Friday, May 25, 2018

Wine School At Asta: Theresa Paopao Presents Fiano

Fiano is an indigenous Italian grape that might extend back to the time of ancient Rome. It has been theorized, without definitive evidence, that Fiano might be the same grape written about by Pliny the Elder and Columella, referred to as Vitis apianes ("Vine of the bees"). Besides its potentially ancient origins, Fiano also produces delicious and interesting white wines.

If you want to learn more about Fiano, then I strongly recommend you visit Asta, a tasting menu restaurant located at 47 Massachusetts Ave. in Boston. Theresa Paopao, Asta's sommelier, has recently started a Wine School, an afternoon wine lounge inspired by New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov’s monthly column. Asta's Wine School is in session from Tuesday to Friday, from 4pm-7pm. Recently, my good friend Adam Japko and I stopped by Asta to check out the new Wine School and we both were equally impressed.

Back on April 26, Asimov's Wine School post dealt with Fiano, so this month, Theresa is highlighting that grape. Theresa has selected seven Fiano wines, from the Campania region of Italy, to showcase, six single-varietal and one blend. All of the wines are offered by the glass, though you can also order a horizontal or vertical flight of three wines. I'd suggest you try the flights, as comparison tastings are an excellent way to better understand the various expressions of a grape. Not all Fiano wines are the same.

This Wine School is completely causal and informal, and Theresa will provide you as much, or as little, information as you desire about Fiano and the wines. Theresa is very knowledgeable and personable, and is a fine host for wine school. Her own passion for wine can be infectious and you won't regret stopping by to taste some wines.

In addition, Wine School offers a small list of à la carte dishes which have been specifically created to pair well with your wine. We ordered a few of the dishes and they were delicious, the usual high quality we expect from Asta. The Whipped Salt Cod, atop toast, is a relatively simple dish, but was well executed and addictive. Creamy and salty, with that touch of the sea, it did pair very well with the various Fiano wines. And it is something I'd love to replicate at home. The Pickled Mussels were another relatively simple dish, beautifully executed, and absolutely tasty. The Octopus, atop a Johnnycake, was cooked perfectly, being tender and flavorful. Fiano and seafood is an excellent combination!

Fiano is primarily grown in the Campania region of southern Italy and on the island of Sicily.
In 2003, the area around Avellino in Campania received DOCG status. Fiano di Avellino DOCG wines must contain at least 85% Fiano, and the rest may include Coda di Volpe, Greco, and Trebbiano. Fiano, which produces low yields in the vineyard, faced possible extinction in the later half of the 20th century, but a small group of producers chose to save it, planting more vineyards, especially in the Avellino region. Fiano wines are commonly said to possess intense aromas and strong flavors, and can age well.

Adam and I decided to taste all seven Fiano wines, both flights and the single blend. The horizontal flight ($17/three 2 oz pours), included three wines, all from the same vintage but from different producers. The wines included the 2016 Terradora di Paolo, DOCG Fiano di Avellino ($15/glass), 2016 Vadiaperti DOCG Fiano di Avellino ($12/glass), and 2016 Case d'Alto DOCG Fiano di Avellino ($14/glass). All of these wines saw only stainless steel, and possessed crisp acidity, mineral elements, bright citrus flavors, and honey notes. Yet each possessed its own individuality as well and your favorite will be based on your personal preferences.

My favorite of the three (though I enjoyed all of them) was the Vadiaperti, as besides being simply delicious, it possessed an intriguing complexity, with notes of honey, pear, apple and lemon, bright acidity, mineral elements, and salted nuts. I could easily enjoy this wine on its own, though it went well with the seafood as well.

The vertical flight ($17/three 2 oz pours), included three wines, all from the same producer but from different vintages. The wines included the 2014, 2015 and 2016 vintages of the Casebianche Cumale DOP Fiano Cilento. The Fiano grapes for these wines is from 10-20 year old vines, and the wine sees only stainless steel and then a couple months of bottle aging. In general, these wines all presented with crisp acidity, mineral elements, hints of brininess, bright citrus flavors, and some herbal notes. The 2016 vintage was obviously the freshest and most bright, with the two other vintages starting to get more savory and less fruit notes. I preferred the 2014 vintage, enjoying its more savory aspect, with an almost umami element.

The final wine of the evening, which Theresa referred to as a "Super Fiano," was the 2015 Sangiovanni Paestum, IGT Italy ($7/2 oz taste or $18/glass), a blend of 85% Fiano, 10% Trebbiano, and 5% Greco. The wine spent about 8 months aging in stainless steel. I was enamored with this wine, finding it to be complex and intriguing, delicious and compelling. So much going on in the glass, with notes of honey and citrus, saltiness and bright acidity, minerality and herbs. It possessed some similarities to the other Fiano wines, but had its own uniqueness as well. It paired well with all of the seafood, though I could easily sit outside and sip this on its own.  

Theresa did a great job of selecting wines for her Fiano Wine School and you can still taste the wines tonight or next week at Asta. Next month, Theresa will follow the theme of Asimov's next Wine School article, so look forward to see which region, grape or style gets chosen. Asta's new Wine School is a great way to casually taste and learn about some new wines, while enjoying some delectable small plates, paired with the wines.

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