Last April, I hooked up with my really good buddy Gabriele “Elvis” Inglesi after Vinitaly for one of our favorite traditions: meeting the “gang” at the horse restaurant. Yes, the horse — equine meat — restaurant. Horse meat is considered a delicacy in the Veneto (where I lived, studied, and played music for many years) and when Gabriele (aka Lelecaster for his mastery of the Telecaster) and I used to tour as a duo there, we would often spend Sunday evening with our friends at one of the many family-friendly horse restaurants in the hills and countryside outside Padua (btw, Padua is English for Padova, like Florence for Firenze, Rome for Roma, Naples for Napoli). That Sunday night, we went to Trattoria Savio (since 1965) in Legnaro.
Here’s what we ate:
Risotto with sfilacci di cavallo. Sfilacci are thinly sliced “threads” of salt-cured, smoked horse thigh.
Griddle-seared horse salami, sfilacci, horse prosciutto, and grilled white polenta.
Pony filet. Very lean (yet tasty), horse meat became popular in Europe in the 1960s when it was promoted (in particular by the French government) as a nutritious and inexpensive alternative to beef. In Verona, pastissada de caval — horse meat, usually the rump, stewed in wine — is the traditional pairing for Recioto and Amarone (check out Franco’s alarming article on Amarone, overcropping, and excessive production in Valpolicella, published in the February issue of Decanter magazine).
At Trattoria Savio, we drank pitchers of white and red wine. I’m not sure but the white tasted like Verduzzo to me, the red was probably stainless-steel Piave Cabernet and Merlot.
Gabriele is one of the meanest chicken pickers I’ve ever heard. Great friend, great times.
Above: Self-described “gastronomad” Vittorio Castellani published this vignette today on the Acquabuona blog. He grabbed the cartoon from somewhere on the internet and rewrote the caption: “Now that they have finally closed all those kebab houses, sushi bars, and Indian restaurants, we can start going out to dinner again!” The “Lucca” on the back of the man’s shirt refers to the city in Tuscany, where “ethnic food” was recently prohibited by the local government.
As I sit here translating La cucina veneziana (Venetian Cuisine) for the Oronzo Editions (New York) series of regional Italian cookbooks (to be released this spring), I feel a certain if modest confidence of my status as a purveyor of Italian gastronomic culture. After all, since my early days writing for La cucina italiana, I have been involved in Italian wine and food writing and marketing for more than a decade.
In the light of my interest in (and love and passion for) Italian culinary tradition, I feel duty-bound to share some disconcerting news that arrived today from Italy (ironically, in the same GoogleReader page of feeds informing me that Prime Minister Berlusconi has called Italy’s 1938 adoption of the Race Laws “a deep wound”): according to a report published on Tuesday in the daily La Repubblica, the township of Lucca has officially banned any “ethnic” food vendors from its historic center. The text of the new law, passed by local legislators, is as follows (reported by La Repubblica):
“In order to safeguard culinary tradition and [Lucca’s] unique architectural, structural, cultural, and historic character and urban design, the commissioning of administrative operations is not allowed when such activities are ascribable to different ethnicities” (translation mine).
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case of what “gastronomad” Vittorio Castellani has called Italian “xenofoodism” in a comment he left on the newspaper’s website and on the wall of his FB group The Couscous Clan (even though his neologism, etymologically, doesn’t really mean fear of the food of others; it actually means the fetishization of foreign foods, if you read the suffix -ism in the sense that it is used in sexism or racism, “Forming nouns with the sense ‘belief in the superiority of one over another'” [OED Online Edition]; xenophagophobia or xenoanorexia are more apt terms, the latter being particularly fitting in my opinion).
Above: Italy’s agriculture minister Luca Zaia has adopted nationalist and protectionist policies with racist undertones since his installment in April 2008.
In fact, since Berlusconi took office last April and installed Luca Zaia as agriculture minister, the Italian government has adopted an official policy of agricultural protectionism with racist undertones. As Christmas approached last year, Zaia published this astounding declaration of karpophobia in his blog: “Zampone [pig trotter stuffed with head cheese, boiled], cotecchino [pork sausage encased in pork rind, boiled], and lentils will surely not be missing at the Zaia residence! No pineapple, but fruit from our [Italian] farms…”
In November, he asked his readers: “How do you select restaurants for your dinners and lunches? Have you ever visited Chinese restaurants or restaurants with other ethnic origins?” Thirty-one readers responded to this racially charged survey.
Above: Traditional “tramezzini” (literally, “in-betweens”) at Sant’Ambroeus in New York, the North American satellite of the Milanese classic cafè, opened in 1936. I highly recommend it in NYC or Italy.
What business do I have posting my editorial on Italian or even Lucchese “ethnic food” policies? None, aside from my knowledge that Italian cuisine became a universal gastronomic language thanks to its absorption and incorporation of foreign culinary traditions. Dried pasta? From the Arab world (yes, the Arab world). Tomatoes? From the New World. Corn for Zaia’s beloved polenta (I love polenta, too, btw)? From the New World. Stockfish (baccalà)? From Norway.
No polenta e baccalà? I can’t imagine a world without it nor do I know of another country where these two foodstuffs could be brought together so deliciously!
I’ll say no more but leave you with food for thought. At the height of fascism, Italian “purist” linguists created the world tramezzino to purge the Italian language of the English sandwich (used to denote what were called tea sandwiches in Britain). Where would the world be today without the Italians amelioration of English cooking? If only Italian winemakers would develop a fear of foreign grape varieties!
Thank you for reading this far…
Se il mare fosse de tocio
e i monti de polenta
oh mamma che tociade,
polenta e baccalà.
Perché non m’ami più?
If the sea were made of gravy
and the mountains of polenta
oh mama, what sops!
polenta and baccalà.
Why don’t you love me anymore?
— from “La Mula de Parenzo,” traditional folksong of the Veneto and Friuli
The night of my bon voyage party at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego last month, Jayne and Jon gave me a bottle of birth-year Barolo to send me off in style: a 1967 Barolo by Borgogno. After driving my 1989 Volvo across country to Austin in mid-December, I let the bottle rest until the other night when Tracie B and I opened it for dinner. After we tasted and thoroughly enjoyed the wine and the experience, I turned to a tome that some (myself included) consider to be one of the most important works on Barolo and its history: Il Barolo come lo sento io, by Massimo Martinelli (Asti: Sagittario. 1993). The book was recommended to me many years ago by a restaurateur in Alba and it took me a long time to track it down. I simply can’t express its value in terms of understanding Barolo and its evolution: the vintage notes and analyses (stretching back to 1868!), the colorful anecdotes and vignettes of Barolo’s great personages, and Martinelli’s often poetic accounts of Barolo and its vicissitudes make it an indispensable tool in understanding the greatness of this wine. The title alone reveals the breadth (and passion) of Martinelli’s writing: Barolo, as I know (feel and taste it).* (I wish I had the time and resources to translate the whole book but, alas, with the state of publishing as it is and the narrow field of interest, this labor amoris will have to wait.)
Above: Please try this at home! Drink old wine with food! Don’t fetishize it. Respect it but don’t be intimidated by it. The people who made it intended it to be served with food. We served the 1967 Borgogno with pork loin chops, seasoned and dredged in flour, seared and deglazed with white wine. You don’t have to drink old Barolo with a fondue of Fontina and poached eggs topped with shaved white truffles (although that’s not a bad pairing either).
Martinelli ranks vintages as follows (for sake of clarity, my translation is slavish): exceptional, great, optimal, good, normal, mediocre, bad. His top vintages are 1947, 1971, and 1985 (some might be surprised by his assessment of certain vintages). Here’s what he has to say about 1967: “Majestic. Optimal vintage. Full, robust wine, with intense aromas” (again, a slavish translation). His drinkability prediction: “Wine with its full character: more than twenty years (1987…). Wine with its character still evident: more than ten years (1997…).”
Above: According to the newly revamped Borgogno website, the winery was founded in 1761. But 1848 is the date that accompanies the inscription on the label, “labore cum honore pro patria” or “made with honor for the nation.” I imagine the date refers to the year of the first war of Italian independence and is an indicator of Barolo’s historic significance in the birth of an “Italian wine nation,” as I have called it.
When I lived and worked in New York, I had the opportunity to taste a number of Borgogno “library” releases. According the label of this bottling, it was tasted, decanted, and rebottled in 2007, and had been topped off with wine from the same vintage. I’m not certain but my impression is that other library releases by Borgogno were topped off with young wine (a common practice for library releases, and not something that I oppose). The 1967 did not seem to have been topped off with young wine and despite its age, it was alive with perceptible acidity and eucalyptus and tarry notes, typical of old Nebbiolo.
Thanks Jayne and Jon! We thoroughly enjoyed this wine — nearly as old as me (since I was born during the Summer of Love while this wine was still in the vineyard)!
* In Italian, the verb sentire, from the Latin sentiosentire (to discern by sense, feel, hear, see, perceive, be sensible of) means to feel, to hear, to taste, to sense, to perceive (depending on the context). It’s akin to the English sentient.
Here are some of the pizza pairings suggested in the wake of last week’s post, Pizza, pairing, and Pasolini. I’ve also posted some more pizza pornography just for the fun of it…
Haven’t found great pizza in Austin yet but I’m still looking!
I’m trying to get Tracie B to make me my favorite pizza: alla bassanese (the way they make it in Bassano del Grappa), with white asparagus and a fried egg in the middle. I bet that Texas Espresso’s Italian has had it that way (he’s from Monselice in the eastern Veneto, not too far from Bassano).
Thanks, everyone for the pairings! And special thanks to Dr. V for getting the whole thing cooking…
I’m Italian and live in Italy, but I don’t have a PhD in Italian. Like Big Moz said, going to the pizzeria is the normal get-together- not only for young people. I’ve never seen anyone order wine with pizza unless it’s someone who doesn’t drink beer at all (in which case of seen them order the house red wine). No doubt about it, beer is usually drunk with pizza.
One of my first loves with pizza back in my ‘tator days was Renato Ratti Dolcetto. The play of the Dolcetto fruit and acidic tomato sauce was awesome! These days I have fallen in love with well-made lambrusco, and that for me is the best mach I can think of at the moment. Try “Acino” Lambrusco from Corte Manzini, or even their base level Lambrusco Secco… PERFECT!
— Wayne (The Buzz)
Da Vinci (Bensonhurst, Brooklyn)
I know it’s not so Napolitano but old fashioned Barbera sound pretty good to me. On the other hand, some Frappato is not so bad.
— Alice (Appellation Feiring)
The combination of pizza with wine is endless, as both can carry such a broad range of subtle flavors, textures and aromas. From Chianti to Amarone, and the Ribera del Duero mentioned [below]. Even when it’s not a perfect match, there is still chemistry, like a relationship that doesn’t work, it still has much to offer.
— Global Patriot
Lucali (Carrol Gardens, Brooklyn)
When we make pizza, as we are going to tonight since we are freezing out posteriors off, I like to drink a Nero d’Avola or a Puglese red with some stuffing. My significant spouse usually goes with Zin or a red Rhone. Try a decent red Rioja or Ribera del Duero sometime.
— Marco (Anima Mundi)
You can pair pizza with many Italian white wines (like Falanghina, or Lacrima Christi, or Soave), and overall with some good rosé wines from Apulia (Negroamaro grape) or Abruzzo (Montepulciano grape).
— Franco (Vino al Vino)
Ok, cold nastro azzuro on draft aside, you musta to dreenk a frothy gragnano (all of you northerners are suggesting lambrusco, how about its cugino meridionale? doesn’t it just make more sense? this is the pairing of tradition with the panuozzi of the eponymous city). Or, agreeing with franco, a crisp and fruity falanghina would be my second choice.
— Tracie B
Personally the only thing I ever want with my pizza is a cold European beer (preferably Menabrea), though if the wine in question was Lini’s Labrusca Rosso I could perhaps be swayed…
— James Taylor (VinoNYC)
The bishop of Barbaresco, Angelo Gaja (left), certainly wasn’t looking at the world through rose-colored glasses when he sat down with Jedi blogger Antonio Tombolini and 19 other food and wine bloggers in a conference room at the Gaja estate last Sunday (photomontage by Alfonso Cevola). Gaja had agreed to let the bloggers ask him anything they wanted regarding the caso Brunello or Brunello affair, as it has come to be known, and Antonio blogged live from their session — even taking questions from the virtual crowd. Franco and I have translated and posted some highlights at VinoWire. If you have been following the Brunello controversy, you might be surprised by what Gaja had to say and his candor.
Throughout the Brunello controversy, bloggers, journalists, and wine pundits have lamented the lack of transparency — on behalf of the Brunello Consortium, the winemakers themselves, and the Siena prosecutor’s office.
When young winemaker Alessandro Bindocci began posting at Montalcino Report, it was a breath of fresh air from Sant’Angelo in Colle at 400 meters a.s.l.: finally… finally, the world had an honest, reliable, just-the-facts source for information about what was happening “on the ground,” as we used to say during my U.N. interpreting days. Alessandro is a twenty-something and technically hip winemaker (check out his FB and if you don’t know what that means, then don’t bother). Gaja — a relative newcomer to Montalcino but an old dog when it comes to new tricks — doesn’t have a blog and so he had the bloggers come to him.
Whether or not I like Gaja’s style of Brunello (I don’t), whether or not I agree with his push to change Brunello appellation regulations and allow for blending of international grapes (I don’t), I have great admiration for him and what he did on Sunday. And I believe that — like Alessandro — he has done a great service for Montalcino and the people who live and work there by having the courage to bring some transparency to his otherwise murky situation.
Has the “age of responsibility” arrived in Montalcino? Not yet. But the “Gaja vs. Bloggers” summit, as it was dubbed in Italian, was a step in the right direction, no doubt.
I wish I had time to translate the entire thread, but I’m besieged by work these days.
In other news…
I’m not the only to make an analogy between the new political era and the world of wine writing and blogging. In fact (and I give credit where credit is due), I am taking my cue from Eric’s recent post, “Can we all get along” (I was in LA, btw, when Rodney King and the riots went down. “God damn ya, who’s got the camera?” Does anyone remember the Ice Cube song?). I was really impressed by the post and the thread of impassioned comments it inspired.
“Let the arguments rage on!” I’ll drink to that… Long live the counterculture! Et vive la différance!*
* After no one commented on my “Brunello socialist” joke, I don’t have high hopes for this this pun. Does anyone get it? Hint: note the unusual spelling.
Over the years, I’ve written and recorded a lot of songs, with a lot of different bands and friends. Some of them have done well for me and our last record, …Nous Non Plus, was a top-10 college radio record for four weeks (a dream come true, right up there with opening for Ringo back in 2003).
Of all the tracks I’ve ever laid down, my favorites are on our new album Ménagerie.
Please help support independent music and our craft by purchasing our new album, asking your local indy radio station to spin it, and coming out to see us play at one of our upcoming shows (info and links below).
Thanks for your support: every drop makes a difference — it really does. I hope to see y’all at one of our upcoming shows!
Zink Magazine — Ménagerie is “a musically diverse and ambitious mélange… like a good Bordeaux, rich and fulfilling, with every sip becoming even more delectable.” (Can you believe they compared our music to Bordeaux?)
Above: Chef Julian Barsotti’s excellent Margherita at Nonna in Dallas last week, paired with Inama Soave Classico Superiore Foscarino 2006, one of my favorite expressions of Garganega. The bright acidity of this wine and its structure were a great match for the intense flavors of the mozzarella di bufala, tomato, and fresh basil. YES, I paired wine with pizza! Keep reading…
I was glad to see the doc have fun with it and the many colorful comments. One entry, however, merits special attention. Pinotage (“an international cyber-based fan club for wines made from the Pinotage variety”) wrote:
The statement about Italians in Italy not drinking wine with pizza doesn’t match up to the many times I have been in Italy. But maybe the giveaway is ‘pizzeria’, in other words the type of restaurant and their clientele. Pizzas are served in more upper class restaurants and Italians do drink with with them.
I suppose an Italian in the USA might come away with the idea that Americans don’t drink alcohol with chicken if they’d been saving money by eating in KFCs.
Above: Two slices at my favorite old-school, by-the-slice pizzeria in Bensonhurst, Da Vinci (6514 18th Ave at 65th St, Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, NY 11204, 718-232-5855).
Let me set the record straight: in my view, there’s nothing wrong with pairing pizza and wine and I do it all the time. The observation culled from my blog by Dr. V actually referred to a would-be Italian cookbook author whose claim of “authenticity,” in my opinion, was undermined by the fact that he paired pizza with wine. Ask any Italian (I swear: I speak Italian with native-speaker proficiency, I lived in Italy on and off for ten years, I travel there regularly for my work, and I have a Ph.D. in Italian!). They will tell you that pizza is traditionally paired with beer. The fact of the matter is that pizza culture in Italy is a youth-based culture. The number of young enonauts in Italy has been growing steadily but wine consumption is a relatively new phenomenon among Italian young people.
Above: pizzaiolo Mark Iacono at my favorite NYC pizzeria, Lucali (575 Henry St and Carroll, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, NY 11231, 718-858-4086). He’s cooler than Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck. Last year I did this post on the best pizza in NYC (worth checking out in my humble opinion, one of my top posts ever).
There are technical reasons for not pairing pizza and wine: the acidity of fresh plastic cheese (i.e., buffalo-milk mozzarella), tomatoes, and the intense flavor of fresh basil can easily overpower the nuance of fine wine. But “rules are rules” and I must confess: I have written many times on my blog about my guilty pleasure of pairing pizza and Nebbiolo.
Above: In San Diego, I have been often known to indulge in Produttori del Barbaresco 2004 Barbaresco and pizza at my top-spot for authentic Italian pizza, Mamma Mia (1932 Balboa Ave, where Balboa and Grand intersect) San Diego, CA 92109, 858-272-2702).
I do take ideological issue with Pinotage’s “upper crust” (forgive the pun) attitude that “Pizzas are served in more upper class restaurants” in Italy. It’s simply not the case (but then again, his blog is called “Pinotage,” so I should slice him some slack… I guess…).
Pizza is a wonderful part of Italian life but in terms of authenticity, it needs to be understood as an element of youth and popular culture. Pizza in the U.S. can be wonderful as well, but it is the result of that great misunderstanding otherwise known as the Atlantic Ocean.
Above: One of my favorite sequences from Pasolini’s 1966 Uccellacci e Uccellini (Hawks and Sparrows). Note the counterpoint between the joyous youth culture and the squalor of suburban Rome.
Aside from alliteration, what does Pasolini have to do with all of this? Nothing really: I currently find myself mired in that hellish experience called “indexing” and today, I happen to be on the letter P.
In his films, Pasolini repeatedly reminded us of the struggles and the beauty of popular culture (and by popular culture, I don’t mean Warholian culture; I mean the workaday culture of the populus).
In the U.S., drink whatever you want with your pizza. Have fun with it. Enjoy yourself. In Italy, try pizza paired with beer in a crusty ol’ pizzeria in Trastevere (Rome).
If you made it this far into the post, thanks for reading! Have a great week.
La Jolla won’t annoy ya
La Mesa what a place-a
Salinas is as keen as it can be
You’ll feel betta in Murrieta
Stomp your feet over Montecito
Go insane for the lovely terrain
Wait and see
Think about all the fun you’ve missed
Come on out here and get sun-kissed
If you really wanna live and not just exist
You better get across our old state line
— Mel Tormé
“California Suite” (1957)
Tracie B and I spent our first weekend back in La Jolla since I moved to Austin. The number-one-hit-song highlight was nephew Oscar’s first birthday party. The Riles-Parzen family gathered together in March, 2008, not long after he came into this world, for an “Oscar Party.” That’s brother Micah (Oscar’s dad), me, and the birthday boy (chewing on my lens cap!).
The night we got in, we were 8 for dinner at Jaynes (where else?). The food was great and we drank a fantastic 1997 Felsina Chianti Classico riserva (on the list at a great price) with our main courses and 1985 Brunello di Montalcino by Il Poggione courtesy of Benoit at the end of the fête.
The 97 Felsina showed an irresistible goudron note and its fruit and acidity were great with the seared ahi tuna. Nearly a quarter century in age, the 85 Poggione was bold, beautiful, and proud — with vibrant acidity and gorgeous fruit. I’ve tasted this wine a number of times over the last five years and it has never disappointed.
Saturday afternoon found us shopping with Judy at the Asian market in Kearny Mesa, 99 Ranch Market. On her shopping list: rice noodles, preserved mandarin oranges, persimmons.
Hot and sour wonton soup for lunch at Spicy City (4690 Convoy St Ste 107, between Engineer Rd & Opportunity Rd, San Diego, CA 92111, 858-278-1818). Also in Kearny Mesa. So good… I LOVE that place. (I used to get my pre-sbarbato highlights done at the Korean salon in the same shopping mall.)
On Saturday night, Tracie B and I were geeked for sushi with Judy at Zenbu but we wanted to check out the “hot rock,” too. Our waiter told us it was the “biggest rock” she had ever seen. (Thinly sliced beef is cooked on the scalding hot rock.)
I had no idea that my highschool buddy Matt Rimel, who owns Zenbu together with his lovely wife Jacky, was such a fan of Texas. He got this belt buckle there. A professional hunter, he travels to my new home state five times a year for bow hunting, he told me. He invited me to go boar hunting with him this year… I am SO there. Alfonso, you game?
Saturday night ended with a bottle of 2006 Lunar (whole-bunch-fermented Ribolla) by Movia at Jaynes. Benoit and I decided to decant it. I’ll do a post later this week on Lunar and the story behind it. Aleš Kristančič explained to me how he makes it when my band Nous Non Plus played at his winery in April 08. It’s incredible…
The rentacar screwed up and gave us a Mustang instead of the Pinto I had reserved. Me in a muscle car? Why not???!!! When we rolled up to the Jaynes Gastropub, martial arts instructor and bouncer at Air Conditioned next door, Alex, told me, there’s a tough guy underneath my nice-guy skin. He asked me rhetorically: “How else would you have survived so long?” Right on, brother, right on. I’m so glad I made it!
Above: No mixed emotions for me when it comes to 2004 Produttori del Barbresco. This is the stuff dreams are made of…
Last week took me to Dallas where I attended the Vias Imports tasting at the Italian Club of Dallas. It was an emotional occasion for me: I still hadn’t tasted any of the 2004 Produttori del Barbaresco crus and I was entirely geeked to taste the Pora (the only cru presented). I’ve been drinking 2004 Produttori del Barbaresco classic Barbaresco (i.e., blended from different vineyards) and the wine — from a cool and climatically balanced vintage — is showing gorgeously now. It’s going through a beautiful, open period in its youth. (Tracie B and I opened a bottle the other evening for dinner but finished it the next night with her killer nachos as we watched the Golden Globes: the wine actually became more tannic the next night!)
In my experience, Pora is among the softer Produttori crus and can be more approachable in its youth. No mixed emotion for me about this wine: I was thrilled to taste it and it’s sure to be one of the greatest expressions of this wine in my wine-drinking life.
Above: Always the gentleman, Alfonso Cevola jumped behind the tasting table to pour for food and wine writer Renie Steves.
I was also excited for my first taste of the 2005 Produttori del Barbaresco classic Barbaresco. The wine from this warmer vintage is more concentrated and not quite as elegant as the 2004. It is already very approachable and leans toward fruit flavor more than its older sibling.
Above: Salvioni’s 2003 Brunello di Montalcino is probably the best 2003 Brunello I’ve tasted.
Other highlights for me were the 2002 Gravners (Breg and Ribolla, less extreme than in previous vintages I’ve tasted — thank goodness!), Damijan 2004 (always), Dettori 2004 (probably my favorite wine from Sardinia, totally natural in style), Salvioni 2003 Brunello (incredibly balanced alcohol for this super hot vintage, so elegant and terroir-driven), and the 2006 bottlings of Dolcetto by Pecchinino (classic vintage for this wine, I really dug them).
One surprise was a wine that Robin really likes, Tenuta San Leonardo (Gonzaga) 2004 San Leonardo. I’m never such a fan of Bordeaux-style wines from Italy but this was showing nicely. It was interesting to taste it side-by-side with the 2003: I think that the cool summer of 2004 made for some great wines in Italy.
In other news…
Don’t forget to come see me, Tracie B, and NNP at the Mercury Lounge in NYC on Monday February 9. I’ll be posting updated info for our France 2009 mini-tour next week: we got bumped up to a better show than we thought in Paris… details to follow…
Above: Pickled jalapeños at a wine tasting? Only in Texas!
The 1980s Richard Simmons look didn’t really work so well for Mick, did it?