Prelude: Tonight, my wife caught me with my hands all over Fiona. That’s what we call our refrigerator. Fiona Frigidaire, actually. Caught in the act...
When psychedelic rock great Jimi Hendrix wrote “Purple haze, all in my brain “, I am pretty sure that the distinctive pomegranate-toned foam of Gragnano, a frizzante red wine hailing from around its namesake town on the Sorrento Peninsula south of Napoli, was not the subject of his artistic reference.
But, at the moment, it is exactly what is all in my brain. And I want some. Now.
It is 127 miles, give or take, the distance between me and the nearest bottle of evanescent Gragnano, according to Winesearcher.com, a fact which continues to confound me. I mean, here we are, in pizza-obsessed USA, in a corridor where pizza shops seem to outnumber people. And yet, the task of locating a bottle of Gragnano - a wine that delivers one of the best pairings to pizza that you can imagine - is turning out to be, well, no easy task. Go figure.
At the top of the year 2017, a time when one imagines business-minded folk taking stock of the coming year’s entrepreneurial possibilities, it would seem someone is missing out on a real opportunity in wine sales by not addressing better market availability for Gragnano. If you are one of those importer / distributor / retailer types who still believe the national palate is not ready for Gragnano, well, that person may be you.
And why, by the way, is poor availability of product not (so much) the case with the comparable, but more easily located Lambrusco wines, I wonder? I digress. Anyway:
Gragnano, again, is gently frizzante (sparkling), low in alcohol, perfumed of violets, with a distinct taste of grapes and nuances of berries. It has a slightly sweet vein balanced by savory/bitter notes. The wine pours with a loveable purple foaminess which dissipates quickly and has the kind of acidity / effervescence that makes it a sensational partner to street food, cutting through the fat of cheese and oil, and yet, accompanies classic dishes, too, with unpretentious dignity. Massively thirst-quenching, Gragnano is a wine meant to be drunk young. Although I have enjoyed it on occasion at room temperature, Gragnano is best served with a slight chill.
Gragnano can be an especially easy crossover for Lambrusco lovers as it offers a similar drinking experience, however, Gragnano, comparatively speaking, impresses me as having a somewhat larger frame, finer perlage (bubbles) and registering a different tone of earthiness.
Principle grape varieties in Gragnano include the more widely recognized Aglianico and somewhat offbeat Piedirosso and Sciascinoso, always grown on volcanic soil. Piedirosso, one of Italy’s most ancient vines, counters the more tannic Aglianico with softness. Sciascinoso, which doesn’t accumulate much sugar, helps balance the contribution of Piedirosso’s tendency to do so.
Despite the romantic imagery of pizza and wine and red checkered tablecloths in intimate restaurant surroundings, pairing wine to pizza can be sometimes tricky. But, this is home turf for Gragnano. So, let’s consider some food pairings, and pizza, of course. But please - let us not speak here of toppings such as pineapple. You will not regret ordering a bottle of Gragnano with pizza margherita or white pizza topped perhaps with salami or prosciutto. Cecina / farinata (chickpea flour “pizza”) and the always comforting mozzarella in carrozza (Italian grilled cheese) are simple and sensational pairings with Gragnano. Sausages with mascarpone, a favorite dish of Italian cyclist Marco Pantani, may he rest in peace, I imagine as insanely good company to Gragnano. Calzone stuffed with salami and ricotta; peppers and egg panino; cheeses like provolone, smoked scamorza, mozzarella di buffala; cured meats such as salami, capicolla, prosciutto cotto. Gragnano is a perfect wine for ever classic eggplant parmigiana or spaghetti with mussels in light marinara sauce, and a slam-dunk winner with fried seafood like squid, octopus, fried fish, especially pan-fried bacala.
Get “take out” from your local Italian deli. Bring it home – turn on your favorite television show – wash it all down with copious amounts of Gragnano. Who can bother you???
Whether you are interested in exploring off-beat, indigenous varieties or just want to lay your lips onto something new and delicious, I encourage you to give Gragnano a try. When searching out Gragnano, look for Penisola Sorrentina DOC. Be sure to give the wine a chill before serving. And if you don’t find Gragnano on the bottle shelf of your local wine shop, be sure to politely inform your retailer of the oversight.
Cantine Federiciane Gragnano Monteleone
Intense and aromatic, with a lively pomegranate-toned froth, the wine shows notes of grape and berry with hints of violets, earth and spice. A slight, balanced touch of sweetness is joined by a note of smoke and gentle tannins for a lip-smacking finish. Serve slightly chilled.
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