Falerno, an ancient passion
alernum was the most expensive and sought after wine in the Roman Empire and has been documented as far back as the 1st century BC when it was considered a commodity, almost a currency, and even accepted as payment for slaves. Given that it was a must on the tables of the rich, it became a status symbol and having several amphoras was a measure of one’s social position. Evidence of this was the funeral epitaph of Caio Domizio Primo, who lived in Ostia in the IV century, which read: “It is I in this tomb, the celebrated Primo. I ate the oysters of Lake Lucrino, I often drank Falerno. Over the years, the thermal baths, the wines and loves all grew old with me.
Falerno is thus a wine with a place in over 2,000 years of history and those who are making it today are well of this and feel the responsibility of such an endeavor which was cultural before it was entrepreneurial. And first among these was attorney Francesco Paolo Avallone, a scholar and ancient history buff who in the 1950s decided to bring Falerno back.
The important contribution of the staff at the enology department at Naples’ Università Federico II was crucial for the rebirth of this wine in that they determined which grapes were needed to make it and where and how they should be cultivated. The area where Falerno del Massico is produced today was once referred to as Ager Falernus and includes five municipalities: Mondragone, Falciano del Massico, Carinola, Sessa Aurunca and Cellole. This zone extends from the coastal Domizio area, which runs from Mondragone to Gaeta, to the interior where the soil is volcanic and benefits from sea breezes that arrive to the feet of the extinct Roccamonfina volcano that demarks the area’s northern border. The altitude of this zone thus ranges from sea level to 350m above sea level. The exposure and quality of the soil with its igneous, calcareous and sedimentary rocks, along with a microclimate with the right amount of humidity, create an ideal habitant for the cultivation of grapes. The varieties used to produce Falerno are Falanghina for the white wine and Primitivo, Aglianico and Piedirosso for the reds.
Regulations governing the production of Falerno call for the white to have at least 85% Falanghina, while the Rosso and Rosso Riserva must have a minimum of 60% Aglianico and 40% Piedirosso. The Falerno del Massico Primitivo must be at least 85% Primitivo while the remaining 15% can include various red grapes grown in the province of Caserta. In recent years, more and more producers have been using only Primitivo, a variety that by now is considered native given that it has been cultivated in the area since the first half of the 19th century.
Falanghina, the name derives for a dialect word for ‘Falernia’, is the most cultivated white grape in the region of Campania. It is a vigorous and productive variety with a rare capacity to adapt to different soils without losing its particular characteristics, like its nice acidity. Cultivated in the limited area of Falerno, it acquires an extraordinary capacity to age and has a Mediterranean soul that emerges through its complex and elegant aromas. All the wines I have tasted have confirmed this.
Stories about wines are always fascinating and involve culture, art and tradition. The history of Falerno, however, has something else for it is a milestone in the long history of humanity.