Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Underrated Southern Italian White - Donnachiara Fiano di Avellino 2011

Southern Italian white wines are vastly underrated and under appreciated wines, especially the ones from Campania, which takes in the area around Naples, Salerno and the countryside to the east. Yes it's hot, but varietals like Falanghina, Fiano and Greco thrive in the heat, giving good fruit while retaining vibrant acidity for balance. Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo are the most well known commercially, while Falanghina is still a hard sell of sorts for American retailers. Fiano is an interesting grape and one I might dub - if I were prone to sloganeering - the "Chardonnay of the South". There's similarities that I can't help but notice. Fiano is the varietal that gives the most body and texture of the three, and clearly has a similar flavor profile to the world's most popular white grape.

Fiano shows best from the hilly area around Avellino, where the volcanic soils can lend minerality to the juice, and it's got a history in Campania that goes back centuries. The Donnachiara winery is located in Montefalcione on a ridge between two rivers. The vineyards, as well as olive and fruit trees, sit on the ridge, parts of which rise to 1500 ft. of altitude. It's a very new winery, having been established in 2005. But the cultivation of grapes on this property goes back 150 years or so, and it's been owned by the same family for the duration.

The Donnachiara Fiano di Avellino, which cost me $11.99, is a delicious example of the varietal. If I had tasted this blind, I might have guessed it was a good everyday chardonnay from the Macon sub-region of Burgundy. It's got beautiful aromas of pear, yellow peach and almonds. It's beautiful texture is very Chardonnay like, and it's medium-bodied orchard fruit flavors are balanced by zingy acidity. Retaining acidity is so critical to hot climate whites such as this, as too much ripeness can drop the acidity too low, leaving you with a flabby, dull wine.

This wonderful entry level Fiano di Avellino went beautifully with a clam zuppa that my wife made us last night, the firm acidity balancing the shellfish quite nicely. It's imported by Michelangelo Selections of Manhasset, NY. Cheers.