Craving Campania: Our July book + bottle Pairing
Dear Readers + Drinkers,
Glad you could join us! Every month, on the first Tuesday, we’ll be posting on social media a teaser for our eponymous book + bottle pairing. Here on the blog, we’ll offer up the full tasting notes, a book review, a wine review and other insider secrets to help you get the most enjoyment possible out of your pairing.
This month we’re reading My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, and we’re drinking Greco di Tufo, a white wine from the Campania region of Italy.
We’re a few years behind on this book selection — My Brilliant Friend was published in 2012 — but if you haven’t read it yet, now’s the TIME! The HBO adaptation came out last fall, so you can binge watch it when you’re done with the book. If you’re fortunate enough to have already read My Brilliant Friend, there are three more books in Ferrante’s quartet to keep you occupied for the rest of the summer!
My Brilliant Friend is perfect summer reading. Taking place in Naples, Italy, and sometimes jumping to the island of Ischia off the coast, reading about these two young girls is so naturally and universally reminiscent of childhood: school crushes, summertime trouble making, and petty squabbles. What I like most about this book is that: it’s natural. It’s like you’re not actively aware that you’re reading a coming of age novel, but rather you’re participating in coming of age yourself. The reader is invited into Lila and Lenù’s mundane, their secrets, and their self-discovery, and it’s a wild ride. We get these girls not just in childhood, but through their adolescence and into young adulthood. And we know their male counterparts, too, with fast cars, machismo posturing, and business drama. What’s so charming about this story is how normal and familiar it feels. It’s Ferrante’s insight into human nature that makes it profound.
“They more more severely infected than the men, because while men were always getting furious, they calmed down in the end; women, who appeared to be silent, acquiescent, when they were angry flew into a rage that would not end.”
Be prepared - this is not a quick journey, but one you’ll be on for a while. And don’t be fooled by the cover - My Brilliant Friend is more reminiscent of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time books than poolside chick lit. Ferrante doesn’t woo us with fanciful language, psychological suspense, or elicit sex, and still this book holds the readers’ attention rapt for over 300 pages.
It’s easy to assume that the narrator, Elena, or Lenù, is the “brilliant” girl that the book is named for. She’s precocious, pursues a traditional educated path, and is admired by the adults in the book. However, as the book unfolds, we notice Lenù’s excessive admiration for her friend Lila who is brilliant in a different way and whose opposing life choices reflect Lenù’s underlying desires. Lila and Lenù’s paths are juxtaposed and we wonder if Lila is as unassured as Lenu.
“Not for you,” Lila replies ardently, “you’re my brilliant friend, you have to be the best of all, boys and girls.”
Beyond her complex character development, Ferrante takes us on a journey through post-world war two Italy. We are invited into these homes of these middle class families trying to make ends meet. Bust most indulgently, we get to go on vacation with Lenù to the island of Ischia - a paradise with new people, independence, and turquoise blue waters.
Which brings us to our wine pairing of the month. Since we’re reading about Italy, it’s only right to enjoy an Italian wine alongside our book. However, there’s no shortage of bottles to pick from. Since My Brilliant Friend is so situated in the Naples area of Italy, we chose a wine from that region, and to home in a little more, the main character Lenù’s surname is Greco, so that was the deciding factor for us to choose Greco di Tufo as our July pairing wine. It doesn’t hurt that this is a crisp white wine for a summertime read that has us longing to be vacationing with Lenù on the beaches of Ischia!
Greco di Tufo is a dry white wine named after the soil its grapes grow in - Tufo, a type of volcanic rock that lends great minerality to this wine. These wines are fit for aging, so if you want to save the bottle until you’ve finished Ferrante’s quartet, we’d understand — the wine might be even better for it! If you do decide to enjoy it now, you’ll experience striking aromatics of waxy lemon, hazelnuts, and wet stone. On the palate, it’s refreshing and juicy with spearmint on the tip of your tongue, as fresh as a pineapple, with honey, almonds, and lemonade notes. The wine has an unctuous roundness that gives it more body, and the acidity is pronounced and enjoyable.
Serve this wine chilled from your fridge, and leave the bottle in an ice bucket to keep it cool as you enjoy it!
“If you don't try, nothing ever changes.”
If you can’t find Greco di Tufo, other great picks would be Falanghina or Fiano di Avellino, two other white wines from the Campania region of Italy.
Set a table outside in the shade. Make yourself this quick campanian dish, and don’t forget your book! Pour yourself a glass of greco di tufo, and bring a friend if you don’t want to drink the whole bottle. You won’t want to put either of these down!
BONUS! Try our suggested recipe, below, adapted from Lidia’s Italy, by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich.
WHERE CAN I GET THIS BOOK AND THIS BOTTLE?!?!?
STEAMED MUSSELS TRIESTE STYLE
Cozze alla Triestina
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 more for finishing
3 crushed garlic cloves
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 bay leaves
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1-2 pounds of mussels, scrubbed and rinsed
½ cup white wine
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Italian bread, grilled or toasted, for dipping.
Put the 4 tablespoons of oil in a skillet on medium heat with the garlic. Stir until fragrant. Add the onion slices, red pepper, salt, and bay leaves.
When the onions begin to be transparent, add the white wine and the mussels and turn the heat up to high. Stir the mussels and they’ll start to open. It should take about 3-5 minutes for them to steam. When they’re all open, they’re done cooking.
Pour the mussels and sauce into a bowl, and top with the finishing olive oil and chopped parsley.
Enjoy with the grilled bread for dipping and you delicious greco di tufo wine!
Credit @condenasttraveller for the gorgeous photo of Ischia and @totalwine for the Greco image!