I was at a recent ABC Wine Tasting sampling out one of my favorite wines, Tenuta Cavalier Pepe’s Nestor Greco di Tufo from Campania, Italy, and I joked with a guest that since these vineyards are so close to Pompeii, you are basically drinking dead people. Luckily he had a similarly dark sense of humor and laughed. I was transported back to my first visit to Campania fifteen years ago, where we orbited around Mount Vesuvius, but never touched down to visit either Pompeii or Herculaneum (so they are still on my “Italian Bucket List”) but the wines were a fine substitute. Though surprisingly close to Rome, Campania is “off the beaten path” for most oenotourists with its ancient varietals not found in Tuscany or the Veneto, but it is well worth the detour.
Campania literally means “countryside” and it was where all the Roman Senators had a vacation home to get them out of Rome in its heyday. The area around Naples, Campania’s capital city, was first colonized by Ancient Greeks and was part of Magna Graecia. Known for beautiful coastlines, volcanic islands, ancient ruins, dormant volcanoes (not always dormant) and rich agricultural lands (Romans first called it Campania felix which means “fertile countryside”) Campania has been a site of wine production for over two thousand years. The most popular grapes show their Greek history with names like Greco di Tufo, Grechetto and Aglianico (all have a form of “Greek” in their names – Aglianico is a corruption of Hellenico).
Sadly I did not know of Tenuta Cavalier Pepe when I visited Campania many years ago, but I have come to know them very well and love their commitment to producing fine wines that truly represent their origin and history. ABC carries two of their whites and two of their reds. The whites are from the grapes Fiano d’Avellino and Greco di Tufo. The Lila Fiano d’Avellino is the softer of the two, reminding me a little of the grape Semillon, but with more herbal and mineral notes and a slightly fatter mouthfeel. Greco di Tufo is my favorite white from Campania, and the Nestor Greco di Tufo is classic with loads of tart, mineral flavors providing a rich and long finish. Tufo means “limestone” and is the largest soil component, with clay, for these hilly vineyards. Bright citrus and tart apple mingle with chalk and limestone to create a very unique wine that pairs perfectly with all kinds of seafood and creamy rich cheeses like Taleggio or Camembert.
Pepe does two versions, an introductory version, Terra del Varo Aglianico, which is softer and shows more fruit up front, and their Opera Mia Taurasi, which exemplifies the potential of this amazing grape. Like a dark cave near Vesuvius this wine has that beautifully dank minerality, but as you leave the cave you find you are in an orchard of pomegranate and cherries with rosemary and tarragon herbs strewn about in spiceboxes. The finish is beautiful. Think mineral density with a hint of toasted olive wood and local oil-cured olives, giving an incredible complexity to this wine as well as a long finish.
The Taurasi is a wine for special occasions, as the pinnacle of what Campania has to offer, but since it’s only $40, many occasions become special. This is a wine to pair with lamb or game and might need a good decanting, but it would be well worth it. If you‘ve only been to Naples or Capri, you’ve missed some of the best sights of Italy. If you make it to Pompeii, then take a slight detour and visit some local wineries like Pepe. You will understand the ancient history in a whole new way, and if you can’t make it over just yet, then crack open these amazing bottles and taste a little of Campania at home.
Daniel Eddy, Wine & Spirits Sales Manager
Follow me on Twitter @abcwineDanE