Ever since I ordered the most delicious grilled radicchio dish at Lupa in Greenwich Village back in the summer of 2001 I've been fascinated by this leafy red vegetable.
RADICCHIO -- A FLASHING RED WARNING
First you must know that the bitterness inherent in radicchio is to be revered. Like the bitterest greens -- chicory, escarole, dandelion, etc. -- it can be part of a well-balanced salad, just remember to dress it with a semi-sweet vinaigrette. But radicchio is also among the stiffest, staunchest and hardiest of this bunch. When you combine its stalky, crunchy texture with its naturally strong flavour, radicchio can overwhelm the senses, your meal, and the nice glass of Italian wine you're drinking, which for me at the moment, happens to be Monica, the lovely traditional red grape of Sardinia.
Monica makes fruity varietals, often spiced and of the dusty dried-fruit nature. This Argiolas Perdera Monica di Sardegna 2003 had the most beautiful nose of roses, and reminded me of a Barolo, which was a good sign: surely the strongest of Italian wines would stand up to the grilled radicchio dish that I would try to copy from Lupa chefs Bartoli and Bastianich.
WHY YOU SHOULD PUT RADICCHIO ON A GRILL
Grilling is a great treatment for radicchio. It solves some of the problems that this assertive vegetable can present. Dousing the charred leaves in a balsamic reduction sauce further softens the potent dish, adding richness and some sugar.
When served with tomato and olive pasta, grilled radicchio is a fine match for a rustic Mediterranean red wine, like this one. My Perdera did not have as much structure as I remembered it having in previous vintages, but it is still a great value wine. It carries a light to medium body, and is reminiscent of Zinfandel. Its smokiness and meatiness was nice, if a bit one-note. The wine presented good grip on the finish.
WHICH WINES ARE COMPLEMENTED BY RADICCHIO
So in the end, this wine's length and my handy cast-iron Creuset kitchen grill harnessed the ever-powerful radicchio and rendered it approachable to shy palates. It's no wonder that radicchio is often paired with big flavours like seared steaks and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Serdiana, Italia. 13%