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.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Falanghina - Irpinia, Campania, Italy

I was first introduced to Falanghina in the Wine Studies program at Boston University last fall.  Sandy Block was leading the course in Italy and had brought along a few interesting bottles full of stuff I had never heard of before.  One of them was a Falanghina that was as good as any white wine I had ever tasted.  I immediately set out to try to find more of this wine, but had a harder time than I anticipated.  I did eventually track down a bottle, and here we are today to talk about it.

Falanghina is a really old grape.  A really really old grape.  Like many of the grapes in southern Italy, it's thought that Falanghina came over with Greek settlers sometime in the 7th Century BC.  The name "Falanghina" comes from the Latin word "falangae," which is what the Romans called the stakes they used to support the grapevines as they grow.  If you read about wine in Roman times, you'll almost certainly trip across a reference to a wine known as "Falernian," which was the most famous wine of the ancient world.  If you read about wine in southern Italy, you'll find that almost every grape has someone trying to champion it as the grape used to make this prized wine in ancient Rome.  The names that the Romans used for their grapes are hard to match to modern grape names so there's a bit of controversy over just what grape (or grapes) was the base of Falernian.  If you are currently looking at the name Falanghina and thinking that it looks an awful lot like Falernia, nice try.  Falernian wine was named for Mt. Falernus and, as far as I know, the name for Falanghina is unrelated to Mt. Falernus or Falernian wine.  It is certainly possible that Falanghina was the base for Falernian wine, but it's far from clear.

Whatever the case may be with ancient Roman wines, we do know that Falanghina has been grown in southern Italy for thousands of years.  It was at one time more widely spread than it is today, but phylloxera devastated plantings of Falanghina as thoroughly as it devastated plantings of nearly every other grape in Europe.  It was still being grown in Campania after phylloxera, but was mostly used as an ingredient in white blends from the region.  In the 1990's, a few growers began to experiment with varietal bottlings vinified with the new, modern equipment that they had and it turned out that Falanghina really took to the stainless steel and temperature controlled fermentation methods.  These cleaner, fresher winemaking styles helped to retain Falanghina's aroma and delicate fruit flavors and the wine began to enjoy a relative surge in popularity.  It was never in danger of taking over the world, but there are now several producers with varietal Falanghina wines in their portfolios.

I was able to pick up a bottle of the 2009 Terredora DiPaolo bottling for about $18.  The wine is bottled under the Irpinia DOC, which is located in central Campania near the town of Avellino, home of our old friend Fiano di Avellino.  In the glass, the wine was a medium lemon-gold color with a moderately open nose of pineapple, pear and a little peach.  On the palate, the wine was medium bodied with medium acidity.  There were flavors of creamy pear and ripe apple with a very ripe pineapple/tropical fruit character to them.  The texture in the mouth was pretty creamy and the acidity was definitely muted.  The example I had before that I had fallen in love with had nice, crisp acidity and a solid minerally vein running through it, but this wine came off a little fat and clunky on the palate.  According to the winery website, this wine doesn't see any oak, though I understand some other producers are experimenting with it with mixed results.  The winery is mute on the subject of malolactic fermentation, but my suspicion is that this goes through at least a partial, which is trouble for me.  This is a well-regarded producer and previous vintages of this wine have shown up in the Wine Spectator top 100 of the year (if that means anything to you) so take this review for what it is: one man's opinion.  But whatever you do, don't write Falanghina off, because it is capable of some really interesting things.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The 2010 Falanghina Irpinia from this winery is very good. I'm not a trained wine taster, just a consumer who has been exploring Italian wines for a few years. The outstanding characteristic of this vintage to me is its fresh acidity.