Janare Falanghina 2012
Something different this weekend, with a vinous and vicarious trip down to Campania, in Southern Italy. If, like me, you need to know where it is on the 'boot', then it is the front of the ankle. Not much of Italy is further south, only Calabria, the tip of the toe, and Sicily of course. Campania is one of Italy's most populous regions, and also said to be one of the poorest, although I am no expert on Italian economics. It is rich in culture and history; this was once part of Magna Graecia, a collection of southern Italian coastal regions that were settled by the Greeks in the 7th and 8th centuries BC. It is home to Mount Vesuvius, and in the immediate vicinity the preserved remains of Pompeii and the less well-known Herculaneum can be found.
As for wine, it is a region for indigenous varieties, Aglianico in red, Falanghina, Fiano and Greco in white. Perhaps as a reflection of the isolation of the region, combined with a healthy resistance to any attempted invasion by international varieties, the region has remained a strong and significant foothold for these and other autochthonous vines. Viticulturally it remains a land of smallholders rather than grand domaines, any many (if not all) work with the La Guardiense cooperative who are responsible for this wine. This is Italy's largest cooperative, founded in 1960, and it seems to have put the region on the map from a vinous point of view. The small scale of the region's approach to viticulture can be seen in the cooperative's statistics; it has a remarkable 1,000 members, farming 1,500 hectares of vines, in other words an average vineyard size of just 1.5 hectares. The top cuvées are named Janare, a word which refers to local legends about some fairly potent witches, and all the wines are made with advice from celebrated Italian consultant Riccardo Cotarella. He's an Italian version of Michel Rolland, by which I mean his wines seem to provoke the same broad range of reactions.
Wines such as this, fresh and bright, tell us why warm regions in particular should stick with their indigenous varieties, especially in white I think. In Tuscany a few years ago I experienced an onslaught of blowsy, over-ripe, over-oaked Chardonnays. And yet I found delightful Vermentino (also known as Favorita, in Roera, Piemonte) and even the Vernaccia was good, if you chose the correct grower. Likewise, further south, I have often been impressed by Fiano and Falanghina. The latter in fact describes two distinct, recently distinguished varieties, the more widespread Falanghina Flegrea and the less common Falanghina Beneventana, both of which are localised to Campania. They are truly ancient varieties, neither of which have any established parentage, although they do share some genetic similarities with other ancient Italian grape varieties. There is a theory that they were introduced to the region in the 7th and 8th centuries by the aforementioned Greek settlers, but there is absolutely no evidence to support this.
Thus most Falanghina comes from Campania, from the Benevento region in fact, and of that 95% is said to come from the La Guardiense cooperative. This wine, the 2012 Janare has a reassuringly pale but still bright lemon gold. The nose is beautifully exuberant, showing pithy fruit, with a fascinating bitter and perfumed edge to it. It feels reminiscent of scented oranges most of all, with a little peach skin at the edge, reflecting that bitter note of appeal, and there is a little twist of savoury almond husk adding a further note of interest. On the palate, this feels bright with a polished texture, surprisingly full and broad, with a rather scented character to match the nose, backed up by a fine backbone of bitter pith and fresh acids to provide some balance. This is individual, engaging and, on the whole, delicious to drink. It is a tragedy to think that such a fascinating variety could have been replaced with Chardonnay or similar. Thank heavens for Italian reticence. 16/20 (12/5/14)
Disclosure: This wine was a sample sent by Jeroboams.