Friday, May 29, 2009

The fine wines (and food) of Campania

Visiting the region of Campania is like going to a place where one discovers unexpected and delightful finds, such as: great food, fine wines and good-looking citizens on their ubiquitous Vespas.

I must admit, my first visit to this region was full of apprehension due to concerns about the high crime rate in its major city, Naples - a historic capital once ruled by the Bourbons who transformed this city into one of the finest in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. One could still see the evidence of its once elegant promenades, impressive galleria and grand theatres.

This time around, I was fortunate enough to be invited as guest of the Vitigno Italia Wine Fair - a wine show dedicated to autochtonous Italian grape varietals. Held in the Castello dell'Ovo, an historical medieval fort situated on the shores of Naples, the producers came through with their impressive wines ranging from Greco di Tufo, Fiano, Falanghina, Aglianico, just to name a few of the hundreds of varietals cultivated in this region.

Outside of Italy, few consumers know enough about these exciting varietals - a real pity, as it would change the way they look at Italian whites beyond Pinot Grigio. Just imagine a Southern region producing top notch whites that would knock out competitions from other parts of Italy, if not Europe and the New World. A number of producers are even following organic viticulture, such as Fattoria La Rivolta. The only two famous names coming from this region are Feudi di San Gregorio and Mastroberardino - both quality producers who have created a strong brand and loyal customers. However, there are many more quality winemakers who just never get the chance to show their excellent wines outside their borders.

I believe that their day is coming - soon, I hope! In recent years, Italy has seen a renaissance in autochtonous viticulture, especially in the Southern regions. Not surprisingly, wines from Sicily, such as Nero d'Avola, Inzolia and Grillo are becoming popular among wine-by-the-glass crowd. The fine wines of Campania can reach a wider market with a carefull pricing strategy that would attract new consumers who are looking for value and quality. My advice to wine producers from this region is to look beyond internal competition and let the market discover the wines of Campania as a region. Marketing the wines according to the area or town where they are made does not help the new consumer - it is also confusing as an information overload. So, forget about Caserta, Campi Flegrei, etc. This can come later, once the consumers know the region well enough.

The Vitigno Italia wine fair was a great opportunity for the producers, large and small, to showcase their wines in three different locations, including the Castello dell'Ovo. Autochtonous wines from other regions were also featured and did not disappoint. Sadly, the ongoing financial crisis around the world reflected in the lack of foreign buyers and low attendance in some of the venues. Let's hope this, too, will be resolved soon. Campania is also famous for its buffalo mozzarella and other cheese products. Enjoying this fine cheese where it's made is unforgettable. Like many other major cities, Naples is proud to showcase its innovative cuisine at the Citta del Gusto, a recently renovated old factory now used as restaurant and venue for fresh local cuisine. Unfortunately, our Gala dinner scheduled at this venue was more of a finger food extravaganza, including jamon iberico (why?), that disappointed many guests who left hungry and mad, desperately looking for an open pizzeria after midnight. LJB.