Article by Dan Traucki published in the December 2013/January 2014 Edition of Wine Business Magazine:
There are 32 wineries growing Fiano in Australia and it’s a variety making a statement at wine shows. Dan Traucki reports.
The Italian white grape variety Fiano is grown predominantly in the warmer regions down south around Campania and on the island of Sicily. In Campania it is best known as the DOCG (Denominazione di origine Controllata e Garantita) wine of Fiano di Avellino. Until recently Fiano was slowly disappearing from Italian vineyards because its thick-skinned berries produce a lot less juice than other white varieties such as Trebbiano, which are usually planted in similar areas. This low juice content and the subsequent low extraction rates make Fiano a much less profitable variety for the farmers to grow. Additionally Fiano is rather susceptible to downy and powdery mildew, especially around flowering which further detracts from its appeal to growers.
For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, this ancient grape variety was in such decline that by the 1990s there was only a small acreage left. Since then a new focus on wine quality rather than volume, together with modern winemaking techniques and equipment, has seen a resurgence of interest in this variety. Another factor in this revival is the growing desire of European winemakers to preserve and nurture their ancient local grape varieties. This renaissance has been most evident in Fiano’s ‘home ground’ around the town of Avellino, where the best regarded vineyards are actually located within hazelnut plantations. The revival culminated in 2003 when the Fiano di Avellino DOC was created, giving the wines official recognition. It is believed Fiano was the main variety in the wine Ancient Romans called Apianum – a name based of the Latin word for bees, being Apiana. To this day, in the vineyards around Avellino, the sugary pulp of the Fiano grape attracts swarms of bees. In many other areas (DOCs) Fiano is one of the ‘permitted’ additives for the local white variety/varieties. The proportion allowed varies from DOC to DOC, for example in the Costa d’Amalfi DOC they can include up to 40 percent Fiano with their Falanghina and Biancolella, whereas in the DOC of Solopaca, they can only add 10 percent Fiano to their Trebbiano and Malvasia.
Thirty-two wineries are growing Fiano here in Australia, according to Darby Higgs’ Vinodiversity website. They are scattered around the country covering the whole gamut of climactic conditions. These range from the cooler altitude of Queensland’s Granite Belt (Ballandean Estate), through coolish Heathcote where Foster e Rocco 2011 Fiano is aging slowly and gracefully, making it a lovely food wine, via the warmth of Rutherglen where Rutherglen Estates 2012 Fiano, which while not having the same depth of Fiano flavours that some of the cooler versions have, is a great light, dry white wine which would be an absolute belter around the pool in summer. The Riverland’s Cirami Estates Fiano is similar in style to the Rutherglen Estates one, which suggests that in warmer climes the variety performs well but has slightly less depth of varietal definition than in cooler climates. This theory is further supported by the fact that Fox Gordon 2012 Princess Fiano from the Adelaide Hills is a stunner - more for wine drinkers than wine judges as the acidity has been beautifully controlled to create a wine that is perfect for drinking right now.
McLaren Vale is one area which, so far, is showing real consistency in the quality of its Fiano, with Coriole 2011 Fiano winning the trophy for the Best McLaren Vale White ‘Other’ in the 2011 McLaren Vale Wine Show and the Oliver’s Tarrango Fiano 2012 winning the same trophy last year.
The Coriole result was particularly pleasing to me as I was one of a small group who got to taste the initial trial batch of Coriole Fiano at a dinner during the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show in Mildura six or seven years ago. The wine got the whole table buzzing as it was so different from the whites we had been drinking.
In what is quite a feat, in this year’s Hunter Valley Wine Show the Trophy for Current Vintage – Dry White Wine: Other White Varietals & Blends went to the Mt Eyre Three Pond Fiano 2013 in a class that included wines made from non-mainstream whites such as Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Traminer and Vermentino. Another Fiano with an impressive track record is the ArtWine 2012 Clare Fiano, which won gold medals in both the Royal Adelaide and Royal Melbourne wine shows last year.
Fiano is a floral/honeysuckle scented, strongly flavoured, richly textured, crisp wine which doesn’t have the searing acidity often found in Sauvignon Blanc, making it very drinkable. As with Savagnin there is considerable consistency across the various examples that I have tasted so far of the variety. Despite the possible differences due to all the variables involved in making a wine - climate, location, harvesting decisions, winemaker technique and maturation regime - the Fiano tasted for this article all had similar underlying flavour characteristics and profile. This augurs well for the variety in the longer term as drinkers will have a good idea of what they will be getting when they buy a bottle of it.
Unlike many other white varieties where there is such a range of style/flavour combinations within the variety that buying a bottle from a producer one hasn’t tried before is somewhat akin to playing Russian roulette - one could get anything from searing acidity through to semi-sweet wine. It is early days yet, but it would appear that Fiano has a better ability to age than many other white wines.
DAN TRAUCKI is a wine consultant with Wine Assist. Email firstname.lastname@example.org