Poured with Pleasure

Bill Marsano’s blog on wine and spirits and cocktails: "If it’s good in a glass, I’m pouring it."

Month: September 2010

Stained by Zin

Until the creation of some really stylish stain-colored clothing, wine-lovers everywhere will continue their quest for that Grail-like wonder, the stain-remover WineOff-4ozPump that really works. I’m happy to report, Thirsty Reader, that I have found one. (Truth be told, it found me. The stuff just turned up in the mail one day; I didn’t even have to ask for it.) It’s a product called WineOff, and its producers, Bio-Pro Research of Hickory, NC, guarantee that it will not only remove wine stains, but supposedly remove them permanently. That will be of particular interest to those familiar with the phenomenon of a stain’s somehow returning, like Charlie Rangel, even after removal.

I had been thinking of giving the stuff a real, scientific trial, with a ‘control’ and maybe even some sugar pills, but that began to seem like work, so I decided to let nature take its course, which it did as soon as it could. A week, say.

I’d loaded up on some of Clos LaChance’s Zinfandel, which is going for the fire-sale price of five bucks a bottle (maybe there’s some left: try www.clos.com first chance you get) and in a greenspanly fit of irrational exuberance spilt some on a sofa freshly reupholstered in what had once been a soothing pale green. Fear transported me, as it were, to my dainty home office, where I actually managed to find the bottle (things can get lost there in seconds). Soon I was spraying madly and praying likewise.

The $5 cause-of-it-all. Each bottle displays a handsome portrait of the Buff-bellied Hummingbird (Amazilia yucatanensis)

It worked! Not right away: Most stain-removers, good or not, are a little slow, and WineOff uses enzymes and bacteria that need time to ‘eat’ stains. And several applications, too. Never mind: It worked perfectly and it also worked again. A week later I closlachanced a dress shirt, upon which the unleashed bacteria and enzymes worked similar magic. That was just for lagniappe, however. The important thing was the sofa, the staining of which risked a potentially fatal tsunami of wifely wrath.

The company also makes a sister product, UrineOff (why isn’t it called PissOff?), which costs the same as WineOff: two 4-oz. spray bottles for $12.90 (shipping included). For the sloppy-at-Starbucks crowd there’s CoffeeOff, which is pricier, and shipping is extra. All are available only from (sorry) urineoff.com.  Some caveats: My ‘tests’ were on cotton fabric only; who knows what’ll happen with, say, bombazine or polyvinyl-putrate? Also, you have to flood the stain often and blot every time. Put paper towels or similar beneath the stain as you blot.

There are other stain-removers on the market and plenty of home remedies, too. Maybe I’ll try them sometime. Something tells me I’ll have to.

Everything’s good if you’ve
got enough alcohol

(With apologies to Julia Child, whose ameliorant of choice was butter.)


©2010 Bill Marsano

Pizza and Pretension

The life of a Wine Scribbler is naught but cakes and ale, thinks Thirsty Reader. High living, clichés in-cluded: impeccable service, glorious wines, charming decor, succulent* food. Dream on, Thirsty Reader. Envious Thirsty Reader. It isn’t ever thus.

For example, recently some innocent Rhone wine-makers threw what we in the trade like to call an event pairing their wines with pizza. Now pairing has always seemed a dubious proposition to me, a fabricated frippery that encourages big egos—like the guy who replied to ‘what’s your favorite pairing’ with ‘I’m torn between cedar-roasted salmon with corn-and-scallion soufflé and a Russian River Pinot Noir—or a grilled ahi-tuna sandwich with havarti and Conundrum.” (Torn, is he? Torn?)

The wines were supposed to be 2008 Domaine de la Petite Cassagne Costières de Nimes (white), 2009 Domaine des Carabiniers Tavel (rosé) and a swatch of reds: 2006 Cellier de Marrenon Côtes du Ventoux, 2007 Domaine de Mourchon Côtes du Rhône Vil-lages, 2007 Domaine Montirius Vacqueyras, 2007 Cave de Tain Crozes-Hermitage, Vidal-Fleury Côte Rôtie and Vignoble la Coterie Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. Of this wee handful several never showed and had to be replaced at the last minute.

Still, the Rhonistes would pair, so the sticking point —the bone of contention or the apple of discord or the fruit of the loom, as it were—became Should pizzas be made by chefs?

I’m strictly brown-shoe army when it comes to im-proving perfection, otherwise known as re-inventing the wheel or not leaving well-enough alone or fixing what isn’t broken. Chefs are creative, adventurous souls drawn by the new, thrilled by the unusual and, lest we forget, obsessed with the personal—their own creations. It is cruelty to inflict them on the simple (and helpless) perfection that is pizza.

In short, there’s a point at which a thing is done, over, finished—beyond our poor power to add or detract. And for that reason I’d far rather grab a feast on the fly at one of my nearby buck-a-slice (Italian pronunciation: boo-ka-SLEE-chay) joints than suffer the pretension and pomposity over-produced by some preening chef.

IMGP2364 IMGP2365
Two of my locals on 9th Ave.: the stylish $1 out- post at 40th St. (l.) and its cheaper, downscale neighbor—the original—at 41st St.

The event, billed as a Manhattan-Brooklyn bake-off, was held at a restaurant confusingly called both Co. and Company (9th Ave., NE corner of 24th St.). There you will find owner-chef Jim Lahey ‘putting,’ says the web-site, ‘his own spin on Roman-style pizza.’ Emphasis mine. Lahey is famous for  having ‘invented’ a revolutionary no-knead bread-making process. Bread having been around since about 9500 BC, I’m inclined to doubt that, and one of the bigger and more recent bread-making innovations supports my dark suspicions about ‘improvements’ in general. That’s the Chorleywood Process, by which factories churn out finished loaves—sliced and wrapped, al-ready!—in less than four hours using cheap, low-protein wheat formerly fed to farm animals. It is, as you have surmised, a British process.

Not that Lahey would have any truck with such stuff. His book, My Bread (a hot seller at Amazon), will make you make some excellent loaves. His pizza dough was excellent too (like that of chefs Nate Appelman of Pulino’s and Brooklyn’s Mathieu Palombino of Motorino and Mark Iacono of Lucali).

Would that I could say as much for his Corn Pie (corn puree, mozzarella, parmesan, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and chili powder). It was more than his baseball cap that put me off**. The pie was simply leaden. Mathieu Palombino’s chefly overkill was Brussels Sprout Pizza (with fior di latte, pancetta affumicata, Parmigiano-Reggiano and garlic. Not that I was disappointed. I didn’t expect much from Brussels sprouts, and that’s what I got.

I had high hopes for Mark Iacono’s Plain Pie—what the p.r. folk called a traditional ‘Margarita.’ (That’s a drink, kids. I’m sure Margherita was what Iacono intended). How could you mess up something so simple as mozzarella, tomato sauce and fresh basil? Here’s how: you make an 11-inch pie surrounded by a 2-inch ring of arid crust.

IMGP2352  Mark Iacono’s Margherita: far too much crust (overbaked, too) for such a wee little pie.

The sole success was Nate Appleman’s Bianca Tradizionale: mozzarella, pecorino, black pepper and pork strutto (lard). It must have been crowded in the oven (hence the flat side), but this pie was rich, flavorful and perfectly baked. Now that was a pizza! I resented having to share it. I could easily have eat-ten two of them without any help.

IMGP2349 Nate Appleman’s pride and my joy: the Bianca Tradizionale (mozzarella, pecorino, black pep-per and pork lard) as served at Pulino’s Bar-Pizzeria, 282 Bowery off Houston St. A fargen-ign! A taka oytser in deed as well as in mouth.

Appleman (below), awash in kudos from the James Beard Foundation, Food & Wine and the IACP, says his Bianca Tradizionale very probably represents pizza in its earliest form—i.e., tomato-free. To make such a claim requires a certain authority (modishly known these days as gravitas), and Appleman cer-tainly has it (he trained in Italy and is said to be one of the few Americans certified as a pizzaiolo by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association). And history is on his side. The tomato is a New World fruit, after all, brought to Europe by Spain’s conquistadores as recently as the mid-16th Century. It took its sweet time finding the kitchen. Originally prized only as decorative plants, tomatoes were considered unfit to eat, even poisonous. So it’s very likely that long before then folks in the region had been dining on “baked flatbread discs with something on top.”NateAppleman1 
In fairness, only Lahey was used to Co.’s 900° oven: Co. is his restaurant, after all. The other chefs were used their own 700° ovens; that (very consider-able) difference may well have been why most of the night’s pies turned out crisp on the bottom but wet and sloppy on top.

Excused from this rant is Chef Heather Carlucci of Print, whose Sweet Pizza mixes chocolate with Salvatore Brooklyn ricotta and raw honey. I didn’t stick around to try it because the night was dragging on interminably—more than three hours— and I wanted out. I was not alone. Indeed, many had fled before I did.

The service was awful. From my seat, opposite the pass-through, it seemed that half the waiters were crowded into the kitchen, trying to impress the chefs. The floor help mostly stood around talking to each other. As for the wine service, although this event was a dinner, all we got, intermittently, were stingy sip-and-spit pours. A writer who asked for a wine that had been poured before she arrived was bluntly told it was simply not possible. Few of the waiters could imagine that anyone would want to look at a wine label and even fewer were helpful in identifying the substitute wines. The exception was the sommelier, Thomas Carter, borrowed for the oc-casion from Blue Hill at Stone Barns***. What was he supposed to do—train a whole crew of baseball caps in a single afternoon?

The wines I did get—the Domaine de la Petite Cas-sagne, Domaine des Carabiniers Tavel, Domaine Montirius, Vidal-Fleury, Cave de Tain and Vignoble la Coterie plus one of the substitutes, Maison Boua-chon’s La Rouvière rosé—were all very pleasing and I’d gladly drink them again, but not with pizza (at least, most of these pizzas). To me, the drink for pizza is beer. Charles Scicolone, no beer drinker, recommends a pair of frizzante reds from the Sorren-tine Peninsula, Gragnano and Lettere (Charles knows  pie, by the way: With his wife, Michele, he wrote another Amazon hit, Pizza Any Way You Slice It: Easy Recipes for Great Homemade Pizzas, Focac-cia and Calzones. Gragnano and Lettere aren’t easi-ly found here), so he adds, ‘With just Pizza Margher-ita I like Barbera, Barolo, Barbaresca and Taurasi.’

As who, after all, would not?


Photo of Nate Appleman by Sylvia Paret.

*Outlaw succulent and half the foodies in publishing will be on the bricks by late this afternoon.

**Sorry, but most men not signed to major-league contracts look ridiculous in baseball caps, save for those wearing New York Yankees caps: they may look like criminals and often are. See the New York Times’ story Crime Blotter Has a Regular: Yankees Caps (Sept. 16).

***Again with the at? I’d hoped we’d got over this with the hilariously vulgar The Mansion at Turtle Creek and The Inn at Little Washington. But no.

© 2010 Bill Marsano

Eat In, Take Out, Go Kosher

My neighbor Manny Frego, who is salty of speech and wise in his ways, and who was once chief cantor of the ghetto of Rome, gives as his opinion that ‘If it weren’t for carciofi alla giudia no one would know a damned thing about Italian Jews or Italian Jewish cooking or Italian kosher wine’. That’s largely because Italy’s Jews have long been a highly assimilated subgroup (one reason is that as a rule they spoke Italian or the local dialect rather than Yiddish or Ladino). They were successful in the arts, politics, the professions and even the military (to the extent that one can put military and success in an Italian context). At the same time, they maintained their religious traditions in varying degrees and still do today, and home and abroad.

Which brings me to Tony May and his SD26, the incarnation of his original outpost, the beloved old San Domenico of Manhattan’s Central Park South. Ad SD26 Tony has a co-owner. It’s his daughter, Marisa, who adds fresh, youthful beauty beside Tony’s increasingly Bill Clintonesque silver-fox handsomeness. (I hate that man! Envy is an ugly thing and I know it, but that doesn’t stop me.) Resturanteer Tony May and his daughter Marisa May at his newest restaurant, San Domenico in New York, NY on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2009. 

Robert Caplin For The New York Times The new place is sleekly modern and the space is vast, with a long stroll separating the front bar zone from the main dining rooms, which itself has what amounts to a loge level of private rooms above for larger parties and what Italians call eventi. Downstairs is the eat-in wine cellar, scene of a long and very wet Sassicaia dinner last year.

As for the menu, the important thing just now is the kosher menu for the High Holy Days, called

Holiday Celebration

It opens with Honey Blessings, followed by Bottarga Salad, Orange Segments, Red Onions, then Crepes with Butternut Squash, Almond & Honey. The main course is branzino (black sea bass) in a light Tomato Broth with Zucchini. For dessert, Apple Tart with Millefiori Honey.
The three wines, which are also strictly kosher, are by Sentieri Ebraici: Del Vecchio Vino Rosso, white Dona Gracia and sparkling Gioia Vino Spumante. The Sentieri Ebraici wines are among the few Italian kosher wines to escape Royal, the Goliath, if you will, of New Jersey (Winebow signed the line instead. The wines are made by Degli Azzoni Avogadro Carradori in Marche, a mid-calf region on the Adriatic coast.

Then come Coffee and Biscotti and, I venture to suggest, a warm glow of contentment accompanied
by a pronounced lack of interest in leaving the premises. So you might as well have a grappino.
I have to confess that I often imagine myself dining here in SD26’s imperial-modern space. And dining not only often but (di fatti ) rather splendidly, until some killjoy slaps me awake.

Photo of Marisa and Tony May by Robert Caplin


Good Guys, No. 2

I’ve always admired wine people for managing to do good without being do-gooders, for which reason, Thirsty Reader, your correspondent will recognize them here from time to time. Such acknowledgment is not to be construed as beatification nor is neglect anything more than ill-chance—the doings, if you will, of the Murphya, that mysterious organization whose function it is to see to it that every day in every way Murphy’s Law remains in rude good health. Readers, if any, are free to nominate candidates—briefly, please—of their own.

Excuse My Dust    

The annual Staglin Family Music Festival for Mental Health, (Saturday, September 11) has over 15 years raised some $95 million for research and treatment of brain disorders. ALL the money goes to charity because sponsors underwrite all expenses.

benatarstaglinmusic  staglingladysknight Pat ‘Choppers’ Benatar (l.) and the toothsome Gladys Knight were among the mentally stable stars of previous Staglin music fests.

Glenn Close is scheduled to attend—she helped the Staglins launch bringchange2mind.com, which com-bats the stigma of mental illness. Dwight Yoakum will perform. Wine will pour—much of it, I’m told, rare, cultish stuff. For tix and more info: the Staglin Music Festival for Mental Health 2010. Yeah, it’s expensive, but the cause is good and it should be worth the price just to sit on the Rutherford Bench and breathe the Rutherford Dust.

Iron Horse Does the Wave   

The peerless Joy Sterling of Iron Horse Vineyards introduces Ocean Reserve, a limited-production sparkling wine ($40), to help National Geographic Society save the ocean—and not just from BP, NEWoceanreserve1 either—by pledging $4 a bottle to Nat Geo’s Ocean Initiative. Or so we hear–Joy herself is keeping mum owing to some sort of NGS embargo. There won’t be a word for some weeks, but not everyone is as lip-zipped as La Joy, and my spies, powerful friends, figures of influence and important allies are all more than eager to spill the beans. My fingers are in every pie and my irons are in every fire, as it were. So . . . only 1000 cases were  produced; they’ll reach the distributor early next month. Also, OC is a blanc de blancs concocted with a dosage unique and a trio  of labels based on underwater photos (why not collect NEWoceanreserve2the set?). A back-label technogadget, scanned with a cellphone, connects to a video about the making of the cuvee, the ocean’s role in Iron Horse’s micro-climate, and more–much more. Suit yourself, but I’ll be working on getting the cork out. After a certain amount of bullying Joy her-self let slip that she hopes Ocean Reserve will become the holiday gift of the year but grudgingly admits that it will be OK in her book NEWoceanreserve3if people buy, in addition or even instead, some of her Chardonnays and Pinots. For my part  I’ve been known to topple face-first into her other sparklers. One of them, called Joy! is available only in magnums–perfect for living-large occasions like those that, in this economy, are long vanished from my life. Hot tip: Expect another special wine for Earth Day 2011.

Yee-Haw: Wear Pink, Drink Purple

Hopalong Cassidy was possibly the only cowboy who drank milk (old Hoppy bottles are hawked on eBay) and sarsaparilla rather than whiskey, and the only Western good guy to sport a black hat (he wore black top to bottom, in fact). Despite being a fictional character he represents the gentler side of cowboydom, long obscured by the saloon-and-shoot-‘em-up tradition. Cowboys, after all, are wearing pink these days and they also wrote (and write) poetry–see cowboypoetry.com, pilgrim–so at least


Yes, I know I said the cowboys wear pink. They do, but these cowgirls are, according to The Big Book of Wild West Cliches, a mite purtier.

some of them might have been pleasured by a glass of wine. That brings us to Purple Cowboy, the Official Wine of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, whose 600+ rodeos a year attract some 30 million fans, many of them parched. There are two wines in the corral, Tenacious Red, a Cabernet-Syrah blend, and Night Rider Merlot, which has 5% Cabernet (both $13). ‘Real cowboys do drink wine’ says Terry Wheatley, founder and marketing head of Napa’s Canopy Management, which calls itself a ‘wine creation, sales and marketing company.’ Which means, in short, that there’s a lot of wine out there, and someone has to figure out a way to sell it. Wheatley’s family has a long history in rodeos and she is married to a professional cowboy. Some years back, when her son Wade was competing in a roping championship, she combined rodeo with a campaign called Tough Enough To Wear Pink.

When you see this label, pardner, it’s time to be thinkin’ pink and drinkin’ purple

It has since raised more than $7 million, fighting breast cancer at the rate a one buck donated per case depleted. Both wines hail from Paso Robles (pronounced cowboy-style: row-bles) where real cow-boys can still be found today. Their inspiration was local cowpokes who supposedly worked vines during the week and rodeos on weekends—and the legend is that they liked wine so dark that it turned their teeth purple. As for the ropin’ and ridin’, that’s called a rodeo, which is generally pronounced rodeo but rolls trippingly off the tongue as ro-day-o when dusted with chipotle and splashed with salsa.

OK, amigos? Now I am going to go sit under a tree for a spell, there to pop some Purples and sing a few lonesome old verses of Ghost Riders in the Sky.

bumpersticker  Most People Will Like Wine

–If You Let Them