Nicola Marzovilla, owner of I Trulli restaurant in New York and the Italian wine importer Domenico Valentino was on a mission.
"I found this great wine for pizza," he told me. "It's called Lettere. Let's get together and have some pizza."
Lettere is a fizzy red, full of cherry fruit, lightly sweet and low in alcohol (11.5 percent). It is the Coca-Cola that Neopolitans drink with their pizza. It's delicious and works beautifully with pizza Margherita, the fruit and sweetness playing off the sharp acidity of the tomato sauce.
To experience pizza and Lettere first hand, we visited Pizza Fresca (which holds a Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator for its wine list), Kesté and Don Antonio, three New York venues of authentic Neopolitan pizza. At each, there was a chilled sample bottle of Lettere awaiting us; at each, we ordered the classic Margherita—crusty base, tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil. At Kesté and Don Antonio, we also ordered the Regina, made with grape tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella.
The pizzas were excellent. My favorites were the crust at Kesté, with its firm yet chewy texture and toasty flavor, and the pure, fresh tomato sauce at Don Antonio. The Lettere? Quaffable, fresh and tasty.
Freshness is the key. "My idea is to bring it here as fresh and fruity as it is over there," explained Marzovilla. To that end, there will be a bottling date on the back label. Marzovilla dates his Lambruscos also. He began importing Lambrusco five years ago, beginning with 1,200 cases, and now ships 10,000 cases each year. "It's even fresher now," he said.
I wish I could give you all the details about Lettere. Good luck finding any information about it. What I was able to gather from Marzovilla and his director of operations, Jim Hutchinson, is that Lettere is a DOC south of Naples in Campania, named after a town on the Sorrento Peninsula. It's made from Piedirosso, Sciascinoso and Aglianico grapes. Lettere comes from higher elevation than the Gragnano DOC, which has more vines under cultivation. Marzovilla's Lettere comes from Paolo Palumbo, who makes it using the Charmat method.
It will be available next week and should sell at retail for about $15 to $18. On a restaurant list, it should be less than $40. Just don't expect to find it as easily as Coca-Cola.