Above: It’s easy to understand why they can make fresh, clean wines in the Commune of Lettere (Naples), where vines are tended atop the peaks of the Lattari mountain chain.
It’s another busy day over here at Do Bianchi Editorial and I really shouldn’t be posting. But when a lovely lady sends me an etymological quaestio, the chivalrous in me trumps my otherwise unflagging work ethic (hah!).
Over at My Life Italian, Tracie B has produced a truly wonderful and thoroughly delightful post on a wine we shared just over a week ago in New York: a sparkling red blend of indigenous grape varieties from the township of Lettere (province of Naples). You’ll have to click through to read about this wine and why it — together with Gragnano — is one of Neapolitans’s favorite pairings for pizza.
But as far as toponomastic matters are concerned, I poked around the web and found an answer to her query as to the origins of the name Lettere.
The most likely etymon I found was that Lettere is a corruption of Lattari (pronounced laht-TAH-ree, if I’m not mistaken), the name of the mountain chain where the township is located. The beautiful (and fruitful) mountains take their name, most believe, from the Latin mons lactarius, literally the suckling mountain (from the Latin lac meaning milk) because the mountain chain was known in antiquity as an excellent site for sheep to pasture.
Tracie B and I will be heading to central and northern Italy in early 2010 but we are hoping to head south next fall. We’ll be sure to take a print out of this listing of pizzerie in Lettere (click on “Dove Alloggiare e Mangiare”)!
And in the meantime, I’ll reiterate Tracie B’s advice: head to Kesté Pizza e Vino in New York and order some Lettere (or Gragnano) with your pizza!
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.
Above: Doug Horn’s pizza at the aptly named Dough in San Antonio is among the best I’ve ever had — in Italy and the U.S. That’s his margherita: there is a lot of great Stateside pizza but Doug’s is the most authentically Neapolitan I’ve tasted.
A Solomon of pizza lovers, Eric, the sage among us observed rightly that we don’t have to do it the way they do it Rome.
Above: Doug’s mushroom and caramelized red onion pizza is not the most traditional among his offering but, damn, is it good! I have deep respect for Alan Richman (who also happens to be one of the nicest food writers you’ll ever meet) but his omission of Dough in the top 25 pizzas in the U.S. is a glaring oversight.
But now one of our nation’s greatest food writers, Alan Richman, tells us that “Italians are wrong about pizza… Pizza isn’t as fundamental to Italy as it is to America. Over there, it plays a secondary role to pasta, risotto, and polenta. To be candid, I think they could do without it.” (Here’s the link to the GQ article on the top 25 pizzas in the U.S. but it is a major pain in the ass to navigate.)
Above: Doug also does a wonderful, traditional Neapolitan flatbread. This is probably a trace of the origins of pizza as we know it today. I’ve never met anyone as passionate about traditionalism in pizza as Doug.
Alan has impeccable and unquestionable taste and I agree with almost all of his top-25 selections (at least those I have tasted myself). Anyone who reads Do Bianchi knows that I — like most Italophile oenophiles — have an obsession with pizza and that Lucali in Brooklyn is one of my all-time favorites (a preference that Alan shares).
I know that Alan is just having fun when he says that Italians are “wrong about pizza.” And I agree that Americanized pizza is a wonderful and spontaneous mutation of the ingenious simplicity that the Italians have created — like so many things they’ve given the world.
Above: Doug also does some incredible fresh cheese and traditional Neapolitan cheese antipasti that he learned to make while studying to be a pizzaiolo in Naples.
But to say that “Pizza isn’t as fundamental to Italy as it is to America” is egregious hyperbolism. Pizza — like pasta, like the Italian national football team — is one of the few notions that truly binds the Italians together as a nation — nation in the etymological sense, i.e., a shared birth from the Latin natio. (I have a great deal to say on this but I’m literally running out the door to San Antonio as I write this.)
Alan, Eric, and Tyler, please come to San Antonio anytime: we have much to discuss and the pizza (and the Brunello) will be on me. I promise that the trip will be well worth it.
The acidity and minerality in the 2007 Soave Classico by Suavia and the rich flavors of raw tuna and fresh avocado made for a sublime pairing the other night at the happy hour at Trio, the steakhouse at the Four Season in Austin. When I’m not on the road hawking wine (mostly in San Antonio and Dallas these days), you’ll often find me there, hanging with my buddies chef Todd Duplechan and wine director Mark Sayre (Mark just passed the third level of his Master Sommelier. Right on man!).
Believe me, the wine trade isn’t always as glamorous and fun as it sounds but it’s kinda cool when you get to rep a wine like the Suavia (which I do).
Above: That’s where the grapes are grown. I visited Suavia in Soave Classico in April after Vinitaly.
Today, I’m heading to an “undisclosed location” in Arizona for reasons I am not at liberty to discuss.
Tracie B will be meeting up with me tomorrow in San Francisco and then we’ll head to Napa where we’ll be tasting at some of the wineries the company I work for represents in Texas. I am exhausted after three days on the road hawking some excellent wines from Friuli but, honestly, life sure could could be worse.
The highlight of our trip will be the Kermit Lynch portfolio tasting in San Francisco and the winemakers dinner the night before.
I’m posting from the Austin airport and I gotta run to make my plane. Stay tuned…
It might seem like a crush
But it doesn’t mean that I’m serious
‘Cause to lose all my senses
That is just so typically me
Oh baby, baby
Above: Charles Scicolone can often be found at La Pizza Fresca in Gramercy (Manhattan), where they allow wine luminaries to bring their own bottles. The list there leans heavily toward modern and the prices are prohibitive. The pizza is good (although not as good as the pizza I recently tasted in San Antonio! I’ll be posting on that shortly so stay tuned).
Franco is going to kill me. I did it again: while Tracie B and I were in Manhattan for the last show in the NN+ tourette a few weeks ago, I paired pizza with an absolutely, undeniably, unquestionably, and egregiously inappropriate wine.
Two inappropriate wines, actually: Bertani 1988 (yes, 88!) Amarone and Cantalupo 1996 Ghemme Collis Breclemae (above).
One of the most important things I learned in college (and one of my favorite mottoes) was “This statement is false.” (It is a classic example of the Russel paradox. The other important thing I learned was that no movie is set in the future: “If the story has been told,” film professor Tinazzi used to say in Padua, “then it has already happened.”)
Above: Charles always orders the Margherita but I am always partial to the Puttanesca there. I never ate anchovies on my pizza until a pizzaiolo wrote the name of my band using anchovies on a pizza many years ago when I was on a summer tour in the Dolomites playing cover tunes (yes, I toured in a cover band in Italy). Evidently, Elvis Presley used to eat salt-cured anchovy fillets to soothe his throat while on tour.
What bearing does the above have on the present post, you ask? In the wake of the brouhaha that followed Dr. V’s post in which he quoted me as saying pizza could not be paired with wine, and my subsequent apologia pasoliniana, I feel compelled to confess that what I did was wrong: one should never pair two such elegant wines with the acidity and saltiness, not to mention the high temperatures, of pizza. At the same time, and here’s where the paradox kicks in, the experience was decadent, sumptuous, utterly delicious, and thoroughly enjoyable.
Above: Tracie B had a pizza bianca with broccoli raab. Also in attendance were friends Frank Butler (who generously brought the Bertani) and Michele Scicolone, who recently launched her excellent blog (definitely worth adding to your feed if only for the recipes that she shares). Charles has also become an avid blogger and I’ve been enjoying his blog and Facebook as well.
Charles’s 1996 Ghemme was earthy and had a crazy eucalyptus note, still very powerful and young, an amazing expression of Nebbiolo (and very definitely Piedmontese despite what Henri Vasnier said the other day on Brooklynguy’s blog). I’ve tasted this wine a number of times over the years and it is just beginning to come into its own.
The 1988 Bertani was sublime: a great vintage by one of the appellation’s greatest producers, very traditional in style, powerful and rich, yet already attaining the ineffable lightness that Amarone begins to achieve in its late adolescence.
Were these wines wasted by a paradoxical pairing? In other words, did we ruin the wines by pairing them with foods that detracted from their aromas and flavors? My feeling is that no, we did not: we experienced them in a new and different way than their traditional pairings. After all, the traditional pairing for an Amarone like that is pastissada de caval, horse meat stewed until stringy in red wine. Where would one find a horse to eat in Manhattan?
Oops, I did it again… Thanks Frank and Charles for bringing such incredible wines!
In other news…
If you’re into Loire and Chenin Blanc, check out Tracie B’s post on our visit to Chaume and her take on Chaume vs. Sauternes.
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.