Lady kisser Pelaverga aphrodisiacal wine for an East Texas Thanksgiving

We had a great Thanksgiving yesterday in Orange, Texas with Branch and Johnson and now Parzen families. Mrs. B’s roast turkey; smoked turkey; spiral sliced ham with pineapple, brown sugar, and Coke; Uncle Tim’s cornbread dressing; Memaw’s deviled eggs; sweet potato pie, mashed potatoes; eight-layer salad; Tracie P’s shaved Brussels sprouts salad; pecan torte; and lots more. I wanted to share this story about my favorite wine pairing for this year, Pelaverga by Castello di Verduno, and the somewhat saucy story behind the name. For those with PG13+ status, read on…

The year was 2006 and I was working in New York as the media director for a high-profile Italian restaurant group that also happened to be a direct importer of Italian wines. Earlier that year, I had made the annual trek with my colleagues to the Italian wine fairs, where we met and tasted with a young winemaker at the natural wine fair, Vini Veri: Mario Andrion of Castello di Verduno, producer of awesome Barolo and Barbaresco and a then relatively obscure grape called Pelaverga. I’ve always loved Mario’s traditional-style wines (like his excellent Barbaresco) but all of my colleagues and I agreed that his Pelaverga Basadone was one of the most original wines we’d tasted that year: light in body, bright with acidity, and rich with fresh red fruit flavors, complemented by a gentle “white pepper” note. Later that year, a prominent colleague asked me what my Thanksgiving pick was and I whispered, Pelaverga, the perfect wine to go with wide variety of foods we eat for the holiday, from roast turkey to cranberry sauce.

Don’t ask me how but this vital piece of information was somehow whispered into the ear of the then New York Times restaurant editor Frank Bruni (remember him?). The rest is history: when he picked this wine as his top choice for Thanksgiving 2006, it made Mario’s Pelaverga a household word (at least in Manhattan).

And it’s a highly interesting word at that! No one knows the true origin of the grape name but on face value it means branch scraper, from the Italian pelare (to peel) and verga (branch). Most believe the name has to do with vine training techniques that were used to cultivate this rustic grape.

Of course, verga (and those of you who speak Spanish will immediately see the linguistic kinship) can also denote the… ahem… the male sex. Back in Verduno (Piedmont), the locals say this spicy grape has aphrodisiacal properties and that’s why Castello di Verduno calls it Basadone, the baciadonne or lady kisser.

Tracie P and I hope you had a great holiday! Thanks for reading!

Frank Bruni please call me: recent pizza (and panna cotta) porn here in Texas

Above: Doug Horn at Dough in San Antonio consistently delivers what I think is the most authentic Neapolitan pizza in the U.S. (Photos by Tracie B).

Pizza is hot. No pun intended: for the last few months, pizza has been one of the hottest topics in the food and wine media — from Dr V’s post on the forbidden pizza-wine pairing earlier this year to Eric’s astute observations on the “wine and pizza debate” in May, from Alan Richman’s controversial list of his top 25 pizzerias in the U.S., also published in May, to Frank Bruni’s article in The Times yesterday about the “cult” of artisanal pizza in this country.

Above: Skewered mozzarella at Dough, wrapped in prosciutto and grilled at Dough. Has the mimetic desire kicked in yet?

I recently took Tracie B to try the pizza at Doug Horn’s Dough in San Antonio. I had eaten there a few times and was consistently and repeatedly impressed by the authenticity of the pies. It was time to call in the expert: after all, Tracie B lived in Ischia outside of Naples for nearly five years. She KNOWS her authentic Neapolitan pizza. She was duly impressed and suffice it say that we will soon be back.

Above: Self-Portrait in a Convex Spoon? I think I just gave myself an idea for this week’s Sunday Poetry. Doug’s panna cotta is as good as it gets. I told Doug that his panna cotta was one of the best I’d tasted outside of Italy and one of the best ever tasted, really. “I know,” he responded dryly. This guy doesn’t kid around.

As American writers, bloggers, foodies, celebrity restaurateurs, and food pundits and critics continue to argue the finer points of authentic Neapolitan pizza, few have taken note of Naples’s recent celebration of the 120th anniversary of the birth of the Pizza Margherita, which was created using the three colors of the Italian flag to commemorate Queen Margherita of Savoy’s visit to Naples in 1889. For the occasion, the city of Naples reenacted the parade held to welcome the queen to the once Parthenopaean Republic.

I found this YouTube of the event, worth watching if just for the costumes. Enjoy! And Frank, please call me! There’s great pizza in Texas, too!

Murder the moonshine: considerations on corkiness

The food and wine blogosphere went a little nuts a few weeks ago after Christopher Hitchens wrote this rant on wine service at Slate and Frank Bruni chimed in over at Diner’s Journal. Their core lament, it seems, is that waiters refill their wine glasses at inopportune moments or overly enthusiastically. I must confess that I share their frustration, mainly because when a glass of wine is topped off, the process of aeration is interrupted: I like to linger over my wine and observe how it changes with aeration. The other night in a very fancy Los Angeles restaurant, a waiter actually poured water into my wine glass (but that’s another story). As one commentator noted on Frank’s blog, this issue can be resolved simply by politely asking the waiter not to top off the glasses.

It’s another issue that concerns me most: the age-old practice of having the patron taste the wine to determine whether or not it’s “corked.” Corkiness is a delicate subject and I’ve seen it lead to heated arguments between wine professionals — the one claiming a wine is corked, the other claiming it’s not. And corkiness can be so subtle that its virtually undetectable. In fact, the lack of fruit on the nose of a wine (and in the mouth) can be the first tell-tale sign of cork taint and it often takes considerable aeration for the corkiness to reveal itself fully.

Above: a bottle of 1967 Produttori del Barbaresco. The cork crumbled as I pulled it but — with patience and my favorite wine key — I was able to extract it entirely. A crumbled cork is not necessarily a sign of corkiness and in fact, this wine was in great shape and drank beautifully.

Why then, I ask, do we force the average patron — who generally lacks the experience needed to detect corkiness — to make that evaluation? The other night in a San Diego restaurant, a sommelier poured tasting pours of a red wine for a married couple. The wine had just been opened at the bar for the by-the-glass list. The couple told him that they liked the wine and the sommelier poured them each a glass from the same bottle. Halfway through their meal, they called the sommelier over and asked if the wine should smell so “corky.” I offered to smell the wine and it was indeed very corked.

This all could have been avoided if the sommelier would have tasted the wine before he brought it out on the floor.

“Murder the moonshine,” Italian futurist F.T. Marinetti once exhorted. It’s time to do away with the anachronistic, obsolete practice of having the patron determine whether the wine is corky or not. How is she/he to do that — on the spot — when she/he is distracted by her/his dining companions’ conversation, the unfamiliar surroundings and smells of a restaurant? It’s generally accepted that up to 8% of bottles are corked. Check out the results of this study. The waiter should present the bottle, pour her/himself a tasting pour, evaluate its fitness, and then serve it.

What do you think?

Above: the 1967 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco (classico) was paired with a roast leg of lamb last Easter Sunday.