Feudi di San Gregorio – all about heritage and innovation
Welcome to Campania, in the Mezzogiorno, beautiful southern Italy. It’s where Feudi di San Gregorio is, in the “shin” of Italy’s boot, some 50 km inland from Napoli. This wine producer became, in just a few years, an icon of the modern Italian winemaking renaissance. It remains one of the leaders in restoring authentic Campanian wines to their former glories. In so doing, the prestige of Campanian wine is continuing on an upward trajectory.
The Campanian Heritage
Campania has an ancient wine history and, according to Ian D’Agata*, at least 56 unique indigenous grape varieties. There are international varieties planted here, but unlike in some other parts of Italy, their presence is small. Indeed, the vineyards of this sun-baked land made some of the greatest wines of antiquity, such as Roman Falernian. In those days, this region was Romana Felix, the fertile countryside. Many of those ancient varieties survived to the present day because, unusually, they avoided phylloxera and also because the area couldn’t afford to replant with fashionable international varieties.
Campania is a land of contrasts. It has a long and beautiful Mediterranean coastland, Mount Vesuvius and the cultural heritage of Pompeii, all magnets for tourism. Moving inland, hills and the Apennine mountains dominate. These mean there are many different terroirs ideal for wine growing, often on volcanic soils. Gastronomically, this is the home of real pizza and fantastic seafood, fruit and vegetables. Meanwhile, the coastal wealth of Amalfi and Capri collides with grinding Neapolitan poverty and heavy industry. On the coast, the climate is balmy, while inland, winters can be severe.
Despite the history of winemaking here, the wines had been in a long decline. By the 1980’s, critic Burton Anderson described a “sea of mediocrity”. Despite the enormous potential of this land, cheap bulk wines were the norm. At most, there were a handful of quality producers.
My metaphor for the Campania I first knew during the early 80’s was a car. Not just any old car. How I loved my Alfasud 1.5Ti Quadrifoglio Verde, made in Napoli! For me, it was stylish, fast, and exciting. And it rusted away before my eyes.
Enter Feudi di San Gregorio
Feudi di San Gregorio was founded in Campania during 1986 at Sorbo Serpico. It’s in the hilly inland area of Irpinia, the historical name for the province of Avellino. Feudi recognised that the only way to be successful was in the relentless pursuit of quality and that Campania had enormous untapped potential. Now they are world-famous, producing some 3.5 million bottles per year of high-quality wine, and export to 50 countries. Indeed, so successful has it become that it’s a regular case study on MBA programmes. It’s their combination of protecting ancient grape varieties, research, ultra-modern wine techniques, design excellence and sheer business nous that’s responsible.
Today, Feudi di San Gregorio has 300 hectares of vineyard, with some 795 separate parcels. Some are theirs; others involve many local grape growers. Feudi focuses on the Campanian native grape varieties, including the great Aglianico red and Fiano di Avellino white. Both of these grapes should be on any list of the truly outstanding grapes of Italy. Their ultra-modern winery complex is mostly underground. With a design by architect Hikaru Mori, it includes a Michelin starred restaurant, called Marennà. Indeed, this cantina and its design is symbolic of the innovation behind Feudi’s success.
Those native grape varieties
Their reds come from Aglianico, Piedirosso and the ultra-rare Sirica grapes. In white, there is Fiano, Falanghina, Coda di Volpe, Biancolella, and Greco. Meanwhile, they conduct lots of research into these and other rare local varieties and, naturally, they are also organic.
All of this means a vast range of more than 25 excellent wines. Most are varietal wines, as is the norm in these parts. There are FeudiStudi special editions, a Rosato, and delicious fizz (DUBL). The aristocratic Serpico, made from Aglianico vines over 150 years old, is their flagship.
There are too many wines to cover in this article, even if they all range from excellent to stupendous. Each has a beautifully designed label, a real badge of quality. You won’t find any duffers, and DIAM corks protect the wines so that you can buy any of them with confidence. And, returning to my car metaphor, Alfa’s don’t rust away these days.
Two classic wines
I have picked two classics that, for me, are ambassadors; not just for Feudi di San Gregorio, but for Campania itself. These are both DOCG’s from Irpinia; a red Taurasi made from Aglianico and the white made from Fiano di Avellino.
Piano di Montevergine, Taurasi Riserva DOCG, 2011
A DOCG since 1993, Taurasi is the “Barolo of the south”. Taurasi perhaps represents the apogee of what the Aglianico grape can do. Like this superb single vineyard example, most are 100% Aglianico. They must come from a small hilly area in Irpinia. The DOCG stipulates three years ageing, of which at least one year must be in wood. But this wine is a Riserva, so the maturation time is extended to four years. It’s a powerful, complex and deeply rewarding wine of great refinement and finesse.
This current release is still a very young wine with decades of potential ahead. Nevertheless, it is already mightily impressive, massive in the glass but already showing heady aromatics including roses. The tannins are giving way to cherry and blackberry fruit; all undercut with nuanced balsamic notes, spicy pepper, mocha and coffee. With lovely balance and exceptional length, it’s worthy of any special occasion. In short, this can stand next to the very best wines of Piemonte, Tuscany or the Veneto. A modern car analogy? An Alfa 4C. £32.91 at Amazon.
Is that too much of a stretch? Then the Feudi Taurasi 2012 is also 100% Aglianico. It’s slightly more open and still does that combination of elegance and power too, on a smaller scale. I’m thinking about the new Abarth 124 now. Wine Direct has it for £21.95.
Pietracalda, Fiano di Avellino DOCG 2015
Fiano di Avellino is, for me, the white superstar at Feudi. Once a rare grape, it’s now hugely popular, a remarkable success story. Especially when it’s their top wine, Pietracalda. A pleasing yellow colour, this is a superbly aromatic dry wine, all delicate fresh flowers and citrus. The palate has a lovely soft texture and vivid intensity. It’s like brioche with quince and pear fruit, before a Laurel/acacia note and a penetrating mineral streak. A little smokiness appears on the finish. Again, drinking perfectly now but this has ageing potential too. Try this as a stylish alternative to a white Burgundy, especially with fish. £14.28 at Tannico.
On a different day, or mood, I might have chosen the Feudi Greco di Tufo 2015 DOCG Cutizzi. Super-stylish and with a creamy opulence, leavened by a mineral edge. It’s a fabulous match with Burrata; the lemon-lime acidity cuts through this cheese like a knife. Drink this while young and zingy. Halifax Wine Company, £15.95
Feudi di San Gregorio S.p.A
Località Cerza Grossa
83050 Sorbo Serpico
If you haven’t yet discovered the wines of Campania, then I can think of no better place to start than with Feudi. Meanwhile, they have become the centre of a group of wineries. These are in other Italian regions such as Basilicata, Puglia, Friuli and Sicily. Each one has an independent structure, but all share the same values. It now includes Campo alle Comete in the Bolgheri area of Tuscany, which you can read about here.