The Grape Glossary: a guide to hip varietals
Maybe it came from Greece. Most likely it didn't. More importantly, greco, despite the apparently Grecian etymology, is thoroughly Italian now. More accurately, it's Neapolitan, a white jewel of the Campania region that surrounds the pizza capital just south of Italy's kneecap. Producers in Campania have done as much to restore near-extinct grapes in the past half-century as those of any other region on the planet, and Greco is a local pride and joy, a fitting accompaniment to simply topped, thin-crust Neapolitan pizza – and, to underscore its probable ethnicity, not so good with Greek salads or lamb souvlaki.
There are, I hasten to add, several "grecos," including a genetically distinct white called greco bianco from further south, in Italy's Calabria region, as well as a dark-skinned variety called greco nero. When most people outside Italy talk about greco they generally mean – as I do here – greco ti tufo, a generally full-bodied, pale-skinned grape that might more easily be described as what it's not than what it is. What it's not: sweet and lavish with oaky vanilla, like so many mass-appeal, barrel-aged chardonnays. It's also not strongly acidic, like zesty sauvignon blanc. Personally, I'm reminded of thick-textured viognier, only greco tends to be slightly drier and not as alcoholic as that trendy French white grape.
Many of us with a penchant for seafood have nothing but time for greco. It's a killer match for medium-weight, fleshy fish in particular, such as halibut, grouper or cod, whether gently spiced and seared or sautéed in a light cream sauce. And it's a marvellous partner for so much more, from many vegetarian entrées (eggplant parmesan? quiche?) to roast veal. Greco deserves attention in a world drooling over industrial-grade pinot grigio and factory-formula chardonnay.
As with Campania's other great whites – notably fiano and falanghina – Greco is a specialty of Campania's foremost producers, such as Mastroberardino and Feudi di San Gregorio. A few to add to the list: Bambinuto, Donnachiara, Pietracupa, Terredora, and Villa Raiano. At $15 to $25 in almost all cases, Greco is as fine a bet as any premium white wine you'd consider in that range. Unless you insist on sweet, oaky chardonnay or unless you're having Greek salad.
The Flavour Principle by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol (HarperCollins) won top prize for best general English cookbook at the 2014 Taste Canada Food Writing Awards.