One of the most cherished memories of my life is that of family get-togethers at my grandmother's estate in southern Italy's Irpinia region. What made these gatherings special for me were the elaborate meals our large family would eat together as we bonded and shared stories over food and laughter. Poised perfectly on every nook of the table, the red wine crushed from the Aglianico grape, native to our region, was almost another living character in our animated gatherings.
Sometimes a toast to good health and at others an accompaniment to the antipasti. Today, the spirit of these family meals inspires the workings of my wine estate Feudi di San Gregorio, located in the little village of Sorbo Serpico in Campania. I like to describe a tour of this estate as an education in Italian viticulture.
Instead of the usual chardonnays, sauvignons and cabernets, varietals are reproduced from local vines like Greco Di Tufo, Falanghina and the Anglianico
A prerequisite to great wine
is the quality and texture of the grape. This depends on the climate and soil. It is believed that two volcanic eruptions around Naples, one 12,000 and another 35,000 years ago, deposited thick layers of tephra over the region.
These have since weathered to rich soils, ideal for vine growing. Our vineyards boast sandstone and marly soils which lend the wines aromas of cherry, cinnamon and anise.
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Since the natural flavours and textures are what really make the wine flavourful, the growing process from the pruning to picking and even harvesting is done only by hand. This is less damaging to the grapes. Although hand-picking is labourintensive and expensive, it retains only the better quality bunches and maintains flavour. This is particularly essential for flavourful wines like the dessert wine Privilegio. This has baked apricot tones sourced from the delicately crushed Fiano di Avellino grapes and the fruity Ognissole, which derives its candied blackberry and pruned taste from the gently squeezed Primitivo grape.
Instead of the usual Chardonnays, Sauvignons and Cabernets, the varietals are reproduced from local vines which symbolise ancient Italian culture and history.
The ageing is done in vintage oak barrels
For instance, the Greco di Tufo was imported from the Greek region of Thessaly and was planted in the city of Tufo, which is completely covered in volcanic chalk. This clear, light, gold wine with honey and almond scents was initially cultivated in Vesuvius. The heritage and character of the wine can be gauged from the Bible verse John 2:1-11 which recounts how Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding in the Galilean village of Cana. Even though the type of wine used wasn't recorded anywhere, when San Guglielmo emulated the miracle in 1100s, he used the Campanian white Avellino, which is today's Tufo.
The Falanghina, on the other hand, is a white wine from the Benevento region and takes its name from the ancient puteulana technique of fixing each vine plant to a wooden pole (phalanx) about three metres above the ground. This process gives it good acidity and hints of broom shrub. The beauty of this wine is that it is full bodied and leaves a bitter aftertaste and hints of pomegranate on the palate.
Another classic is the Aglianico grape. Unlike the popular Sangiovese and Nebiollo, which are used as base grapes for most Italian wines, the Aglianico is lesser known but has a richer history. This black grape was brought to Campania and Basilicata by the Greeks and is believed to be used in Falernum, a favourite with former Italian emperors and popes. We use this grape, with firm-to-huge tannins, in our reds: Rubrato and Taurasi. While the former is a deep garnet colour and explodes with spices, red flowers and cassis fruit, the latter is a mix of candied grapes and dried herbs.
The contemporary and cosy dining space situated in the cellar
At Feudi, we believe that tradition and heritage shouldn't keep you from innovation. Each grape is fermented separately in one of the 500 refrigerated stainless steel containers. While the reds are aged in over 6,000 French oak barriques, Austrian oak vats are reserved for select whites.
In the olden days, there was a trend of dining around wine cellars on tables crafted from barrel wood. These were furnished with candles, which lent warmth for ageing and accentuated gentle aromas and flavours in the wines. A contemporary spin on this ancient tradition, can now be found in our dining space, which seats up to 20 people, in the centre of the cellar. This is minimalistic and placed between giant glass walls. Here, you can pair wines with gourmet Italian food from our (Michelen Star 2009) restaurant Marenna which offers a modern interpretation of Campanian cuisine through entrees like the rabbit terrine, lamb carpaccio and the chestnut foam dessert. Seasonal vegetables, wild herbs and even livestock for the food is all sourced locally, lending a freshness to meals.
The winery is set amidst grape plantations
The growing popularity of traditional Italian wines can be gauged from our €20 million-plus turnover and our increasing exports to countries such as the USA, Germany Japan and now, even India. The popularity of Italian cuisine in India has also served to create an interest in our wine. Today, the well-heeled Indian knows the difference between a Chardonnay and a Cabernet and is well-socialised into the traditional Catholic practice of pairing wine with food. This has prompted us to collaborate with the Indian distributer Aspri Spirits to launch four of our classic wines. These include the whites Greco di Tufo (Rs 3,250), a structured wine which can be paired with grilled prawns and fried calamari, and the Sannio Falanghina (Rs 2,900) which is fresh and direct and goes well with roasted turkey, beef and pork. We also have two reds on offer in India. These are the Rubrato (Rs 2,825), which is best savoured with red meat and hard cheeses, and the Taurasi (Rs 5,390) which blends well with veal chops and the fiery red pastas that have become popular in India.
Drawing on the Christian sacrament of the Eucharist, the Romans made wine a part of everyday life, a trend that continues till today. In Italy however, wine isn't a spirit we owe to our environment or the climate and soils, but something we owe to our culture.
With their deep-seated place in our religiosity and cultural history, these wines might slide across your palate, but will remain fresh in your memory forever.