Please send a Lettere, Maria
Last weekend as Jeremy and I had the pleasure of lunching with Michele Scicolone at Keste' in New York, I came across the most unlikely but very familiar sparkling red wine.
Please read Jeremy's report on the food here, and his definitive essay answering the question on the pizza with wine or pizza with beer debate.
Although DoBianchi and I do love some Lambrusco, and its southern counterpart, Gragnano, this was neither. Imagine my surprise when I saw an open bottle of Lettere (pron. LEH-te-rey) open on the counter of Keste'! The dork in me squealed with delight, as this is such a rarity to see in the states. When I ordered it from the waiter (quite rudely, I gave my dining companions no other option) he insisted that I meant Gragnano. "No, Lettere" I said..."Gragnano...?" he responded.
I got up, showed him the empty bottle, and successfully resisted the urge to explain the difference. He dug around the back of the refrigerator and found the last bottle. Whew.
It turns out that the Cantine Federiciane Gragnano supplier was out of stock, so they sent the Lettere in its stead. They are practically interchangeable, so it was a fluke that we stumbled upon this bit of Campania in Manhattan's West Village.
There is no better companion to pizza (besides beer) than a cool glass of fizzy red wine. All over Campania, Gragnano and Lettere are the pairings of choice for all types of pizza and panuozzi. They are fragrant, simple, and low in alcohol. The zesty bubbles make quick work of pizza dough and rich mozzarella without overwhelming the delicacy inherent in REAL pizza napoletana.
So, Gragnano and Lettere are two sub zones of the Penisola Sorrentina DOC and are named for the eponymous villages. (You can read a post I wrote about Gragnano almost 4 years ago here.)
The grapes allowed in both for 'rosso frizzante' are piedirosso (min 40%), sciascinoso (the local name for Olivella**) and/or aglianico (max 20%), and 'others' (max 40%).
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Drinking a Gragnano and a Lettere from the same producer can reveal a slight difference between the two, but they are equally delightful. One of my favorites from my days in Campania was Vini Iovine, though I'm sure they aren't available in Texas. Any adventurous Texan importers out there...?
Lettere is one of those rare pieces of southern Italian authenticity that one can occasionally find stateside. Along with Gragnano it is a wine that you simply must try, for the the sheer fun of it.
Well, I'll leave the etymological research of the name Lettere to my DoBianchi, but for now if you live in New York, go out and get some!
**The name olivello is a reference to the elongated shape of the grapes, similar to an olive. It is believed that there are two different types of olivello, one being sciascinoso, the other being true olivello. There is much more than a footnote to be done about this grape alone, not to mention the dialectical name for piedirosso. Stay tuned.