The Vine the Bees Like

One of the things that sets wine grapes apart from table grapes is their sweetness. Good grapes for making wine have lots of sugar for the yeast to convert to alcohol.

While all are sweet, one Italian variety is so sweet that it used to be called vitis apiana which means “vine that the bees like”, and was use to make a wine called Apianum. That grape is believed to be what we call Fiano today.

Fiano is a grape that was nearing extinction in the 1960s. It is a low yielding variety with small thick-skinned berries that produce little juice. This is great for winemaking but not so good for grape growers interested in getting paid by the ton. Because of this, many Fiano vineyards were ripped up and replanted with higher yielding varieties like Trebbiano and Sangiovese.

The game changed in 1963 when Italy introduced the DOC laws regulating wine quality. These laws, which include things like specifications for what grapes can be used in certain regions and limits on their production levels were intended to foster the development of higher quality wines. It worked. In 1978 Fiano di Avellino was named a DOC area, and in 2003, it was promoted to DOCG, the highest quality level under the Italian laws.

Fiano di Avellino wines, which can also be called Apianum under the law, are known for fruit and floral notes with hints of spice and hazelnuts, these last two characteristics typically becoming more pronounced as the wine ages. Most Fianos can be cellared for up to 5 years though higher quality ones may continue to develop for as long as 7 to 10 years.

I recently had the pleasure of introducing the 2014 Fiano di Avellino from Cantine Catena (a wine I represent) during a Feast of the Seven Fishes event at a nearby restaurant. This wine presents aromas of flowers, citrus, and herbs and flavors of dried fruits with a little spice and a touch of mineral. It was paired with Zuppa di Pasta e fagioli con cozze (Pasta soup with cannellini beans and mussels) and Spaghettini alle vongole Bianco (Angel hair pasta with little neck clams in white sauce), near perfect matches for this Campania wine.

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