BEYOND THE VOLCANO: THE WILD WINES OF CAMPANIA WINE TASTING
WHEN: May 23, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.
When we called our May 23 food and wine event "Beyond the Volcano," we had a very specific volcano in mind: Mt. Vesuvius, a still active volcano that looks over the city and bay of Naples. When it comes to the classic wines of Campania (the region that claims Naples as its capital and cultural center), many people believe mistakenly that the wines are grown in and around the ancient city, in vineyards that lie near the sea and that bask in the hot Mediterranean sun. But nothing could be farther from the truth.
Yes, it's true that easy-drinking grapes like Piedirosso (red) and Biancolella (white) are grown a stone's throw from the sea, often in sun-drenched coastal towns in chic Amalfi. And since most tourists and culinary travelers only make it to the coastal areas, it's only natural that they assume that Campania's wine country is limited to these jaw-droppingly scenic areas, where chic crowds enjoy some of Campania's best food and foodways.
But if you head north along the coast, past Naples, and then make a hard right on the freeway that leads up into the mountains, you soon find yourself on the other side of the volcano, where few tourists venture, party because there isn't much there to see and there's virtually no tourist infrastructure.
Beyond Mt. Vesuvius lies a plateau in the sky bordered by volcanic mountain chains on every side, although Vesuvius is the only currently active one. Here you have all the elements that you need to grow fine wine grapes and make fine wines with enormous character and nuance: Volcanic subsoils (nutrient poor and excellent for creating vines with vigor), cooler temperatures thanks to elevation, and a continuously flowing breeze that provides the ventilation you need for freshness and purity in flavor.
It's an unforgotten and wild country where there is no other industry than the wine trade. Ancient medieval villages dot the landscape here and there but in between there is only vineland. And it is here that a handful of courageous and brilliant winemakers produce Greco di Tufo (my personal favorite), Fiano d'Avellino, and Taurasi — some of Italy's best wines.
If I had an old lira note for every time someone told me these are "hot weather wines" grown at the beach, I'd be a rich man today.