Shortly before Luciano Pavarotti came to our town to sing in concert a number of years ago, I got a hurried call from the folks at the Kentucky Opera: The portly tenor expected his dressing room to be stocked with Greco di Tufo, a fine Southern Italian white wine that at the time wasn't easy to find in this part of the world.
Fortunately, a helpful local retailer got a case shipped in to quench the singer's thirst, providing a happy ending ... although the retailer later confided that after Pavarotti took two bottles and I bought one, it took years for him to hand-sell the rest of the 12-bottle case to suspicious customers who had never heard of it before.
As it turned out, Pavarotti knows his wine. To this day, Greco di Tufo remains one of my favorite Italian whites, even though it's still not all that easy to track down and not that cheap once you've found it.
The primary grape variety is Greco (pronounced "Gray-ko" and meaning "Greek"); and as the name suggests, the grape is believed to have come to Southern Italy from Greece, perhaps more than 2,000 years ago. Its growers brag that it may have been the grape used in Falernian, the ancient Roman equivalent of latter-day "cult" wines.
Greco di Tufo is made from Greco grapes grown around the village of Tufo ("Too-foe"), which takes its name from the region's volcanic soil ("tufa") that's the legacy of Vesuvius. Up to 20 percent of the blend may be a local grape called Pallagrello or "Coda di Volpe," literally "tail of the wolf."
As you can see, we've come a long way from Chardonnay and other international varieties here, but it's a side trip worth taking. Aromatic, dry, firmly acidic yet rich, and an excellent match with a variety of seafood and fish, Greco di Tufo always appeals to me ... and not just because of my Pavarotti story.
For more reading on Greco di Tufo, here's a link to an excellent online resource on Italian wine regions, "Italian D.O.C. Wines," an Italian-based source with pages in reasonably fluent English:
Clear bright gold. Melon and herbal notes, a whiff of almonds and clean minerality, interesting and complex. Ripe and tangy white fruit and subtle almond flavors, an odd but pleasing combination of rich texture with fresh fruit and zippy acidity. U.S. importer: VIAS Imports, NYC. (April 23, 2002)
FOOD MATCH: A first-rate match with pan-qrilled yellowfin tuna finished with a light teriyaki-style soy sauce and lime juice reduction.
VALUE: At $20 in the U.S., it's moving into the upper reaches for everyday whites. But character and quality make it a fair competitor at this price point, if not a bargain.
WEB LINK: Here's the importer's fact sheet on this wine:
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Wednesday, April 24, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.