Fiano - "Ancient vine of Campania in Italy. Strong wines worth ageing. Also grown in Sicily and Australia where it makes luscious dry whites." Jancis Robinson MW
Italian whites (once you get past most Venetian Pinot Grigio) are delicious… as a massive generalisation, they are zippy, dry, savoury and textural. They work as aperitif, though pair brilliantly with food, and they’re affordable. The issue is, the varieties are hard to say, hard to distinguish from one another, tough to remember, and often overshadowed by their more famous red counterparts. However, they are worth exploring and understanding, especially as we are seeing more of them planted in Australia, and the best are worth your attention. Varieties on our hitlist include Carricante (Sicily), Falanghina (Campania), Cortese (Piedmonte), Friulano (Fruili), Vernaccia (Tuscany) and Trebbiano (the best are from Abruzzo).
Though perhaps our favourite, and one that is becoming more important in Australian vinous circles, is Fiano. Not only easy to say but great to drink. Like Falanghina, Fiano is from Campania, in the south of Italy. It is particularly at home and at its best around Avellino which is in the Appenine mountains about an hour east of Naples. It is a variety you have probably drunk over a salumi or seafood lunch if you have been to any of the stunning towns along the Amalfi coast. In this sense, it can be a great, early drinking, fruit driven table wine. Though when grown and produced with a bit more serious attention, it can add a tension, structure, minerality, a nutty savouriness and sometime saltiness that is distinct and unique, with quality and age-ability that goes shoulder to shoulder with some great wines of Chablis and Loire.
For this offer, we have gone straight to the top, with a wine that is from what we think is the best Fiano producer in Italy, Ciro Picariello, who with his wife, is the owner and winemaker of his namesake label. We have paired this with a homegrown version, from the young husband and wife team, and champions of Australian grown Italian varieties, Unico Zelo. There are three bottles of each wine.
Ciro Picariello Irpinia Fiano 2018, Campania, Italy
Ciro Picariello and his wife only started their winery in 1997. They have 7 hectares of incredibly well managed vineyards at high elevation between the villages of Montefredane and Summonte, in the province of Campania. This is just north of the more renowned town Avellino, amongst the Appenine mountains about 60 kilometres east of Naples.
The grapes are not harvested until October, incredibly late for Southern Italian whites, but given the high elevation, the wines retain freshness and vitality that make them so drinkable. The winemaking is very minimal, with wild ferments and no additions, and the wines are unfined and unfiltered. This is an extremely 'natural' and therefore risky winemaking process for a white wine, but Ciro knows what he's doing, and the wines are clean, bright and flavourful.
Picariello's Irpinia Fiano is lively, mineral and bracing, with flavours of apple, white peach and hazelnut and some flinty characters (perhaps due to winemaking, or perhaps partly due to the volcanic soils of some of his vineyards). It is a wine to drink over the next 12 months, with any lighter style southern Italian dishes.
Unico Zelo ‘Slate Farm’ Fiano 2018, Clare Valley, South Australia
Unico Zelo is a fascinating project from Brendan and Laura Carter who are based in the Adelaide Hills. They focus on the drought resistant and environmentally sustainable Italian varieties, and make a series of bright, drinkable wines. They also have a wine project called ‘Harvest’ which supports Adelaide Hills grape growers by paying them with proceeds of sales of finished wines, rather than paying them a smaller fee for their grapes… this is an incredible and pioneering initiative and a very relevant issue.
The Slate Farm Fiano release is from a vineyard in Polish Hill (Clare Valley) and is one of their more serious offerings. Polish Hill is famous for warm days, cool nights (retain freshness) and ancient blue/ grey slate soils. Whilst Riesling excels on this, Fiano has shown to work as well.
Being an Australian grown Fiano, there is a bit more intensity of fruit here, with citrus and tropical fruits driving the wine. It still delivers this intensity with structure, length and balance. It is complemented with a light peppery spice and herbal, floral, botanical flavours. It is also a drink now wine that will pair well with big flavours. Brendan recommends tacos with a squeeze of fresh lime.
Fiano is now produced by more than 100 wineries or wine brands in Australia. Unico Zelo make three to four different Fiano’s depending on the vintage, and we think the Slate Farm release is consistently one of the most compelling versions in the country.