If you’re not Italian, you’ve probably never tried Falanghina in your life. And I don’t blame you. Why the hell would ya? There’s an ocean of grapes out there and Falanghina isn’t really hitting any top lists. But I’m here to change that, ha! Welcome to House Pour, a guide that breaks down (not so) famous grapes and gets to the bottom of things by drinking (fo’ real).
Falanghina (fah-lahn-geeh-nah) was the rich girl’s Sauvy B during Roman times. People would get home from a hard day’s work, i.e. shedding blood of their enemies and drink this on their terraces. It is believed that grapes from the best sites were used to make the glorious Falernian wine, which leads you to conclude that this variety was no joke back in the day. It had nothing to do with the fresh and aromatic wines of the modern age, but was rather made in the style of an oxidized, sweet and strong beverage (perfect for all ’em orgies, clearly). Over the years Falanghina has seen a lot. From being one of the most sought out wines to reaching near extinction. At the present moment, it can be said that it’s making a (sluggish) comeback with the help of bigger investments in vineyard and winemaking techniques.
In his book, Native Wine Grapes of Italy, Ian D’Agata states that this grape is in fact two genetically distinct light-skinned grapes, Falanghina Beneventana and Falanghina Flegrea, which are often but not always blended together in wines that go by the common name Falanghina. The intention is to get a mix of fruit & florals and a bunch of different terroir traits. Both grapes are resistant to phylloxera (an insect that almost destroyed the entire European vineyard in the late 19th century), which made them survive without being uprooted or abandoned in favor of internationally known varietals. Its name comes from falangae – the stakes that support the grapes in the vineyard – and it is grown both in Campania and Puglia. Falanghina makes generous wines that are rarely oaked and not essentially mineral or fruit-forward, but rather soft with pleasing notes of flowers, wild honey and sea salt (if grown on coastal sites). These alluring tastes gained the variety praise from the ancient writer and philosopher Pliny the Elder who uttered the famous words in vino veritas (there is truth in wine). Not too shabby. Depending on the vinification method, wines can have all levels of acidity, from low to high. Its unique character makes it a stunning food partner, going well with light, simple pastas, tomato-based Neapolitan dishes and grilled white fish.
Campania (specifically the Bonea commune) is its homeland, but Falanghina is also grown in Puglia, Molise, Abruzzo and even California. The majority of plantings lie in Campania’s Sannio DOP, in the province of Benevento. Surrounding Mount Vesuvius, soils are volcanic, rich in minerals such as magnesium, potassium and iron. These minerals boost the aromatic profile, give extra depth and deliver a distinct saline note to the wines. This hot and dry area is helped by the coastal breezes that blow in from the Tyrrhenian Sea and across the Apennine Mountains to moderate the heat, leading to high acidity in the fruit. A wide range of wines are made from this grape, from sparkling using any method, still, late harvest to passito styles. Since this was the biggest limitation that we had with suppliers in House Pour, we only tasted the dry versions.
Observing all 5 bottles brought, one could conclude that there wasn’t much diversity, nor complexity in these wines. Every single one of them was made to be simple, easy-drinking with short aging capability. Differences between Campania and Puglia were subtle, but Puglia had one major advantage – it was catching up with the rest of the world much faster. When tasting Campania, we had an impression that these guys were still stuck in the winemaking techniques of the 90s with heavy, over-extracted wines that got tucked back into the fridge after half a glass. All in all, a very educational tasting, but not bottles to be sought out with flaming enthusiasm (except if you’re on vacation in the mentioned regions).
Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina 2017
The first time I tried Falanghina was not memorable. The food was bland, the wine was warm, everybody was yelling in a foreign language and I was just sitting there trying to understand what the fuck was going on. The second time I tried it, I drank it. Alone. With pleasure in the bar of a Tuscan steakhouse unwinding from a long day. That could’ve been the best bottle in my life right there and then. Live for the moment, right? Tasting the same wine again months afterwards kind of evoked the initial felling. Deep golden yellow in the glass, very aromatic with strong notes of ripe banana, cucumber peel, biscuit and freshly baked bread. Not much acidity on the palate. Tastes of Mr. Kipling cakes and fabric softener. Hints of coriander leaf. Bitter aftertaste, a bit hot on the finish. It reminded some of New World Chardonnay, which was a pretty accurate guess if we exclude the greenish/vegetal notes that we’re lurking about in the corners of this wine.
You might also like: Fattoria La Rivolta Taburno Falanghina del Sannio
Terredora di Paolo Irpinia 2016
Campania’s legendary winemaker, Walter Mastroberardino, started his journey at the age of 60. That’s some inspirational, Gary V shit right there. “Stop whining, start hustling.” Today he has 200 ha of vineyards and produces wines from grapes such as Greco, Aglianico, Fiano and of course, Falanghina. Very classic production – use of selected yeasts, low-temperature fermentation, lees aging, no oak. Much subtler aromas on this one, going towards a combo of florals and spice with a bit of secondary tones. Think honeysuckle, chamomile, biscuit and green pepper. Very simple on the palate with absolutely no depth. Medium body, medium finish, marked by a hint of bitterness. Has this big fat that can’t really integrate with anything. The biggest pro here is the crisp acidity that saves this Falanghina from coming in last at the tasting. If it didn’t have that, it could’ve easily been served as a €2 bistro wine. Not all that easy to like.
Purchased: Wines Online
You might also like: Mastroberardino Sannio Falanghina, La Guardiense ‘Janare’ Falanghina Sannio
Feudi di San Gregorio Albente 2016
Campania IGT, Campania
As you may have noticed, the first wine we tried from San Gregorio was coming out of Sannio, a DOC that has strict regulations on how the grapes are grown. Campania IGT offers more leeway, freeing the winemakers of certain laws and plot constraints. Being one of the main protagonists in the renaissance of southern Italian wines, this winery really checks all the boxes when it comes to regional/varietal expression of Falanghina. This was some heavy stuff in the glass (felt even on the swirl). Not highly aromatic, but definitely much fruiter than the rest of the batch. Notes of baked apple combined with freshly sliced pear and brioche. The acidity is a tad sharp, which would be ok if the wine wasn’t so damn dry. Has a highly pronounced saline character – like taking the bottle, dumping it open into the sea, adding butter to it and shutting it. Such an intense wine (to say the least), coming in second favourite with the crowd.
Purchased: Ferrari Food + Wine
You might also like: Fontanavecchia Falanghina del Taburno, Cantina del Taburno Falanghina Taburno
Polvanera Falanghina 2016
Puglia IGT, Puglia
This is a Falanghina that hails from the Province of Bari in Puglia. If you’re familiar with France’s Languedoc, you’ll easily spot some of the similar traits – Mediterranean climate, limestone soils and sea breezes that cool down the region’s sizzling hot plots. As you may have concluded already, organic farming is a no-brainer here, since fungal diseases are literally non-existent. Polvanera brings it up a notch and uses no oak with their wines. The goal is to get the best possible expression of the grape without screwing around much in the winery. This was some pretty good stuff. A bit of reduction on the first sniff, but dissipates quickly to let aromas of unripe tropical fruit, peach and pear do their thing. Superb balance, firm structure and crisp acidity. Long yeasty-mineral finish. Imagine sitting on the balcony of some cheap hostel in Bari, being bathed by the sun, eating pasta and topping up your glass with this. Mamma mia!
Purchased: Italian Wine Club
You might also like: Vesevo Falanghina Beneventano IGT, San Salvatore Falanghina
Masseria Altemura Falanghina 2016
Salento IGT, Puglia
When you think of Salento, you think of powerful, rustic reds made from the grapes of Primitivo, Negroamaro or Malvasia Nera. Even Wine Searcher doesn’t put emphasis on Falanghina. But hey, we’re here to talk quality, not politics. Masseria Altemura is part of a mass-producing house called Zonin, which most often than not has a preeetty stained reputation (but depends on how you look at it, really). You start out with these wines on a park bench when your first love leaves you in the middle of winter, so you decide to drink yourself to death with anything that’s cheap and sympathetic. This white confirms that. Loads of reduction on the nose, but this time, it doesn’t blow off. There is some fruit underneath, mostly citrus. Light-bodied, very basic, with no particular structure and a medium aftertaste. The good thing is that when you’re finishing off a day of stuffing yourself with cheese and wine, this kind of seals the deal with its simplicity.
You might also like: Campi Valerio ‘Fannia’ Molise Falanghina, La Fortezza Falanghina del Sannio
House Pour is an approachable guide to the world’s (not so) famous grapes. We’re a group of friends that meet once a month, bring bottles to the table and have a good ol’ time. If you’re inspired by the idea, please spread the love within your wine community. If you’re based in Singapore, don’t hesitate to join us or enquire on hosting your own event! DM at @grapenomad or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.