Coda di Volpe, also called Coda di Volpe Bianca, is a native white wine grape grown in the Campania region of Italy, primarily in Benevento, Avellino, Napoli, and Caserta. With an extensive history, this somewhat underappreciated grape has persevered, made a revival, and deserves a closer look.
The translation of Coda di Volpe in English means ‘tail of a fox.’ The grapes grow in long, plump clusters resembling a fox’s bushy tail. The berries are small to medium in size and have thick skin, requiring a press of the juice and then the removal of the skins immediately. It ripens pretty late in the season and is naturally low in acidity. Coda di Volpe is easy to grow and can adapt to different soils and microclimates. It is sensitive to soil differences and can produce distinctly different wines depending on the terroir.
Campanian climate itself is primarily Mediterranean, with hot summers and mild winters. The soils are predominantly volcanic. The most well-known white grapes of Campania are Fiano and Greco. Many white varietals, like Coda di Volpe, are good but haven’t been noticed yet, such as Falanghina, Forastera, and Biancolella. Piedirosso and Aglianico are the prominent reds.
Coda di Volpe, as a native Italian grape, is thought to be a descendant of ancient varieties of Vitis Vinifera that the Greeks introduced in ancient Roman times. Taking over the Etruscans and other ancient tribes, the Greeks settled in Campania and popularized winemaking in the 8th and 7th centuries BC. Eventually, the Romans conquered the Greeks and continued the winemaking culture. Many believe that the ancient Roman wine Falernum came from Campania and that Coda di Volpe was one of the varietals used to make it. This golden sweet nectar was a wealthy-class wine also enjoyed by the Ceasars.
In 79 AD, Mt Vesuvius erupted, killing over 15,000 in Pompei, including Roman writer and wine enthusiast Pliny the Elder. Although destroying the vineyards, this eruption created mineral-rich and volcanic soils in the region. Later it was discovered that this volcanic soil is resistant to phylloxera, the deadly louse accidentally imported from the US.
Before WWII, Campanian wines were highly profitable. Then several things happened that could have wiped out the native Italian varietals for good. The war caused farmers to flee the area and leave the vineyards for many years. A more minor, less destructive eruption of Mt. Vesuvius occurred along with the spread of phylloxera.
After the war, many returned to Campania, including 9th-generation winemaker Antonio Mastroberardino, whose goal was to restore the family estate and vineyards destroyed by the war. Italian winemakers throughout Italy were bringing in international wine grapes at this time, such as Merlot and Cabernet, but Antonio was committed to reviving the Campania region’s traditional grapes. He started by planting 3 of the nearly extinct Campania grapes; Aglianico, Giano, and Greco. Many other Italian winemakers followed suit by experimenting with and incorporating modern wine-producing techniques. Because of this, the native grapes of Campania, including Coda di Volpe, were saved.
Traditionally, Coda di Volpe made white blends, usually combined with other grape varietals such as Greco and Fiano. However, since the 1970s, there has been a push to resurrect the grape by producing single-varietal wines. Wines from the Campania region are still in the discovery phase. Before the 2000s, only ten varieties were listed from Campania in Italy’s National Registry, Coda di Volpe being one of them. Since then, about ten more varietals have been added; however, researchers estimate that about 100 are waiting to be discovered in this region. Coda di Volpe is now also found in Puglia and Sicily. It has even been planted in California’s Temecula and San Joaquin Valleys.
In conclusion, Coda di Volpe is a grape variety with a promising future in the world of wine. There are many reasons why everyone should try Coda di Volpe. First, when it comes to taste, this wine has something for everyone. This wine holds a lot of complexity, with stone fruit and citrus notes with a salty or mineral finish. It pairs well with seafood, roast chicken, polenta, and vegetarian dishes. With its ability to produce very different wines depending on where’s it grown, just like Riesling, Pinot Nero, and Nebbiolo, this grape is a proper translator of terroir. In the book ‘Native Wine Grapes of Italy,’ Ian D’Agata describes Coda di Volpe as one of his favorite Italian native grapes. Then there is the fact that this native Italian grape has so much history, including that it was known and appreciated in ancient Rome. Finally, Coda di Volpe is usually relatively inexpensive. Whether you are a wine enthusiast or just curious about trying something new, you will not be disappointed by the delightful flavors and aromas that this wine can offer. So don’t hesitate to give Coda di Volpe a chance and discover why it’s quickly becoming the favorite among wine lovers.