Mastroberardino Greco di Tufo: White Wine from Campania’s Volcanic Arch

Greco Label CLose Up
Label art by Raffaele DeRosa; the original decorates the Mastroberardino winery ceiling!

As we begin another month of sheltering in place, the Italian Food Wine & Travel bloggers have set their sights on Campania: a picturesque region that includes big-city life (Naples) as well as mountain-top living (Irpinia.) Whether you’re a history buff, pizza aficionado (or both) this region has a lot to offer.

It just so happens that the wines are spectacular, too.

Susannah Gold of Avvinare, an expert on Italian wine, leads our virtual voyage to Campania. Check out her invitation post to learn more about the region and its wines.

As is our custom, each blogger has picked a wine from Campania and written a story about it. Stories of perfect wine and food pairings; indelible memories of trips to romantic destinations; or (more likely) just a quiet night at home with a favorite bottle of wine.

Such is life these days.

Care to join us and add your tale to the trove? We’ll meet on Twitter at 11 am ET Saturday, May 2nd. All you have to do is look for the #ItalianFWT and add it to your tweets. You’ll be able to follow the conversation and add your comments. (Note: travel photos inspiring wanderlust are most welcome!)

For a preview of what the gang will be talking about, scroll to the bottom of this post.

What Is Volcanic Soil?

I’m still trying to get a handle on this topic myself. What I have learned is that there is no single type of volcanic soil. This stems from the fact that there are three kinds of volcanic activity:

  • Rifting – caused by the movement of oceanic plates that allows magma to escape and form new masses (islands); the Azores and Iceland are examples.
  • Subduction – occurs where oceans and continents converge, forcing the oceanic plate under the continental plate, resulting in dramatic eruptions such as in the Ring of Fire in the Pacific Ocean.
  • Hotspots – found near plate boundaries and under continental masses, these sites feature occasional, fiery expulsions of molten rock from the earth’s mantle.

As if that’s not complicated enough, did you know there are many types of lava? And colors? All are rich in mineral content, especially silica. But the exact composition depends on what else is in the mix below the surface.

And because the magma of a place is constantly evolving, lava expelled during an eruption can be different from one instance to the next. Confused? Me too!

Volcanic Lava from Stromboli volcano.
Volcanic rock from the Stromboli volcano on the north coast of Sicily (photo: abadonian via iStock)

How Does This Affect Wine?

To paint all wines grown on volcanic soil or volcanic ash with the same brush would be a mistake. There are simply too many other factors that influence the aromas and flavors in a glass of wine. That said, wines grown in these special places do seem to have a few characteristics in common:

  • A distinct mineral quality on the palate, likely due to the high level of mineral salts in the soil.
  • A savory rather than fruit-forward profile, often heightened by herbal and saline components.
  • A weighty texture on the palate not directly attributable to high alcohol, tannin, or acidity. In his book Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power, John Szabo, MS calls this quality “weightless gravity.”

Volcanic Soils in Campania

Volcanoes (active or extinct) are visible practically everywhere you look in Campania. It’s why this part of Italy is known to geologists as the Campanian Volcanic Arch.

Old Roman temple
Pompeiian ruins with Mt. Vesuvius looming in the distance (photo: bldsko via istock)

We all know the story of how Mount Vesuvius carpeted the city of Pompeii in molten lava in 79 AD. The bad news? It’s still active. Volcanologists (yes, there’s such a thing) predict the next eruption will be sometime in the next 500 years. Not a comforting thought if you’re one of the millions of people living nearby . . . .

Just northwest of Vesuvius lie the Campi Flegrei or Fields of Fire, so named by the Greeks for the many volcanoes, cones, and craters that dot the landscape. Visitors to nearby Pozzuoli can expect to see steamy sulphurous trails rising from the rocks. The land itself expands and contracts over the course of a day, inhaling and exhaling, biding its time.Something is always brewing.

Ischia, the island just off the coast of Naples, is famous for its green volcanic soil. Centuries of eruptions below the sea surface have flushed out green mineral ores that were buried underneath. It’s no accident that Ischia is also well-known for its thermal hot springs, touted as a cure for whatever ails you.

While not every part of Campania boasts an active volcano, just about every square inch of soil contains volcanic ash, spewed from Vesuvius and others over millennia. Not even the steep hillsides of Irpinia, east of Naples, are exempt from the influence.

About the Mastroberardino Family

Piero Mastroberardino represents the 10th generation of his family to manage this enterprise established in 1878 in Atripalda, about 20 miles from Naples. Presently the family owns wine estates in all of Campania’s DOCG territories: Greco di Tufo, Fiano di Avellino, and Taurasi.

Montefusco Vineyard Mastroberardino Greco di Tufo
Montefusco Vineyard where the Greco grapes were grown (photo: Mastroberardino)

The family’s main claim to fame is its role in protecting and re-establishing native grape varieties. In 1996 the Italian government selected Mastroberardino to manage the wine-related piece of the Pompeii Preservation Project. The goal of the project is to create an historic monument to viticulture as it was carried out in ancient times. Native vines have been planted on the historic site of Villa dei Misteri, just as the Romans intially did. Proceeds from the sale of these unique wines fund the restoration of the ancient cellar at Foro Bario.

Nova Serra Greco Bottle Shot

2017 Mastroberardino NovaSerra Greco di Tufo DOCG (13.5% abv; $18.99 retail)

100% Greco harvested from the 33-acre NovaSerra vineyard, which sits at almost 2,000 feet above sea level. Vines face southeast and lie on soils of clay, limestone and (of course!) volcanic ash.

Greco-di-tufo_4 Mastroberardino site
Greco grapes basking in the sun (photo: Mastroberardino)

Fermentation was in stainless steel tanks for 15 days. The wine sees no time in oak but did rest on its fine lees for five months, adding richness to the texture. After two months in bottle, the wine was released for sale.

Color: Pale lemon; watery rim.

Nose: Distinctly savory and not what I expected! There were some white flower and almond notes but the overwhelming sense was herbal, wet rocks, and how a garden smells after rainfall. This wine had my attention!

Palate: Medium+ acidity balanced by a lovely richness in texture. More fruit elements here, white peach, some lemon peel, but also very saline and savory. All the components in balance, medium+ finish. I couldn’t stop drinking this wine.

Pairing: Nothing special, grilled chicken breasts and asparagus. I’ve had Greco-based wines before and know they can keep pace with many dishes. Even seafood in red sauce works well.

Here’s What the Gang Has to Say

Ciao, See You Next Month!

Don’t forget to check back next month – always the first Saturday – for our next Italian Food Wine & Travel group adventure. In June, Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm leads us on a tour of Sangiovese Around Italy. Stay tuned for her invitation post.

See you then.

Reference: Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power, John Szabo, MS.

20 comments

  1. Enjoyed your article, especially the discussion of volcanic soils. There were things going on in the wines I tasted that were difficult to pinpoint. Your three bullet points nailed it- that saline, mineral quality and herbs. I should put the Szabo book higher on my books to buy list!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve just started digging into the volcanic soil topic (sorry, couldn’t resist the obvious pun!) and Szabo’s book has so much great info. It’s been on my shelf for a while; shame on me.

      Like

  2. Loved your piece Lauren and your delving into Volcanic soils. As you say, there are many factors and not just one kind of volcanic soil. Check out the writings of Attilio Scienza on this topic. Cheers, Susannah

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’d love to chat more with you on volcanic soil sometime! One question: can the savory finish you noted be erased in the winemaking? Napa Valley has some areas with volcanic soil, and I can’t think of anything from Napa that has a savory finish.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s definitely one of those “iceberg” topics, where a little dig reveals a giant area for exploration. Lynn Gowdy forwarded an MW’s take on the subject which I’ll pass on to you. Szabo’s book delves into many volcanic regions in the world, including some in the US. Haven’t gotten that far yet . . .

      Like

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