Sannio Wines: Ancient Varieties Meet State-of-the-Art Wineries

four wine bottles from Sannio, Italy

Sannio is a wine-producing sub-region of Campania, an area in the west of Italy, located on the “ankle” of the boot-shaped country. Campania produces wines made from ancient grape varieties with equally ancient-sounding names like Aglianico, Falanghina, Coda di Volpe, Fiano, Greco di Tufo, and Piedrosso. These grape varieties have been making a comeback in Campania since the 1980s, helped along by contemporary winemaking technique and enthusiastic wine makers interested in preserving the viticultural history of the area.

The Sannio sub-region specializes in Falanghina and Aglianico, grapes that do well in the region’s altitude. Sannio is a hilly area north of Naples that straddles the provinces of Benevento and Avellino. The mountains in the area mitigate the warm inland temperatures, allowing the grapes to retain their freshness and acidity, and the soils are clay and limestone.

Dairy farms are prevalent in Sannio, and pizza is a popular dish, made with the area’s Buffalo Mozarello and Pomodoro tomatoes, and pork is the most prominent meat.

A recent LA Wine Writers luncheon, held at n10 restaurant in Los Angeles, and hosted by Italian Wine Girl Laura Donadoni, featured four of the wines of the Sannio Consorzio Tutela Vini. The four wines tasted, three Falanghinas and one Aglianico, were paired with the restaurant’s contemporary Italian food. It should be noted that 95% of the Falanghina grapes in Italy are grown in Sannio.

Sparkling Falanghina

sparkling falanghina bottle

Our group was introduced to a sparkling wine that most of the 12 people at the luncheon had not experienced before. This is not surprising, as sparkling Falanghina comprises just 3% of the wines produced from this grape in Sannio.

And it was a treat. A refreshing, lovely alternative to Prosecco, this bubbly Falanghina had a wonderfully floral nose, a touch of salinity on the palate, and a slightly bitter, almondy finish, which is typical of Italian white wines.

This bubbly is made using the Charmant method, the same as used for Prosecco production whereby the fermentation takes place in large stainless steel tanks, preserving the fresh, fruity characteristics of the wine. This one, produced by Corte Normanna, has 12% alcohol, making a great aperitif that pairs well with a variety of foods.

I’ve long been a proponent of what I call “other bubbles,” which are sparkling wine that are more affordable alternatives to pricey Champagne, and this one fits the bill at under $20 retail.

Terre Stregate Svelato falanghina bottle with salad

A Tre Bicchieri Winner

Wine number two was another Falanghina, but a still version, from Terre Stregate, called Svelato. In 2019 this wine received the Tre Bicchieri (“three glasses”) award from the Vini d’Italia guide published by Gambero Rosso, which is its top award.

This lovely version of Falanghina is also floral, salty, and with a bitter almond finish, which paired perfectly with the simple crisp salad course.
The third wine, also a Falanghina, was Janare Sanate, another gorgeous version with citrus, flowers, fresh hay, and a minerally finish. Both of the above Falanghina wines are aged in stainless steel.
These wines reminded me why I often go to our Italian wine section at The Wine House when I’m looking for an inexpensive but lovely and refreshing white wine to go with my dinner. They offer so much, with a pleasing complexity, acidity, and finish that pleases my palate every time. Both of the above are priced below $20 retail.
Sannio Falanghina wines are sourced from the hills, and the area has has it’s own designation, called Falanghina del Sannio DOC. The word Sannio derives from “Samnium,” which means “land of the Samnites,” a pre-Roman civilization … this should give you an idea of just how ancient these ancient grapes are.

Aglianico, a Big Red

Fattoria La Rivolta 100% Aglianico bottle with beef

While 67% of the grapes of Sannio are white Falanghina, 12% are of the red variety Aglianico, specifically Aglianico del Taburno, which received DOC status in 1986, and DOCG status in 2011.

The Fattoria La Rivolta is 100% Aglianico, although regulations allow up to 50% of other varieties. The grapes are grown at even higher altitudes than the Falanghina so the wines retain their freshness and acidity. Additionally, La Rivolta’s wine is organic.
Our luncheon paired this with a meaty pasta dish, which was perfect, but it also paired well with the sweet sweet profiterole served for dessert. This tasty Aglianico sells for about $25 retail.

Other Aglianico Regions

Aglianico del Taburno DOCG is distinct from the other Aglianicos of Italy. Taurasi, the most well-known, comes from Campania, and is named after a town in Avellino and has been referred to as the ‘Barolo of the South.’ This version must age three years before release. Another is Aglianico del Vulture, which is a DOC/DOCG in Southern Italy’s mountainous, land-locked and wild area of  Basilicata, which features volcanic soils, giving its wines power and structure.
Aglianico, regardless of source, is generally a well structured wine, with delicious dark fruity flavoring and tangy acidity, which pairs well with a variety of foods, including meats, vegetables, pasta, risotto, and, some would argue, chocolate. Popularity of Aglianico wines has been growing rapidly in the last 10 years.

Useful links

N10 Restaurant —
Sannio Consorzia —
The Wine House —
Until next time,