castles and lady kissers

Friday, October 29, 2010

Maybe Oz Clarke or Tom Stevenson or Jancis Robinson – British wine writers who seem to have explored every conceivable obscure corner of the wine world – rarely if ever happen upon an unfamiliar wine. But I am not a member of those rarefied ranks, and so the pleasures of discovery are undiminished.

By unfamiliar I do not mean an unknown producer. There are plenty of those no matter who you are. But an unknown region, or an unknown type of wine from a familiar region? That’s where the fun often begins.

A few nights ago Mrs. G and I were dining with friends at a bustling bistro on Capital Hill here in Seattle called Anchovies & Olives. It’s part of a group from chef Ethan Stowell that also includes How To Cook A Wolf, Tavolata, and Staple & Fancy. A&O features Italian-inspired seafood and pasta, and we four dove into the menu con gusto. But when it came time to find a red wine to go with our seafood entrées, I went exploring.

The extensive and challenging wine list was heavily weighted toward Italian white wines from the Northeast, but the reds, predictably, were scattered all over, with many from the south. Too heavy for the mood we were in; I wanted something lighter, elegant, more unusual. Listed among a selection of Barolos and Barbarescos and other familiar Piedmontese wines was one that caught my eye because I’d never seen it before.

A 2007 Basadone from Castello di Verduno bore the D.O.C. Verduno and listed Pelaverga Piccolo as the grape. Huh? Granted I’ve spent lot more time in Tuscany than in Piedmont, but here was a D.O.C. and a grape I’d never even heard of. So I jumped at the chance to try it.

The wine was an absolute delight. My companions found the peppery, herbal accents quite Rhône-like; I felt that the lightness and relatively high acid recalled Italian Pinot Nero. In any event, it turned out to be what Mrs. G calls “a short bottle.”

An online search turned up the Castello di Verduno website.

Here I learned that the native Pelaverga Piccolo vine has been grown in the Verduno area since the 1600s. Castello di Verduno was the first in modern times to plant a vineyard dedicated to the variety (in 1972). Basadone is a local name for the wild poppy depicted beautifully on the label. 
In the local dialect, basadone is a variant of bacciadonne, or “lady kisser”, and according to local tradition it is an aphrodisiac that re-awakens desires with its spicy overtones and delicate, lingering taste. Woo hoo!

And yes, there really is a castle, that dates back to the year 1500, and has been in the same family for the past century. In fact, it is now both a winery and a hotel, perched on a hill overlooking the village of Verduno. I want to stay there. I want to see the wild poppies, re-awaken desires, eat the local food, and romance Mrs. G with many bottles of Basadone. Pretty good payback for poking around an unknown wine buried on a restaurant wine list.

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