In January of 2011 Fabio Cimmino, a Neapolitan expert on the wines of Campania, conducted a seminar on the wines of his region for our visiting group. The most interesting wines were the Fianos from Avellino: three examples from different producers, all between five and fifteen years old. It turns out that Fiano ages very well, showing some of the same bottle-age characteristics as Loire Chenin Blanc (beeswax and lavender honey, for example)*. The best of the Fianos we tasted with Fabio was a ten-year-old Fiano di Avellino from Ciro Picariello, a producer near the village of Summonte; after a very successful visit to the estate, we are now importing these wonderful wines. Campania is now my favorite white wine region of Italy, and Picariello is one of the reasons.
Ciro's vineyards are about equally divided between Montefredane (1,600 feet above sea level) and Summonte (2,100 feet). The Fiano grapes are picked in late October, very late for white wine, and given a clean but minimal treatment in the cellar; slow pressing with only the first press fraction used in the DOCG Fiano; no yeasts are added, the gross lees are removed shortly before the fermentation finishes (the wine is allowed to go completely dry), then the wine is kept in tank on the fine lees until the end of the following summer, when it is bottled. Use of SO2 is minimal; the wine is not filtered or fined. This is an extremely 'natural' and therefore risky winemaking process for a white wine, but Ciro knows what he's doing, and every vintage I have tasted is both expressive and clean.
When young, Picariello's Fianos are lively, minerally and bracing, redolent of apple, white peach and hazelnut, with a strong flinty character (part of his vineyards are in volcanic soil). I am certainly drinking the new release with food now, but you would not be making a mistake if you put a few bottles of the Avellino in the cellar. The Irpinia Fiano is a second selection and shows essentially the same characteristics as the DOCG but with less dramatic mineral and stony notes, perfect for current drinking.
* Most well-known Italian white wines don't age very well, but there are some exceptions, including some of my favorites: Gavi, white wines from Etna and Vesuvius, and Fiano.
Fiano Brut Contadino
I think the most interesting Italian sparkling wines are generally those that don't try to copy Champagne. This is my new favorite; Classic Method (aka Champagne Method) sparkling wine made with Fiano, one of Italy's most interesting white wine varieties. In my opinion the yeasty flavors that come from this winemaking method combine very well with the gunflint quality of Fiano. Plus, the wine is NOT disgorged*, which means you have to disgorge it yourself. Make sure the wine is good and cold first, though; I didn't. Both delicious and very distinctive wine. Very limited.
Geek note: Ciro offered us this wine either undisgorged, with no SO2 added post fermentation, or disgorged, with SO2 added. As long as the wine still contains the yeast sediment from the secondary (sparkling) fermentation, it is protected from oxidation; once the yeast is removed by disgorgement, SO2 must be added to protect the wine. So although the Brut Contadino only contains about 6 ppm of total SO2, nowhere near enough to protect it normally, it is fresh as a daisy. I left half a bottle stoppered in my fridge for three weeks when I went away on vacation, and the wine was perfect when I returned.
Directions (from experience):
1. Make sure the bottle has been upside down for at least an hour or two, to allow the yeast to settle onto the cork. Make sure it's thoroughly cold (this takes longer with sparkling wine bottles, they're thicker than normal).
2. Fill an ice-bucket with water. No ice. Get your glasses ready.
3. Keeping the bottle upside down, immerse it in the water. Pop the crown cap off with a bottle opener, then *immediately* bring the bottle back upright out of the water. This should expel the wine with the yeast into the water, but keep the rest in the bottle.
Base wine is all Fiano, from Summonte, ie Fiano di Avellino, picked a little early for acidity.
Once wine is fermented normally it is bottled with a little sugar and yeast; the yeast turns the sugar into CO2, then stays in the bottle, protecting it from oxidation and adding flavor as it macerates in the wine.
*disgorgement is where the yeasts remaining in the bottle from the secondary fermentation are removed.
Fiano DOC Irpinia
A declassified version of Fiano di Avellino from estate-bottled fruit, this base level Fiano is perfect for immediate drinking and by-the-glass.
Fiano di Avellino DOCG
Fiano di Avellino is one of Italy's best white wines, made from the Fiano variety near the town of Avellino in the region of Campania. Ciro Picariello practices very natural grapegrowing and winemaking, yet his wines are completely clean and expressive. The fruit for his estate-bottled Fiano di Avellino comes from two areas within the appellation, Summonte (around Picariello's house and winery), which is at 650 meters (2,100 feet) above sea level and Montefredane, at around 500 meters (1,650 feet) above sea level. The grapes are picked by hand into small boxes, then the whole bunches are pressed, the must is settled out for 24 hours and fermented with indigenous yeast. Once the fermentation is complete, the wine is racked and then aged on the fine lees for about 10 months. The wine is bottled with little SO2 and no fining or filtration. Fiano is one of the most age-worthy white wines in Italy, and this will go ten years very easily.
The wine shows vivid, distinctive aromas and flavors of almond, herbs, citrus, and an enticing smokey/struck flint character from volcanic soil. On the palate there is bright, green-apple acidity, and great complexity. Pair with all kinds of seafood dishes, or just roast chicken.
Fiano di Avellino '906'
Fiano di Avellino '906' is a single vineyard bottling from Summonte, the higher of the two communes where Picariello's grapes come from, at 650 meters (2,100 feet) above sea level. The winemaking is very similar to the regular Fiano di Avellino-the grapes are picked by hand into small boxes, then the whole bunches are pressed, the must is settled out for 24 hours and fermented with indigenous yeast-but the wine is aged longer (12 months) on the lees before bottling. The altitude of the vineyard gives excellent acidity, and although the wine is very naturally made (indigenous yeast, low SO2, no filtration), it is as clean as a whistle. Aromas and flavors of citrus, herbs, and green apple, very long on the palate, very ageworthy. Outstanding Italian white wine.
GRECO DEL TUFO
Ciro originally produced only Fiano, because the vineyards he bought were planted only with that variety. A few years ago he started making Greco from a rented vineyard, a vineyard that he is now renting and farming himself. The soil is a sandy clay of volcanic origin called tuff, or 'tufo' in Italian (but the name of the appellation refers not to the soil, but to the village of Tufo, which is not far from Avellino). Chunks of pure sulfur can sometimes be found in the vineyard. Picariello's Greco is made similarly to his Fiano, although the must is pressed more quickly to avoid oxidation; the grapes, from near Altavilla, are picked by hand into small boxes, the whole bunches are pressed, the must is settled out for 24 hours and fermented with indigenous yeast-and the wine is aged for 8 months on the lees before bottling without fining or filtration and with a modest addition of SO2.
Ciro tells me that Greco can age like Fiano; given that he started making Greco more recently, I haven't had the chance to test this for myself, but the first Picariello wine I ever tasted was a ten-year-old bottle of Fiano di Avellino that knocked my socks off, so I have no reason to doubt it. My sense is that Ciro is getting better with this variety; I clearly preferred the Fiano when we first started working together, but the 2012 Greco is excellent white wine, savory, very minerally, long and complex. Ciro's description: 'orange blossom, citrus peel, melon.'