Once again, my annual report from Campania proved full of delightful surprises and new adventures. There is so much to learn, and so many excellent wines to drink, in this land of discovery.
Campania excels at white wines made with Fiano, Greco, Falanghina and other indigenous grapes. These fresh, mineral-driven wines from volcanic soils fit the profile to match the lighter and healthier food we cook today. And following this summer’s heat wave that lasted a solid four months, it becomes ever more challenging to serve heavy, over-extracted reds. In fact, there is a lot of discussion today about the identity of Campania’s wines and the important opportunities for its whites, specifically.
I tasted these wines over three trips to Campania and also had samples sent to my office in Rome. I have worked with the team at Miriade & Partners for almost 10 years now to collect samples and organize logistics. This year’s tasting brought a record number of 400 samples (40 of which will be reviewed in a second report focused on the Campi Flegrei wine region).
Of Italy's historic monuments, the grandest of them all is the Reggia di Caserta, north of Naples. Often compared to the Palace of Versailles and indeed heavily inspired by the royal residence in France, La Reggia di Caserta was built by the House of Bourbon - Two Sicilies as the residence for the kings of Naples. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was the largest palace built in Europe in the 18th century, measuring over two million square meters in volume.
That enormous space is packed with antiques, frescoes, paintings, gilded woodwork, marble statues and more untold treasures. An entire room is dedicated to a royal nativity scene with hundreds of miniature terracotta figurines playing out everyday life. Elsewhere are mechanical clocks molded on bird cages with taxidermic birds that flap their wings and chirp on the hour. Indeed, the palace is so big it required its own silk factories. Located behind the Reggia di Caserta are the silk workshops of San Leucio. Its delicate handmade products are celebrated throughout Europe.
The Alois family founded one of the most important of these silk-weaving factories. And for the past 30 years, one branch of the family makes wine. Senior Michele Alois runs the estate with his son Massimo. Two of the varieties they focus on—Pallagrello Bianco and Pallagrello Nero—are said to originate in the enormous gardens of the Reggia di Caserta. In 1775, a fan-shaped experimental vineyard was planted with vines that were gifted from other parts of Italy and abroad.
I visited the Alois winery earlier this year and loved learning about the important history of this family with its ties to silk and wine. But what I loved most is the collection of soil samples and rocks collected by the Alois family since 1992 from the world's most prized vineyards: Etna, Napa Valley, the Canary Islands, Burgundy and beyond. Hundreds of glass bottles with soils of all colors and textures line the walls in the underground cellar room.
"Many overweight baggage fees were paid over the years to get this dirt here," confides Massimo Alois.