Campi Flegrei – volcanoes, mystery, city vineyards 

In Roman times the Campi Flegrei were known as a place of volcanic activity, mysterious sulphur streams (see picture above) and great fertility.  Two thousand years later they are doing much the same but now as part of metropolitan Naples.  Before humans interfered this was a spectacularly beautiful spot with great views of the Gulf of Naples and the islands. The sprawl of seemingly random building – from car show rooms to private apartments – on this western extension of the Gulf of Naples now totally surrounds Roman remains and the last surviving vineyards.  Here 23 growers continue to produce one million bottles of wine. They are wines worth knowing about!  

Falanghina and Piedirosso 

The two main varieties are Falanghina for white wines and Piedirosso for reds. They are tough survivors which can withstand extended drought (as in 2017 when no rain fell through the season), powerful southern Italian sunshine, botrytis (due to their thick skins) and phylloxera – on which more below.  The soils here are sandy and free-draining but with an ability to hold some water because of the presence of pumice (a type of expanded clay).  Falanghina is quite productive – it used to be grown on high poles to allow it to bear a lot of fruit. Nowadays, with quality in mind it is trained to Guyot or to spurred cordons. Piedirosso by contrast suffers from high winds during flowering which reduces its yields.  Both, pleasingly, produce moderately alcoholic wines – 12-12.5% for standard wines, 13% for top quality – in a seriously warm Mediterranean climate.  

Falanghina is by far the better known of the two. The wines here on the coast, as opposed to inland, are remarkable for their restrained white peach to grassy fruit, a certain saltiness and crisp acidity. Quality producers prevent the wines going through malo to preserve the freshness.  Piedirosso is unusual in that it creates pale red wines with brisk acidity, fresh raspberry to red plum fruit, moderate tannins and lightness of touch. In style it is the polar opposite of its Campania’s better known Aglianico which is big and burly.  

The main viticultural challenges here are drought and human incursion. Some who live in the newly-built flats and houses have little understanding of the viticulture which goes on around them. Fly tipping is a bit of an issue. But there is little to worry about on the disease front. High winds keep the vines dry, they are subject a bit to oidium (powdery mildew) but not to phylloxera. This must be in part due to the very sandy soils. Vines here are planted on their own roots, not on American root stocks. This means in turn that plants can be propagated by old-fashioned layering – bending a branch into the ground, waiting for it to grow roots, cutting it free of its parent when it is established.  You can see the result here, with the new vine on the left and the parent (one of the two vines) on the right: 

I had two excellent guides to the viticulture of the Campi Flegrei: Gerardo Vernazzaro of Cantine Astroni, the largest producer here who is also the current president of the consorzio for the Campi Flegrei DOC (plus Capri and Ishchia) and Vicenzo di Meo of La Sibilla.  

Star wines 

CRUna delLago, La Sibilla, Campi Flegrei DOC, 2015, 13%

100% Falanghina from a single vineyard and a nome di fantasia too: Cru of Napoli del Lago (homage to the nearby Lago di Fusaro).  Aged for three months on fine lees and a year in bottle. Excellent depth of green apple to peach fruit, salty finish, bright almost tart acidity.  Could be aged in bottle.  

Colle Rotondello, Piedirosso, Cantine agli Astroni, Campi Flegrei DOC, 2016, 12.5%

Delicate fresh red cherry, with violet and dried cherry notes, stony; light and elegant in body and colour. Aged for four months in stainless steel. Apparently Italians have a name for this increasingly rare category of fragrant pale red wines: vini luminosi.  Great refreshment and only 12.5% abv. I much prefer this style than the versions of Piedirosso made inland which are much deeper in colour and higher in alcohol.  

 

 

 

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