Fiano di Avellino and greco di Tufo, made with the fiano and greco varieties respectively, are two of Italy’s best-known white wines, found in wine shops and restaurants all over the world. But as good as wines made from those two grape varieties can be (see my previous Winophilia article featuring several very good fiano wines), there are other high-quality Campanian white grapes waiting for their 15 minutes of fame.
In fact, coda di volpe bianca is destined for notoriety (there also exists a much rarer, unrelated coda di volpe rosso variety). Although still little-known outside Italy, code di volpe is a distinctly noble grape whose wines are easily the equal of many a fiano and greco wine. Coda di volpe bianca has always been highly thought of, and is one of Italy’s most ancient grapes, having been described by Pliny the Elder and other Roman men of letters thousands of years ago. Depending on where it is grown, it can yield extremely mineral wines–especially when it’s planted on volcanic soils–or bigger, almost opulently creamy examples when grown in warmer microclimates and more fertile soils.
In my view, it is a much better variety than falanghina, another Campanian white grape that has been extremely popular over the last 20 years. Best of all, coda di volpe bianca wines are usually remarkably inexpensive, another bonus for cash-conscious wine lovers on the lookout for new and exciting wines that don’t cost an arm and a leg.
Biancolella, a native of the island of Ischia, and roviello, a recently rediscovered grape of the region’s interior, are two other varieties with the potential to produce excellent whites. While the former yields floral, herbal wines with obvious saline notes, the latter gives wines that are highly aromatic and more opulent. Last but not least, very old vines of rare but high-quality grapes such as ripoli, fenile and ginestra still cling to the rugged slopes of the Amalfi and Sorrento coastlines. These wines can be absolute gems, and number among Italy’s most exciting white wines of all.
The Cantina del Taburno 2012 Amineo Coda di Volpe Beneventano ($17, Marc de Grazia Selections) is a wonderful introduction to coda di volpe bianca. Bright yellow in color and redolent of peach, apricot and honey, it’s clean, fresh and supple–in fact almost fat–offering very good length to its ripe yellow fruit and mineral flavors. At this price, Amineo is one of Italy’s best wine buys. Another great buy is the Azienda Agricola 2012 La Casa Dell’Orco Coda di Volpe Irpinia ($12; Bedford International). Pungent aromas of grapefruit, yellow apple and flint lead to fresh, deep flavors of ripe apple and bright citrus fruits.
My favorite coda di volpe wine, and one of Italy’s best whites, is made by Raffaele Troisi at his Vadiaperti estate. Reach for a bottle of the Vadiaperti 2012 Coda di Volpe Irpinia ($17; Oz Wine Company) and revel in its captivating fresh lemon, herb and mineral aromas, and its juicy, refined, mineral-driven flavors of citrus peel and white flowers. This wine finishes pure and long and will age splendidly.
Should coda di volpe bianca not be your thing, try the Cenatiempo 2012 Biancolella Ischia ($20; Omni Wines). This is a textbook biancolella wine, with a pale green-tinged yellow color and aromas of lime, white flowers and nut oil. It’s brisk and attractive in the mouth if a bit simple, with a pleasantly saline ripe apricot flavor perked up by lemon and lime.
Only ten years ago I would not have been able to tell you anything about the roviello grape variety. But the Cantine Lonardo/Contrade di Taurasi 2011 Grecomusc Irpinia Bianco ($28; Omni Wines) proves that it’s a shame this wine had been forgotten for so long. Bright yellow-gold in color, it offers rich aromas of pear, tangerine and aromatic herbs followed by minty orange peel and spicy herbal pear flavors that linger nicely.
While it’s a bit more expensive than the other wines recommended in this article, the Cantine Marisa Cuomo/Cantina Gran Furor 2012 Furore Bianco Costa d’Amalfi ($30; Vinity Wine Company; Panebianco), a blend of 40% ripoli, 30% ginestra and 30% fenile, is well worth the splurge. With a bright, gold-tinged yellow color, it displays aromas of fruit salad, honey, sweet spices and vanillin oak. This tactile, powerful wine is loaded with fruit cocktail and honey flavors, and the long finish hints at caramel.