Loving the Lighter Reds
By Jake Wright, Annex Wine & Beer Buyer/Manager
My love affair. It almost didn’t happen at all. It was a chance meeting, but it irrevocably, irreversibly turned my world upside down.
My wife made a simple seafood stew, with rockfish, shrimp, some clams and mussels – a working parent’s cioppino. Now, what wine to pair with this? I didn’t want a white, and pairing a red felt like a little too much. I was about to default to a rosé when I remembered I had already picked out a wine, by reputation only, for a meal just like this.
This wine was a Rossese di Dolceacqua, a light and savory red wine from the Lugurian region of Italy. Think Genoa, La Spezia, even Cinque Terre. This is a rugged land that lives in close relation to the sea, and like all Italian cuisine, the wines and foods of the regions evolved together in time-tested harmony. This is seafood country, with simple stews like my wife made as common fare.
The wine poured a tawny, almost brick-like red. It had intense fruit aroma, with herbal and woody undertones. It was very light bodied, and upon tasting, the savory, herbal notes were enticingly apparent. A bite of stew, then another sip of wine… and that’s when Cupid shot his little vinous arrow. What a heavenly match! It was one of those elusive, serendipitous moments when the whole far outweighed the sum of the parts. That Rosesse and that stew danced together in the most delightful, delectable, delicious way.
I read somewhere that if you find Rossese in the States, it’s because someone really loved this wine and felt it needed to be imported. This is not anyone’s definition of commercial success, but rather a soulful appreciation for obscure, underdog varietals rooted in local traditions and cuisine. In fact, Rossese is deeply rooted along that part of the Mediterranean coast, and thrives even west into Provence, where it is known as Tibouren (and largely made into rosés).
Luckily, I work with an importer who found a lovely Rossese made by a committed, salt-of-the-earth winemaker named Danila Pisano. If the best wines are a reflection of their maker, then Danila is surely humble, strong, earthy, and mischievous by turns (and by all accounts, she is). She and her longtime boyfriend Tino (whose family owned the vines) work the dizzyingly steep slopes and terraces to bring forth low yields of this thin-skinned, light red grape. It is a labor of love (emphasis on labor) that brings this delicious, relatively unknown wine to our shores.1
But for those who know, the grape and its wine is a delight. Even the iconoclastic Randall Graham of Bonny Doon calls Rossese “one of the coolest grapes on the planet.”2 I wholeheartedly agree, and I am grateful my fortuitous discovery happened to be with one of those meals that take both food and wine into the stratosphere. I had never experienced the pleasures of light, gamey, savory red wines before.
Did it really turn my world upside down? Well, it certainly opened the door to a whole world of heretofore unknown pleasures. You see, now I chase after all light and bright reds, from snappy Gamays to minerally Zwiegelts, fruity Grolleaus to funky Pipeños. Put a slight chill on any of these, and savor the warmth of summer and its lighter cuisine.
Danila Pisano Rossese di Dolceacqua 2014, $19.99
La Galoche Beaujolais 2014, $14.99
Familie Maier Zweigelt 2014, 1L, $14.99
Les Hautes Noëlles “HéHo” Gamay/Grolleau 2015, $14.99
Viña Maitia “Aupa” Pipeño (Pais) 2015, $10.99