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Pizza

Pointless Points and Some Good Wines

circle the wagons There is no worse situation for tasting wines than big trade and consumer tastings. The format is always the same; a hotel ballroom with tables arranged like circled wagons waiting for the Indians to attack staffed by local wine reps with knowledge or not of the wines being poured. The room is crowded, hot and it's tough to get through the crowds to taste and harder still to get to a spit bucket in time. It's difficult to think of a worse situation to judge a wine.

The format is not really the problem. After all, these events are really cocktail parties designed to entertain trade or consumers. Serious tasting is not on the menu and that's not a reason to attend. If you go for serious tasting, you'll be frustrated. It's a party, not a tasting and I think distributors and other wine shows have every right to put on such events as that's what people, professionals and consumers alike, really want. After all, there's nothing wrong with having a good time with wine.

What's unfortunate is that some writers and bloggers attend these wine keggers and actually score the wines they taste. I don't care if you're using the 100 point scale or a 10 point scale (which after all is just an abbreviation of the 100 point scale) to try to accurately score wines in such a situation is a disservice to your readers. The reason it's not legitimate is that the results are not repeatable. Everyone knows that if you took the same wines and blind tasted these writers that they would come up with different scores. To repeat scores comparing wines tasted in perfect conditions to the same wines tasted in perfect conditions is difficult at best. To assume that you could repeat them going from the terrible circumstances of mass tastings to prefect conditions is not only ridiculous, but dishonest. If a writer cannot be assured that their ratings would be repeated within a few decimal points if they retasted the wines under different circumstances they should not publish those scores. It not only shows disrespect for those that make wines, but those that drink them.

That being said, I offer a few notes of my favorites from a trade tasting of over 100 Italian wines in Portland Oregon hosted by Columbia Wine Company. As usual, all are recommended, but are points-free.

Admiralty Imports

Barolo Canubi, Brezza, 2001 - A classic beauty that is nowhere near ready to drink. Big time tar and roses in this wine.

Barolo Chiniera, Elio Grasso, 2004 - All you could want from one of Barolo's greats. Rich, powerful and structured.

Barbaresco Riserva, Gallina, Ugo Lequio, 2001 - Another elegant classic with great balance. An excellent nebbiolo.

Sagrantino Montefalco, Antonelli, 2004 - Deep, rich and powerful with substantial tannins. Needs age or some wild boar right now.

Brunello di Montalcino, Caprili, 2003 - Finally Brunello that tastes like Brunello instead of barrique. Earthy, structured and complex.

Toscana VDT, La Gioia, Riecine, 2004 - Yet another lovely wine from one of my favorite estates in Tuscany. As always with Riecine, the balance of this wine is impeccable. This is their Super Tuscan. 

 

Neil Empson Selections

Franciacorta Cuvee Brut, Bellavista, NV - Consistently my favorite Champagne method sparking wine producer from Italy. This wine did not disappoint with its creamy, frothy texture and toasty fruit.

Pinot Grigio, Bortoluzzi, 2006 - A big step up from industrial pinot grigio. Bright and citrusy with ripe, fresh apply fruit and good depth.

Soave Classico, Pieropan, 2006 - As always, just a stunning value in a crisp white that offers real complexity beyond its bright, refreshing character. A great white wine producer.

 

Kobrand

Isola dei Nuraghi I.G.T., Sardegna, Barrua, Agricola Punica, 2004 - A dead ringer for Spain's Priorat wines from an old carignane vineyard on Sardegna. Deep, rich and powerful with a touch of porty ripeness.

Bolgheri Sassicaia, Sassicaia, 2004 - A perfectly politically correct wine with just the right amount of everything. Svelte and stylish. Their website is just terrible.

Toscana IGT, Crognolo, Tenuta Sette Ponte, 2005 - Deeply colored, powerful, rich and velvety with big, sweet oak highlights. A modern Italian wine of the first degree. Not for traditionalists. 

 

Wilson Daniels

Castello di Volpaia:

Chianti, Borgianni, 2005 - This is a very, very nice Chianti for the price. Real character and personality. Best of all it tastes like sangiovese, not merlot.

Chianti Classico, 2005 - You can see what a great estate this is by its straight Chianti Classico, which is a structured beauty with touches of black truffle and porcini mixed in with the ripe clean fruit.

Chianti Classico Riserva, 2004 - A potentially exceptional wine with a few more years in bottle. Great character and complexity in a balanced wine of great length.

Coltasalla, 2004 - Always outstanding, Coltasalla is a single vineyard wine produced from sangiovese and mammolo only. Happily there's not a French variety to be found in the blend. A wine of great depth, complexity and personality that needs to be aged.

 

Winebow

Prosecco, Zardetto, NV - I've been seduced by this charmer for years. A delightful little pleasure.

Roero Arneis, Bruno Giacosa, 2007 - As with everything Giacosa produces, their Arneis is a perfect example of this variety.

IGT Veronese, Palazzo della Torre, Allegrini, 2005 - Smooth and velvety with a richness without heaviness. A good reminder how much I love wines from Valpolicella. This is a ripasso, which adds the extra texture on the palate.

Delle Venezie IGT, Pinot Noir, Kris, 2007 - This is just a pretty little pinot noir. Serve lightly chilled at summer picnics, with Asian food or pizza. Light, fruity and delicious, it's almost more like a dark rose than a red wine. Totally charming. It's a little sad to see it called pinot noir instead of the Italian pinot nero, but I understand the marketing decision.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Valdipiatta, 2004 - A blend of 85% prugnolo gentile (sangiovese) and 15% canaiolo that fortunately is not overwhelmed by a brief voyage in barrique before going into large casks. The angular, rustic character of Vino Nobile is preserved in this interesting wine. The edgy character makes this a great steak wine.

Burnt Pizza

DSC_0027 The line was long and they didn't take reservations. They said the wait would only be around forty-five minutes, so we decided to stick it out as we'd heard it could be much longer than that. It was with great anticipation that I went to Portland's renowned Apizza Shoals, for what is certainly one of the city's most revered pizzas. The long lines and great press promised a real treat.

After the expected wait, we sat down, ordered and the much anticipated pizza finally arrived. My first bite surprised me. My second confirmed the first. The pizza tasted burned to me. A quick look at the bottom revealed a heavily charred crust. I ventured a complaint to the waiter, who fetched a manager, who informed us, "that's the way we do it." A quick look around the dining room confirmed that this was the case as every table was snarfing down their equally charred pizzas with great pleasure.

Before you think this is a bad restaurant review, it's not. The people at Apizza Shoals are passionately dedicated to making great pizza. Their's is style inspired by great pizzerias in New York and New Jersey and the heavily charred crust is part of the character of their pizza. They go out of their way to use the freshest, high-quality ingredients they can find. For example, they can make only so much fresh dough by hand a day and when it runs out it's closing time. The extra effort they put into their food is reflected by the long lines and packed tables.

What I like best about Apizza Shoals is that they have a distinct vision and passion for the food they create. What I don't like is the pizza and that's my problem, not theirs.

Great chefs and winemakers must make something they believe in, not something designed to try to please everyone. In fact, having a distinct vision means by definition you will be crafting something that some people will love and some will hate. Taking such a position is a badge of courage and personality is a characteristic to be treasured in all things culinary.

This is my problem with wine reviews based on points as it imply's some sort of absolute. That rating a wine 90 points is some kind of quantifiable statistic that effectively communicates the overall quality of a wine is clearly preposterous. In this case my "score" for Apizza Shoals pizza would be irrelevant as it simply is not to my taste. This does not make it bad pizza, as proven by its many admirers. The use of points as a marketing crutch by producers, importers. restaurants and retailers has fueled the boring standardization of so much of today's wine, which more-often-than-not is made using a recipe for scoring success than with passion or vision.

Even though Apizza Shoals was not my favorite, I would rather eat their distinctive style of pizza than the bland pies put out by places trying to please everyone. Needless to say, I feel the same way about wine.

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Pie in the Sky

baraonda atlanta Finding good pizza in the USA used to be a pie-in-the-sky proposition. All that was available was the soggy mush made with loads of waxy fake mozzarella and way too old vegetables. When you picked up a slice the sodden crust would collapse under the weight of mediocrity. Of course, the vast majority of pizza in America is still like this, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

That light hit me the other night while traveling on business. Often you arrive too late and too tired to seek out fine food and the restaurant at hand is the only thing you have the time and energy to consider. This is what happened just the other night in Atlanta when I was lucky enough to walk through the door of Baraonda, an excellent pizzeria a block from my hotel. I ended up with a great pizza, but what’s exciting here is that crisp thin crust pizza made with fresh ingredients and cooked in wood-fired ovens are getting a lot easier to find. There seems to be a growing pizza revolution baking in America these days. Everywhere you turn there are pizzerias investing in wood-burning ovens and paying attention to their ingredients.

Now that there’s good pizza to eat, the next question is what to drink with it. The Italians tend to drink beer or fizzy local red wine, both of which are great matches. Woody or high-alcohol wines are absolutey terrible with pizza, but fresh, zesty young reds that appreciate a bit of a chill are perfect. Dry pink wines are also great for pizza. Good draft beer is a match made in heaven and most pizzerias that invest in these expensive ovens can be depended on to have a range of good micro-brews on tap.

Often when presented with really good pizza like Baraonda’s, I can’t resist trying a bottle on the list that normally would be considered too elite for pizza. That night I was inspired to try the 2001 Vigneti La Selvanella, Chianti Classico Riserva, Fattoria Melini, this Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri winner is made predominately from sangiovese grosso aged in large old barrels. It is a complex, balanced and elegant wine that reflects real sangiovese character. The combination of an excellent wine with an excellent pizza made for a lovely dinner. I admit a chilled frizzante barbera would have been a better match, but each glass and each bite was so good on its own I could have cared less.

A great pizza is the ultimate comfort food. Drinking this wonderful Chianti Classico Riserva with it my not have been the ultimate match, but it was very, very comforting. 

Peter Reinhart's Napoletana Pizza Dough

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Peter Reinhart’s Napoletana Pizza Dough

Heidi notes: Peter’s recipe says the olive (or vegetable oil is optional). I use it every time - always olive oil, not vegetable oil. I love the moisture and suppleness it adds to the dough, and it makes your hands soft too.

4 1/2 cups (20.25 ounces) unbleached high-gluten, bread, or all-purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 (.44 ounce) teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon (.11 ounce) instant yeast
1/4 cup (2 ounces) olive oil (optional)
1 3/4 cups (14 ounces) water, ice cold (40°F)
Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting

1. Stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). With a large metal spoon, stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment), If you are mixing by hand, repeatedly dip one of your hands or the metal spoon into cold water and use it, much like a dough hook, to work the dough vigorously into a smooth mass while rotating the bowl in a circular motion with the other hand. Reverse the circular motion a few times to develop the gluten further. Do this for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are evenly distributed. If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet and doesn’t come off the sides of the bowl, sprinkle in some more flour just until it clears the sides. If it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a tea- spoon or two of cold water. The finished dough will be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50 to 55F.

2. Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with baking parchment and misting the parchment with spray oil (or lightly oil the parchment). Using a metal dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you are comfortable shaping large pizzas), You can dip the scraper into the water between cuts to keep the dough from sticking to it, Sprinkle flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Lift each piece and gently round it into a ball. If the dough sticks to your hands, dip your hands into the flour again. Transfer the dough balls to the sheet pan, Mist the dough generously with spray oil and slip the pan into a food-grade plastic bag.

3. Put the pan into the refrigerator overnight to rest the dough, or keep for up to 3 days. (Note: If you want to save some of the dough for future baking, you can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag. Dip each dough ball into a bowl that has a few tablespoons of oil in it, rolling the dough in the oil, and then put each ball into a separate bag. You can place the bags into the freezer for up to 3 months. Transfer them to the refrigerator the day before you plan to make pizza.)

4. On the day you plan to make the pizza, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator 2 hours before making the pizza. Dust the counter with flour, and then mist the counter with spray oil. Place the dough balls on top of the floured counter and sprinkle them with flour; dust your hands with flour. Gently press the dough into flat disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle the dough with flour, mist it again with spray oil, and cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag. Let rest for 2 hours.

5. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone either on the floor of the oven (for gas ovens), or on a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible, up to 800F (most home ovens will go only to 500 to 550F, but some will go higher). If you do not have a baking stone, you can use the back of a sheet pan, but do not preheat the pan.

6. Generously dust a peel or the back of a sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal. Make the pizzas one at a time. Dip your hands, including the backs of your hands and knuckles, in flour and lift I piece of dough by getting under it with a pastry scraper. Very gently lay the dough across your fists and carefully stretch it by bouncing the dough in a circular motion on your hands, carefully giving it a little stretch with each bounce. If it begins to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue shaping it. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss as shown on page 208. If you have trouble tossing the dough, or if the dough keeps springing back, let it rest for 5 to 20 minutes so the gluten can relax, and try again. You can also resort to using a rolling pin, though this isn’t as effective as the toss method.

7. When the dough is stretched out to your satisfaction (about 9 to 12 inches in diameter for a 6-ounce piece of dough), lay it on the peel or pan, making sure there is enough semolina flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide. Lightly top it with sauce and then with your other top- pings, remembering that the best pizzas are topped with a less-is-more philosophy. The American “kitchen sink” approach is counterproductive, as it makes the crust more difficult to bake. A few, usually no more than 3 or 4 toppings, including sauce and cheese is sufficient.

8. Slide the topped pizza onto the stone (or bake directly on the sheet pan) and close the door. Wait 2 minutes, then take a peek. If it needs to be rotated 180 degrees for even baking, do so. The pizza should take about 5 to 8 minutes to bake. If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone to a lower self before the next round. if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone for subsequent bakes.

9. Remove the pizza from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Wait 3 to 5 minutes before slicing and serving, to allow the cheese to set slightly.

Makes six 6-ounce pizza crusts.

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