A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fiano di Avellino - Campania, Italy

There is certainly no shortage of interesting and unusual grapes and wines in Italy, but today's wine is certainly one of the oddest ones I've ever had. There's nothing inherently strange about the Fiano grape; it doesn't have an interesting back story and there aren't any real oddities about its color or growing cycle or where it's grown. Everything about it suggests that it's just another white wine grape...until you pour it in the glass.

Fiano is grown in Campania, a region that looks like it forms the lower shin of Italy's boot. Campania is located just south of Lazio and just north of Calabria, the toe of the boot. The most famous city here is Naples and, historically, the most interesting thing about Campania is that it is home to Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii. There is quite a bit of wine produced in Campania (the most famous wine here is Taurasi made from Aglianico grapes), but only seven percent of the production is DOC classified (there are three DOCG regions and sixteen DOC regions). It ranks sixteenth in DOC production out of the nineteen regions in Italy, but ranks ninth in total production. Fiano di Avellino is a DOCG located around the village of Avellino in a hilly region of central Campania known as Irpinia. The region was devastated by an earthquake in 1980 (it is located about 20 miles inland from Mount Vesuvius) and the rebuilding efforts have contributed to give the region a more modern look and feel.

Fiano has a long history in Campania, which seems to be its native home. The Romans called the grape vitis apiana because of the way that bees were attracted to its juice (apis is the Latin word for bee). I would guess that Fiano is a linguistic corruption of apiana; among the synonyms listed for the grape are Apiana and Apiano, and I can see how Apiano could eventually morph into Fiano. It is not a prolific yielder and oxidizes relatively easily, but it makes up for these defects by having a naturally high acidity and a very distinctive flavor. I was able to find the Pendino Fiano di Avellino bottling by Colli di Castelfaranci for about $20 from Central Bottle in Cambridge (I didn't write down the vintage in my tasting notes, but I'm pretty sure this was a 2009).

In the glass, the wine was a yellow straw color. Fiano is described as an aromatic grape, but this wine wasn't very effusive on the nose; it had aromas of pine needles and lemon with a touch of green herbs and pine nuts. It did eventually open up a bit, but it was never what I would call highly aromatic. On the palate, the wine was medium bodied with medium acidity. My first tasting note on this wine simply states "weird," and it is weird. It has a very nutty flavor reminiscent of toasted pine nuts and hazelnuts with a touch of flinty smoke. There are some green apple and lemon flavors in there, but the overwhelming flavor sensation is nuts. Bastianich and Lynch in their Vino Italiano say the flavor of Fiano is "almost pesto in a bottle," and they're pretty accurate. With a bit of age, I've read that this can pick up some honey and flower aromas and flavors, but this wine was very savory. Bastianich and Lynch share a quote from Enzo Ercolino of Feudi di San Gregorio winery where he states that "there's a selvático [savage] quality to Fiano that sets it apart," and that's really a great word for it. Many white wines are graceful or voluptuous or "pretty," but there aren't many that are just plain savage and rough. This one definitely is and it's all the more interesting for it. The pesto in a bottle description is a good indicator of the kinds of foods that this would compliment. It is not a wine I would recommend drinking on its own (unless you're the kind of person who enjoys eating pesto with a spoon), but it would be a great match for pesto-based dishes or chicken or pork dishes seasoned with Italian herbs.


ItalianGrapesAdvocate said...

It really sounds as though you had a crappy bottle or a a badly made Fiano (gasp! that N E V E R happens in Italy).

The grape makes a very aromatic wine (think a blend of sauv blanc and prosecco: grapefruit, florals and stone fruit). But, aromatics are pH-dependent and come out at higher pH).

Not sure where you found the idea that it oxidizes easily. All whites are susceptible to this, but Fiano is pretty ageable when well made so it seems to have some resistance to oxidation.

IGA - enjoyfiano.com

Fringe Wine said...

Thanks for your comment. It's tough to remember after all this time exactly where I got the information about Fiano's propensity for premature oxidation, but I think it was from something Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes. Wikipedia summarizes the relevant passage thusly:

"The advent of modern winemaking techniques with its emphasis on limiting oxidation and preserving freshness, have improved the overall quality of Fiano wines over the years. However, some producers that still practice more traditional winemaking techniques can still produce wines that come across as heavy and be prone to premature oxidation."

I can see how my glossing of this passage may be a bit of misreading or a bit of over-interpretation, but without my original source in front of me, I'm going to leave it for the time being.