If you don't like this, maybe you don't really like wine?

Thoughts on "faults," perfection, and drinkability while shucking peas.

Of course, after I published last Friday’s tear-stained ode to the end of spring pea season, what happened? The very next day, at my local Saturday farm market, I literally found three different varieties of peas for sale, along with beautiful maitake mushrooms. So, I finally had my fresh pea feast (more on that below, in a moment).

But first, I want to talk about the wines I opened while I shucked my peas in the shade of my back patio Sunday afternoon — and also a little about overthinking things, as well as living in an imperfect world.

Now, my corner of New Jersey has been ridiculously hot and muggy, but I felt like light, chilled red wines would pair best with what I was serving for dinner. At first, I opted for an old favorite, a 2019 Foradori Teroldego ($22) from the Italian Alps. Teroldego is the kind of obscure, easy-drinking Alpine red (a genuine Godforsaken Grape) that I gravitate to: Cool, fresh, low alcohol, utterly gulpable. What balances the bright purple fruitiness is a hint of that classic Italian bitter amaro note and a super dry finish. Elisabetta Foradori is one of Italy’s legendary low-intervention, biodynamic producers. Her children now run the winery and the wines rarely disappoint. They are precise, pure, technically flawless.

Still, on that hot, buggy afternoon, I started wishing I’d opened something a little edgier, a little more feral. So I opened another bottle I had on hand, a uniqe red from the little-known Colli Piacentini, the hills around Piacenza: 2019 La Stoppa Trebbiolo ($20).

This is a blend of barbera and local grape called '“bonarda” (which is totally different than the bonarda grown in Argentina). This blend is often called Gutturnio in Colli Piacentini, so named because the Romans drank it from jugs called gutturnium. Julius Caesar’s father-in-law was famous for making Gutturnio. (Yeah, that’s how long they’ve been making wine there).

La Stoppa Trebbiolo is a departure from most wine that’s imported to the U.S. these days. Aged only in stainless steel and cement tanks, it’s earthy, bloody, and elementally fruity, with the sharp bite of wild-picked berries and plums, and walks a live-wire tightrope between sweet/sour balsamic and bitter amaro on the finish. This is certainly not for natural-wine haters (the number of those among the old-guard wine people always surprises me). Nor is it a wine for those who seek technical perfection.

In his review of the 2018, wine writer Jamie Goode asks, “How do you assess a wine like this Trebbiolo from La Stoppa? If you are a techno winemaker, you reject it for faultiness. Volatile acidity and brett would do it.” But Goode doesn’t stop where the usual natural-wine hating gatekeepers do. “I’m tasting this and thinking: I actually really like it,” he writes. “This is a challenge with wine. How do we decide what a fault is? It’s not straightforward, and this naturally made wine is actually delicious, but then I’d understand why some people might struggle with it.”

Struggle? As my pile of peas grew, and I enjoyed this so-called “faulty” bottle, I wondered how someone could “struggle” with such a deliciously drinkable wine. My thought: If you don’t like this wine, do you even like wine at all?!

I’ll admit, it may be personal for me. This La Stoppa, after all, made me think of the first real wines I ever tasted independently (not poured by my father) when I was 19 and lived with a family in a village near Cremona. I’ve written about these wines of memory before, in my book:

Paolo’s wine certainly tasted fruity, though it was more tangy than sweet, and what made it foreign to me was the aroma. My father’s wines smelled like identifiable fruits—plums, cherries, berries—unlike this fizzy wine. It was a little stinky, to be honest, but in a very pleasant way…I didn’t have the language back then, but in my memory the aroma smelled earthy, rustic, fertile, alive, almost like the essence of the farm and dusty streets of the village. Back then, it simply smelled and tasted like the Old Europe I had hoped to find.

Those unlabeled wines were fizzy with purple foam, and for years I thought they were lambrusco. I had no interest in or knowledge of wine when I was 19, but even then I knew this was wine as it was meant to be gulped and enjoyed. It was many years later, working as a professional, visiting the Colli Piacentini, that I eventually learned that my first wine crush had actually been Gutturnio.

What I drank last Sunday was certainly more refined than those fizzy wines I tasted in the village decades ago. But La Stoppa Trebbiolo still delivered that old feeling of something untamed, un-American, unabashedly Old World. It made sense that I was spending the hot afternoon hand-shelling peas to toss with fresh pasta for dinner. That’s what Anna, the mother of my family in Pieve San Giacomo, would have been doing on a Sunday.


PAIR WITH:

Tagliatelle with spring peas, maitake mushrooms, & mint

  • 3 cups fresh peas

  • 4 tablespoons butter

  • Olive oil

  • Salt and pepper

  • 2 cups maitake mushrooms

  • Fresh mint, chopped

  • 1 pound fresh pasta

  • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Bring 2 pots of water (one small, one large) to a boil. Cook the peas in the small pot for about a minute, then drain and cool in ice water.

Melt half the butter in a skillet on medium high. Cook the mushrooms, seasoned with salt and pepper, until lightly browned. Turn the heat to medium-low and add the peas.

Cook the fresh pasta in salted boiling water for about 2-3 minutes. Drain pasta and toss with remaining butter. Then toss with the peas and mushrooms, as well as fresh mint. (Add a little reserved pasta water if necessary).

Serve with cheese and lots of black pepper. And an earthy, light red wine (see above).