Nero d’Avola icon, best NYC pizza in ATX, & shoutout from @ItalianWineGuy 4 @SottoLA

best nero d'avola

Time is ever so precious these days as we juggle life at home with a newborn and a toddler.

Wine isn’t much of a focus at home right now and when it is, it’s poured from a bottle that’s been sitting in our literally overflowing sample bin.

On Saturday night, we opened this superb bottle of Feudo Montoni 2008 Nero d’Avola Vrucara (vineyard designation) that my friend and LA-based importer Ramin had sent me (this wine has been a great lot for us at Sotto in Los Angeles where I curate the wine program with my colleague Rory).

The wine was rich and unctuous in its mouthfeel and its acidity danced atop its woodsy, earthy flavors and ripe red fruit aromas.

Montoni’s wines are among the greatest expressions of Nero d’Avola, a grape variety much misunderstood in this country in my view.

With so much inexpensive, easy-drinking Nero d’Avola coming from Vittoria and from the northern coast of the island (a wonderful trend that I applaud), we forget that historically, inland-raised mountain Nero d’Avola, like this iconic wine from Cammarata, represents the variety’s aristocratic heritage.

We loved it and drank it over the course of two nights. At the second tasting, the fruit had really begun to emerge, more forcefully but without dominating the savory flavors of the wine, and the acidity was still popping.

Btw, you can read about Vrucara’s pedigree and Montoni’s vinification process in a Google books preview of Bill Nesto MW and Frances Di Savino’s excellent monograph The World of Sicilian Wine (UC Press 2013).

And I wrote about the ubiquitous however erroneous Bacci attribution here.

What did we pair it with?

best new york pizza austin

To my knowledge, there’s only one restaurant in greater Austin that makes real New York-style pizza.

It’s called Reale’s Café and it’s about thirty minutes north of where we live.

On Saturday, I took Georgia P up that way to visit a splash pad and so I stopped on our way back to pick up a pie.

The pairing was as decadent as it was delicious. And while Georgia P is a little young for NYC-style pizza (she had wholewheat pasta elbows tossed with chopped spinach, butter, and Parmigiano Reggiano), mommy and daddy treated themselves to an affordable indulgence on Saturday night with a great bottle of wine.

In other news…


Our wine list at Sotto got a shout-out yesterday from the Italian Wine Guy aka On the Wine Trail in Italy aka Alfonso Cevola in a post entitled “Italian Restaurants in America with Great Italian Wine Lists.”

We didn’t make his “top three” list but what a thrill be mentioned together with wine professionals who have inspired and informed me and my career! Friends Shelley Lindgren, Bobby Stuckey, and Roberto Paris, are each pioneers in their own right and taste-makers in our world of Italian wine.

Tracie P and I don’t see or hear much from Alfonso these days. Between winning international awards, traveling the “wine trail,” and his myriad speaking engagements, he doesn’t seem to make it to Austin as much as he used to.

That makes us sad but we know it can’t be easy to balance all the great stuff he’s got going on. We’re really happy for him and his much deserved success.

And I was thrilled that Sotto made his “short list” of Italian wine list in the U.S.

Thanks, Alfonso! And many wishes for your continued success!

Pizza & Bollinger? Ummm… I think I told you so…

From the department of “ubi major minor cessat”…

Eric the Red writes today on the virtues of pairing pizza and, ahem, Champagne

Bolly is one of his top picks.

Umm, where have I heard that before?

Our good friend Charles Scicolone (above) – with whom we have shared many a pizza and great wine — also gets a nice shout out in Eric’s piece

A bottle of red, a bottle of white… some things never change in La Jolla

Before heading up to Los Angeles this week to work at Sotto where I curate the wine list, I stopped in my hometown of La Jolla, California, to have dinner with father Zane who was in from Indiana visiting my brothers down there. We decided to go to Carino’s Pizza on La Jolla Boulevard, a restaurant where the décor has not changed since 1971, when the current owner bought the joint and when my family moved to Southern California from Chicago (Remember when Annie Hall moves to LA eats in a vegetarian restaurant, smokes pot and uses black soap? That’s essentially what happened.) The place looks like a movie set and is still adorned by murals of Mt. Vesuvius.

The food at Carino’s is nothing to write home about. But then again, I was at home. I hadn’t been there in literally 16 years. The antipasto was exactly as I remembered it. Over breakfast the next morning mama Judy said, “honey, I hate to tell you this, but you smell like garlic. You should do something about that before you start your day,” she added. I guess it’s the kinda food that “sticks with you.”

Carino’s has a moderate corkage fee of $8 and so I brought this excellent bottle of 09 Toni Jost Riesling that my buddy Jesse sold me. I’ve been drinking a lot of Riesling this summer (and posting about it over at the Houston Press blog, Eating Our Words).The wine was bright and delicious, with a wonderful 12% alcohol. Great pairing for the antipasto.

The pizza hasn’t changed either. We had the peperoni with jalapeños.

I popped a bottle of 05 Benanti Nerello Mascalese from Etna, Sicily. This has been one of my favorite red wines this year: earth and black and red and berry fruit, with bright bright acidity, and that wonderful balance of elegance, lightness, and power that you find in the pharmacist’s wine (Benanti made his fortune in pharmaceuticals before becoming a winemaker).

Zane doesn’t drink red wine, so he didn’t have any.

He talked to me about the usual subjects: his expertise in aerophysics and the recordings arts, Israeli politics, and his legacy as a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Some things never change… Es muss sein…

How Neapolitan pizza is made in Los Angeles (video)

One last post on my time at Sotto in Los Angeles this week. Just had to share this vid I shot of chef/pizzaiolo Zach Pollack firing the first pizzas of the evening. Here’s an article from LA Weekly with the backstory of how this Neapolitan pizza oven made it to LA.

The new wave of Italian pizza at I Tigli in San Bonifacio

For dinner, we ended up at Angiolino’s brother-in-law Simone Padoan’s super hip pizzeria I Tigli in San Bonifacio (Verona), where the new wave of Italian pizza finds one of its epicenters.

The pizzas (which don’t resemble Neapolitan pizza) are served family-style in wedges. This was the most “classic”: mozzarella and tomato sauce.

Raw bream with puntarelle (Roman chicory) and pomegranate seeds.

Raw shrimp with artichoke and blood orange.

Battuta (steak tartare).

We drank this wonderful skin-contact Don Chisciotte 2007 Fiano, a wine I had read a lot about but had never had the chance to taste.

We’re headed out know to a busy day of tasting in Valpolicella and then dinner with Italy’s top wine blogger Mr. Franco Ziliani. Stay tuned… Gotta run!

Burgundy and (homemade) pizza and NYC’s most famous bathtub

Arrived La Guardia last night and after leaving my blackberry in the cab (something I never did in over 10 years living here!) and then recovering it (!) thanks to the next fare (a super nice guy on the Upper East Side who wouldn’t take reward money, a true New Yorker Samaritan), I made my way over to Alice’s place for some old-school kibitzing, excellent 06 Burgundy (above) and delicious homemade pizza.

One topic of conversation was Alice’s famous kitchen bathtub, immortalized in the local paper first in 2004 and more recently in the society pages, where she discusses the myth of quotidian bathing in the Big City (scroll down to the bottom of the article for her quote and note the sliced bread on the side of the tub above).

Of course, there was no way I was going to miss an opportunity to use what many consider the most famous WC in Manhattan (if not the entire U.S.).

Hey, is that Anthony’s guitar pick on the floor?

Gaja and Grimaldi’s?

I guess I’m not the only one who dares to pair pizza and fine wine: my friend Rob sent me the above photo yesterday, a pairing of one of his favorite wines and his favorite pizzas, olives and pepperoni (from the legendary Grimaldi’s, originally of Brooklyn).

Rob was celebrating the opening of his new movie, Hot Tub Time Machine.

Congrats, Rob! Mazel and more mazel on ya brotha…

This is not marijuana: it’s za’atar (and great pizza in Austin, yes, in Austin!)

Above: This is not marijuana. It’s za’atar, a traditional Arabic spice mixture, not only delicious but with magical — miraculous, I might say — properties.

Tracie P likes to tease me: “I can’t take you anywhere,” she laments with a grin on her face, without me striking up conversation with the sommelier, chef, or in this case, the pizzaiolo.

To celebrate our wedding, my friend and client Julio Hernández and his lovely wife Lauren took me and Tracie P out to try a new Italian restaurant and pizzeria on Congress Ave., Quattro Gatti. After taking a bite of my pizza (which was delicious, see below), I couldn’t help compliment the pizzaiolo, whose wood-burning oven was an earshot from our table.

In what was a true una faccia, una razza (one face, one race) moment, he beckoned me over and offered me a taste of his za’atar. The traditional Arabic spice mixture, he said, should be sprinkled over toasted bread that has been drizzled with olive oil. Not only is it delicious, he noted, but it also helps to stimulate the digestion. How can I say this? Let’s just say it helps with your daily “miracle.”

Above: Arabs sprinkle za’atar over a pizza crust or over toasted bread. Being an Ashkenazi Jew, I sprinkled mine this morning over cream cheese spread on my toasted bagel.

Pizzaiolo Melad, an Iraqi raised in Syria, was too kind: he sent me home with a baggie (I can’t resist the term) of za’atar for me and Tracie P to enjoy with breakfast. And I’m here to tell you folks, it works! ;-)

The other good news is that the pizza at Quattro Gatti is fantastic.

Above: We’ll definitely be returning to the newly opened Quattro Gatti for the pizza (that’s the Quattro Stagioni, above). Located smack-dad in the middle of downtown Austin, this place is sure to be one of the hottest tables during the upcoming SXSW music festival. The wine list was more-than fairly priced.

Owner Gianfranco Mastrangelo hails from Campania via Manhattan and he knows his pizza. We loved it: the crust was savory, firm to the bite on the outside, and slightly moist and chewy toward the center of the pie (and his house-baked bread was excellent, as well).

A Neapolitan, an Arab, and a Jew walk into a pizzeria… and the Jew leaves with the za’atar…

Thanks for reading and buon weekend, ya’ll!