This one’s pretty convoluted, even for Italy, so bear with me…I’ve written before about an EU court’s decision favoring Hungary, and forbidding any wine-related use of any name that looks or sounds like the Hungarian “Tokaji” (pronounced TOH-kai), which ultimately meant no more “Tocai”, or “Tokay”, etc. So in northeastern Italy, where the white “Tocai” once grew, now grows “Tai” (and “Friulano” as well, but no need for even more confusion). So when the Tocai/Tai exchange was mandated, the few growers in Veneto and Friuli that once cultivated the red-skinned grape called “Tocai Rosso” followed suit and adopted “Tai Rosso”, and thus is tonight’s wine dubbed.
So that’s how we arrive at the name Tai Rosso, which from the above explanation might imply that, if some measure of logic were at work, Tocai Rosso is a red mutation of Tocai; well a mutation it likely is, but it somewhat bafflingly has nothing whatsoever to do with the white Tocai, and precisely how the Tocai Rosso and Tocai names became associated is unknown.
What is quite clear is that Tocai Rosso, after the application a fair amount of genetic research, turns out to be part of the greater Grenache/Garnacha/Cannonau family! This ancient and diffuse family’s origins are themselves debated – Spanish, Sardinian, etc. – and the grape not surprisingly appears under various names (Alicante, Guarnaccia) in spots on the western Italian coast, but this is a wine from the Colli Berici which is a landlocked region in the decidedly eastern Veneto region!
So precisely where does this Tocai Rosso fit into the “family”? In short, nobody’s sure. Tocai Rosso bears a powerful similarity to the fairly common southern French pink/red-skinned variety Grenach Gris, and indeed Tocai Rosso produces a pale, almost rose` red like it does, but important differences persist nonetheless…The best current educated guess is that Tocai Rosso is a now deeply mutated line of Grenache brought to the Veneto as much as 700 years ago, and grown only in isolated pockets, in very different terroirs, has produced this umpteenth Italian viticultural oddity.
To go with this nifty little light red, I composed a spread of grilled polenta rectangles topped with a classic Veneto sauce called peverada made from chicken liver, anchovies, lemon zest, vinegar, parsley, etc., and then a main course of crespelle (crepes) stuffed jellyroll-style with a mix of ricotta and Piave cheeses, and minced spinach baked in a silky tomato/onion/butter/bay leaf sauce.
Azienda Agricola Rezzadore Colli Berici Tai Rosso 2010
Transparent pale ruby color. Notes of sour cherry and strawberries in cream, violet, chalk, and autumn leaves. In the mouth the wine is medium-light in body, with smooth, slightly peppery tannins, nicely balanced with a fresh, clean, and juicy acidity that reveals subtly spicy raspberry and Cornelian cherry fruit and hints of dried tarragon. Warm, “sweet and sour” finish.