The Wine Curmudgeon is never quite sure what to make of the Layer Cake wines. A year-old review of the shiraz was one of the most popular posts on the blog in 2010, and it's still getting comments. Is it the quality of the wine that elicits so much enthusiasm, or the quality of the label, what with it featuring a chocolate cake?
For the primitivio ($12, sample) the answer is the quality of the wine. It's made in Italy, but done in a decidedly New World Style — lots of oak and lots of dark black fruit, with vanilla thrown in for good measure. But it also offers plenty of traditional zinfandel-style spice and brambliness, which helped balance the wine — and the alcohol is only 13 1/2 percent. Another point in its favor: I tasted the wine about a year ago, and it wasn't as interesting as this. Another year of bottle aging seems to have helped.
Why the zinfandel reference? Because primitivo is apparently the same grape, though there is still some debate about the subject. In this, too many Italian primitivos I've tasted, including one the other night to compare to the Layer Cake, go whole hog for the New World zinfandel style without understanding what's involved. It's not a pretty sight.
Pair this with almost any Italian-American red sauce dinner (I did Mark Bittman's take on chicken parmigiana).