April takes our Italian Food, Wine and Travel group on a virtual excursion to Campania in southwestern Italy where rare wine grapes are abundant. An area where there is no shortage of stunning coastline and no lack of chaotic action in the capital city Naples, it oozes archeological and ancient sites such as Pompeii, Herculaneum and Paestum. The next time you eat a Caprese salad know it’s a typical Campania dish.
Mark and I met friends there last year and all agreed on two things: the food theme is fresh and native wine grape varieties rule. Having done the Italian Wine Scholar program was a boon indeed navigating wine shop offerings.
I posit the best-known wine is the burly, red Aglianico from either the Taurasi or Taburno DOCG. And also the pizza, which is influenced by Neapolitan cooking traditions. There’s an abundance of things like sun-ripened tomatoes, fresh basil leaves gently torn into dishes, Pepperoncino, cheese, seafood, and vegetables galore… similar to Italy as a whole but with a Campania twist.
Finding Campania in Bordeaux
When you live in a place like Bordeaux, importing wines from Campania, isn’t a priority for merchants. Unfortunately, O-Sud, my favorite, and pretty much only wine store with a nice Italian selection, went out of business due to no business. Thus I order 98% of our Italian wine.
I mostly look for smaller producers with sustainable farming and winemaking methods. They seem to have a closer connection to their region. The larger guys and gals are great but in general and especially now, smaller wineries need our help. There’s a huge disparity between them and larger, commercial brands.
This is how I found Il Verro, located between Monte Maggiore and Roccamonfina, northeast of Naples in Campania. Current production is roughly 20,000 bottles from fifteen hectares (34 acres), only five of which are grapes. The remainder host olive and other fruit trees.
Il Verro was founded in 2003 by five men who’d met each other in the 60s, Cesare Avenia was one of them. He left then came back to the area and was the original instigator. Il Verro is now 100% family owned and run, with Avenia’s kids part of the business. Adriano told me his dad will never retire; his love for the grapes and land are too deep to not be part of it every day. They officially became organic certified in 2014.
Tasting Il Verro With Adriano Avenia
Three wines made from three, rare grapes neither Mark nor I ever tasted arrived the first week of lockdown. At least we don’t think we tasted them. While in Positano last year, two wines were gifted by our winemaker vacation rental host. He shared the grapes came from his friend Cesare in the hills north of Naples. Could it be Cesare Avenia?!?
The grapes in question are:
I had so many questions about them and Il Verro, I contacted Adriano who virtually engaged in delightful conversation and tasting.
Because they were not always organic, I was curious about vineyard challenges. He shared their biggest is keeping the quality level and quantity of grapes up when farming organically but that the challenge is more than worth it.
He went on to say they now see a considerable increase of extreme weather conditions, from too dry or wet, to late spring frosts and freak hailstorms. It seems these weather events are happening worldwide.
As a result of weather changes and depending on the year, they harvest on average three weeks earlier then they did when the winery was established.
When it comes to the vineyard, all vines are own rooted, either original root and vine or local graftings onto wild rootstock. Because the vineyards are in the foothills near mount Maggiore just south of the Roccamonfina volcano (which Adriano said is not entirely extinct) on mostly sandy volcanic soils with some clay, phylloxera did not kill the vines. Sand is not Phylloxeras friend. It’s the perfect microclimate for vines to thrive.
Tasting Native Gold
The first bottle we popped was Coda di Pecora, a very rare grape native to Campania.
There’s not a lot written about this grape. Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes lists it as an “Obscure white wine grape from Campania”.
It’s not in Italian Wine Unplugged Grape by Grape, did I miss it?
I’m anxiously awaiting Ian D’Agata’s Native Wine Grapes of Italy!
“Coda di Pecora has long been presumed to be a synonym or clonal variation of the white Campanian variety Coda di Volpe. While the name Coda di Volpe means “foxtail” in the local Campanian dialect, the name Coda di Pecora translates to “goat’s tail” and is considered to be a reference to the characteristic shape of the grape’s clusters. However, in 2005, DNA analysis showed that the two varieties were distinct. Coda di Pecora potentially being related to another Campanian variety, San Pietro, that is also grown in the province of Caserta.As of 2014, the Vitis International Variety Catalogue (VIVC) still only officially recognizes Coda di Pecora as a synonym and not as a distinct variety.” Source: Wikipedia
Il Verro Sheep 2017 – Terre Del Volturno IGP – 2017
The intense yellow gold color was striking. I double-checked the year, yep 2017. Looking at this blind we would have guessed it to be an older wine. According to Adriano, a main characteristic of the grape skin is turning vibrant gold later in the growing season. They lightly crush the grapes then drain the juice off.
The wine presented medium intensity, primary aromas of tangy citrus, dried Linden (tea) leaves and raisins. Does or did anyone ever eat Sun-Maid raisins from a little box? I distinctly remember the aroma that wafted out of the box upon opening and eating them one by one as a kid. That’s the aroma.
And that citrusy component continued: a bright and tangy attack with medium-plus intensity flavors of white grapefruit and citrus pith, yellow apple and a saline, mineral quality. It has strong sapidity and freshness that subsided to a soft and tangy mouth feel. Both a medium body and acidity (funny I teetered towards medium-plus when the grape is known to have less acidity), and persistent length, the wine is well structured and balanced. I bet it will age nicely several more years. (13% abv, purchase price 15€)
Wine Pairing: Roasted salmon on sunchoke puree with shiitake mushrooms, sautéed broccoli and vegetable rib mirepoix. A balsamic reduction zig-zag was for sweet and zingy fun!
It’s not always easy to achieve a spot-on pairing, one that takes you to that food and wine bliss spot. This pairing worked but it didn’t hit the wow button, the dish was too earthy for the wine. But then I pulled out the pesto and grissini and the wine suuung!
The more common red grapes in Campania, Aglianico and Piedirosso, are joined by other less known varieties: Pallagrello Nero, Sciascinoso, Tintore di Tramonti, Coda di Volpe Rossa and Casavecchia, to name a few. According to Ian D’Agata, they all “…are capable of giving something special”.
Casavecchia is said to be found exclusively in Campania and like Coda di Pecora, was rediscovered in the Caserta province.
It’s vigorous yet low yielding with high levels of anthocyanins. While winemakers historically included it in blends, they noticed the high potential and now use Casavecchia for monovarietal wines.
Il Verro makes two versions, one in stainless tanks and one in wood.
Il Verro Montemaggiore Casavecchia 2012 – Terre del Volturno IGP
At eight years old, this wine is still juicy bright with a long life ahead. In fact, it reminded me of Bordeaux reds that need aging to soften and relax.
After fermentation it spends 18 months in tonneau (500 liter French oak barrels).
It poured deep ruby red with very slight garnet around the rim.
Right now, this wine is about aromas of wild berries- cherry, cranberry and blackberry, and also forest freshness. In the mouth, evergreen, pine and tar join the berries with a bell-shaped acidic curve and grippy medium tannins. It definitely has persistent length and more of a cellar life ahead. (12.5% abv, purchase price 22€)
I ordered Pizza… the tomato, Parma ham, Parmigiano-Reggiano and rocket were not a big enough match for the wine. Mark and I said meat! Grilled steak, something like what Jeff over at foodwineclick! would grill on his Primo Ceramic grill.
A special thank you to Il Verro for sharing photos of their rare grapes and more. You can find Il Verro wine in the U.S. through Schatzi Wines.
Moving forward, I will dream about meat and grilling, and opening the Pallagrello Bianco. But don’t wait for me, there are several other Campania adventures to enjoy from the Italian Food Wine Travel group. Below is a list of articles and remember, you can join our live Twitter chat today, Saturday, May 2nd at 8:00 am PT (17:00 in Italy) using hashtag #ItalianFWT!
- Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Melanzane a Scarpone + Cantine Astroni Gragnano Penisola Sorrentina 2018”
- Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm posts “Polpette and Terredora di Paolo Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso”
- David at Cooking Chat discusses “Salmon with Pesto and Orzo with Wine from Campania”
- Pinny at Chinese Food and Wine Pairings adds “Campania’s Donnachiara Greco di Tufo Paired with Fish and Chips #ItalianFWT”
- Gwendolyn at Wine Predator shares “3 Wines from Campania’s Feudi Di San Gregorio paired with pizza and wild boar ragu #ItalianFWT”
- Cindy at Grape Experiences writes “Exclusive to Campania: Coda di Volpe Bianca, the Tail of the Fox”
- Linda at My Full Wine Glass posts “A Coda di Volpe wine from Campania’s protector of native grapes (#ItalianFWT)”
- Jen at Vino Travels joins with “The Lycrima Christi wines of Vesuvio”
- Terri at Our Good Life shares “Chicken Pot Pie and A Beautiful Wine from Campania for a Spring Day”
- Katarina at Grapevine Adventures muses “Campania Makes You Dream Big About Amazing Wine”
- Jeff at Food Wine Click writes about “Vini Alois: Champions of Campania’s Native Grapes”
- Rupal at Syrah Queen brings “NYC Somm Jordan Salcito Making A Splash With Campania Wines”
- Lauren at The Swirling Dervish adds “Mastroberardino Greco di Tufo: White Wine from Campania’s Volcanic Arch”
- Susannah at Avvinare is “Taking Another Look At Falanghina from Campania.
- Nicole at Somm’s Table dishes on “Donnachiara Taurasi and Lamb Spezzatino”
And here at Savor the Harvest I share “Italy – Organic Wine and Rare Grapes In Campania #ItalianFWT”