Years ago, selling wine for a tiny distributor out of Madison, Wisconsin, I brought home a mysterious red to audition with dinner.
Gragnano was new to our table and, with anticipation running high, I blew out half the bottle over our kitchen sink and counter before it reached our glasses.
The opaque purple juice not only stained, but belied its frizzante or, slightly fizzy, billing. This wine was a monster, in a good way! We were immediately taken by the uncommon mix of freshness and outsized fruit. Unlike Lambrusco, this was dense, with modest alcohol, and not sweet. The juice had so much froth it was nearly impossible to pour.
This wine was really fun. How often do we say that about the wines we drink?
And then it was gone. The source dried up or the importer lost the connection. I don't recall the details as I never jotted down the winery.
A few weeks ago, cruising lower Manhattan's Little Italy during the annual Feast of Gennaro, I rediscovered the long lost but not forgotten friend Gragnano at the all-Italian wine shop Enoteca di Palo (200 Grand Street). The Monteleone Penisola Sorrentina Gragnano, available there and at a number of other New York state retailers, was the only version on the shelf. We put Gragnano to the test with savory pizza and pronounced it a satisfier, as good a match as the everyday reds we uncork with homemade versions.
Gragnano is the name of a town and appellation in southern Italy's Campagna. The grapes Piedirosso, Sciascinoso, and Aglianico are grown on the Sorrentine Peninsula near Naples and each provide a piece to the wines. A few bottlings are available in the states, including one by the respected importer Michael Skurnik.
In spirit, the wine recalls the shouting exuberance of Beaujolais, the purple wall of color reminding one of Petite Sirah, and a boatload of tannin hidden just barely by the mountain of uncomplicated, grapey fruit. In flavor, Gragnano is uniquely its own thing: plummy, ripe red fruit with - in this case - a mineral-tinged tannic streak. And yes, with bubbles. Don't let that scare you. The Monteleone is dry and frizzante with a more coarse texture than the best, more delicate sparkling Moscatos. But the level of sparkle somehow melts into the wine and brings surprising levity alongside a straightforward punch of fruit.
If your pizza wines run from Zinfandel to Barbera, or from Nero to Sangiovese, make sure to try a bottle of Gragnano, at least once. And if liking a bottle so bubbly and red makes you feel sheepish, it's nobody's business but yours and those sharing your pizza.