Alright, let’s take a quick timeout before launching into the glories of the Greco di Tufo grape and the wine that it makes. I can already feel you rolling your eyes in disdain. You’re thinking, “But Sarah, I don’t like white wine. It sucks. It’s too fill in the blank with your gripe here: sweet/buttery/oakey/just like a yellow blob in my glass/it gives me a headache/etc.”
You’re cringing at the thought of that banquet wine you’ve been forced to drink at parties and events like a foie gras duck getting fattened up. No wait, at least the foie gras ducking is eating well. I wouldn’t even use that white wine you’re used to as cooking wine.
I’ve heard it all before and without a doubt, these Irpinia white wines are the antidote to your white wine problem.
So let’s kick things off with a basic primer on Greco di Tufo.
Greco di Tufo is a wine I’m guessing you’ve never heard of unless you’ve already joined the wine club or you’re studying to be a Master Sommelier, but trust me, you’re going to be googling how to find this wine in your neck of the woods as soon as you’re done reading this post. But let me help you out. If you’re in the USA, stop reading, open a new browser tab and pick up one of the Greco’s I’ve brought over from Irpinia through the website or call Schneider’s of Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Once you’ve chilled the bottle to between 16-18 degrees Celsius, resume reading. In Europe, shoot me an email and we’ll get you hooked up.
Very quickly after moving to Irpinia, Greco di Tufo became one of my favorite wines. Not a distinction I ever thought I’d give to a white wine, but once you taste it, you’ll know why. I was used to whites from Napa Valley, oftentimes over oaked, super buttery, and lacking any sort of pronounced structure when tasted. Think Rombauer Chardonnay.
Now I know I’m about to get a thousand angry messages defending the poor Rombauer I’ve just attacked, so let me just say, drink what you like and don’t let anyone else or any “expert” make you feel bad about it. If Rombauer Chardonnay is your thing, drink it with glee and wild abandon. Just don’t ask me to join in on that party. I’ll bring my own bottle. Probably a Greco di Tufo.
So what makes this wine so special? Glad you asked. Greco di Tufo is legally grown in only eight of the over 140 villages of Irpinia, making it the smallest growing region for a DOCG wine not just for Irpinia, but for all of Campania. As you might guess, the terroirs across these eight villages and even within the villages, varies not just particella to particella, not just from vine to vine, but literally from step to step. I mean, how can you not love Irpinia?
These unique terroirs were prominently displayed for me when the fantastic Angelo Muto took me on a Jeep tour of his vineyards where literally one row of vines had a visually different soil than the vines in the adjacent row. I was shocked, I’d never seen anything like it. I wasn’t an expert, but the differences were abundantly clear even to a great wine drinker, but non-winemaker like me. You almost have to see it to believe it’s possible.
Despite the differences in terroir, the defining characteristic of the volcanic clay soil that produces the grapes for incredible Greco di Tufo wines across all the regions is the highly concentrated amount of limestone and sulphur that exists in the ground where the vines grow. The actual village of Tufo, namesake for the wine, was the source of limestone mine that supplied all of Italy until the 1970s when it shut its doors.
Now, above the abandoned mine shafts, grow these incredible vines that produce the Greco grapes that make white wines with a minerality unlike any other white wine I’ve come across. There’s so much limestone in the soil, these wines can often be nearly green in color as you observe it in your glass. (Did you get a bottle of Angelo’s wine? Are you looking now?) Greco di Tufo is highly structured, brings a ton of acidity, and has bright notes of fresh citrus fruits when you start to drink it.
One of my favorite Greco di Tufo winemakers is the aforementioned Angelo Muto. Why? It’s not just because he takes visitors on a Jeep tour of his vines that more resembles a Disney ride than a wine tour, not because of his omnipresent and slightly sweet smelling cigar, not because he is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, nor is it his sly sense of humor and infectious smile. It really all comes down to his incredible Greco di Tufo wines that are the stuff of your best dreams.
No I mean really, the stuff of dreams. When you drink Angelo’s wines, you’ll have that same smile on your face like the one you have when you wake up from a perfect dream, hazily still in that middle land between sleep and awake before you remember where you really are and all the things you have on your to-do list for the day.
There are two distinct areas where the vines grow for Angelo’s wine within the confines of Tufo and his Greco di Tufos are named for the “particellas”: Torrefavale and Miniere. The land has been in his family for generations, and Torrefavale is one of the oldest growing areas in Tufo. Within the village, every producer’s growing area is known among the locals just as if you were referring to Santa Monica to distinguish a part of Los Angeles, or Brooklyn in New York City. Of course, these plots of land where the grapes are grown are miniscule when compared to these huge cities, but you get the idea. If I’m being more precise, I guess it would really be more like saying Muscle Beach in Venice to delineate a difference in Los Angeles, but even that would be too big of a swath when we’re talking about vineyard sizes in Irpinia.
But Cantine dell’Angelo is not the only producer artfully producing incredible Greco di Tufos. There are a number of other individuals and families who grow and craft incredible Greco di Tufos. These others include but aren’t limited to Nicola Nardone from Tenuta Vincenzo Nardone in Venticano whose Campania Greco is like a cool breeze on a hot summer day and Cantina Cennerazzo in Tufo, where Lidia and her father are also making a Sparkling Greco that I just love.
Oh, oh oh and of course the Mida Greco from Antico Castello is another all-time favorite. This wine was a bit of an experiment for Chiara and Francesco as 2014 was a rough year, okay disastrous year, for winemakers in Irpinia and across Italy. There were torrential downpours and the temperature was much cooler than normal. It led to a gut wrenching year for most winemakers in Irpinia who were beyond stressed at how their wines would turn out. Maybe the insane attention to detail and care is why 2014 turned out to be one of my favorite years for wines in Irpinia. They’re more or less all stunners.
So at Antico Castello, they decided to try something new and save their Greco harvest. They kept their Greco grapes in contact with the skins for a week in steel tanks as opposed to the mere hours that white wines usually have in contact with the color infusing skins. After the normal fermentation process, they decided to age the wines on the lees before aging in the bottle 4 years. That’s right, these wines sat in their cellar 4 years, as opposed to months whites usually age, before hitting the market. The result is an unreal gold colored, hence the name Mida, with intense and floral scents of citrus and green apple. It’s fresh, structured, and has a wonderful sapidity.
There are tons of other favorites around Irpinia, so give them a try and let me know what you think!