Monday, March 24, 2008

The Red-Footed Grape from Campania

Some Italian reds stomp onto the stage with heavy boots and demand your attention. Others slip in on little, red feet and steal your heart away.

Piedirosso fits into the second category. It's an exciting red grape variety from Campania, the region that is home to Naples and the Amalfi coast. And it is yet another surprise--in a string of surprises--that have come my way since setting out to explore the wines of Italy.

The 2005 La Sibilla Piedirosso is made from grapes grown in the volcanic soils of the Campi Flegrei appellation. ($14.99, K & L Wines) Campi Flegrei has bragging rights to claim it is the home of the ancient god of fire, Vulcan. It is also a region that has preserved some of Campania's wine heritage, in the form of plantings of the white variety Falanghina, and the red variety Piedirosso. Phylloxera devastated the grape stock by the early 20th century, but today the Piedirosso grape (which is named for the striking red stems that connect each grape to the cluster and some say look like the feet of doves) is making something of a comeback.

When you pour it, it has a striking clear garnet color, which is very clear and bright. Startling aromas of bacon fat and smoke make the first impression, and you can reach for some high-toned black cherry fruit aromas underneath. There is a silkiness on the palate, accompanying flavors of leather, black cherry, tar, and earth. Some will find this a bit bretty and barnyardy, but I liked the funkiness and thought it in no way overpowered the wine's fruity complexity. Given all this wine delivers in the flavor department, I'd say this is excellent QPR.

With your Piedirosso, I'd try a fresh and post-modern take on good old eggplant parmesan. Toss some farfalle pasta with sauteed eggplant, cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic, parmesan, and fresh ricotta. Eggplant is common in the traditional food of Campania, but this recipe is a little less labor-intensive to pull together and put on the table at the end of a long day at work than many of the time-tested alternatives. The bitterness of the eggplant is a nice counterpoint to the juicy black cherry fruit, and the smokiness of the wine picks up the smoky notes that emerge from a nicely caramelized eggplant, too.

As with any unfamiliar grape, it can be useful to know a more familiar grape variety reminiscent of the Piedirosso's flavors, aromas, and textures. To me, this is like a Burgundian Pinot Noir, and I think this is an Italian red that will appeal to Burgundy fans. In a time of the dipping dollar, it's good to have a backup. My guess is they may not realize they are drinking an Italian wine at all, if you don't tell them.


Anonymous said...

a new Italian varietal to try and an another new veggie recipe. Double Whammy.

Nice post, thanks for the introduction to all of these new wines, it is helping me along with my century club as well.


Taster A said...

We just finishe dinner and have a full wine loft cellar. But after reading this, I'm hungry and want to go to the wine shop and find me some of this!

Anonymous said...

Been reading the blog for a few weeks, going back into the archives. I am really trying to learn about wine and expand my palette and my knowledge. Could you write a post recommending books to educate? A breakdown by knowledge level (novice to somewhat knowledgable to expert) would be great. If there is already a post about this, I apologize in advance.

Dr. Debs said...

Thanks for the comments, everybody. As I promised, John: more veggie recipes for spring. Taster A, let me know what you think when you try one of these wines in future. Anonymous, check back on Thursday--I'll have an answer for you.