About 20 miles south of Naples, as I sipped chilled white wine before a lunch last spring, the thought hit me: Fiano must be the greatest white wine of Italy.
Was I intoxicated by the Mediterranean view and a moment of la dolce vita? Maybe, but the trigger for this epiphany was that, after spending time in Southern Italy, I’d tasted so many delicious yet wildly different versions.
From the grape’s home turf in Campania’s Irpinia hills around Avellino, I had tasted lush Fianos, crisp Fianos, sweet late-harvest Fianos and lively sparkling Fianos. And I’d seen that Fiano can age gracefully for years, which runs contrary to the annoying Italian habit of drinking most whites within a year.
It’s not just that it can age, but that it gets different and better, revealing layers of flavor over time, such as petrol (like Riesling, with which it is often compared) or smoky gunflint and woody scents referred to here as “toasted hazelnuts.”
Fiano is different from town to town and terroir to terroir, as each hillside is layered with a varied mix of the area’s volcanic, limestone and clay soils. If Fiano’s home were in the wealthier north, or France or Germany, it would no doubt have a much more hyped, curated and exalted status.
But because it hails from the slower, messier Italian Mezzogiorno, it just sort of is—though there’s little agreement on what that should be. This can be confusing, yet exciting. There are plenty of excellent (90 points or higher) Fianos for under $30.
In a moment of inspiration, I phoned Antonio Capaldo, the 44-year-old president of Feudi San Gregorio, the modern Irpinia winery that produces both high-volume and boutique local wines. Capaldo, whose family launched Feudi 35 years ago as an investment in the region hard hit by a 1980 earthquake, loves Campania and its wines, from Aglianico-based Taurasi reds to its three signature whites, Falanghina, Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino.
Moreover, he is an open, enlightened wine businessman who encourages smaller producers in hopes of developing a richer wine scene to help the region.
“For me, the future of this area is white wines,” Capaldo said. “And I think for all of us now here, Fiano is the variety.”
You’d think the world would know more about that. But for the most part, the celebration of Fiano has been discreet. Ever heard of the local, pre-pandemic festivals such as 2019’s summer Fiano Love Fest in the prime terroir of Lapio or that fall’s Fiano Music Festival nearby? I hadn’t.
In late fall 2021, after harvest, Capaldo organized a more modest Fiano evening: A mid-week wine dinner open to producers and the public at Feudi’s gourmet restaurant, Marennà.
The restaurant sits atop Feudi’s modern winery (designed by Japanese architect Hikaru Mori) at 1,800 feet, overlooking Feudi’s sloping vineyards. Naples-born chef Roberto Allocco showed off his own artistic inventions riffing on Southern Italian traditions and products. So there was cacio e pepe risotto garnished with a crazy flavor contrast of anchovies and hazelnut cream, as well as other courses such as smoked trout, pasta with redfish, guinea fowl and sweets.
They were paired with seven Fianos, beginning with the region’s only metodo classico Fiano, Ciro Picariello Brut Contadino 2018. From there, we sampled a range of interesting small producers: Pietracupa’s fresh and mineral-rich “cupo” 2013, Colli di Lapio’s riper and refined Fiano di Avellino 2018 and Tenuta Scuotto’s full-bodied Oi Nì 2015.
Sprinkled in was a trio of Feudi’s own small-production Fianos: two single-vineyard 2012 vintage wines from its limited-edition FeudiStudi line, and a sweet Passito Privilegio 2017 to accompany dessert.
By the end of the meal, my head was spinning from the textures and flavors. At one point, I thought I could have been drinking Chablis; at another, an Etna Carricante. Such is the chameleon nature of Fiano. There were fruit notes, floral notes, mineral notes and marzipan. And at one point, I thought I tasted oak (a common error) in a FeudiStudi wine, even though it had been made entirely in steel before being bottled.
Luigi Tecce, a cult Taurasi producer who doesn’t make white wine, sat across from me at dinner and enthused that Fiano was indeed Italy’s finest white “because it expresses itself with elegance in the South.”
“Fiano is rich in everything,” Capaldo chimed in. “It has minerality, but it has a lot of other things.”
“It enters your mouth smoothly, and then it has a lot of aromas in the nose and mouth,” he said. “You can drink it one year after harvest—but that would be too bad.”
That evening proved that indeed it would be too bad to drink Fiano too young. Or to think of Fiano as just one thing.
In the next couple of days, I set out across the region to dive deeper into the Fiano scene and explore its different faces.
To be continued Feb. 15 in “Fiano Part 2.”