One winery dedicated to working with older (often neglected) vineyards in the Campania region of Italy is Cantina Giardino. Antonio and Daniela de Grutolla started Cantina Giardino with four friends in 1997 with a passion for preserving these old vineyards and the native varieties, and with them some of the cultural heritage of the region.
Antonio and Daniela were very kind and patient, as my Italian language skills are non-existent. My time there was educational and eye-opening to their winery, the Italian countryside and the special old vineyards they're so passionate about. It was also a fun time, and I got the nickname Pane (meaning bread) because my name (Brad) sounds a lot like.. bread. A coincidence that it's food-related?
The food culture in Italy is pretty special, and where there is food there is often wine. But what makes a food and wine combination work? Just as there is a lot of subjectivity in what wines we all like, so there is in which food and wine combinations work for different people. There are, however, some signposts to help us along the way, and a lot of research that's been done to give us some idea of what's happening when we combine food and wine. For example:
Thinking more about this and the wonderful food and wine culture in Italy, and my time in Campania, I wrote to Daniela to see whether she'd like to answer a few questions about food and wine, specifically in their region. Thankfully Daniela was happy to answer and even share a regional recipe!
I translated with the automatic translator, you know that English as a language does not take root in the brains of southern Italy, I hope our answers are understandable and I thank you for your questions.
What do you love about making wine in Campania? What is special about wine from Campania?
We are in an area of Campania called Irpinia, we are close to the Apennines and so it is a southern area but colder. There are very high temperature excursions from day to night. This means that there is a very high natural acidity in our wines. And this is one of the things we like best about this area: the acidity. It becomes an unexpected surprise for a southern Italian wine, especially for whites. Another exceptional thing is the presence of so many native vines: Fiano, Greco, Coda di Volpe, Falanghina, Roviello, Aglianico.... there are no other regions in Italy with such a high presence of native vines. In this we were helped by emigration in search of work, the men left to go abroad or to Northern Italy, and in Irpinia the elderly and women remained, who, because they have a more logical mentality in their work, would never have uprooted productive vines to put in international vines. However, ours is also a very unfortunate area because it has been subject to major earthquakes and therefore our historic centres have all collapsed... for this reason we work almost exclusively with old vines, from 50 to over 100 years old... our vines represent a historicity that our small villages do not have.
In Italy (and Campania), how important is eating food with wine?
In the meantime, I would like to tell you that the pairing of natural wines is much easier. Consequently, when a wine is unfiltered, not clarified, has no added sulphites and above all spontaneous fermentation, it is so pleasant to drink that the number of pairings with natural wines has tripled. In any case, for Italians the right wine next to the dish is important, but only for that segment of Italians most passionate about the craftsmanship and naturalness of a dish. Oil is also essential and so on each one you need an extra drizzle of oil whether it is delicate or stronger. In Campania we eat very well, it is one of the southern regions with more quality restaurants, but there is still a low diffusion of natural wines, but this will change in the next few years. Right now Naples, but also the island of Capri, have some places where you can have a lot of fun with food and wine.
What are some of your favourite foods to eat with a Fiano or a Greco ? (Or another white / orange wine from Italy)?
Fiano wine goes well with fish dishes, seafood, poultry and white meats, but also with salads and fresh cheeses and light risottos with fish or vegetables. It is the same with Greco, but you can also move on to more challenging pastas with shellfish and mozzarella, cuttlefish up to cod. The sparkling version of Greco is exceptional as an aperitif. We don't drink them very cold, even 13-14 degrees are fine. Natural wines should not be very cold. I like to drink these two wines with rabbit, either stewed with capers or pan-fried with peppers and potatoes...
What are some of your favourite foods to eat with Aglianico? (Or another red wine from Italy? )
The marked acidity and pronounced tannin make Aglianico a perfect match for dishes with a fatty, unctuous tendency, such as game, roasts, braised meats and stews.
To stay in Campania, Aglianico wine can be paired with fried pork from Irpinia or kid all'avellinese. Or even pork ribs with vinegar peppers.
I, however, love to drink Aglianico while eating heavy dishes, it is not a wine you can sip while standing at an aperitif. We make versions in which we add other, simpler red grapes to dilute its tannin, and those can also be drunk as an aperitif... but pure Aglianico should be drunk in the company of a meat dish with tomato sauce cooked for several hours or with sautéed pork!
Do you have a favourite recipe for food that is great with wine that you would like to share?
Arianese Stew (Spezzatino all’arianese)
Stew is made from less valuable pieces of veal.
(more sinewy meat and less valuable flesh).
This tougher type of meat should be boiled. To make it taste better, this meat should be enriched with an oregano-flavoured sauce.
We boil the piece of meat in water with some carrots and celery and leave it to cook for at least two hours. From time to time we turn it over and check if it is ready, it should be just soft, considering that the cooking continues in the sauce which we will pepper in the meantime. For the sauce: fry a chopped onion, carrot and celery and a clove of garlic in oil, which we then remove. Add a tin of peeled tomatoes, crushed with a fork, followed by the tomato puree, salt and oregano. In the meantime, chop up the meat and add it to the sauce with a ladle of cooking stock, allowing it to finish cooking.
What wine have you been drinking recently?
Lately we have been drinking a very good Spanish wine, called La Perdida. But those who follow us know that we try a lot of them, so I mention this company because last night it was the best wine of the battery of wines we tasted!
I know you are fans of Italian cinema. What Italian films or directors can you recommend for our readers?
It is always difficult to recommend an Italian film... also because some that we like don't know if they render in English translation. The directors: Antonioni, Visconti, Sorrentino, Bertolucci, Fellini, Leone, Scola....
We recommend “BRUTTI, SPORCHI e CATTIVI” but I don't know in the English translation if it renders and if it can be understood.
Alright, let's have a look at a few wines from Cantina Giardino and another from Campania that we currently have available:
Til next time, Juiceheads x