The Amalfi Coast
Southern Italy, in and around “the boot,” is home to some of the oldest wine regions. In Calabria, Campania, Puglia, and Sicily, early wineries produced wine for religious ceremonies. Later, they sold bulk wines to northern Italy and other countries to be used for blending. Today, these regions make world- class wines from both indigenous and imported vines. In Campania, winemakers focus most on native grapes, producing unique wines.
The Campania region is located southwest of Rome, home of Naples (the region’s capital), Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius, Sorrento, and the islands of Capri and Ischia. It’s one of Italy’s prettiest landscapes, with the dramatic cliffs of the Amalfi Coast overlooking the Mediterranean. Inland there are both gentle hills and mountain ranges.
Wine was made in Campania since 800 B.C.E. by the Romans and Greek settlers, who brought with them ancient Greek grape varietals. But it wasn’t until just 30 years ago that the area began transforming to the recognized wine region it is today. There are many new estates being run by a passionate and energetic new generation.
Campania has a temperate climate with numerous microclimates and varied soil conditions, including volcanic soil that resulted from the eruptions of Mount Vesuvius. The most famous occurred in 79 C.E., destroying the ancient city of Pompeii. Volcanic soil has kept the deadly phylloxera virus (a disease that kills grape vines) away from many of the region’s vineyards, allowing vines to grow naturally on indigenous root stock.
Campania’s unique soil and terroir creates exciting white wines, standing up to whites made in Italy’s cooler northern regions. Many of Campania’s vineyards are located on mountainous slopes at higher elevations where temperatures are cooler, allowing grapes to ripen without losing acidity.
But Campania is better known for red wines produced from the Aglianico grape, such as Taurasi, a wine compared to Barolo from the Piedmont region and Brunello from Tuscany—two of the finest red wines made in Italy. In spite of Taurasi’s historic origins, it is also thought of as a modern wine.
The region has a vast amount of DOCG (controlled and guaranteed designation of origin), the highest qualification for Italian wines, and DOC (controlled designation of origin) wines.
Campania’s main grapes include three whites and two reds.
Greco (white)—The region’s most admired wines, due to the unique characteristics in the sulfur- and tufa-rich volcanic and clay soils. This refreshing, crisp white wine offers notes of lemon, pear, and toasted almond with a lasting mineral finish.
Fiano (white)—White wines native to Campania made near the town of Avellino. The grape is also found in Sicily. The wines are light and dry with a smooth texture, or can be full-bodied and ripe when the grapes are harvested later in the season.
Falanghina (white)—One of Italy’s oldest grape varieties, cultivated in Campania since ancient Roman times. It is the white wine of the region, slightly sweet and fruity.
Aglianico (red)—One of Italy’s three greatest grape varieties and one of its oldest brought over from Greece. The finest vineyards are in volcanic soils on mountainous slopes, producing full-bodied reds with aromatic dark berry flavors, solid tannins, and excellent aging potential.
Piedirosso (red)—Means “red feet,” for its striking red stems. The wine is a local specialty, with a purple–ruby red color with aromas and flavors of sour cherry, wild berries, chocolate, and cassis, medium bodied with low tannins and high acidity.
There are about 120 wineries in Campania. Many, especially the more commercial establishments, are found in a valley situated in the mountainous province of Avellino, known as Irpinia. The smaller wineries are closer to the coast, some directly on cliffsides, others on hillsides.
A small boutique family winery that makes big wines in Avellino. Ciro and Rita Picariello recently celebrated 10 years as wine producers. They make high-quality elegant whites like Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo that have DOCG status, winning international awards.
Feudi di San Gregorio
Located in the Sorbo Serpico area of Avellino. This is a top winery that started 30 years ago just around the time of the region’s resurgence. They are committed to making quality wines with modern technology and an old-world philosophy. Farming is all done organically.
Marisa Cuomo is the queen of the Amalfi Coast in the picturesque town of Furore, where her winery is located. The vineyards are terraced, clinging to rocks that hang off the cliffs sitting alongside lemon and olive groves. Winemaking is done in an old-world style, producing some of the finest wines in the region.
One of the most famous wineries in Campania and all of Italy. The late Antonio Mastroberardino is known as the father of Irpinia wine and inventor of Fiano di Avellino. The signature wine is Taurasi Radici, a full-bodied red with richness and power. All their wines are made in a traditional method, aged, with an elegant and distinctive style that has made them famous.
Luigi Reale grows indigenous grapes on ungrafted vines set in volcanic soil in the town of Borgo di Gete next to Tramonti, just a few miles from the sea. The Aliseo white and the Cardomone red, along with the award-winning Getis, a Rosato made from Tintore and Piedirosso grapes, are full of flavor and certified organic.
Tenuta San Francesco
Owned by three local families, the 18th-century farmhouse winery sits amidst the Lattari hills in Tramonti, the green heart of the Amalfi Coast. The vineyards are sloped, planted with mostly Tintore di Tramonti, a local red grape. They also produce wines from Aglianico, Piedirosso, and Falanghina. Their signature wine, E Iss (meaning “that’s the one”) is 100 percent Tintore grapes from ungrafted vines—a rich, full-bodied red with a bold finish.
Campania, originally referred to by the Romans as Campania Felix (“the happy land”) is home to castles, churches, museums, fountains, and hundreds of piazzas (town squares). There are five UNESCO World Heritage sites in this region, including the historic center of Naples and the archeological sites of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Torre Annunziata.
Naples is the region’s capital, a vibrant city, and the birthplace of comic opera (opera buffo) and pizza. The Naples National Archaeological Museum is here, housing ancient Roman artifacts. The port of Sorrento is in the Gulf of Naples, where you can travel by boat to Capri and experience the Blue Grotto, a sea cave illuminated by a magnificent blue light. Nearby is Ischia, a smaller island known for thermal spas.
Cruising the Amalfi Coast can be hair raising, with all its twists and turns, but well worth the ride. You will encounter stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea while stopping at any of the dozen towns along the coast. Each one offers something special, along with wine, food, shopping, music, history, and culture.
Heading further south along the coast, the Bay of Salerno is less crowded than the other popular spots. Just to the west is Paestum, an incredible site that was once a Greek city, with three Greek temples.
The abundance of water produces an array of fresh seafood. The rich volcanic soil and warm climate in Campania are perfect for growing all kinds of fruits and vegetables, in addition to grapes. The region produces juicy tomatoes used in local dishes, especially ther famous pizza and caprese salad made with mouthwatering local mozzarella. Their lemons are used to make the renowned limoncello, a sweet liqueur that is often offered compliments of the house after a meal.
There’s plenty of hiking, yoga, and water sports available to help work off all the delicious food and wine.
Hotel Palumbo, overlooking the sea in Ravello, hotelpalumbo.it Villa Citarella, in the heart of Tramonti, villacitarella.com
La Selva, in the hills overlooking Positano, associazionelaselva.it Hotel Luna, Capri, lunahotel.com