The Greatest White Wines of Campania

Paul Blow

Pop quiz: Which is the greatest white grape of Campania?

Hey, it's a trick question: There are two! "Fiano and Greco are grapes of my soul," says Raffaele Troisi, the man behind Vadiaperti, one of the standout white wine producers of Italy.

No one in this diverse region of southern Italy, which contains such marvels as Pompei, the city of Naples, and the Amalfi Coast, would argue that these two grapes are not the marquee names of Campanian white wine (other grapes Vadiaperti Greco di Tufo like Falanghina, Coda di Volpe, and Pallagrello Bianco are considered supporting players). On a recent trip through the area, I noticed that most producers grow both and talk about them together with the passionate intimacy with which people like to talk about their children. And while the grapes are not particularly distinct in the minds of Americans, I find wines made from both popping up on American wine lists.

While Fiano and Greco are discussed so often in relationship to each other, they make profoundly different white wines, almost opposites. Each is great in its own way, yet as with Paul and John or Apple and Microsoft, it's hard to define one without comparing it to the other. Winemakers in Campania uniformly claim that Fiano is the greater of the two grapes, but I don't see it that way. While I appreciate Fiano's distinctiveness, I think Greco is the better wine to drink.

Fiano has a yellowish tint, while Greco skews green. Fiano is somewhat round and charmingly fleshy, while Greco is more fit, lean and wiry with acidity. Fiano's flavors are unique but trend toward nuttiness, citrus, and a hint of cream or butter (though it's usually made without oak), while Greco's flavors are more herbaceous and even grassy, recalling at times Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, or even Grüner Veltliner.

Troisi served us homemade pancetta (beautifully seasoned, fatty, soft in the mouth, sliced paper thin, and served raw) and salami (harder, chewy, drier, and more meaty and intense in flavor), and I made a connection: Fiano is like pancetta; Greco is like salami. Troisi nodded eagerly and said, "You get it!"

Campanian winemakers tend to favor Fiano in part because they say it can age well, but after tasting a Vadiaperti Greco from 1995—compared, of course, to a Fiano 1992—it's clear that Greco ages gracefully, too, taking on Riesling-like qualities of petrol, peach, and spice. The winemakers may also like Fiano better because it's easier to grow. It's more resistant to rot and mold than Greco and usually produces a sturdy crop, while Greco requires more work in the vineyard and is less reliable. Those are the kind of details winemakers take into account when anointing their favorite grapes that we wine drinkers don't have to consider.

Sabino Loffredo, the Metallica-blasting and incredibly gifted winemaker behind Pietracupa, says that "if you want to understand Fiano, you have to wait two to three years. Then you will see its power." I didn't need to wait for the Fiano; the Pietracupa 2008 Greco was one of the best whites we tasted on this trip, and is one of the great whites of Italy. (Incidentally, 2008 was an excellent vintage for Campanian whites—if you see Fiano, Greco, or any of the whites on a list, give them a try.) Pietracupa's Fiano is really good as well. Other wines to try include Terredora, I Favati, and Di Conciliis. (All wines mentioned here are imported to the U.S.)

Fiano. Greco. Which is better? Depends on whom you ask. But both are fascinating, delicious, and a great way to connect with an underrated white wine region of Italy.

Jordan Mackay is a San Francisco–based wine and spirits specialist whose work has appeared in publications such as Gourmet, the Los Angeles Times, Food & Wine, and Decanter. Follow him on Twitter. Follow CHOW too, and become a fan on Facebook.