Uva di Troia
Let's follow up on Wednesday's Symphony with a marching circus band. "Il Circo," that is, a proprietary name for a fine Italian wine imported to the U.S. by the wild and crazy folks at California's Bonny Doon Vineyard.
Translated as "The Circus" and boasting a label that jumps off the shelf with its poster-like image of a circus tattooed lady in bright primary colors, this Italian wine is made from the rare red grape Uva di Troia ("Oo-vah dee Troy-ah").
Like Wednesday's "Symphony" grape, this unusual variety isn't often seen outside its native region. But unlike Symphony, which was developed in 1948, Uva di Troia goes back to ancient times. The name sounds like it means "Grape of Troy," suggesting a link with ancient Greece, but grape historians haven't been able to confirm that. Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm has a simpler, earthier explanation: In the seaport slang of the Pugliese town of Bari, he says, "The word 'Troia' ... denotes a woman who plies the night."
This suggests Uva di Troia as a natural match for spaghetti alla puttanesca, but I digress. This wine is made for Bonny Doon by the Italian firm Azienda Vinicola Rivera in Puglia (Apulia in English, the Italian "boot heel"), and it carries the regional name Castel del Monte, a wine-producing area in the mountains west of Bari.
Puglia is probably best known for Primitivo, the Italian take on Zinfandel (which scientists now believe actually is Zinfandel, exported back to Italy from California in the late 1800s); another widely distributed wine of the region is Salice Salentino. But Uva di Troia is a relative rarity, generally used in blends and, frankly, declining in popularity as growers rip out its vines and replace them with heavier-bearing varieties of greater commercial potential.
So this is a wine to seek out, if only to try it before it disappears. And if you do taste it, you may just want to become an advocate for its preservation. It's a memorable wine, fruity and ripe, as easy to quaff as a jug wine but with the complexity and flavor interest that you'd expect from a fancier wine.
TODAY'S WEB LINK: If you want to read more about Puglia, or Castel del Monte, or anyplace in Italy, a highly recommended resource is the Italian Trade Commission's ItalianMade.com, described as "the official site of the foods and wines of Italy:
Il Circo 2000 "La Violetta" Uva di Troia Castel del Monte ($13.99)
This very dark garnet wine shows why they named it "Violetta" with a fresh, floral and springlike waft of fresh violets, backed by pleasant scents of dried cherries. Ripe and full in flavor, juicy cherrylike fruit seems almost sweet at first, but lemon-squirt acidity and soft, almost imperceptible tannins bring it into balance. Although it's from the other end of Italy, it reminds me of an exceptional Valpolicella in its overall style: Fruity, fresh and appealing, with an underlying structure and complexity that add substantially to its interest. Exceptional wine. U.S. importer: Bonny Doon Vineyard, Santa Cruz, Calif. (April 3, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Would go well with a range of meat or poultry from steaks to roast chicken; it made an excellent match with a meatless favorite from Northeastern Italy, a radicchio risotto.
VALUE: Complexity, balance and its forward, fruity flavor make it a fine buy in this price range.
WHEN TO DRINK: No need to rush to drink it, but it's the style of wine that benefits from its youthful fruit and deserves to be enjoyed while it's reasonably fresh.
WEB LINK: The Il Circo fact sheet is on Bonny Doon's Web pages at
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Friday, April 4, 2003