Note from the author: There are 1,368 varieties covered in Wine Grapes by MW Jancis Robinson, MW Julia Harding, and Dr. Jose Vouillamoz. Bet you can't try them all.
Confession: I desperately love a recipe from the Campbell's soup website.
Second confession: I don't actually make it with Campbell's soup, because I'm scared to eat three of the listed ingredients: dehydrated mechanically separated chicken, soy protein concentrate, and monosodium glutamate. Maybe those are all fine, but making your own butter-and-flour-thickened chicken stock is easy enough. The recipe, called Chicken Balsamico, calls for simmering chicken breasts in creamy stock, balsamic vinegar, sundried tomatoes, oregano, and kalamata olives. You sprinkle the whole thing with feta cheese and serve it up over orzo. If I'm feeling fancy, I add a pile of lemony arugula salad over the top.
The dish is salty, pungent and bold and needs a wine that will size it right up. I've made chicken balsamico plenty of times, and I've eaten it with plenty of different wines that were all... fine. California Pinot Noir was overwhelmed; a northern Italian Barbera was bright but not bold enough; New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc made it feel like everything was fighting.
But last week, I found the perfect match: 2010 Argiolas Perdera from the Italian island of Sardinia. It's made from the deep red Monica grape, which my Wine Grapes book says could be of Spanish origin or could date "back to the eleventh century, when the Camaldolese monks began to plant vines and produce wine." As for the taste, authors Jancis, Julia, and Jose say that "unless yields are kept low, the wines are generally undistinguished and for early drinking." I'm going to have to adamantly disagree on this one, at least on the Argiolas front.
Especially for around $12, the Argiolas Perdera impresses me with its big, super-ripe and dark fruit, reminiscent of blackberry, black plum, and cherry and even a little raisin, which plays really well up against the tangy-sweet notes of balsamic vinegar. Then the salty black olive notes chime in—both in the dish and in the wine, underpinned by a toasty-earthy crackle of black pepper. The salinity of the wine is what surprises and attracts me most, perhaps a result of the vines being surrounded by the sea on this island.
I don't know if they've ever heard of Campbell's soup or such a dish as "chicken balsamico" on the island of Sardinia, but I'd definitely recommend they try it. Maybe with homemade cream of chicken stock.
2010 Argiolas Perdera Monica di Sardegna
The Grape: Monica
The Region: Sardinia, Italy
Retail Price: $12
The Importer: Winebow
About the Author: Stevie Stacionis is a wine writer and Certified Sommelier based in San Francisco. She's currently drinking her way through the 1,368 varieties included in the new Wine Grapes tome. Follow her on Twitter @StevieStacionis and check out her snobbery-free wine videos at A Drinks With Friends TV.
Wine provided as sample for review consideration.