Taurasi Vineyard of Feudi di San Gregorio (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
My recent trip to Campania focused on red wines from this lovely region. This was a welcome opportunity, as I’ve always been entranced by the delightful whites from here, most notably Greco di Tufo, Fiano di Avellino and Falanghina; the best examples of these wines are evidence that not all great Italian whites are from Alto Adige or Friuli. So it was nice to further my education of the first-rate reds wines from Campania, wines that in my opinion do not receive the attention they deserve.
In my last post, I wrote about a superb red wine made primarily from the Palagrello Rosso grape, an indigenous variety of the Caserta province in northern Campania. I also tasted several first-rate examples of wines made entirely or primarily from Piedirosso, which varied from charming versions of Lacryma Christi rosso, produced from vineyards near Mount Vesuvius to more complex, ageworthy wines from the Benevento province. Given the nature of viticulture in this region, where there are so many small hills that create so many microclimates, it was fascinating to taste such varied and delicious wines.
But in all reality, when we’re discussing red wines of Campania, it’s the Aglianico grape that is most famously recognized. This includes blends (often with Piedirosso) from a number of provinces and while there are many superb wines from the Taburno zone in the province of Benevento, made solely from Aglianico, it is Taurasi, made from a small zone in the province of Irpinia that is the region’s most celebrated red wine.
I mentioned the Lonardo Taurasi “Coste” 2008 as one of the year’s best Italian wines in my last post and I also tasted several outstanding examples from producers such as Villa Raiano, Antonio Caggiano and San Paolo; truly the 2008 Taurasi – both normale and riserve – are something special and I’ll write more about these wines soon.
By now, you’ve probably noticed that I love Taurasi and why not? It’s a wine that when it’s at its best, can compete with the greatest red wines of the world. It’s a wine that can age 25 years from outstanding vintages and in some special instances, it even shows well after forty and fifty years – evidence of that will be noted later on in these posts.
Anotonio Capaldo, Feudi di San Gregorio (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
So while being able to sample so many examples of Taurasi during the Vendemmia Taurasi event in Avellino was a very special happening for me, imagine how I felt when I was able to attend vertical tastings of Taurasi from three celebrated producers: Feudi di San Gregorio, Luigi Tecce and Mastroberardino. I really was in heaven for a few days!
There were two verticals in one at Feudi; the first focused on the regular bottling of Taurasi, with the second dealing exclusively with their finest cru, Piano di Montevergine. The regular bottling has gone through numerous changes; one of the most important is the enologist that made the various wines. The oldest wines in this vertical were the 1998 and 1999, made by Luigi Moio, one of Campania’s finest consulting winemakers. The 1998 was in fine shape, with very good acidity and persistence; I noted that the wine would drink well for another 3-5 years. The 1999 was a step up, offering dried cherry, dried brown herb and cedar aromas with beautifully integrated wood notes, subtle spice in the finish, polished tannins and very good acidity. This is showing well now and will drink well for another 7-10 years. Both the 1998 and 1999 offer excellent varietal character and were made in a style that treasured overall harmony, rather than extreme ripeness or power.
The 2001, made by Riccardo Cotarella, is a wine with deeper extract that pushes the fruit to the forefront. It’s a different style that than of Moio, but given the beauty of the 2001 growing season, this is a highly successful wine, one with very good acidity and an elegant finish. There’s more of the dark chocolate notes that are common with Aglianico in this bottling as well as a touch of anise in the perfumes. Overall, it’s a very elegant wine that will be at its best in another 7-10 years.
The more recent vintages – namely 2007, 2008 and 2009 – were all impressive, with the 2007 and 2008 as 4-star wines (excellent) in my opinion, with the 2009 just a notch below that. Aromas of black cherry, black raspberry, plum and chocolate are common to each wine, with the 2008 offering slightly higher acidity than the other two examples. The 2007 has the stuffing to age the longest – perhaps another 7-10 years, but the 2008 has beautiful structure and may be in peak shape at the same time frame. Capaldo and his current director of winemaking Pier Paolo Sirch, have decided to cut back on small oak maturation of this wine, aiming for a greater percentage of large wooden casks, as Capalado believes small oak does not really show off the varietal character of Aglianico as well as the bigger barrels.
The second vertical of Feudi di San Gregorio Taurasi dealt with the Piano di Montevergine cru, located near the town of Taurasi. There were seven wines, from the oldest, 1996 to the youngest, the 2008, which will be released in the market later this year. This is a rich, full-bodied Taurasi that shows impeccable balance throughout, even in lesser years (I loved the 2002 version of this wine, which I had tasted a few years ago; this from a subpar growing season that offered lovely richness o the palate and sleek tannins).
Again the older wines – 1996 and 1998 – were made by Luigi Moio and are beautifully complete and complex. The 1996 in particular had advanced to another level, where tertiary aromas had developed with precise notes of truffle and dried cherry being accompanied by notes of thyme. Offering very good persistence, this was a wine nearing peak, which should arrive in another 5-7 years.
The 1998 was a bit fresher with very good acidity and beautiful structure; there were aromas of dried cherry along with a hint of mocha and the lovely ruby red color made this wine seem younger than fifteen years of age. Offering excellent persistence and a long, elegant finish, this is a wine of great breeding, finesse and varietal character; it is a remarkable wine with a definite sense of place. This has at least another 10-12 years of life ahead of it; I found it outstanding!
The 2001 is a solid wine with big weight on the palate as well as very good ripeness and good freshness. I rated this as excellent, estimating that peak drinking will be in another 10-12 years. The 2004 is deeply colored with very good ripeness as well as impressive acidity. The tannins are big, but not overpowering and overall the balance is excellent. Give this 15-20 years of cellaring before it reaches peak condition.
The youngest wines – 2007 and 2008 – are quite impressive; the former has expressive aromas of milk chocolate and purple iris flowers backed by big extraction and rich, young tannins. There is perhaps a touch too much wood in this wine, at least for my tastes, yet overall the balance is first-rate. This definitely needs time to settle down and should peak in 12-15 years.
Finally the 2008 is a remarkable wine and for me, the finest version of Piano di Montevergine Taurasi since the 1998. Displaying aromas of black cherry, milk chocolate and a hint of raspberry, this is a sensual wine that is a bit more subdued and less forward than the 2007. The tradeoff, however, is that the 2008 has ideal structure with very good acidity and excellent grip in the finish. The wood notes are beautifully integrated and the tannins are quite elegant. This is certainly great evidence of where the new direction of Feudi di San Gregorio under the leadership of Capaldo and Sirch is headed, as this is a textbook Taurasi that offers a lovely expression of terroir, all the while maintaining its focus on harmony – this is a wine definitely meant for the dinner table, although high scores are certain to follow (if that means anything to you). The 2008 Piano di Montevergine is one of the winery’s best offerings of the past five years; an outstanding wine, it will drink beautifully for at least another 15-20 years.
My thanks to Antonio Capaldo and his team at Feudi di San Gregorio for organizing this wonderful tasting!