The Campania region of south-western Italy has never had an easy time of it. Plagued in ancient times by eruptions from mount Vesuvius, and still rocked today by frequent earthquakes, its steep hills and stunning coasts have seen more than a little bloodshed across the centuries as nations and empires rose and fell around it. In Shakespeare's time, its capital Naples was an seat of intrigue and feudal power, and its Amalfi coast was both a celebrated port of call and a haven for pirates.
Even as far back as the first recorded eruptions of Vesuvius, Campania has been known as much for wine as it has for natural disaster and conflict. In fact, the ancient wines of Campania may have been the best known Italian wines in the world, led by the legendary Falernian, heartily endorsed by the emperors of Rome, among other celebrities. When Nero drinks a flagon of your stuff before he torches a city, you know you've hit the big time.
The orders for Campanian wine aren't quite rolling in from despots around the world, but if they were, they would be piling up in the mailbox of Feudi di San Gregorio. Started in 1986 by Enzo Ercolino and his wife Mirella Capaldo, this estate is now producing arguably the finest wines in the region, and some of the most highly acclaimed wines in Italy.
Located in the tiny village of Sorbo Serpico in Campania's Irpinia region, the estate seems to be an example of what you can create when you have a bottomless reserve of both money and ambition to make great wine. The winery was designed by Japanese architect Hikaru Mori, and is replete with a Slow Food endorsed restaurant and botanical garden, is a stunning piece of architecture and landscape design. The branding for the wines themselves is fantastic, each bearing a single square with the name of the wine and another square filled with the image from a local ancient Roman mosaic unearthed nearby.
The wines, made in by famous Italian enologist Riccardo Cotarella, are sourced from vineyards owned by the estate throughout the surrounding townships, some of which contain heritage vines that are centuries old. In particular, the estate has access to some of the oldest Aglianico vines in the country. See those pictures of trees over to the left there? Click on the thumbnail and you'll see that they're actually grape vines. No kidding.
The Campania region has both lived in fear of Vesuvius for centuries and also benefited greatly when it comes to agriculture. Millennia worth of eruptions have left the sandstone soils rich with deposits of volcanic ash, a combination that seems to suit grapevines extremely well. Couple that with rain gathering hills of the Irpina region that roll mostly to the south and west, along with cooler temperatures than surrounding areas, and you've got a miniature Eden for grapes. Just in case the weather isn't completely predictable, each of the winery's vineyards has a solar-powered wireless satellite-linked weather station that feeds data back to the winery to allow close watch over the microclimates of the area.
One of the things I love about this winery is their dedication to indigenous local red and white varietals, and their mixture of modern technology and traditional winemaking processes. Some wines see new oak, most see old oak, and farming practices are as low intervention as possible, guided by the precise measurements of the installed weather stations.
The first time I had a Feudi di San Gregorio wine, it was just a dark red wine in a glass that someone handed to me at a tasting. I swished it back and was bowled over by a set of flavors that I had not yet experienced before. It was my first glass of old-vine Aglianico and my first glass of Feudi, and my brain snapped to attention and demanded to know more. If you haven't ever had any wines made from Greco di Tufo, Fiano de Avellino, Falanghina, or Aglianico, I would be hard pressed to recommend a better place to start exploring these and other fantastic Italian varietals than at the competent hands of Feudi di San Gregorio.
Full disclosure: I received these wines as press samples.
2004 Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina Sannio DOC, Sannio
Medium gold in the glass with green highlights, this wine has a piney nose with aromas of pear and unripe apples creeping through the woody scents. In the mouth it is fresh and bright with great acidity and a mineral backbone that reincorporates some of the piney qualities of the nose with some flavors of unripe stone fruit as it heads to the refreshing finish. Score: 8.5/9 Cost: $12. Where to Buy?
2004 Feudi di San Gregorio "Serrocielo" (Falanghina), Campania
Light gold in color, this wine has a honeyed, floral nose shot through with a healthy dose of wet stones. In the mouth it is silky and weightier than expected with light citrus flavors and fabulous balance that resolve towards tart pink grapefruit as the wine finishes with a slight austerity and edge that rings like porcelain struck with a spoon. Score: 9 Cost: $27. Where to Buy?
2004 Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino, DOCG, Campania
Light gold in the glass with a greenish hue, this wine has a very distinct and strange nose of smoke, kerosene, and wet leaves. In the mouth it is tart with acidity (in a good way) and continues on an expected flavor profile with light stone fruit flavors mixes with elements of shoe polish, kerosene, and smoking peat. While undoubtedly foreign to most palates, this wine has got a lot of personality and is very tasty, more so than the adjectives above might have you believe. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $18. Where to Buy?
2004 Feudi di San Gregorio "Pietracalda" (Fiano di Avellino), Campania
Light green gold in color, this wine has a mineral-laden nose that only contains the barest hint of dried herbs and unripe pears. In the mouth it has near perfect balance between a keen acidity, nice pear and unripe peach flavors mixed with minerals and herbs that linger in a deep and pleasurable finish. A fantastic wine. Score: 9.5. Cost: $28. Where to Buy?
2004 Feudi di San Gregorio Cutizzi (Greco di Tufo), Campania
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of English green peas and wet chalkboard. On the palate it is tart and grassy with a nice layer of buttered toast and fresh apples hovering above the herbaceous and mineral backbone. The finish is pleasant and herbal. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $28. Where to Buy?
2004 Feudi di San Gregorio "Campanaro" White Blend, Campania
Light gold in the glass this wine has a slightly peachy nose mixed with wet stone and parchment aromas. In the mouth it is silky and beautifully balanced with a nice tension between smoky flavors, fruit flavors, and smooth minerality that lingers into a very nice finish. I've noticed that this wine is remarkably better when properly chilled than at room temperature. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $40. Where to Buy?
2002 Feudi di San Gregorio "Privilegio" Dessert Wine Irpina Bianco, IGT, Campania
Medium gold in color with a slight brown hue, this wine has a perfumed nose of baked apricots, honey, and light floral aromas. In the mouth it is liquid gold apricot nectar, with a reasonably good amount of acid that restrain the wine from being too syrupy. Made from Botrytized (noble rot) Fiano di Avellino grapes. Score: 9. Cost: $52 for 500ml. Where to Buy?
2004 Feudi di San Gregorio "Rubrato" Aglianico di Taurasi, Campania
Deep garnet in color, this wine has a nose that will turn any head, exploding with red flowers, spices, and cassis fruit that make me begin salivating uncontrollably. On the palate it has a great acidity and nice mouthfeel with primary flavors of cassis, tart blackberry, and hints of a rough greenness that meld nicely with light dusty tannins to give the wine an unpolished rustic aspect that adds to the overall complexity. A fantastic introduction to the Aglianico varietal and an unbelievable value. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $19. Where to Buy?
2002 Feudi di San Gregorio Taurasi (Aglianico), Campania
Deep garnet in the glass, this wine has a floral nose that reaches to the extreme of candied grapes with a little dried herbs mixed in. In the mouth it is lush and juicy with flavors of blackcurrant and a toasty quality that resolves to black licorice as the wine finishes. Very distinctive. Score: 9. Cost: $35. Where to Buy?
1999 Feudi di San Gregorio "Piano di Montevergine" (Aglianico) Riserva, Taurasi DOCG, Campania
Dark, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose that rewards careful scrutiny. It swims with rich cocoa powder, dark red fruit, and graphite packaged together in a subtle, but powerful set of aromas. In the mouth it is not quite as subdued as its nose, but it has a powerful restraint, like a thoroughbred at the gate, whose musculature is evident in every note of dusty cassis and mineral flavors coated with thick smooth tannins. This is what fantastic old-vine Aglianico tastes like, and it must be experienced to be understood. Score: 9.5. Cost: $50. Where to Buy?
2004 Dei Feudi di San Gregorio "Ognissole" Primitivo di Manduria, DOC, Puglia
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a fruity bright nose of blackberry and prunes. In the mouth it tastes of chocolate and candied blackberry, pleasant enough, though not sophisticated, and it would be fine drinking save for a slight heat on the finish (which might disappear with some chilling). Score: 8.5. Cost: $18. Where to Buy?
2002 Feudi di San Gregorio "Vigne di Mezzo " Efesto" Aglianico del Vulture, DOC, Basilicata
Deep, inky garnet in color, this wine has a tough and meaty nose of cassis, leather, and mulberry aromas. In the mouth these aromas are matched with similar flavors plus some additional herbal qualities, all of which are supported by sandpapery tannins and a pleasant mouthfeel. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $35. Where to Buy?
2002 Feudi di San Gregorio "Patrimo" (unknown varietal) Irpina, IGT, Pietradefusi, Campania
Deep, inky ruby in color with purple highlights, this wine has a nose of plum and black cherry aromas. In the mouth it is at once both poised with grace and aggressively powerful. A fantastic mouthfeel underwritten by just the right amount of acidity and smooth tannins barely seems to contain spicy, complex flavors of plum, cherry, and well-worn leather that linger for ages in a very substantial finish. In a word: wow. Made from a varietal that has still not been identified. Score: 9.5/10. Cost: $100. Where to Buy?
The winery's current releases also include their straight Greco di Tufo, which is sold out, and one of their flagship wines called "Serpico" which is one of my favorite wines from Italy. For some reason it was not included in the group of wines that was sent to me, but I had a chance to taste it recently at a public tasting, so I have a score but no tasting notes:
2003 Feudi di San Gregorio "Serpico" Red Blend, Campania. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $50. Where to Buy?
A wine book like no other. Photographs, essays, and wine recommendations. Learn more.
The Superb Grace of Old Vines: Drinking Janasse The Zinfandel Experience: January 31, San Francisco Vinography Unboxed: Week of January 4, 2015 Vinography Images: The Colors of a New Season Vinography Unboxed: Week of December 27th, 2014 Vinography Images: Rich Skies Losing a Legend in Serge Hochar Flirting with the Ecstatic: The Wines of Nikolaihof, Austria Vinography Unboxed: Week of December 20, 2014 A Grape By Any Other Name
Wine Will Never Smell the Same Again: Luca Turin and the Science of Scent Forlorn Hope: The Remarkable Wines of Matthew Rorick Debating Robert Parker At His Invitation Passopisciaro Winery, Etna, Sicily: Current Releases Should We Care What Winemakers Say? The Sweet Taste of Freedom: Austria's Ruster Ausbruch Wines 2009 Burgundy Vintage According to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Charles Banks: The New Man Behind Mayacamas Wine from the Caldera: The Incredible Viticulture of Santorini Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Chateau Rayas and the 2012 Vintage of Chateauneuf-du-Pape A Life Indomitable: The Wines of Casal Santa Maria, Portugal Bay Area Bordeaux: Tasting Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernets Forgotten Jewels: Reviving Chile's Old Vine Carignane The First-Timer's Guide to Les Trois Glorieuses of Hospices de Beaune