06 July 2011

greco skepticism: a fritto misto dinner

Embarrassingly enough, from my recent trip to Rome with the Native Companion I brought back no Roman wine. Nothing from Lazio at all. My baggage limit and my overdraft limit obliged me to narrow my swag down to just three bottles, all purchased from Restaurant Roscioli on the Via dei Giubbonari. The one I was most curious about is the subject of this post: a 2005 Villa Diamante Greco di Tufo.

I have always been completely indifferent to Greco, that's why. This despite tales I've heard from various SF and NYC wine folk of their being blown away by it, in some form or other. An import co. rep who I've no reason to trust* used to insist that he'd tasting a ten year old Greco that had been like manna. On another occasion the wine writer David Lynch** visited the restaurant where I was wine director in LA, shortly after I took the post, and after glancing at my shiny revamped wine list he chose a Benito Ferrara Greco I loathed, a holdover from the previous list.

There was nothing wrong with the Ferrara Greco, actually, except that by the time it reached California it was usually the tail end of the vintage, and oxidation issues were becoming apparent. (In my experience Greco withstands oxidation about as well as a halved avocado.) Maybe D. Lynch was more accustomed to tasting it in NYC or Italy?*** I don't know. If he was disappointed by it, he didn't mention it; nor did I. But it was on the basis of these rumors and intimations of Greco being actually worthwhile that, years later, I brought home from Rome a bottle of cult biodynamic Campanian estate Villa Diamante's version, and cracked it open over a dinner of fritto misto with my friends J, E, C, and D, thinking: maybe this will explain everything.

It didn't. I had hyped it up a little bit, inviting friends round and inducing everyone to spend absurd lengths of time de-spining squid and getting ink all over my kitchen floor and going through about four rolls of paper towels sopping up the excess oil that clung to the changeable bits of Prosecco-battered fried fish matter our fry-master J strained from the too-small pan in batch by agonizing batch. "Don't crowd the pan!" he'd instruct. (It turns out J once fried for a living, a short order cook. He's full of fry-maxims. "Slide - don't drop" is another one.****)

When we finally got around to opening the Villa Diamante Greco, an anticlimax was to some extent unavoidable. But the wine didn't help. It's hard to justify disappointment if you aren't certain what you were hoping for - I suppose just something that went a quite a bit further than the usual Greco touchstones of mineral, briskness, lemon. (Which descriptors can be and are wantonly applied to just about any coastal white.) The 2005 Villa Diamante Greco di Tufo had a kind of compacted lemon zestiness, an iodised, oystery minerality, and of course a fat smudge of oxidation across the whole thing.

We even waited it out, leaving a glass left in the bottle while we drank other wines, on the off chance it just needed a bit of air to show its true colors. When we returned to it, the air hadn't been kind.

Happily, we had those other wines. D had brought a 2010 "Chardonnay-des-Molière" from Isabelle et Bruno Perraud at Domaine des Côtes de la Molière, which crystal-bright, finely acid bottling I was bemused to note contains about 5% Sauvignon. What the hell's that grape doing down there? Is this widespread?

No, according to Isabelle. She doesn't know anyone else who's got any.

In any event, I consider it a successful wine dinner when new questions are raised, even as old ones - are there any great Grecos around? - inch somewhat closer to being put to rest.*****

* I'd kind of usurped a new account of his. Later after things went south between me and the account he usurped it back. The wines in his book were pretty uninspiring; he and that account deserve each other.

** Nothing to do with the director, of whom I'm also a fan.

*** I remember it was a continuing source of jealousy and resentment, when buying Italian wine on the west coast, that for any wine to reach us it had first to pass through New York, where oftentimes the best stuff was promptly snapped up fresher at lower prices.

**** Reminds me of fire safety maxims. I bet one day I'll be in flames and all I'll be able to recall in the moment will be J's useful fry-maxims.

***** A lot of qualifiers, I know. But I don't want to shut the door in case some Greco maestro feels like FedExing me a convincing example.

Related Links:

Villa Diamante's 2006 Fiano at Roscioli Restaurant in Rome

An Alsace-Japon dinner collaboration with my friend M
An Oyster-and-Chablis dinner

Admiring Isabelle et Bruno Perraud's 2009 St. Véran
Tasting through the rest of the Perraud range at a vigneron-blogger tasting at L'Hedoniste, 75002

A visit to Villa Diamante @ WineFriend


  1. If it doesn't taste a little (or a lot) like ash, it's not great greco di Tufo, in my opinion. Greco from elsewhere has been thin on the ground and thin in my glass, perhaps fortunately. And you are so right about it oxidizing faster than Victoria Beckham's face.

    But to pull back from aspirations to the sublime (mostly since I'm away from the database that would have my preferred bottlings), I've had fine decade-old examples even from the infamous Feudi, who could not exactly be accused of site-expressive winemaking.

    Then again, ultimately you like it or you don't.

  2. fiano or falanghina are better

  3. @thor: have always found feudi's grecos a little fat / ripe. but never had an aged one. good to know there's still hope...

    @twg: no kidding.