When stepping inside most butcher shops, it’s hard to envision anything serene… like a vineyard. The menacing movements of cleavers and bone saws don’t typically allow one’s thoughts to segue into those of a sun-splashed landscape dotted with bulbous grapes.
But in the tradition of many immigrant butchers who came to America to “hack” their wares, the ancient art of winemaking was, in fact, part of their role – an additional labor of love in their new homeland.
When Brooklyn butcher John Giarrusso – a Sicilian immigrant – wasn’t carving up steaks and chops, he was making his own Zinfandel. His shop was one of the busiest in the borough, probably because he offered wine to customers right from the barrel.
Now, the man who once epitomized an immigrant neighborhood’s vibrancy and cultural significance is now being honored with a namesake wine: Giarrusso Zinfandel Dry Creek 2008. It’s well balanced, with aromas of black pepper and dark fruit, and delivers a long, smooth finish with nice spice.
“John Giarrusso made Zinfandel at home, as did most of the European immigrants in his Brooklyn neighborhood,” says Tony Terlato, Chairman of suburban Lake Bluff-based Terlato Wine Group – and Giarrusso’s grandson. “He preferred pure Zinfandel [as opposed to blending with Muscat]. His wine was considered the best in the neighborhood.”
Zinfandel has a rich history in the United States: The origins have been traced to Italian Primitivo – which might have influenced Giarrusso and his fellow immigrants. It also was brought to California during the Gold Rush; the 49ers would drink young Zinfandel while panning for gold.
That’s the sunnier story of this grape. What people might not realize is that the varietal was a hearty traveler to the urban centers of the eastern seaboard. This provided hardworking immigrants – like Giarrusso’s customers – a chance to sample a wine that would be a great complement to the meats they would be purchasing.
Considering how wonderfully many cuts of meat pair with a hearty Zinfandel, it’s hardly surprising that a butcher would make wine from this grape in his spare time.
“Pulled pork, grilled sausages, and grilled chicken all are great with Zinfandel, says Alan Pilgrim, wine consultant with Schaefer’s Wines, Foods & Spirits in suburban Skokie. “Depending on seasoning and sauce, barbecued chicken is great with Zinfandel.”