Ciro Picariello: Two Incredible Whites from Campania

11/6/20 -

Over the past six months, I've had a great time exploring the wines of Campania. If you follow our offers diligently, you might remember a couple Piedirosso bottles that I fell head-over-heels for this summer. These days, however, my mind keeps returning to a pair of whites from Ciro Picariello. They are beautiful, full of elegance, but not short at all on power. They're drinking well now, but can surely be put down for a handful of years...

The 2018 Fiano Irpinia is a clear lemon in color. On the nose, the wine offers lemon and lime zest, with a soft aroma of beeswax and fresh green grass. As it warms, there are deeper smells of muddled white flowers, green tea, and salt. The palate is delicious, with tangy yellow orchard fruits like pear and apple, dried apricot and bitter herbs. So alive, with balanced acidity and a great, lapping mouthfeel, which any drinker will catch themselves swishing.

The 2019 Greco di Tufo is only slightly darker in the glass than the Fiano Irpinia is, but expression-wise it is much more savory. The wine displays aromas of newly peeled yellow and orange citrus skins, with accents of clove, white pepper, smoke and salt. On the palate, there are flavors of tangerine, garden herbs, and dried papaya. In my mind, this is the perfect cold weather white. A little spicy, with a little warmth in fruit, but bright with medium acidity and engaging with a whisper of tannin. Thanksgiving wine? Oh yeah.

Ciro Picariello and his wife inherited land in Summonte, "the highest town in Fiano di Avellino DOCG area," his daughter, Emma, explained to me in an email earlier this week. They established their winery in the 1997, but did not begin to bottle their own wines until 2004. Emma filled me in on Ciro's self-taught winegrowing skills, which he picked up from reading "oenology books," but also by "exchanging ideas and tasting wines from other producers." In Summonte, the vines are tended with organic methods, with very limited treatments of copper and sulfur. "We are very careful to bring healthy grapes to the cellar," she told me, adding that "we prefer... to intervene very little." All the white wines produced here are fermented naturally. None of the estate's whites are exposed to wood, instead fermentation and aging is done in stainless steel vessels. None are fined nor filtered.

It is from this prestigious site in Summonte that Ciro harvests grapes for the estate's Fiano Irpinia. According to Emma, it is "a very cold and windy area," which helps the grapes "slowly ripen." Vineyards are located 650 to 700 meters above sea level, and the soil is made of volcanic silty clay. Because of these conditions, fruit is picked in late-October, except in the warmest of vintages. This contributes to the wine's high-toned acidity and obvious structural integrity. Absolutely, the 2018 Fiano Irpinia will develop over the next 2-3 years, even though it comes from younger vines. It is no secret that Fiano with a few years of bottle age is stunning, and many enthusiasts believe it to be among the best styles of white wine in Italy. I grabbed the last 5 cases from Ciro Picariello's distributor in NYC, so after this bottle count hits zero, our customers (and I) will have to wait for the 2019 to arrive.

As for the Greco di Tufo, since 2018, the grapes have come from Montefusco, "the highest town," according to Emma, in Tufo. The vines are 20 years of age, and are planted to soil of minerally clay and limestone. Like Summonte, this soil is volcanic influenced. Fruit from Montefusco is also picked late in the season. Like the Fiano Irpinia, this Greco di Tufo has some great years ahead. I'd estimate 3-5.

These wines are priced so well, and the quality is detectable with the first sip. The cool climate of both sites, and the slow, healthy ripening of fruit has helped Ciro deliver wines of such stunning character. Ultimately, though, we have to credit his adherence to good farming techniques and cellar work. Grazie to Emma Picariello for all the help! I apologize for sending my long list of questions right at the end of your harvest season.

-David Hatzopoulos

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