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Piedirosso – think Pompeii
Piedirosso is an Italian grape that prefers volcanic soil and makes a wine called “Gragnano” so even before finishing this well-written article on Piedirosso, I needed to google where Gragnano is located and if it is close to Pompeii. Please see embedded map. Yes, right next to Vesuvius is Pompeii and right next to Pompeii is Gragnano, home to inky pastas and fizzy red wines. A short 39 minute drive down from Naples that requires driving around Vesuvius.

Volcanic Wine
Quite literally, when pairing that pizza at Motorino’s with Gragnano, you are drinking the volcanic fruits of an enormous eruption from nearly two thousand years ago (79 A.D. per helpful wikipedia). Fittingly enough, Vesuvius vino is fizzy. That bottle of red might look normal and dry but open it up and you’ll notice the bubbles raising to the surface, trying to find that cone of the volcano. Try shaking the bottle – will it explode all of your Pompeii doilies? An experiment still to be tested, perhaps in 2079 in memorial of the 2,000 year anniversary. That would be my 98th birthday and certainly seems permissible at the age of 98 to be as crazy as you like. Future nursing home – please consider yourself forewarned. I may bring Alka-Seltzer.


Slightly fizzy, bit mid body with surprisingly little fruit. Somewhere between Sangria and Lambrusco. Long and dry finish

Detail Up!
Piedirosso grape of Penisola Sorrentina “Gragnano”, Monteleone 2012 from Gragnano near Naples in Campania, Italy

Random Googles:
* Gragnano is the region in Naples province that makes this Piedirosso grape into the slightly fizzy Gragnano
* Gragnano is often cited as a fantastic accompaniment to pizza, one of the rare wines that Italians will actually drink with pizza. Beer is the more popular choice apparently.
* Piedirosso literally means “red feet”. Jancis Robinson points that that this is because the bottom of the vine of this grape used to have red feet that looked similar to the red feet of pigeons… perhaps the only cute thing about pigeons.

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salice salentino 2011Pizza is the Best Food on Earth
When people drink enough, they start to do stupid things. Like asking what one single food their friends would eat if they only had to eat one food for the rest of their lives (correct answer: pizza). Or, even worse, asking what one single wine their friends would drink if they only had to drink one wine for the rest of their lives (correct answer… pending).

No Place for Philosophy
Which raises the question, what is a wine? No, blog posts are not the place to discuss philosophical matters – that’s what bars, cemeteries and the DMV are for. But what is a grape? That seems less ponderous and maybe worth exploring in 1-2 paragraphs.

Malvasia Mutant
Take Malvasia – grape of the baltics (and the cherished island of Madeira). Malvasia tends to cover a whole lot of terrain – like a golf umbrella on Park Avenue annoying everyone in its path or the model in stretchy tights sporting it all at Walmarts in size XXL of course. Malvasia has one of those names that can mean any of a host of things – usually white, light and Italian as Michelangelo’s David, it can also be dark, toffee and island-loving as Jamaica’s better rums when grown on Madeira, possibly the world’s best place I have never visited (Sri Lanka may be close too). Sometimes it shows up in red, like a Jessica Rabbit in the 1980s or Dorothy’s shoes in an all-gray Kansas. And that’s where we arrive at Malvasia Nera.

Red Malvasia
Malvasia Nera is the rare red-headed child of the Malvasia family that emcompasses every child on earth. When Angelina gets around to adopting a red-haired child, it’s entirely certain that she will name it Malvasia (seeing as Nera has certain lazy/arsonistic connotations). While most of Malvasis shows up in Japanese funeral gear, Malvasia Nera is a red wine that tends to temper the harsher aspects of the big reds who truly strut their stuff in Maoist unity – Cabernet, Sangiovese, you know who you are. Malvasia is probably slightly out of step, even if in the area of the reds – maybe trying to tone down Stalin a little bit from the harsher edges in a Khrushevian way that (in this narrative) actually succeeds and leads to some positive result. One can dream – it’s what philosophy on a grape in a blog is about… if about anything at all.

Heavy body wine with somewhat fruity smell and dry, full-bodied taste that didn’t overextend. Rustic with a smoother finish.

Detail Up!
Salice Salentino 2011 by Masseria Parione in a DOC from Puglia (the boot), Italy

Random Googles:
* Salice Salentino is generally a Negroamaro wine – it is from Puglia (the boot!) after all. Malvasia Nera is the harmonizer on the wine to the Negroamaro melody.
* Salice Salentino – actually means “dark and bitter” in local Puglesquian parlance. Strange, as it was a pretty smooth grape that made it onto the menu I tried and the smoothing agent to the “dark and bitter” grape of Negroamaro (apparently, exactly the same translation – makes you question what life is like in Puglia).
* Apparently, a fairly cheap version of solid good wine. Most of the prices online I saw were in the $10 range. Not enough to stay in the Castello Monaci in Salie Salentino (highly recommended say the reviews) but enough to buy your bottle of wine from near the castle.

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grecanico 2010 sicily di giovannaOde to Motorino
Una pizza napoloteana was an epic pizza place on east 12th street in the east village, until its owner moved cross-country to san francisco and left a whole in the hearts of quite a few pizza-lovers. Rumors abounded about a new pizza place taking over their storefront, and that the new owners might have even bought the oven from the emigrating owners. Years have now passed since that transaction took place and the new store in town is a well-seasoned restaurant with a deserved following. Excellent pies, good wine list and a few subtle surprises make it a go-to restaurant on bustling east 12th.

Anchovy Pizza
The build-it-yourself delivery pizza isn’t exactly a favorite of mine since it involves making your food – exactly the activity you are trying to avoid when ordering delivery… In the case of the white anchovy pizza however, there is an exception to be made.

Cristom vs. Cristom
Earlier that evening was a tasting of some red wine from two different years (2009 and 2002, I believe) that we had bought in Oregon and saved to share with friends who would also geek out about trying the same wine, from the same plot, from two quite distant years. Surprisingly enough, it was pretty easy to tell the difference (even if nobody was really going for a scientific, blind tasting). Fruity and colorful, versus dusty and subdued. Might have been reading too many wine books but it certainly seemed to match what people have said about how wines age.

Clutch Pour by Selenho
Anyway, once the white anchovy pizza arrived, it seemed like some white acidic wines were in the offering, and Selenho happened to have a bottle open and chilling. This is what constitutes a great friend – not the years of knowing each other and shared memories, experiences and folly, or the ability to dig into novels, sports and shared interests – it’s the ability to pull a fantastic, open, chilled bottle of wine from the fridge that matches the impromptu pizza you just purchased. And so it was…

Lots of acidity to punch back at the white anchovies draped across the top of the pie and long long finish to keep you remembering how to spell the word “salinity.” Light, crispy, acidic white wine. Not much nose. Lemon and green apple. Surprisingly long finish. Excellent with white anchovies.

Detail Up!
Di Giovanna Grecanico 2010 with 13% alc. from Sicily, Italy

Random Googles:
* Sicilians call it “Grecanico” while the rest of Italy calls it “Garganega”
* Grecanico forms the base of Soave, from the northeast of Italy, in Veneto
* Element 34 is Selenium. Yes, it’s entirely unrelated to the rest of this post.

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Grape 68: Arneis

Biodiversity Beginnings
There’s something of a biodiversity movement starting, which might just be the most lasting legacy of foodies the world over. Interest in food, where it comes from, its historical and cultural narrative, is increasingly center stage in mainstream media, even as mainstream media has come to encompass far more than it meant even a decade ago and people spend more time discussing their food values, a concept that simply didn’t exist until recently (exception: Margaret Visser). Along with the food focus comes the desire for exploration, a very human trait that’s easy to identify in such code phrases as the Bering Strait, Magellan and Dr. Livingston I presume. Where once “a tomato” was enough to answer the question of “what’s that vegetable?”, it’s no longer such a simple task of identification. Vocabulary for food has proliferated into a thousand different directions and taken on a fractal life of its own.

Vocab Expansion
Free-range, organic, natural, pesticide-free all show up on the increasingly-lengthy fruit and veggie identification cards at supermarkets. Restaurants that want to signal their upscale classiness sport proper names and link their products to specific geographic sources (Bayley Hazen Blue Cheese from Greensboro, Vermont anyone?), and adjectives – actual adjectives! – now appear before the names of fruits and vegetables. Cherry tomato, beefsteak, cherokee purple, green zebra, black pear, oxacan jewel, purple russian and dozens of others, and that’s just for the tomato.

Smart Biologist Wilson
Really, it seems like a tiny drop in the struggle to preserve biodiversity as economic forces and globalization push to open new markets, exploit new resources and convert the global population into a very interlocked consumer/producer system. E.O. Wilson, a biologist who I had never heard of before last week, has all kinds of great quotes about the importance of biodiversity but the one that stuck with me is this:

The one process now going on that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us.

Problem with Eons
Not sure exactly how you tackle that problem in one bite but I think he’s right that it’s not a problem that should be talked about in terms of generations, centuries or even tens of thousands of years. Millions of years is the right time frame to be thinking about the problem. And a group of foodies advocating greater choices in their diets won’t be the answer to solving a problem of that magnitude. But the values they advocate can be part of the solution or, probably better said, those values can be part of the turn away from the cause of the problem. More diversity of plants and more acknowledgement of and discussion about the food we eat will hopefully turn more people to find names like Margaret Visser and E.O. Wilson. Worked at least with one blogger.

Detail Up!
2009 Damilano Langhe from Piedmont, Italy

Full body bit of oil smell, little acidity, round, medium body, peach.

Generally though, Arneis is known for its pear and apricot flavors. Two other Arneis bottles are described here by noted oenologist Fringe Wine.

Random Googles:
* Arneis nearly went extinct in the 1970s after several hundred years of growing in Italy’s northwest Piedmont region, and only two producers (Vietti and Bruno Giacosa) still made anything with Arneis during that decade. Since then, it’s come back with limited productions in Australia, California and New Zealand. Really though, Piedmont in Italy is where it’s from and where it’s principally grown.
* Arneis means “little rascal” in Piemontese, an actual language from Italy’s Northwest. Why? Well, it’s really hard to grow apparently.
* Traditionally, Arneis was called “Barolo Bianco” (white barolo) since it was blended with red Nebbiolo grapes into that pricery Barolo wine. Once 100% Nebbiolo grapes became the norm, Arneis lost much of its popularity, which contributed to its near-extinction.

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Sicily as Soccer Ball of Italy

Image h/t to Italian Week

Saturday Morning Sicily
Sicily for me is the soccer ball that Italy is punting into Africa. The ancestral home of New York’s toughest mafiosos and not much else. With such a cartoonish understanding, it’s time to start with some color on Sicily.

Fun facts on Sicily. Wikipedia Style.
1) Largest island in the Mediterranean. Size-wise, it’s triangular Vermont sailing off the southern tip of Italy, close enough to Tunisia to take an overnight ferry.
2) Syracuse, that ancient Greek city that historians will recall from the historian’s historian tale of alliances in the Peloponnesian War, was actually a Greek colony that sat on Sicily.
3) Many of the Christian martyrs killed in the Colosseum were Sicilian as Christianity took hold in Sicily long before it became fashionable (or permissible) in Rome. Sicily had a long history of fighting back against their Roman leaders.
4) Agriculture is today the principal driver economically (volcanic soil’s really rich and Mt. Edna is as volcanic as it gets), with oranges, pistachios reflecting a hundred-year Arab rule. Apparently, the Vandals, Goths, Byzantines, Normans, Holy Roman Emperors and French all brought no fruit when they each ruled Sicily.
5) Sicily produces more wine than New Zealand, Austria and Hungary combined. Think about that the next time you see wines sorted by country in your local wine shop.

Wine Map of Sicily

Nobody makes better wine maps than this guy - click through for beauty incarnate

Nero’s from Sicily?
So what kind or wine does a triangular island version of Vermont produce? The only wine from Sicily I’ve ever really seen on Italian menus is Nero d’Avola, a red grape that sorta tastes like Shiraz. Thanks to Nero d’Avola we winos can take that enormous tome of Italian wines that nobody has any idea how to decipher, flip through some pages like we know what we’re seeing and select a red bottle of wine called Nero d’Avola. Hooray! Victory! The villagers cheer as we defeated the Italian wine list! Nero d’Avola has that great blend of fun, delicious and Italian enough to lend some credibility to the meal we’re about to eat.

Down the Sicilian Rabbit Hole
Sicily’s more than a one-grape wonder though. Inzolia, today’s grape of note, is just one of a couple dozen different grapes that Wine Virtuosity (the blogosphere’s Madeira Maven and extremely knowledgeable, amusing wine guy) sampled on his recent 21 part series on Sicilian wines. Correct – that is a 21 part series, that makes Ken Burns look like a dilettante. And there are still others that exist too! Fun sounding wines like Zibibbo, Grillo and Primitivo. Just saying them out loud will make a child laugh.

Inzolia – today’s grape – is a white wine that grows on the west side of Sicily (near where you take the ferry to Tunisia!). It’s not my favorite grape, much like Chardonnay isn’t my favorite grape, and it shares some of those similar round, oily characteristics that make the wine crazy popular. People with “I <3 Chard" shirts should be very about this grape when they can locate it in that enormous encyclopedia of Italian wines that comes with dinner. With my overriding bias for hugely lean, nearly anorexic wines, this grape had an uphill battle from the beginning. And if we're looking at a menu and Chardonnay and Inzolia are both listed, Inzolia's going to win (except maybe against Naked Chardonnay). This Inzolia’s got that citric promise that presumably comes from Arab oranges grown in Sicily.

My five second tasting notes said – Citrus nose of lemon and lime with some oily smell but round body of cantaloupe, mango and a little pineapple. Extreme acidity with a pretty long finish for a white (even though it’s a thin finish).

Detail Up!
Liotro Inziola 2009 from Sicily (the western part), Italy

Random Googles:
* Inzolia doesn’t leave Sicily much but when it does, find it in Tuscany under the pseudonym “Ansonica.”
* Pronounce it “In-SOUL-ia” with that extra umpf in the middle to make it sound truly Italian.
* Marsala (of famed Chicken Marsala) is a dessert wine made in Sicily thanks to a confluence of 18th century cultures (read its short genesis story here). Inzolia, along with Grillo and Catarratto, are the grapes that provide the Marsala building blocks.

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