Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pizza Wine - An Effort To Not Revert To My College Days

Is there a topic outside of religion and politics that stirs the pot more violently than pizza? Maybe a few, but summon a round table of pizza aficionados, top with pies from three different pizzerias, add wine and behold the ensuing chaos. I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on pizza, but I love a good slice and I have my favorites. Behind the Net in Darien is one of the best kept secrets in lower Fairfield County. It’s become a favorite lunch spot of mine and even the occasional “working late dinner”. I live further north so my hometown spot is Salerno’s on Barnum Ave in Stratford. Many don’t know that Salerno’s has one of the longest histories in the state. This time of year Carl Salerno makes an utterly toothsome pizza using locally grown fresh plum tomatoes. Those in the know begin calling the restaurant in early August to inquire on this incredibly fresh and flavorful pie.  Cases can be made for the perennial favorites: Pepe’s, Sally’s, Colony and the newly anointed Rico’s. These battles will rage on over pizza supremacy in CT, but I think we can all agree on one thing: the fact that CT has so many choices for great pizza makes it a great place to live.

So what do we drink with all these pizzas?
My friends @modernamy and @msquared720 (two voguish, smart and fetching young ladies you should be following on twitter) find Lambrusco to be a terrific compliment to pizza. I couldn’t agree more. But until recently, the CT market has been a Lambrusco wasteland.  The only Lambruscos visibly available were the likes of Riunite and, pardon my snobbery, I’m not a big fan of hangovers from grape juice. I hear @msquared720 has been hogging all the good stuff. Wink wink. But I finally found one I can work with.

Donelli Lambrusco Reggiano Amabile N/V
Violet fine foam with bright strawberry and blueberry aromatics. It’s a semi-sweet version of Lambrusco with plenty of acidity to accompany the residual sugar. Good depth on the finish, this is not your grandfather’s Lambrusco! With an ABV of only 9% it certainly has drink-ability but be careful, the residual sugar will come up and bite you in the morning.

But then there are the pizza nights where I feel like being a bit more serious with my wine. So now what? It all depends on what’s on it.

Pizza Margherita
Starting with the classic Margherita with fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, the creamiest fresh mozzarella, and extra virgin olive oil, it’s easy to pair a red with bright acidity  However, don’t overlook a fruit driven white like Riesling or a fuller bodied Rosé. The below are all great choices.

Prunotto Barbera D’Asti Fiulot 2008
Coppo Barbera D’Asti Camp du Rouss 2007
Marziano Abbona Dolcetto Papa Celso Dogliani 2008
Torre dei Beati Cerasuolo D’Abruzzo 2010
Leitz Rudesheimer Klosterlay Riesling Kabinett 2010
Kruger-Rumpf Munsterer Dautenpflanzer Riesling Spatlese 2010

Pizza Quattro Formaggi
Traditionally made with tomatoes, mozzarella, stracchino, fontina and gorgonzola although ricotta can be swapped for any of the cheeses except mozzarella. Call me crazy, but I invariably reach for the bubbles when enjoying this pizza. There’s something about drinking a grower Champagne with a hot slice of pie that is rather invigorating. Tannat is also a nice choice here. The soft, subtle fruit with plenty of backbone pairs well with the sharpness of the gorgonzola. Don’t overlook a great bottle of Barbera D’Alba, a terrific Cortese from Piedmont or a crisp, lively Rosé.

Pierre Peters Champagne Cuvee Reserve N/V
Pehu – Simonet Blanc de Blanc N/V
Vinedos de los Vientos Tannat 2007
Domaine Monte de Luz Tannat Reserva 2007
Gobelsburger Cistercien Rosé 2010
La Scolca Gavi Bianco Secco 2009

Pizza Capricciosa
Pizza Capricciosa is my pizza of choice. Topped with mozzarella, tomato, mushrooms, artichokes, cooked ham, olives, and extra virgin olive oil. There’s no shortage of flavor on this pizza so I try to pair a wine that can bring the same to the table. Valolicella Ripasso works well here, but I do prefer a big Sangiovese blend. I’ve been known to enjoy a full bodied, smoky Chardonnay or a well balanced Vernaccia with this pie as well.

Santi Solane Valpolicella Ripasso 2008
Podere La Capella Chianti Classico 2007
Podere La Capella Rossini Atto Primo 2001
Red Tail Ridge Chardonnay 2008
Montenidoli “Carato” Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2006

I think I’ll revert to my college days, grab a pie and a box of Rocks.

In Good Taste,

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Let The Revolution Begin

As a retailer in a Connecticut, I am bound by state regulations to purchase only those wines that are offered by Connecticut registered and licensed wholesalers. It is a destructive piece of legislation that stifles competition and allows mediocrity to exist in a marketplace that is both dynamic and presumptuous.

But the law does have its merits. The three tier system in the alcohol industry is a necessary evil. It protects everyone involved, producer, retailer, consumer. And let’s face it, how many retailers do you know that have the purchasing power to load up on 1000 cases of Veuve Clicquot? 1000 cases of Kendall Jackson? Did you know the New York metro area moves about 55,000 cases of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label 750ml per year? Do you think that’s really possible without a distribution channel? Big brands need wholesalers to provide the necessary purchasing power to allow products to reach their markets at relatively similar prices intended by the producer. Without wholesalers price variations from store to store, market to market would be far too great. Add a lack of continuity in the market and you have a recipe for disaster. But that doesn’t mean we have to be happy with the system because it is far from perfect. Perhaps it’s time for forward thinking.

Here’s an example of an infuriating exchange that is all too common, almost weekly, in Connecticut retail wine sales:

Ms Smith: “My husband and I had our anniversary dinner at Artisnal in the city last night. We had the Konsgaard Syrah and absolutely loved it! We’d love to get a case. Can you get it for us?”
Us: “Ms. Smith we’d love to get this for you but unfortunately, the wine is not currently available in Connecticut.”
Ms. Smith: “Why not?”
Us: “Because it’s not currently represented by a CT wholesaler. And truth be told, the wine is fairly limited and I’m not sure it would be available anyways.”
Ms. Smith: “That’s a bummer. I’ll go online and see if I can get it.”

Once again, a wine retailer in Connecticut loses a sale to an out of state competitor who can source the wine, sell it online, and ship it to Connecticut. Of course, Connecticut losses the tax dollars on the sale as well. Perhaps the CT Legislature could help bring more business (and tax dollars) to Connecticut by making a change to the existing legislation. Now, before the wholesalers and their lobbyists cry “foul”, let me be perfectly clear, I am NOT advocating the destruction of the three tier system. As I stated previously, the system is necessary for the good of the industry. However, I AM advocating that the system is slightly flawed and needs to be tweaked. The laws were written in the 20th century. So much in this industry has changed. It’s time for the laws to change as well.

Here’s what I’m petitioning.

A holder of a package store, restaurant or cafe permit may purchase wines directly from a winery for re-sale so long as that winery:
  • Is not currently registered with a Connecticut wholesaler,
  • Its total annual production is not more than 5,000 cases.
  • No terms are extended to the permit holder. All transactions must be cash on delivery or pre-paid (I’ll address this one later).
  • The sale must be approved by the state prior to shipment.
  • The permit holder is responsible for all excise taxes. Taxes must be paid within 15 days of the wines arrival.

I’m not a lawyer. There are legal flaws above I’m sure. But perhaps there’s a government official that’s also a wine lover who can help draw this piece of legislation so it makes sense for everyone involved. Allowing retailers and restaurateurs to directly source small production wines increases competition, offers the consumer a greater selection, brings more business to Connecticut and increases much needed tax revenue. It’s a win for everyone so long as we can draw the right piece of legislation. Anyone in CT want to help? I’m a ready for a wine revolution. Are you?