A globetrotting friend’s tale of kayaking off the island of Capri in southern Italy inspired daydreams of sheer cliffs rising above shimmering waters, fishing towns dotted with seafood markets, and lively white wine accompanying the daily catch. Yet it was his exploration of wine regions inland that intrigued us most. The region of Campania, located at the shin of the country’s boot, offers rugged terrain where the falanghina grape grows.
Dock your kayak on the Bay of Naples’s shores and drive an hour northeast to the city of Benevento. This is your jumping off point to explore surrounding wine regions like Irpinia, located to the city’s east. The area — mountainous, remote, and cool in climate — offers a marked contrast to the sunny, tourist-populated coastline you have left behind.
Irpinia and its neighbor to the northwest, the appellation of Sannio, are home to local grapes including aglianico, fiano, greco, and falanghina. The last grape, named for the Latin “falangae” (a historical reference to the vineyard poles that once supported grape vines, resembling a phalanx of Roman soldiers), is the white grape reputed (but not proven) to be the varietal from which ancient falernum wine was made. The varietal offers naturally high acidity, yielding wines that express citrus, stone fruit, green herbs, and an appetizing note of bitter almond.
Winemakers craft the native grape into a range of nuanced, dry styles. All four bottles recommended this month come from producers that ferment in stainless steel at relatively cool temperatures (a technique to preserve aromatics), but each pour is distinct, a testament to vineyard terroir and the guiding hand of the winemaker.
One of those winegrowers is Walter Mastroberardino, whose family has more than a century of winemaking history in the region. He founded Terredora di Paolo after a split from his brother in 1993. (Brother Antonio retained the family name for use on his bottles, while Walter kept the family vineyards.) His son, Paolo, now leading the winemaking operations, ages the wine on the lees (the yeast cells that fall to the bottom of the vat after fermentation, lending complexity to the finished product). This results in a pour with refined mineral character, deftly balancing fruit, bitter notes, and a lovely length.
Winery Cantina del Taburno, whose vineyards are located on the slopes of Mount Taburno, captures fresh-cut pineapple aromas and allows bitter almond and sea-spray components to shine. Also emphasizing fragrant characteristics is Aia dei Colombi, founded in 2002 in the subzone of Guardia Sanframondi. The winemaker corrals exuberant scents of dried peach and honey in a come-hither package that balances fruit, bitterness, and a bit of grip.
A major player in the Campania market is producer Feudi di San Gregorio, which vinifies in a softer, modern style. Its falanghina reminds us of a well-made pinot grigio.
These pours add perk and interest to winter dining, especially when seafood is the order of the evening. So the next time your well-traveled dinner guests regale you with stories of southern Italian vacations, set one of these bottles on the table. That way, you can travel along with them, at least in your glass.
Terredora di Paolo Irpinia Falanghina 2014 Lovely mineral-driven scents fuse with just-ripe stone fruit, green leaves, and sweet citrus, offering a balance of tart yellow fruit, more mineral, and a tinge of the varietal’s characteristic bitter almond. Terrific with spaghetti alle vongole (pasta with clams). Around $17. At West Concord Liquors, Concord, 978-369-3872; Cambridge Wine & Spirits, Cambridge, 617-864-7171.
Cantina del Taburno Falanghina del Sannio 2014 Aromas of fragrant white flowers combine with citrus and wet stone, leading to a high-acid palate of fresh cut pineapple and citrus spritz, edged with appetizing bitterness, saline, and green herbs. Finishes quickly, refreshing between bites of seafood risotto. Around $17. At Pemberton Farms, Cambridge, 617-491-2244; Wasik’s The Cheese Shop, Wellesley, 781-237-0916.
Aia dei Colombi, Guardia Sanframondi, Falanghina del Sannio 2013 This lively pour smells exuberantly ripe, offering dried peach, honey, and white flowers on the nose. Citrus juice and zest support herbal and bitter notes with a dose of saline and a little textural grip, excellent with whole roasted branzino. Around $15. At Pairings Wine and Food, Winchester, 781-721-9463; at Seiyo Sushi & Wine Shop, South End, 617-447-2183.
Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina del Sannio 2014 This streamlined interpretation of the grape suggests subtle yellow apple and citrus on the nose and a smooth, mild-mannered palate with a softened edge of bitter. Serve with a delicate white fish poached in butter and thyme. Around $16. At Whole Foods River Street, Cambridge, 617-876-6990; BRIX Wine Shop, Financial District, 617-542-2749.