Monday February 26 , 2018
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Finding Falanghina

On a recent trip to Napa I simply HAD to stop in at Bistro Don Giovanni, which was the butt of a running joke throughout the guidebook to wine tasting in the Napa Valley that I had just finished reading.

Regardless of the way this well established restaurant was portrayed in the book, I found it quite enjoyable and upon making my selection from their wine list I was thrilled at the added bonus of discovering a new wine!

The book is Moveable Thirst, by Rick Kushman, a syndicated columnist for the Sacramento Bee, and Hank Beal, the wine buyer for Nugget Markets. Hank is the wine expert who guides Rick, a normal wine lover, who professes to know very little, through the wonders of the wines they encounter. It is a truly delightful read, although a bit outdated now, with a publishing date of 2007. The book is a year’s worth of visits to almost all of the wine tasting rooms of the greater Napa wine producing area – 141 to be exact. Almost everywhere they go they encounter wineries recommending that customers visit Bistro Don Giovanni, a restaurant they have been advised to dismiss…When they finally decide to go there themselves they are pleasantly surprised.

My son and I had an early dinner there this past week and apart from the pleasant experience of the attractive ambiance, professional service and delicious food, I made my new wine discovery…at least new to me - a 2008 Falanghina from the Campania area of Italy, an adventurous alternative to Sauvignon Blanc.


The grape is one of the oldest on the planet according to my online research…dating back to before the time of Christ. It was most likely brought to Italy by Greek settlers in the 7th Century B.C. The Romans grew this grape close to their capital city and indeed it is still grown there today. It is perhaps a cousin of the lovely Southern Italian white known as Fiano (known in Italy as Fiano di Avellino) that we at Nello Olivo wines have grafted for harvest this year. The name, Falanghina, is derived from the Latin noun “falangae” – the name used for the stakes that were used to prop up the growing grape vines. Even though Southern Italy is more usually know for its red wines, this fresh-tasting and complex white, grows comfortably in light, porous, volcanic soils, to be found in the hills around Naples and Caserta.


My glass of Villa Matilde Falanghina had a beautiful golden color, soft balanced acidity and a fruity flavor, with perhaps a hint of vanilla on the finish. It was served really cold, which was appreciated on that particularly hot day, but the temperature did not disguise the fresh delicious taste. I found a new wine to love…

Being a fan of California wines, I was disappointed to find that in the history of the grape it did not look like anyone was growing it in the U.S yet. In fact, in recent years, the grape had almost become extinct due to the scourge of phylloxera in Europe, but was resurrected from a few stumps of the Falanghina flegrea grape that were discovered struggling on a local hillside by the Martusciello family. Since we are growing such unusual varieties as Sagrantino, Fiano and Arneis now here at Rancho Olivo, maybe the Olivo family can find a way to bring some Falanghina to El Dorado County, where the warm summer climate, elevation level and  ancient volcanic activity might provide the perfect terrior for such a venture. Stay tuned.


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Nello Olivo wine tasting room in Placerville

643 Bee Street, Placerville

Monday: closed
Tuesday: 11-5
Wednesday: 11-5
Thursday: 11-5
Friday: 11-7
Saturday: 11-7
Sunday: 11-7

We're the closest winery to Hwy 50, at the "corner of" Hwys 50 and 49. Start your wine tour here. We have winery maps!

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