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Savoring Sannio
By Jessica Dupuy
Mar 27, 2024
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I've always been drawn to exploring lesser-known destinations, especially when it comes to discovering hidden gem wine regions.  There's something incredibly exciting about uncovering a place that hasn't yet been overrun by tourists, where you can immerse yourself in the local culture, taste unique wines, and stumble upon unexpected delights.  Last fall, I had the opportunity to wander the inner pockets of the Sannio region, which is located just inland from Naples, in the region of Campania.  

After a couple of days of wandering the dizzying streets of Naples, savoring delectable Neapolitan pizza and spaghetti alle vongole, learning the art of pizza-making, and taking in the coastal beauty and historic sites like Pompeii and the Royal Palace, I ventured east over a hilly pass into the lesser-known Sannio DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) wine region.  This lesser-known area offers a wealth of history, stunning landscapes, and exceptional wines.  

Here are five takeaways from the experience:

World Heritage Wonders:  Sannio is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the ancient city of Benevento, founded by the Romans in 268 BCE.  Don't miss the impressive Arch of Trajan and the 8th-century Santa Sofia Church complex, adorned with stunning frescoes and intricate stone carvings.

Elevated Aglianico:  Sannio's higher elevation sites produce Aglianico wines that rival those from the nearby Taurasi DOCG.  The cooler temperatures result in powerful yet lifted and bright wines with intense dark fruit, spice, and earth flavors, showcasing Aglianico's potential in this region.

Fabulous Falanghina:  Falanghina is a versatile white grape that shines in Sannio.  Not only does it produce crisp, dry white wines with citrus and stone fruit notes, but it also shows its prowess in skin-contact and sparkling wines, offering a range of exciting options for wine lovers.

Greco, A Dark Horse of a White Wine:  Another white grape to keep an eye on is Greco.  Its complex mineral undertones and aromas of ripe pear, honey, and almond make it a captivating choice for wine enthusiasts seeking something unique.

Strega, The Witchy Liqueur:  No visit to Sannio is complete without trying Strega, a unique herbal liqueur born in the region.  Created in 1860 by Giuseppe Alberti, this distinctive yellow liquid is made from a secret blend of 70 herbs and spices.  Local lore claims a beautiful witch gave Alberti the recipe, adding to its mystique.  Sip it as a digestif or mix it into cocktails for a taste of Sannio's magic.

Here are reviews of a few specific wines that will help convey the area’s flavors:

2021 Mustilli Falanghina:  A benchmark for the region, this flinty, mineral-driven white from the historic Mustilli estate is wildly refreshing.  As the first producer to bottle a single-variety Falanghina, Mustilli has set the standard for this iconic Campanian wine.  Certified organic grapes from limestone and clay soils yield a vibrant, straw-yellow wine with green apple, peach, lemon zest, raw almond, white pepper, and flintstone aromas.  The textured, medium-bodied palate leads with ripe fruit and finishes with a saline, mineral-laden finish.  Aged in stainless steel for six to ten months with regular lees contact, this wine is lightly fined but unfiltered, showcasing its distinct terroir.  93

2022 Janare Falanghina:  A beautiful wine crafted by the cutting-edge La Guardiense cooperative, one of the largest and most respected wine cooperatives in the region known particularly for its sustainable practices.  This Falanghina showcases vibrant aromas of fresh citrus, pineapple, and white flowers.  The palate is dry and salty, with a skein of saline perk and a belt of mineral torque from the chalk-laden soils.  Apricot, ginger, marzipan, and white peach flavors are balanced by a long, impactful finish.  Perfect with seafood pasta, grilled chicken, risotto, or even pizza.  92

2022 Janare Greco:   Another impressive offering from the La Guardiense cooperative, this Greco is grown at 300-350m on calcareous-clay soils.  It is a structured white boasts a bright straw-yellow hue and fragrant aromas of citrus, grapefruit, lime, Granny Smith apple, peach, and herbaceous notes.  The palate is clear and persistent, with fruity hints leading to a savory finish.  An extraordinary sip with exceptionally pleasant drinkability, perfect for pairing with intensely flavored seafood dishes or buffalo mozzarella.  92

2017 Fontanavecchia Aglianico del Taburno, Riserva, Vigna Cataratte:  This is a mammoth wine, deeply colored and nearly opaque, showcasing the Rillo family's dedication to winemaking excellence.  Aged for 18 months in French oak, this 100% Aglianico offers soaring notes of baked plum, blackberry, cinnamon, black pepper, chocolate, and anise.  Dark fruit, leather, and oak intertwine with refined tannins, resulting in a firm and structured wine with a subtle hint of sweet almond.  A muscular, intense, and complex expression of Aglianico, perfect for pairing with rich, hearty dishes.  94                                 

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