Arriving late into Naples we checked into the historic Grand Hotel Santa Lucia across from the imposing Castel dell’Ovo jutting into the bay. It was late and we were hungry. No time to search for a decent restaurant. We dove into the first touristy eatery we found along a small cove between the castle and our hotel, overlooking a marina.
The food was forgettable, the service polite but brusque. What turned out most memorable was the wine.
Perusing the short wine list I ordered a Falanghina, a white varietal I know well, one that is indigenous to Campania, the region we were visiting. The waiter abruptly cut me off. “No Falanghina,” he said, “Ischia!”
Ischia is the largest of three offshore islands, in the Bay of Naples. The most famous is Capri. I had never had a wine from Ischia. Why not, I thought.
The waiter brought us a Biancolella from Perazzo. We knew neither the varietal nor the producer. The wine was light in texture, floral in the nose, suitably crisp and acidic for the seafood we ordered, and it finished with a hint of almonds vaguely reminiscent of Rhone whites.
Not bad. It was gone in no time.
So I asked for the wine list back, and this time staked my chances on a bottle of Fiano, lesser known in the U.S. but familiar to me as another indigenous Campania varietal.
The waiter curtly pulled the wine list from my hands and repeated his familiar refrain. “No Fiano,” he said, “Ischia!”
For a moment we found ourselves in the classic Saturday Night Live skit with John Belushi parodying the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago. Cheeseborger, cheeseborger. No Pepsi… Coke.
Back home we would have vocally protested this sort of treatment. But in Italy? Naples, especially….with its rough reputation? We chuckled and accepted the second bottle of Biancolella.
A few days later we were in the chic seaside resort of Amalfi. It was crawling with hordes of tourists. Our guides suggested a short hike to a quieter nearby village of Atrani. There we found a secluded restaurant and sat outdoors. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch of lentil soup and fritto misto for me, caprese salad and grilled sea bass for Julie.
This time, when I asked for Falanghina, I got it. It was from Furore, one off three Amalfi villages that source grapes to the Costa d’Amalfi DOC, a nearby appellation. Made by Cantina Marisa Cuomo, a well respected local winemaker, the wine featured a combination of Falanghina, and guess what? Biancolella.
It was a fuller bodied white with a nutty complexion in the palate. It was crisp, fruity and acidic, another easy drinker. We again ordered and knocked off two bottles.
It turns out that Biancolella is an ancient varietal in the area, thought to have been cultivated by Euobians, Greeks who settled the island if Ischia around 700 B.C. The grape is in its most authentic form in Ischia’s volcanic soil, high elevations, hillside vineyards and mild Mediterranean climate. In other regions of Campania it is used as a blending grape.
Perazzo is the oldest producer in Ischia, in operation since the 1880s. It is equally as respected in Ischia as Marisa Cuomo in Amalfi.
Who would have known? That rude waiter was doing us a favor and I didn’t realize it. I kept looking for wines I knew, he insisted on serving what was best in his list.
Unbeknownst to me, he was delivering what I seek most overseas, a new discovery. I didn’t realize all this until I returned home and researched what we drank. I’d like to extend that waiter a warm grazie, but, as with his restaurant, he remains nameless.