Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Pizza and Wine: A Perfect Pair (Part 1)

The Pizza/Wine Experience

There's nothing like a slice of pizza (or more) and a glass of wine (or more) to compliment it. The two seem to be a natural pairing. Luxurious cheeses, variously structured dough, rich tomato sauce, aromatic herbs and flavorful toppings make the simple act of eating pizza a truly sensual affair.

Don't you love it when you take the first bite! The amazing mix of melted cheese, savory tomato sauce, herbs and toppings all melding into one sumptuous tasting explosion.

Wine is the perfect partner to enhance the delight of pizza. The right wine can intensify your experience in every way.  Isn't that what it's all about? Taking the time to connect with the foods we eat, letting them enliven our senses. Wine and pizza do this perfectly. The Italians really got it right.

Pizza - Red Wine Pairing Guidelines 

Here are a few simple guidelines on pairing wine with three popular pizzas.

Cheese Pizza

Cheese pizza is the classic New York Neapolitan pizza. It's traditional and always good to go. You will have to work with the acid in the tomato sauce and the fat in the cheese.  To cut the fat you will need a wine moderately high in acid and with moderate tannin. The tomatoes demand a wine higher in acid. 

Red wine would be most fitting to accomplish the task.

1 - Barbera d'Alba. My first choice would be a Barbera d' Alba from the Italian Piedmont, It's low in tanin and high in acidity. A nice match. 

2 - Chianti. Second would be the Sangiovese based Chianti. You can stay with a regular Chianti DOCG rather than the Chianti Classico. The regular Chianti is less intense, ligther and less tannic. A very nice match for your cheese pizza. 

3 - Beaujolais. A nice match would be the Gamay grape from France. A good Beaujolais is light bodied, with nice fruit and very refreshing. I enjoy this match very much. 

 Pepperoni Pizza

With the addition of pepperoni to the pizza you have an extra layer of spice and fat. You will need a rather bold wine to stand up to the power of this pizza style. 

1 - Cabernet Franc. A good Cabernet Franc is a fantastic pair with pepperoni pizza. It is a big wine with big flavors. It possesses an earthiness that goes well with the pepperoni's fat and spice. 

2 - Chianti. The Sangiovese grape is big enough to match the spice and fat in the pepperoni. Consider a Chianti Classico. It is more robust and bigger than a regular Chianti. Other Sangiovese based wines would also be fine.  

Sausage Pizza
Sausage Pizza is big and bold with plenty of spices. You will need to think big red to make the perfect match. Sausages are complicated and have many ingredients, including fennel, oregano, anise, etc. 

1 - Syrah. Big full bodied reds like Syrah go well with the rich spiciness of sausage. Syrah's intense dark fruits, olives, dark berries and spice matches up perfectly with what a sausage pizza offers. 

2 - Cabernet Sauvignon. A high tannin, high acid wine like Cabernet Sauvignon is a great match with any sausage and meat pizza. Rich, spicy foods need a big Cab to complement it. Although both the pizza and the wine are big, they work well together. 


In the next post, I'll address a few other types of pizza and the wines that go well with them.

Remember, keep things simple. It's really about what you like and want to drink. My preferences are just that, my preferences. After some trial and error you can decide what you like best. Just as you have some favorite pizzas, you will also develop a taste for specific wines. 


Monday, January 16, 2017

Ristorante RAFELE - Outstanding Italian Cuisine

After catching Cate Blanchett in her new Broadway play The Present, Mary and I took the E train to the West Village to have dinner at Rafele, an Italian restaurant located at 29 7th Ave. South in the West Village. I had heard about Rafele through the TV show Brindiamo, hosted by Ornella Fado.

The restaurant is modern and upbeat. None of the old heavy reds and thick carpets common in many traditional Italian restaurants. I noticed that the tables were not tightly pushed together as so often happens. We were seated in such a way that no one was near us. What a relief.

Our waitress, Aygul, was friendly, warm and very knowledgeable. Another relief. We struck up conversation very easily. She helped us through the entire meal effortlessly. She's a real pro.


Sardinian Argiolas Vermentino
We started off by ordering a 2015 Sardinian Argiolas Vermentino. It was quite good. It was straw colored with a subtle nose, a touch of acidity and rich flavors of peach and apricot. It had nice body and a pleasant finish. Intense but delicate. We noted that it was less acidic, with less minerality than Vermentinos from Liguria in Northern Italy. Very pleasing. And for $10 a glass a real pleasure.

Eggplant Starter
The Vermentino went perfectly with the eggplant caponata starter that was served with crisp Italian bread. This recipe didn't call for the olives, pignoli nuts and capers to which I'm normally accustomed. Very simple, very tasty. A great caponata of eggplant, red peppers and onions.


For appetizers, Mary ordered the Melanzana, which consists of layers of eggplant, grana Padano, buffalo mozzarella and the house tomato sauce. It was terrific. The sauce was superb.
Terrina Di Mare

I ordered the Terrina Di Mare: shelled mussels, shrimp, lemon, butter, white wine and Calabrian red pepper. This appetizer came with a light sauce perfect for dunking. It was perfectly cooked, nothing overdone. The taste was scrumptious. We used up all our Italian bread dunking into the savory seafood sauce.


Spaghetti Alla Chitarra
For our main dishes, Mary ordered the Spaghetti Alla Chitarra. which is spaghetti with the house tomato sauce, buffalo ricotta, basil and extra virgin olive oil. It's simple and delicious. The buffalo ricotta was delicate and very tasteful. Mary wished for more ricotta to enjoy.
Pappardelle Wild Boar Ragu

 I ordered the Pappardelle Wild Boar Ragu. It was stupendous. It was rich and flavorful, compelling with the combination of wild boar, pasta and an extraordinary brown sauce. It also had a luxurious and smooth texture that gave it an elegant appeal.

We thought we were finished after the entrees but Aygul tempted us with the homemade Ricotta Cheese Cake. What an ending. A superb rendition of the common cheese cake that was worth waiting for. Rich, smooth in texture and highly satisfying to the palate.


At the end of the meal, Chef Raffale Ronca came out to greet us. We had a very nice conversation and thanked him for creating such a great culinary establishment. He was very gracious. To top it off, as Chef Ronca was leaving us, Alan Alda walked by on his way to his table. I had the brief opportunity to engage him and thank him for his work. A nice touch.

Mary and I both highly recommend Rafele. It's modern, airy, and upbeat. The wait staff is very professional and attentive. The food, however, is the star. Fresh, high quality ingredients cooked to perfection and very tasty. Not overwhelming, very well balanced. The  portions are moderate in size and reminiscent of the portions served in Italy. Prices are moderate, lower than we expected, and quite good for Manhattan.

Rafele may be the best Italian restaurant we've experienced in many years. We plan to return as soon and as often as we can. Give it a try.

Rafele is located at 29 7th Ave. South in the West Village, 212 242-1990.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

An Italian Vermentino: A Perfect Match for Holiday Seafood

It's Christmas Eve and we are preparing to have seafood for dinner. Mary is preparing mussels in a white sauce, linguine and clams with an entree of salmon and filet. When we sit down to dinner, we want a pleasant but lively wine to accompany our Xmas Eve repast. 

Vermentino (originally a Spanish grape) is a perfect match for seafood. The grape is grown in the Ligura region of Italy as well as in Sardinia, Tuscany and other places. It is DOC since 1988.  Liguria is near Genoa and by the sea. Because of the geography, there aren't a lot of large producers. But the Vermentinos from this area are of excellent quality.  

The Vermentino I've chosen is the La Bettigna 2014 Colli di Luni Vermentino. It is biodynamically grown, made in stainless steel with indigenous yeast. It is not refined or filtered. 

What I like about this wine is how it combines a citrus acidity and a strong minerality. It even has a kind of briny sense reminiscent of the sea. The nose is herbal and pleasing. It is a serious wine with medium body and seems very versatile. We had it with chicken the other night and it paired perfectly. Mary and I both agreed that it would be a perfect summer wine to cool things off. We will have to give it a shot next summer.  

For now, we will see how it matches up with the Xmas Eve fish dinner. I'm thinking it will be just fine. 

You can pick up a bottle for a little over $20.00. 

Here is a look at the Liguria region of DOC wines: 


Monday, June 27, 2016

3 Refreshing Summer Wines for Under $20.00

When the days turn warm and the afternoons are long and leisurely, my interest turns to good food and refreshing white wines. Mary and I have come to depend on good, inexpensive wines that make lunch or dinner a more sensuous and soothingly lingering experience. Nothing can beat a lively, cool, crisp white wine to make any meal memorable and the company more intimate. There are many excellent wines that offer such qualities but often we turn to one of the three wines listed here.

Experience has taught us that dependability is an important element in truly enjoying a long, summer meal with friends and family. These three wines offer refreshing taste, well matched acidity and minerality, and a knack for making summer foods pop with wide-eyed fun. They are also priced below $20.00.

Our Summer 2016 List

Our go to wine these days is the German Peter Lauer Barrel X Riesling. Peter Lauer has something of a cult status and this entry level offering is worth seeking out. Barrel X is a dry Riesling with nice complexity and nuanced tones. It has great minerality, citrus and green apple notes and a sparkling liveliness from nose to finish. I think you will fully enjoy this superb offering. Pairs great with Asian food, barbecue, blue cheese and fish. 

Barrel X normally goes for about $18.00.

Take a peek at Peter Lauer Barrel X

Next on our list is Kim Crawford's Sauvignon Blanc. This is an exciting wine from New Zealand. It's a great place to start if you are looking for some pop in your wine drinking experience. Unlike many Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand it has more tropical fruit, melon and pear elements making it very pleasing and approachable. It's juicy, mouth-watering acidity on top of a tangy fruitiness makes for a real zing that can help any meal reach full potential. Pair it especially with grilled fish, mussels, and shrimp.

You can pick a bottle up for about $16.00. 

Here's a nice offering at

To finish off things off, we have a Casal Garcia Vinho Verde from Portugal. This is a simple wine that offers fresh, fruity aromas that fit perfectly into a relaxed summer atmosphere. It suggests a hint of effervescence that adds a perky and lively feel to the core of acidity. Casal is crispy dry with just enough fruitiness to make you go back for more time and again. It's a focused wine that stays away from complications. It matches well with sushi, cheese dishes, seafood and salads. 

You can probably find this for under $10.00.

Check out Casal Garcia Vinho Verde 

I hope you savor these wines as much as Mary and I have over the years. With warm weather upon us, you can enjoy the long, hot days with respectable companions.  

Let me know you favorite summer wines. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Statti Arvino 2008 - A Classic Calabrian Wine

The Statti 2008 Arvino out of Calabria is a superb with rich dark fruit, nice complexity on the nose, spices, a touch of chocolate and a hint of leather. The tannins are smooth with a bright acidity. Terrific flavor. The finish is polished and very enjoyable. This wine stands out with finesse, complexity and richness at 14% alcohol.  It is a blend of the local Gaglioppo grape (60%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (40%).  Statti has created an excellent product in this 2008 venture.  Statti also puts out a 100% pure Gaglioppo which I am ready to try.  Arvino is a great food wine with all that vibrant acidity and smooth but not too heavy texture.  You can pair this with meats, especially veal or just about any traditional southern Italian dish.

2008 Arvino

The Gaglioppo grape was previously thought to be of Greek origin.  But recent DNA profiling has determined that it is from Italy. It's probably closely related to Sangiovese and some other undetermined Italian grape. Gaglioppo is able to withstand drought conditions and generally produces a rich, full bodied wine. It's a hardy grape and rather durable.
Statti Winery, Calabria

Like so many southern Italian wines, the price is astoundingly low for the quality attained.  I picked up the 2008 Arvino on sale for about $12.00.  I can't imagine a better, more enjoyable wine for the price.  It's a gem.   I've embedded a Gaglioppo wine review from Plonk Wine Merchants.  Enjoy!!!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Anarkos - A Wine Against

For our traditional Labor Day party at our place in Floral Park, Long Island, I chose an interesting offering from Puglia, Italy. Anarkos wine has a unique cultural context that is just as interesting as the wine.  As far as I can tell, Anarkos wine is produced by an anarchist commune of sorts that is decrying the misuse of the traditional grapes from the "lands of Puglia." To quote from the Anarkos web site, which is rather explicit:

"The Sacrifice of Millions of Rare Alberello Grape Wines, the third millenium Capitalistic Colonization of the lands of Puglia, the Expoitation of its vineyards and wines, the northern regions Bellicose Take Over of Puglian planting rights, the Complicity and the Factiousness of the European Community Laws of agriculture, cultural Oppression which influences the consumption of wine, the Annihilation of tradition, the Dominance of the market.  Accademia says: no!"

The alberello is a small hardy vine with minimal need for water.  This vine is very effective for use in southern Italian regions that have very little rain fall.  Alberello is also a traditional way of making wine or vinoculture that enables an increased density per hectare.  In the past twenty years many have abandoned the traditional ways of producing wine in Puglia and have used Palmetta or Cordon vines.  However, these vines suffer greatly from the long hot southern Italian summers.

Beautiful Puglia
The Anarkos website alludes to the exploitation, by capitalist concerns, of the old ways.  Capitalists and their  embrace of the market have been destroying the traditional alberello system of wine making.  The Anarkos group is attempting to restore the tradition before it is totally annihilated.

Since our friend Ed was coming over for dinner, and has leftest sympathies, Anarkos seemed to be a perfect match for the festivities.

I decanted the wine, which was a 2011 Anarkos, an hour before drinking.  I had tried to find a 2010 vintage but could only come up with a 2011.  This may be too recent a vintage to get a realistic tasting.   The wine is a blend of the traditional grapes Primativo, Negro Amaro, and Malvasia. At first taste, I was struck by the texture, smooth and silky, almost gooey.  I felt it was coating my tongue.  It wasn't very dry and not much acidity.  The flavors were deep plums and fruits, probably cherries.  It had a succulent, rich feel.  My daughter-in-law, Angela, thought it was sweet.  I believe her sensation stemmed from the very forward fruit.  The alcohol content is 13%.  Over time, sitting out in the back devouring barbecued meats and veggies, I found the fruit moving more forward and dominating.  I would say that Anarkos is a mix of old traditional wine making and new, more current methods.

The label is attractive and provocative.  The wine is very enjoyable but not totally to my liking.  Too much fruit, too fruit driven. However, my guests fully enjoyed it and gave it a high rating.  Anarkos is worth purchasing.  You can pick it up for about $14.00 or less on sale.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Enjoying Bermuda's Cuisine

My wife and I recently went to Bermuda on vacation. The island was very beautiful and relaxing. The beaches were clean and enjoyable.

You can't find a view like this in New York!

I'm writing this post to tell you about the food in Bermuda, not the amazing views. Bermuda really does not have much of its own cuisine. Most of its food is English, American and Caribbean in origin. All of which you can get here in the States. However, there are two food items and a drink that I want to mention. The two dishes we both tried were fried Conch fritters and Bermuda fish chowder soup. We were going to have the Wahoo fish but the restaurant didn't have any available at that time. Bermuda is known for its rum. The popular drink in Bermuda is the swizzle. But first, the fried Conch.

The fried Conch is the meat inside a sea shell. Below is a photo of the Conch Shell.

I wouldn't particularly eat Conch because the texture is like a clam, which I'm not fond of. But since we ordered fried Conch fritters I just couldn't resist. The fritters were shaped like balls and breaded on the outside. The Conch meat was minced, had carrots and maybe potato. The fritters came with lemon and a very delightful tartar sauce. My wife doesn't like tartar sauce but she liked this one. See the fried Conch fritters below.

The Bermuda fish chowder was surprisingly good. I thought the soup was going to be very fishy and creamy. When I tried it, the soup was not fishy or creamy at all. Actually there was tomato sauce in the soup which gave it a rich red color. The texture of the soup was not watery, it had some thickness. There was definitely fish stock used in the soup. The fish was very tender as it seemed like the fish had been cooking for a long time. The soup contained Grouper, Wahoo, Halibut and Hake which were shredded and reminded me of shredded pork. You may also add a sherry pepper sauce and black rum which makes the soup taste a little more bitter. My wife preferred the soup without the sauces. See the Bermuda fish chowder below.

Bermuda is known for its rum. But there is one drink in particular that is very popular on the Island and considered its national drink. The Bermuda Rum Swizzle is a great tasting drink even if you are not a real rum drinker. Depending on where you get the swizzle, the recipes can change slightly. We had one which contained pineapple, mango, lemon, angostura, orange juice and black rum. The drink had a thickness to it, which most likely came from the mango juice. We were still able to taste the rum but there was so much flavor from the other fruits that it made the drink delightful. 

Bermuda is not known for its own cuisine but it was nice to taste some different foods and have a drink that you really don't see very often. If you ever go to Bermuda, make sure to have a Bermuda Rum Swizzle and eat some of its enjoyable dishes! 

David John Oliva