This time Luciano takes the stand.
Light red wines are once again fashionable, not because they are easier, as we thought in the 80s, but because they keep pace with the lightening of Italian cooking that has also taken place over the past two decades, and because more structured wines have become too charged, with alcohol contents and concentrations poorly suited to daily consumption of the sort Italians enjoy.
The history of Piedirosso, also known as Per é Palummo, Pigeon’s foot, because that’s what the attachment of the stem looks like, is unique: in the space of a few years it has gone from being a wine to forget, vinegary on the nose and supported just by acidity, to a new Red To Be Followed, and there are even those who compare it to Pinot Noir in its more successful interpretations.
Setting aside comparisons between grapes, which I detest, it is clear that modern cellar and agronomic techniques have greatly improved this ancient Neapolitan varietal, which is well acclimatized to loose volcanic soils, but problematic for farmers because the veraison is difficult and it is relatively unproductive. Thanks to the reevaluation carried out by the Azienda Grotta del Sole in the early 1990s, which was followed by the work of several great artisan winemakers, now we have reds that are much lighter than Aglianico (in the past the classic Campanian blend was Piedirosso and Aglianico, and it still is in Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio), with light, deft, supple, elegant tannins.
Piedirosso is as complicated in the cellar as it is in the field; it’s always borderline between nasty scents and intriguing geraniums and red fruit. It requires attention and considerable skill.
Thanks to its modern taste and its price, which rarely exceeds a most affordable 10 Euros, and is generally under 5, Piedirosso is making the passage from a general consumption wine to a wine to be drunk by the glass, and capable of capturing the attention of professional tasters too. Because of the delicacy of its tannins it can only be worked in steel, and in 99% of cases it can also easily be paired with seafood; it’s also a perfect summer wine because it can be lightly chilled like a structured white. No sweetness, but rather quite dry and savory.
A few wines worth singling out.
The benchmark is clearly Grotta del Sole’s Piedirosso 2011 Campi Flegrei DOC, a few 10s of thousands of bottles of which are produced. Always a good buy. 8 Euros in wine shops.
In the Campi Flegrei area two artisans dedicate themselves to the varietal. The first is Peppino Fortunato di Contrada Salandra in Pozzuoli, whose current release is the Piedirsso 2010 Campi Flegrei DOC, less than 7.000 bottles with terrific fruit and savoriness coupled with dryness, length, and suppleness. 9 Euros in wine shops.
The other is Raffaele Moccia, whose winery, Agnanum, is in Agnano, within the Commune of Naples. His Piedirosso 2011, of which he makes just 2000 bottles, revolves around finesse, and is a perfect expression of the volcanic terroirs of the Campi Flegrei. 12 Euros in wine shops.
Not far from Raffaele is the Cantina degli Astroni, a family tradition for almost a century, with Colle Rotondella Piedirosso 2001 Campi Flegrei DOC. The winery, which was relaunched by Gerardo Vernazzaro, who studied winemaking in Udine, is the one with the largest vineyard area dedicated to Piedirosso. 10 Euros in wine shops.
Finishing up with the beautiful Campi Flegrei region, the heart of the Roman Campania Felix thanks to the Port of Pozzuoli, I’d mention the excellent Piedirosso 2001 de La Sibilla, made by the young family winemaker Vincenzo Di Meo. An even more immediate wine, if that were possible. 11 Euros in wine shops.
Piedirosso is a coastal red, easily tolerating heat provided that it’s tempered by sea breezes. Another historic example is Casa D’Ambra a Ischia’s Per ‘e Palummo, once again savory and mineral. 10 Euros in wine shops.
There is also Piedirosso in Lacryma Christi and in Gragnano, but here we are concentrating on those who believe in the varietal enough to make it pure. Very good, and here we move to Tramonti, in the Costiera Amalfitana, and Apicella’s Piedirosso 2011 Colli di Salerno. The first winery in the area to bottle it, and it’s fresh and supple. 8 Euros in wine shops.
Piedirosso has become quite common in the Sannio area. Two that stand out in 2011 are Fontanavecchia and Fattoria La Rivolta respectively made by Libero Rillo and Paolo Cotroneo, the top of the Taburno. The first, made by Angelo Pizzi, is fresh, mineral, of nice body, and thirst quanching. A Sannio Piedirosso DOC whose production is 13,000 bottles. 8 Euros in whine shops.
The second, made by Vincenzo Mercurio, is a bit softer, but then reveals considerable verve and drinkability. Alto Sannio Doc, production 8,000 bottles. 10 Euros in whine shops.
Our look at Piedirosso finishes with the Alto Casertano, and two delightful champs: Il Sabus 2011, enjoyable, fresh, nice red fruit on the palate. 10 Euros in wine shops. It’s made by the Azienda Tenuta Adolfo Spada in Galluccio, on the flanks of the extinct Roccamonfina volcano.
The same area, but more towards Caianello, yielded I Cacciagalli’s Basco Piedirosso 2010 (4000 bottles), which is, I am almost certain, sold out. A perfect example of how to interpret the varietal, and the remaining bottles should be about 10 Euros in wine shops.
Enjoy Piedirosso with tomatoey pasta dishes, eggplant Parmesan, fish soups, and roasted white meats with potatoes. Drink from paper cups if that’s your fancy, because this wine shares the outgoing nature of Campanians who live on the coast: open and living for the moment, because there is no certainty in tomorrow.