What Is Fiano?

Part 2: Different faces of a great Italian white wine

What Is Fiano?
At Colli di Lapio, matriarch Clelia Romano (right) works with her daughter Carmela and her son Federico. (Robert Camuto)
Feb 16, 2022

If Fiano is indeed one of Italy’s great white wines, then Clelia Romano’s Colli di Lapio is a national benchmark.

Make that an international benchmark: Colli di Lapio’s 2019 Fiano di Avellino (91 points, $28) was recently selected for Wine Spectator’s annual Top 100 Wines list, making it only the second Fiano in that company. (The first, Feudi di San Gregorio’s 1999 Fiano di Avellino, made the list in 2000.)

Romano, 63, is the matriarch of the family winery, and her husband, Angelo Cieri, 73, runs the vineyards. Daughter Carmela, 47, and son Federico, 45, both work in the winery in Lapio, a 1,700-person village known for opulent Fianos from vineyards on thick clay soils.

“Fiano from Lapio is more structured, more mineral, richer,” says Carmela. “They are white wines from the mountains that need some years for their maximum expression.”

Colli di Lapio, with the highest-altitude vineyards in Lapio at more than 2,000 feet, produces wines that are consistently very good to outstanding, balancing fullness with crisp acidity. Its stunning 2019, two years after harvest, is at a point where its spiciness yields to fruit, Romano says; in the wine’s third year, toasted hazelnut and almond flavors typically start to develop.

In a story common to Italy, Colli di Lapio began with a family of longtime growers breaking out on their own. Clelia’s father, Pasquale, long sold the family grapes to the region’s historic producer, Mastroberardino. Then the bottom fell out of local grape prices in the early 1990s.

“My grandfather said, ‘I cannot continue to give away my grapes,” Carmela says. “And he went into town, bought a steel tank, and that is how everything started.”

He named the winery Romano Clelia after his daughter and quickly found an export market in the U.S. (New York is the winery’s second-largest market today, after Naples). Their estate vineyards have more than doubled from the original 12 acres of Fiano and Aglianico.

With the 2018 vintage, they have begun to release a unique late-harvest Fiano called Clelia. From a 1-acre vineyard, this wine is made from two harvest passes, the first in October. For the second, a month later, the stalks of the grape bunches are pinched and the berries are allowed to dry on the vines.

“It’s to push our terroir a little” says Federico of the golden, honey-scented first vintage.

 From left, Campania vintners Adolfo and Eduardo Scuotto and enologist Angelo Valentino outside in front of mountainous scenery
Adolfo Scuotto, his father Eduardo and enologist Angelo Valentino took Alsatian whites as their model for Fiano. (Robert Camuto)

On the other side of Lapio, sitting at a relatively modest altitude of 1,550 feet, Tenuta Scuotto is pushing the boundaries of Fiano in a different way—drawing on techniques from France’s Alsace region.

Eduardo Scuotto, 62, is a Naples photographer and Fiano lover who moved to the Campania countryside in 2008 and bought a small house, vineyard and land to plant in Lapio. Joining him in the project were his son Adolfo, now 43 and a charismatic salesman, and Campania consulting enologist Angelo Valentino.

The first vintage was 2010, and the following year came Oi Nì, a wine inspired by the enologist’s life-changing trip to Alsace in 1999, where he visited Domaine Zind-Humbrecht.

“I visited the vineyards and tasted the wines, and I realized I knew nothing,” Valentino says, recalling that there he learned that great wine was made not in the winery, but by getting the best ripe fruit from vineyards.

“The idea [of Oi Nì] was to make a Fiano that was like a blend between Zind-Humbrecht Riesling and Gewürztraminer,” Valentino says with a laugh. “Fiano is very similar to Riesling with its structure, acidity and petroleum aromas with age but, with full maturity, the aromas resemble Gewürztraminer, with rose, peach, spice and passion fruit.”

That’s a lot to pack into a wine. And despite its unusual inspiration, Oi Nì—the childhood nickname given to Eduardo by his father—is an important marker for Fiano, even with less than 900 cases made a year.

Found typically on high-end wine lists across Italy, the wine is made with late-harvest Fiano fermented using indigenous yeasts. It starts the process in steel tanks and, after about a week, is transferred to oval Austrian oak casks where it finishes a slow, low-temperature fermentation that lasts more than a year. The wine spends five months aging on lees before it is sold unfiltered three years after harvest.

Says Adolfo Scuotto proudly, “It’s a wine that you can chew.” Especially with one of Fiano aficionados’ go-to pairings: fresh mozzarella.

 Ciro Picariello standing in front of rows of Fiano vines
Ciro Picariello makes a variety of Fianos, including a single-vineyard bottling and a sparkling version. (Robert Camuto)

About 15 miles west, toward the Naples coast, Ciro Picariello stakes out the opposite end of Fiano, with fresh and racy wines.

“We are not interested in alcohol. We are interested in balance, with acidity and more drinkability,” says Picariello, 56, who harvests his Fiano in September, weeks before most others.

Picariello cultivates the highest-altitude Fiano vineyards in the region, stretching up to a cool 2,300 feet. He, his family and his brand-new winery are based in the rural hill town of Summonte (pop. 1,600), which has been better known for hazelnuts than wine.

As a young man, Picariello trained and worked as an architectural surveyor. His wife, Rita Guerriero, inherited a house surrounded by hazelnut trees from her father, and the couple moved into it in 1990.

“Ciro didn’t like hazelnuts,” she recalls. So he dug up the lot and planted 3 acres of Fiano in the sandy, volcanic soils, selling the crop to Feudi di San Gregorio.

In 2004, Picariello began making his own wine from the original planting. (Those grapes now go into his single-vineyard bottling, Ciro 906.) In 2010, he started playing around with bubbly, making a locally traditional sparkler he named Brut Contadino. Refermented in the bottle and not disgorged, it was topped with a crown cap.

“It started as a game,” says Picariello, sipping his wines at home around his dining table laid with homemade cheeses and salumi.

“I wanted to make a wine like they made back in time,” says Picariello of the country sparklers that developed when incomplete whites began refermenting in the spring. “Every day here, people would drink red wine. White wines were saved for feasts, and there were always some bubbles in them.”

Picariello’s proverbial 15 minutes of fame came in 2014 when lawyers for Champagne giant Veuve Clicquot claimed his orange labels were too close to Clicquot’s yellow. News of the David vs. Goliath dispute went viral. The Champagne house backed down, and Picariello changed his labels to white—to make them more readable, he says.

At the same time, Picariello refined his sparkling technique. Now he uses the Champagne-style method with disgorgement, no dosage, and bottling with a high-pressure cork and wire cage.

Picariello is still experimenting. His enologist son, Bruno, 31, is aging a selection of 2020 vintage Fiano in large oak barrels for a kind of riserva to be released later this year.

“We are still learning,” Picariello says. “Fiano needs more study. Lots and lots more study.”


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