I suffer from a recurring nightmare in which all the world's vineyards are paved over with Chardonnay and Cabernet. Perhaps I take these things too seriously, but in fact there are real dangers involved in the current transformation of wine from a local beverage to a global commodity. This process has already given rise to a lamentable homogenization of wine styles around the world, and even more troubling specters loom on the horizon. In particular, there is a genuine threat that the ruthless logic of consolidated production and international marketing will leave us with roughly a dozen grapes as the sources for virtually all readily available wine, thereby reducing hundreds of fine grapes to the status of laboratory curiosities.
Thankfully, one can point to producers who pull against this trend by keeping faith with the grapes indigenous to their regions and spurning more easily sold international varieties. The Campania region in southern Italy is home to two producers-- Mastroberardino and Fiudi di San Gregorio--who are proving that the fruits of such stewardship include not only the admiration of romantics like me but also delicious wines and a profitable bottom line.
Wine grapes were planted in the volcanic soils of Campania (near Naples and Mt. Vesuvius) by both the Greeks and the Romans. The varieties that remain today are little known, but they hold real merit. The best of the reds is Aglianico (which my colleague Ben Giliberti will profile in an upcoming article), though Piedirosso can also make interesting wines. Top whites include Fiano, Greco, Coda di Volpe and Falanghina.
The wines of Mastroberardino and Fiudi di San Gregorio differ notably in style, but both producers have wisely based their commitment to local grapes on openness to internationally proven technologies and practices. Indeed, both of these firms are innovators in their own right, as Mastroberardino is pioneering machinery for the analysis of aromas, while Fiudi is conducting related research in partnership with the University of Naples. In both cases, a judicious blend of ancient grapes and modern techniques result in bottlings that offer distinctive aromas and flavors but also the freshness and clarity of technically sound wines.
In terms of style, Mastroberardino's releases consistently lean toward subtlety and even austerity in their youth. Regardless of the grape used, the wines show moderate ripeness, restrained use of oak, uncompromising dryness and serious structure. Most improve considerably with age and all are highly versatile with food. Fiudi's wines are almost invariably riper and more forward, with more overt fruit and a softer, rounder feel. Although they also perform well at the table, their smoother texture and gentler structure make them preferable to Mastroberardino's wines for sipping purposes or consumption soon after release.
My favorites among currently available bottlings are listed below in rough order of preference. I hope you'll try one or two, both for the intrinsic quality of the wines and also to support of the cause of eno-diversity:
Fiudi di San Gregorio "Campanaro" 1996 ($32): A fantastic, remarkably rich combination of Fiano and Greco made with a portion of late-harvest grapes and full barrel fermentation.
Mastroberardino Fiano di Avellino "Radici" 1997 ($24): Great mineral aromas with nice nutty subtleties and excellent definition and grip.
Fiudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino 1998 ($18): Full of juicy, floral-scented, peach-flavored fruit.
Fiudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo 1998 ($16.50): Rounded texture but reserved aromas of tart apple and straw.
Mastroberardino Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Bianco 1997 ($18): Fresh, expressive aromas with medium body and a clean, gripping finish.
Mastroberardino Fiano di Avellino "More Maiorum" 1996 ($47): Complex nose of smoke, nuts, wood and subtle fruit.
Mastroberardino Greco di Tufo 1997 ($22): Delicate aromas of almonds and fresh fruit, with medium body and crisp structure.
Mastroberardino "Radici" Taurasi 1994 ($40): A single-vineyard Aglianico with great balance of fruit, wood, acid and tannin.
Fiudi di San Gregorio Taurasi 1995 ($27): Luscious Aglianico fruit and fantastic smoky oak.
Fiudi di San Gregorio Aglianico d'Irpinia "Rubrato" 1997 ($15): Ripe and gushy, with juicy berry-scented fruit.
Mastroberardino Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso 1997 ($22): Fresh and fruity, but also serious and well-structured.
Michael Franz will be answering questions live today at noon on washingtonpost.com.