes as fruit tastes. If you’re looking for a big, fruit-driven California style, these wines are just the opposite. But don’t worry; the fruit is there. It just takes its place among the other components.
The most intriguing of the whites is Mastroberardino’s 2005 Radici Fiano di Avellino. With its deep straw color, the wine, with a suggested price of $25, announces itself with a smoky quality on the nose, shows minerals, herbs, pear notes and touches of lemon on the long finish. It’s elegant, sophisticated and mouth filling.
Mastroberardino’s 2005 Falanghina Sannio ($19)is another standout. This one doesn’t have the smokiness of the fiano but is “flinty” and also has an herbal presence, pear notes and touches of orange rind.
The most fruity of the whites is Mastroberardino’s 2005 Greco di Tufo ($24), which, along with its own floral and mineral touches, has subtle flavors of strawberry and pear. Each of these wines is made for fish — the simpler the better, including just about any fish broiled or grilled with some combination of olive oil, butter, white wine lemon and herbs, as well as clam sauce over pasta. They will also pair well with chicken baked or broiled with herbs.
Mastroberardino’s 2001 Radici Taurasi, made entirely from the aglianico grape, is one of Italy’s great reds. Dense and well structured, it will develop in the bottle for some years but drinks well now. It shows an earthy mix of black cherry, mocha, leather and herbal notes. Its suggested price is $41.
These wines are probably unfamiliar to most American wine drinkers, but I hope that will change because they are unique and satisfying. For me, discovering and enjoying such wines is what it’s all about. Wilson Daniels Ltd. is the importer of Mastroberardino wines.
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at