Napizza and uncommon Italian DOCGs

For a by-the-slice concept, Napizza is a pretty swanky spot holding down a coveted corner in Little Italy, the land of shiny new restaurants. With more than a handful of pizza options nearby, Napizza has established itself as a “healthy and organic” option, a modern trend that tends to litters walls and websites with a fatiguing number of buzzwords. With marketing so fiercely tuned in, it is best to hit mute and let the flavors speak for themselves.

napizza cover

Behind the display window, each pizza offering sings its own siren song, drawing me in until I focus my hunger on the Truffle Porcini and Parmigiana, two slices destined for a set of Italian pairings.

napizza both pizzas

Built on a focaccia bread base, the medium-style pizza has a crisp olive oil crust that helps maintain the structure, allowing for weighty toppings such the mess of eggplant and chunky tomato on the slice of Parmigiana. A smothering of pesto with each bite offers a glitter of garlic spice and tangy green brightness. Meanwhile, the personality of the pizza stays true to the name, singing of simple Italian cuisine, hearty, earthy and satisfyingly cheesy.

napizza eggplant and cerasuolo

Azienda Agricola COS, Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico DOCG, Sicilia, 2011 is produced from the first and only DOCG of Sicily. The ruby red wine is made predominately from the black grape Nero d’Avola, Frappato making up a 30-50% minority. In this bottling, the dominant varietal expresses itself with finely grained tannins found in the wine while the latter varietal can be seen through red berry aromas of dehydrated raspberry and cranberry, further emphasized by the savory pizza elements of eggplant and pesto. The refreshing acidity is quite appealing with such a rich style of pizza while a soft note of wood provides a plush finish as does a lingering note of tobacco and black tea. The pairing isn’t perfectly aligned, each element playing its own instrument and not quite harmonizing. It comes together like an awkward first date, whereas the next one is like a long-awaited, romantic night out.

napizza nebbiolo and mushroom

The Truffle Porcini slice hits the palate with a roar of mushrooms, herbs and truffle notes. Such an aggressive umami overload puts our first wine in an aromatic stranglehold, demanding a larger player. Travaglini, Gattinara DOCG, Piedmonte, 2008 is a playful companion to this slice, swinging at its oily center with all the elevated acidity that accompanies the varietal, Nebbiolo. Known locally as Spanna, Nebbiolo makes up 100% of the wine even though a minimum of 90% composition is required for Gattinara DOCG.

In the last pizza pairing, Nebbiolo was featured through Palmina’s New World interpretation whereas in Gattinara, Nebbiolo is in its homeland of Piedmont, where Barolo and Barbaresco represent the pinnacle of its expression. Even though Gattinara is a more approachable style, it still comes dressed up with purple flowers, violets and roses as well as fresh leather, orange peel and baked cherry pie. The tart red fruits are tangy with personality and a quick burst of tannins add fireworks to this hot little love fest.

postscript: the uniquely-shaped bottle was designed in 1958 to diminish the need for decanting by catching sediment naturally. For three years, I walked around thinking the misshapen bottle recovered from a vineyard fire as lore would have it. Oh, how humbling fact checking can be. Also, embarrassing.

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Zia’s Gourmet Pizza & Valdeorras

From 5 to 10pm, a mere five hours each day, Zia’s Gourmet Pizza cooks up an array of quality-driven pies that gently push the boundaries of pizza composition. The pizzeria is driven by the high standards set by founder Khlaed Waleh and showcases ingredients such as yogurt, cranberries and turkey pastrami without bowing to expected norms like pepperoni. Welcoming and unpretentious, Zia’s offers visitors to Normal Heights a chance to expand their pizza horizons through slice-at-a-time exploration.

zias pizza and wine

Every pizza features a whole-wheat crust, airy and light with a rustic flair. For how easily it crumbles with each bite, the texture is surprisingly crisp and well structured. First off the by-the-slice line up is a crowd favorite, the Papay, a playful and zesty pizza alive with peppery spinach, mozzarella, garlic, capers, and a yogurt sauce counterbalancing the spice with a creamy tang. Pairing up with this savory ass-kicker is a wine matched in both structure and aromatics: Rafael Palacios, 2011 As Sortes, Valdeorras.

papay

Hailing from Galicia in northwestern Spain, Valdeorras is an up-and-coming region reviving the native white grape of Godello. Featured as the main component in the style, the varietal was nearly extinct until the late 20th century, but has been slowly building a cult following in recent years. Displaying fruit-driven roundness and acidic backbone, Valdeorras keeps a core minerality of wet river stones fleshed out with aromas of lemon curd, apple blossom and lime zest. With some of the delicate floral characteristics dashed away by the Papay’s zestier components, the Potato slice proves to be an overall better dancing partner.

zias potato

Succinctly named, the Potato features rosemary potatoes, garlic, scallions, feta, cream cheese and mozzarella over a red sauce. Upon first glance, the potatoes appear as dishearteningly dull as getting a plate of home fries for breakfast when you wanted hash browns. On the playing field, these puppies pack earthy appeal with a smooth texture melting into every bite. Fragrant wisps of rosemary, scallions and garlic build upon each other, lingering long after each bite while the tomato sauce chimes in with an occasional bright hello and without much contribution otherwise. Meditating on flavors alone, the experience is best likened to a well-crafted stew: herbaceous, comforting and delightfully rustic. With the pairing, both pizza and wine are able to showcase their distinctive personalities without hindering the other’s. They’re not going to have each others babies or anything, but they sure do dance prettily together.

Mona Lisa & Vouvray

Mona Lisa is an Italian market, deli and restaurant prized for keeping harder-to-find goods like white anchovies, fresh pasta, and Italian amari. Having contemplated the deli-section artichokes with hungry eyes, I opted for Pizza Bianca, a white spinach pie, with the addition of artichokes. Expectations for a delicate, light pizza were shattered upon its arrival.

mona lisa collage

An entire atmosphere of mozzarella with puffy clouds of ricotta engulf the toppings below making this pie look intimidatingly rich compared to original expectations. Surprisingly, the crust maintained a thin and crispy base with a doughy upper layer that unified well with the pillowy topography above. Each bite was like a lunar exploration, never quite knowing what might be unearthed from within the rocky cheesescape.

When given the task of pizza topping, artichokes offer some tangy relief that regulates super cheesy situations. As the main representative of spring on the classic Four Seasons pizza, artichokes have a long-standing relationship with Italy, where its cultivation is the highest worldwide. Even still, artichokes are notoriously frustrating to pair with wines, requiring a tart, acid-driven white wine to offset the organic acid known as cynarine that makes everything taste sweeter. With a geeky weakness for acidic, mineral driven whites, I plucked a bottle of Vouvray to pair, no problem.

domaine huet

Vouvray is a French wine region of the Loire Valley producing medium-bodied whites made entirely of Chenin Blanc. The style rewards in its complexity, displaying a wide range of aromas spanning from quince to cheese rind, wet wool to chamomile. 2013 Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu Sec is youthful and dry with notes of citrus peel, wet asphalt and bruised yellow apples. For a pizza burly with cheese, Vouvray offers a vibrant backbone to the experience, refreshing enough for intensely creamy bites and dry enough to stand up to the sweetening effects of the artichokes. Vouvray has long been my number one homie, but now we’re officially pizza homies.