Sannio – the province of Benevento
The wines of Sannio are produced in the province of Benevento, situated inland from Naples and north of the Fiano-Greco-Taurasi quality triangles. In many ways, it is the engine room of Campanian winemaking. It produces 55% of the volume of the region’s wine, much of it aimed at the bulk market and at the sub-£10 a bottle range (UK retail prices). While it is easy to get excited about Fiano di Avellino or Taurasi, actually most drinkers will be supplied by volume production. And therefore quality matters, even at this lower price point. And in a province where there are no famous names, the substantial cooperative, La Guardiense, is by far the most important producer. As a 1,000 member co-operative, it produces close to 15% of the total wine production of the Benevento province: no mean feat.The history can be quickly told. 33 farsighted growers (as the commemorative plaque below says) signed up to the new cooperative in 1960. Their aim was to avoid having to sell their grapes on the spot market in Naples, with massive waste and no doubt degradation of the fruit. Those 33 pioneers were the brave ones from the initial 100 who had said they would join. But confidence grew very quickly. By the third vintage the numbers had grown to 400, and as we have seen has now reached 1,000. The work is overseen by a technical committee which is made up of members themselves. They elect the president of whom there have been only three in the nearly 50 years of operation.
Economies of scale
The paradox is that the 1,000 members only own 1,500 hectares between them. So, on the one hand, you have the 1,000 growers, all of whom need to be trained and encouraged to grow the best fruit possible. On the other hand, all that fruit is going to be processed by one large winery. It produces basically two lines: entry-level and cru, but where the cru level is a selection from the volume production and only slightly more expensive than the entry-level. There are huge economies of effort and scale here – and as we shall see being put to excellent use. It means that the company can invest in the giant nitrogen balloon you can see in the picture – to retain complete freshness in white juice – or the tangential filter which can filter 10,000 litres an hour of relatively clean white wine. Compare that to the fact that each grape grower will need a tractor and some tools.
La Guardiense main lines are Janare (the dialect word for witches; the ‘J’ is pronounced as an ‘i’) and Janare Cru. There are also sparkling wines and special bottlings. Watch out for the ‘1000 [growers] for variety name’ (Mille per Aglianico, for example) line to be launched.
Quid, Brut, NV – 100% Falanghina made by the tank method. A simple, refreshing, appley wine with 11g/l residual sugar, in effect a Campanian challenger to Prosecco. Not sold in the Uk as the importers thought the name just wouldn’t work.
Cinquantenario, Janare, Brut, 2012, disgorged 2017, 12% – the name alludes to the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the cooperative. By comparison to Quid, this is 100% Falanghina from hillside sites, second fermentation in the bottle and a full four years on the lees. Deep lemon colour, toasty, lemon and green apple fruit. The founders would have been (and no doubt are) impressed with a wine of this level of elegance and complexity.
This is very much the land of Falanghina.
Falanghina del Sannio DOC, Janare 2016, 13.5% – this is the big production number with one million bottles being made, a quarter of La Guardiense’s total production. Protectively handled (that nitrogen bag!) to retain freshness, 30 separate vinifications, partly at low 12ºC temperature for directness on the palate and partly up to 17-18º C for a bit of breadth. Age on lees varies between 3 and 10 months for both a breadth of palate and to retain freshness, with the length of time on the lees being dictated by the needs of the market. Moderate intensity of lemon and yellow apple fruit with a hint of greenness which is typical of the variety. Lovely freshness and no hint of excess weight. Great value everyday wine, £8.50-£12.50 Uk retail.
Senete, Falanghina del Sannio DOC, 2016, 13.5% – a selection of the best fruit in a 50,000 bottle production, kept on the lees for 6 months, total acidity 5.9 g/l, pH 3.35. A textured wine with added complexity: lemon fruit with a hint of citrus skin, floral, melon. Again very good value. UK retail £12-£14.
Senete 2010, 13.5% – a seven-year-old bottle of the Falanghina selection, now a bright gold colour, softer acidity, appealing marmalade fruit and honey, linear acidity balances the weighty body. This is definitely on its drinking plateau but shows that this variety and this quality level can be aged. Here are the 2016 and 2010 wines side by side, with apologies for the lack of focus. But enjoy the colours.
Greco, Janare, 2016, 13.5% – naturally deeper colour than Falanghina, there is a slightly atypical touch of ripe apricot about this wine in a challenging wet vintage with the threat of botrytis. The selection Pietralata 2016 13.5% is taut and stony. Apparently the 2015 is so good that the chief winemaker bought 18 bottles for his own cellar. At the time of writing it is still available at the Wine Society at the astonishingly low price of £9.95 (yes, I did buy a case).
Fiano del Sannio DOC, Janare 2016, 13.5% – subtle apricot and herbal notes, rich texture, balanced by decent acidity (total acidity 5.7 g/l, pH 3.2), 120,000 bottle production
Colle di Tilio, Janare Cru, 2016, 13.5% – small production of 12,000 bottles, a touch richer in fruit and texture
Aglianico del Sannio DOC, Janare, 2105, 13% – aged in a small percentage of used oak, the rest stainless steel. Deep ruby colour, autumnal berry fruit, medium tannins, soft palate, apparently only 5.1 g/l total acidity and 5 g/l residual sugar: the epitome of a modern Aglianico, soft, accessible and fruity. And that level of sugar is barely perceptible. Wine Society £8, elsewhere £12.
Lùcchero, Aglianico del Sannio DOC, 2014 13.5% – a very commendable result in a cool and difficult year: very good fruit density, similar soft finish to the entry-level Aglianico but only 3g/l residual sugar. Aged on the lees for 6 months in tonneaux and used barriques.
Cantari, Janare, Aglianico del Sannio riserva 2012, 13% – selected bunches, 15 days of skin contact, aged for 15 months in first and second-year oak, fully dry, rich brambly fruit, a firm but ripe tannic structure, a more traditional bold red than the two above.
Cantone, Piedirosso, Sannio DOC, 2016, 13.5% – just 4,000 bottle production of the grape which is more typical of the Neapolitan coast than inland. Late harvest, some drawing off of the juice to concentrate the wine, deep colour, fragrant blackberry and mulberry fruit, credible if a warm, full-bodied style.
In general, the wines of La Guardiense are exemplary for their modern styling, freshness and quality of fruit. And they are great value. It will be fascinating to see how the new top wines turn out.
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