The Ginger Man

Archives: February 2016

Sorrento, Campania

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Sorrento, Campania                                                                                                   

The City

Sorrento is a coastal town in southeastern Italy, facing the Bay of Naples on the Sorrentine Peninsula. Perched atop cliffs that separate the town from its busy marinas, it’s known for sweeping views and Piazza Tasso, a cafe-lined square. The historic center is a warren of narrow alleys that includes the Chiesa di San Francesco, a 14th-century church with a tranquil cloister.

Sorrento may have become a jumping-off point for visitors to Pompeii, Capri, and Amalfi, but you can find countless reasons to love it for itself. The Sorrentine people are fair-minded and hardworking, bubbling with life and warmth. The tuff cliff on which the town rests is like a great golden pedestal spread over the bay, absorbing the sunlight in deepening shades through the mild days, and orange and lemon trees waft a luscious perfume in spring.

Coast of Sorrento - Campania - Italy - July 12th 2013 - 01

In the evening, people fill cafés to nibble, sip, and talk nonstop; then, arms linked, they stroll and browse through the maze of shop-lined lanes. It has been this way for centuries, ever since Sorrento became a prescribed stop for Grand Tour travelers, who savored its mild winters while sopping up its culture and history. According to a letter from his traveling companion in 1876, the philosopher Nietzsche, not generally known for effervescence, “laughed with joy” at the thought of going to Sorrento, and French novelist Stendhal called it “the most beautiful place on earth.” Many visitors still share his opinion.

Winding along a cliff above a small beach and two harbors, the town is split in two by a narrow ravine formed by a former mountain stream. To the east, dozens of hotels line busy Via Correale along the cliff—many have “grand” included in their names, and some indeed still are. To the west, however, is the historic sector, which still enchants. It’s a relatively flat area, with winding, stone-paved lanes bordered by balconied buildings, some joined by medieval stone arches. The central piazza is named after the poet Torquato Tasso, born here in 1544. This part of town is a delightful place to walk through, especially in the mild evenings, when people are out and about, and everything is open. Craftspeople are often at work in their stalls and shops and are happy to let you watch; in fact, that’s the point. Music spots and bars cluster in the side streets near Piazza Tasso.

The Wine

Campania is the “shin” of Italy’s boot, anchored by its capital, Naples. Its name comes from Campania felix, a Latin phrase roughly meaning “happy land”. The region has strong historical links to wine and vine, dating back to the 12th Century BC, and is one of Italy’s very oldest wine regions. The considerable influence of ancient empires, including the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines, means some of this area’s varieties have historical legends attached. The area is also famous for producing Falerno (Falernum), one of the most ancient wines in Italy.

Campania, like many Italian regions, is home an impressive array of grape varieties, some of which are found almost nowhere else on earth. Its most important variety is arguably Aglianico, the grape behind the region’s two most famous and respected red wines: Taurasi and Aglianico del Taburno. Aglianico was introduced to the area by the Greeks and later cultivated by the Romans.

Vesuvius, and the Bay of Naples

Also vital to Campania’s vineyards are the white-wine varieties Fiano and Greco, which are championed by the region’s most respected white wines, Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo. Fiano has been used here for more than 2000 years. Its original name was Vitis apiana (Latin for “vine of the bees”) but this has become shortened almost beyond recognition over the intervening centuries. Greco’s name is a little more obvious, and indicates its Greek origins. Another light-skinned grape of interest here is Falanghina, which forms the backbone of Falerno del Massico and Galluccio wines. The honeyed sweetness of Falanghina wines gained the variety praise from the ancient writer and philosopher Pliny the Elder, who is credited by some as being the creator of the phrase in vino veritas (there is truth in wine).

Alongside the more-important varieties mentioned above are a host of little-known gems. These include Biancolella and Forastera, which together form the backbone of the white wines of Ischia. Suppezza, Sabato and Sciascinoso (locally called Olivella because of its olive-shaped grapes, and used in blends to bring a hint of color and acidity to wine) also play their part, particularly in wines from the Sorrento Peninsula. Along the Amalfi coast, the aromatic and orange blossom-infused Ravello and Furore wines are distinctive for the inclusion of interesting local Fenile, Ripolo, Pepella and Ginestra grapes. In the Aversa plains, the Asprinio variety, producing a dry white or zesty sparkling wine, gives the DOC Asprinio di Aversa its name. Finally the Coda di Volpe vine, named for its resemblance to a fox’s tail due to the way the grapes grow in long bunches, also plays a role alongside Verdeca, Greco di Bianca and Falanghina in the Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio whites.

Campania’s success owes much to the varied climates and terroirs that host around 100,000 acres (46,800ha) of vines. Viticulture is in its element thanks to an abundance of sunshine, dry hot summers, mild winters, a long growing season and volcanic soil (the latter ensured phylloxera was kept at bay). The coastal Mediterranean breezes blow in from the Tyrrhenian Sea and across the Apennine Mountains to temper the heat, encouraging a bright acidity in the fruit. These factors also contribute to the varied qualities of Campania wines. For instance, an inland Falanghina grown on slopes where there is more rainfall offers more fragrant notes than those found on the coast, where the climate is continental and tends to be more mellow.

Despite being ensconced in tradition, today’s wine styles are fruit forward and youthful: the whites are known for their aromatic characters, often redolent of the local flora, while the reds (mainly from Aglianico) have big personalities which require a little aging. Dynamic and innovative methods have helped improve the quality of Campania’s wines, specifically through better vineyard management, harvesting methods and cellar techniques. A particularly notable name in the world of Campania wine is Antonio Mastroberardino, whose pioneering use of both tradition and innovation make him the most respected, experienced and knowledgeable winemaker of the area. 

The Winery

Established in the 1750s by winemaker Pietro di Mastro Berardino, Mastroberardino is Campania’s most renowned winery. Pietro was awarded the professional title of Mastro as testament to his skill in quality winemaking, a tradition that continued uninterrupted for 10 generations and lives on to this day.

Located in the town of Altripalda, the Mastroberardino family’s holdings are spread across several parts of Irpinia, in areas that have historically proved to be the region’s center of great-wine production.

Today, Mastroberardino is universally acknowledged to have been the most important guardian of the viticultural and oenological heritage of the Roman age. Under the patronage of the “Presidenza della Repubblica,” the winery has been appointed to reintroduce vine growing in the ancient city of Pompeii. The family-based firm has long championed the indigenous varieties of Campania: Aglianico, Falanghina, Fianco, Piedirosso, Greco and Coda di Volpe.