A couple of weeks ago we set off for our little Southern Italian adventure honeymoon. Two weeks of touring around the south of the country taking in parts of Puglia, Basilicata and Campania. It’s the first time I’ve really paid attention to the wine while in Italy and although I had a rough plan of what to try in each area, I was also willing to see what was around and try things that I may not have heard of or read about.
Fiano was on my list to try in Campania. Fiano di Avellino is one of the most highly regarded white wines in Southern Italy and so on night one, in Naples I followed my own advice and had a glass of Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino DOCG. It was beautiful – floral and fruity with plenty of dry minerality, it’s lack of acidity struck me. I am used to highly acidic food wines from Italy but this was tamer, softer and more full bodied, an entirely different animal.
I was expecting not to hear of Fiano again for a week and a half. Day 2 consisted of a drive to Trani in Puglia, followed by a few days in Lecce, a couple of days in Matera, Basilicata and finally a trip back to the Amalfi coast in Campania where I thought I would be back in Fiano country once again. To my surprise, Fiano based wines were on almost every wine list during the entire two weeks. Not Fiano di Avellino either but Fiano varietals made in the region in which we were staying.
The Wine of Ancient Rome
Fiano is a grape variety that is thought to go as far back as ancient Greece. It is reckoned to be the grape responsible for ancient Rome’s “Apianum” wine and indeed, Fiano di Avellino wines can bear this label to show it’s ancient heritage. Despite this, the grape variety had almost vanished from existence by the latter half of the twentieth century. It is a grape that doesn’t produce a lot of juice and this, coupled with it’s relatively low yield on the vine meant that farmers and producers didn’t see the value in growing it. A couple of producers, most notably Mastroberardino kept the faith with Fiano and other antique vines including Greco and Aglianico (now considered one of Italy’s finest red varieties) and were at the heart of the mini renaissance witnessed over the past twenty years.
Fiano di Avellino
Unlike other Italian white wines, Fiano di Avellino ages well and a good wine will quite happily improve for 3-6 years after it’s vintage year. Experts note it’s hints of pear and spices on the nose and flavour of toasted hazelnuts on the finish – the province of Avellino is also famed for its hazelnut production. Fiano is not the only grape permitted in the Fiano di Avellino DOCG but it must make up 85% with usually Greco or Trebbiano Toscano making up the remaining 15%. Although only gaining DOCG status in 2003, it has been a DOC wine since 1978 and as part of the designation, it must contain at least 11.5% alcohol.
Puglia and Basilicata
Although Fiano di Avellino is it’s most famous incarnation, Fiano has been grown in Puglia for hundreds of years with references to it in letters referencing Swabian Emperor Frederick II’s arrival in Foggia in 1240 telling the cook to bring more Fiano due to the Emperor’s fondness for it. Like in Campania it fell out of favour but is undergoing a change in fortunes here too with new vines being planted all over the region. As with most varieties popular in Puglia, it has also spread west into Basilicata although it is most often blended with Greco here.
Different Yet Similar
During our trip around Southern Italy I tasted a few different examples of Fiano based wines. As discussed above, the Fiano di Avellino was a medium bodied, floral and fruity wine with a dry minerality and a mild acidity. Unlike most Italian white wines, this can quite easily be enjoyed without food although it does pair perfectly with seafood.
During our 6 course tasting menu with paired wines in La Dispensa di Aquatio, Matera two of the four wines served were from the Fiano grape. The first was a light, soft variety from Masseria Cardillo in Basilicata. It was different from the Avellino being noticeably lighter but had the same floral nose and palate with similar mild acidity. The second was completely out of left field – an orange/amber Fiano from L’Archetipo in Puglia. This was entirely different – bigger, bolder with strong stone fruit flavours and a hint of a medicinal character coming through. A real beauty that could stand up to almost any dish.
Fiano in Ireland
Fiano isn’t a very recognisable variety in Ireland. The bad name that Italian whites developed over many years hasn’t quite shaken off with most merchants preferring to sell French, Spanish or New World whites. To me, this is a bit of a shame and is one of the reasons that I started my Italian wine exploration – there are some wonderful, native varietals that we are missing out on and the value in Italian wines, particularly from the south of the country is exceptional.
Although not widely available there are a couple of places stocking Fiano:
O’Brien’s have a Terradora Fiano di Avellino DOCG for €19.95
Aldi have a Terre Siciliane IGT Fiano from The Fire Tree for €7.99
Curious Wines have a Salento IGT (Puglia) Fiano from Schola Sarmenti for €17.99
Baggot Street Wines have a Sicilia DOC Fiano from Mandrarossa for €15.95