Demystifying Italian White Wines, One Wine at a Time
There’s no way around it, Italy’s wine scene is intimidating to learn. Perhaps you have heard about Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio, or Nebbiolo, but when you consider the vast number of indigenous grape varieties, many hundreds, you quickly notice that there is so much more to learn.
How much? Well, considering that Italy has more indigenous varieties than any other country, a lot.
But don’t be intimidated; Teakwood Tavern is going to do the heavy lifting (and drinking) to bring you some insight about the lesser-known yet incredibly wonderful wines of Italy.
A few weeks ago, Shen took you on a journey to Sicily, where she described the wines of Etna DOC. This time, we are heading to mainland Italy, in particular, to Campania to learn about the white grape Greco and the wines of Greco di Tufo.
Region & History
Campania is the “shin” of Italy’s boot. Campania is both an administrative state and a wine region in the southwest part of Italy. Naples is the capital of the administrative state.
The region’s name comes from Campania felix, a Latin phrase roughly translating to fertile land. The region has strong historical links to wine dating back to the 12th Century, and it is one of Italy’s oldest wine regions. The Roman’s most valued wines came from Campania felix.
Campania is home to more DOCGs (Denomination di Origine Controllate e Garantita) than any other region in southern Italy. For red wines, remember the name Taurasi DOCG. One day we will do a post on Aglianico, which is, in our opinion, the most prestigious black grape in southern Italy. For whites, there are two DOCGs—Fiano di Avellino DOCG and Greco di Tufo DOCG. All three of these DOCGs reside within the DOC of Irpinia. The vineyards of Greco di Tufo surround the town of Tufo.
Overall, Campania is hot and dry; however, Irpinia has a cool climate because of its proximity to the Appennines, which provides a myriad of hills and mountains.
The vineyards of Greco di Tufo are located among those various elevations, and the altitude from those hills and mountains provide relief from the heat. The grapes of Greco di Tufo are not picked before the beginning of October, which is quite late.
Campania itself has three main soil types: 1) volcanic, sandy soil; 2) alluvial sediment; and 3) porous limestone. The volcanic soil comes from Mt. Vesuvius; yes, THAT Mt. Vesuvius.
As much as Shen and I love wine from volcanic soil, we are skipping that part of Campania and focusing on the porous limestone found around the town of Tufo. Interestingly, the Romans incorrectly called the soil tufo thinking that it was volcanic tuff (tufo in Italian). Tuff is the name of fine-grained volcanic rock created when fine, ashy material ejected during a volcanic eruption settles, accumulates, and through time becomes progressively hardened. We now know that the soil in the Greco di Tufo DOCG is predominantly porous limestone, but there is some tuff.
The grape varietal
Depending on what text you read, you may learn conflicting theories about the identity of the Greco variety. I have wine books from the early 2000s that describe Greco as one and the same as Greco Bianco. However, recent DNA profiling has shown that those two varietals are genetically distinct. Now, we know that Greco is identical to the Aspirino grape varietal, which is a white grape used in Campania to make slightly sparkling wine.
Greco produces low yields and has delicate skin.
Greco di Tufo wines are praised for their big structure and high acidity (i.e., medium to medium plus). Because of the body, it has often been described as a “fake red.” The minerality from the limestone is also generally prevalent and praised. The wines usually showcase aromas and flavors of stone fruit, green apple, pear, and citrus. Most wines have alcohol around 13% ABV, which is part of the reason why it is a medium bodied wine.
The wines are often aged on lees, which gives them a rounder mouth feel and yeasty aromas.
The better wines can age in bottle and develop aromas and flavors of honey and mushroom.
Because of its robust body and high acidity, Greco di Tufo is an easy wine to pair with food. It has enough structure and alcohol to pair with bigger dishes; yet, it has the acidity to work with lighter dishes like salads and seafood.
Wines we tried for educational purposes . . .
Feudi di San Gregorio, Greco di Tufo 2017, Terlato Wines International, $23
This dry wine was medium bodied with medium plus acidity. Aromas and flavors of apricots, under ripe peach, honeysuckle, orange, wet stones, flint, and banana. The alcohol was 13% ABV and it had a pleasant, medium finish. The producer, Feuidi di San Gregorio, is one of the most respected producers in the region of Irpania. We recommend trying any of its wines. Feudi di San Gregorio’s Greco di Tufo is grown between at 1,400 – 2,300 feet above sea level in deep, finely textured, moderately alkaline and very calcareous soil.
Vadiaperti, Greco di Tufo 2016, North Berkeley Imports, $25
This dry wine was medium bodied with medium acidity. Aromas and flavors of pear, elderflower, peach, lemon-pith, grapefruit, green apple, and green bell pepper. The alcohol was 13% ABV, and the finish was medium. The Troisi family, who owns Vadiaperti, has Greco vineyards at 1,200 feet above sea level.
Villa Matilda, Greco Di Tufo Tenute Di Alta Villa 2014, $23
Here comes a white wine with some age on it. The wine had a gorgeous amber color. It was dry but the age reflected aromas and flavors of honey, apricot marmalade, and almonds as well as white pepper, pineapple, orange blossom, oranges, and almonds. Alcohol was a bit higher at 13.5% ABV and the acidity was at medium plus. The finish was medium.
Again, there are more indigenous wines in Italy than in any other country, and you are not going to learn those overnight. It takes time. Lucky for you, we enjoy learning about these incredible wines and sharing our knowledge with you.
Our hope is that after reading this you are interested in trying Greco di Tufo the next time you are in a wine shop or your favorite Italian restaurant. If you prefer red wines to white, then Greco di Tufo, with its bigger structure, might win you over. And if you already enjoy high acid white wines with good minerality, then Greco di Tufo needs to be included in your repertoire. Plus, as if that wasn’t enough, it is an easy wine to pair with food and will make you look like a star at your next dinner party or business dinner.
Sending full body love,