This past weekend our wine club had our Winter meeting. We had no scheduled format for the meeting so people could bring whatever they wanted. Sometimes we have a theme, for example, wine from South America. We instead arranged a pizza face off, getting five pizzas from three different places. At Pepe’s we got a cheese pizza and a white clam pizza, at Modern we got just a cheese and at Roseland we again got a cheese and white clam pizza. We originally had Harry’s Pizza in West Hartford in the mix but the member who was supposed to pick it up had a scheduling conflict. We chose the clam for obvious reasons but the cheese was chosen to get an even comparison. We could not get one cheese from Modern and a sausage from Pepe’s because it would not be an even comparison. Plus just getting cheese lets you focus on the basics of a good pizza. I’m going to get into the pizza before I move onto the wine and for those who don’t know the spots, here’s a little background.
In the beginning, there were two great pizza places on Wooster Street in New Haven: Pepe’s and Sally’s. These two places really set the standard for pizza in the area. Pepe’s had great cheese based pies as well as there white clam pies, where they are still regarded as the best in the area. Sally’s had an equally great cheese pie but unfortunately they have terrible customer service and as a result I haven’t been there in at least ten years. Over the last few years, Pepe’s has decided to take their operation to the next level, opening up five new locations. I, personally, see no problem with this as long as the pizza doesn’t suffer and that is the real issue. I would say perhaps the last four or five times I have had their pizza it has failed to live up to their legendary status, although the white clam pie still seemed pretty consistent.
Modern Pizza has always been the staple for the true pizza aficionados. When lines were forming outside the two places on Wooster Street, people in the know were heading over to State Street to eat there. Modern Pizza has some of the Wooster Street flare in their pizza but I have also found it to be comparable to Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn, another great pizza place. The past few years, this place has been my favorite along with spot #3.
Dave told an interesting story at the meeting. He said when he was growing up, before the pizza places in our area opened up, the only place you could get real Italian pizza was at Roseland (besides driving down to Wooster Street). Although tucked away in a little corner of Derby, away from the limelight of New Haven, Roseland has been turning out world-class pizza almost as long as Wooster Street. The place isn’t known nationwide like Pepe’s but locals know the real deal: Roseland is just as good if not better than the places in New Haven. We actually had a little competition a few years ago between Pepe’s and Roseland’s cheese pizza. It wasn’t even close. Roseland won hands down that night! But that’s the thing with pizza, you never know what you’re going to get each time you order. The best places are consistent but, as your about to find out, some have off nights.
I immediately dove into the cheese pizzas and before I even tasted a slice I knew we had a problem. The Modern pizza (above) was really burned. Most of the crust on the sides and underneath was charred. The pizza wasn’t bad, but certainly not the nice chewy crust I was accustomed to. The cheese was its usual self but the charred crust really ruined it for me. On this night, Modern Pizza was just not in the running. I can’t remember ever having a bad Modern pizza though. That brought it down to two pies.
As I alluded to earlier, if any pizza was going to have a problem I would have thought it would have been the Pepe’s. Not this night. We got an absolutely classic pie from Pepe’s! The crest was typical Pepe’s, chewy in the center but harder on the edges. The cheese was tasty but the sauce was the kicker! Of the three pies it had by far the best tasting sauce. It was just bursting with flavor. I really enjoyed it and was happy we got such a good cheese pizza from them.
The third pie in the trio, from Roseland, was equally as good as the Pepe’s. Roseland pies are typically asymmetrical, but on this night we got almost a perfect circle pie! Although it did not have the flavorful sauce Pepe’s did (and don’t get me wrong there sauce is NOT bad), Roseland had a superior flavor in its cheese as well as a better crust. The cheese just had so much flavor and the crust was nice and chewy, even on the edges. To me it was really a toss-up between the two pies but if push came to shove I think I preferred the Roseland to the Pepe’s. Some of the members at the meeting might have a different opinion but that’s just me.
I next moved onto the clam pies. First I tried the Roseland (above) and was pleasantly surprised. The pie was very good, with whole clams on it compared to the Pepe’s which has chopped clams. It also had garlic and grated cheese on it but the best part for me was the crust, especially the edges. I think they must have brushed it with garlic butter or something because it was delicious! It had that some chewiness that the cheese did but with that different flavor.
All hopes of Roseland giving Pepe’s a run for its money ended once I tried a slice of the clam pie. It was another classic pie! The pizza was just bursting with flavor! The seasoning they put on there was just unbelievable. Everything tasted fresh, the pizza hadn’t gotten cold yet and hardened, which their clam pie has a tendency to do, and the flavors just danced in your mouth. I will give it to Roseland that the edge of their crust was better than the Pepe’s but besides that it wasn’t really close. Pepe’s takes this one.
What are these posts about again? Oh ya wine. Well we had plenty of that. We serve everything blind and the following notes are in the order we tasted the wines. The notes reflected are my own.
Wine #1 – 2007 Domaine Chandon Pinot Meunier (Call for availability)
I have never had a Pinot Meunier so I found this interesting. I found it similar to a Burgundy than to any Pinot Noir from California, with a very light body as well. This had a nose that kind of transformed throughout the night. I got a lot of earthy scents the first time I tried it. The second time I got a big whiff of barnyard but the third time that blew off and it returned to the earthy scents. On the palate I got some earth, mushroom and cherry. It really was an interesting and complex wine. I gave it 90 points.
Wine #2 – 2009 Renacer Punto Final Malbec (Call for availability)
The Renacer had a fuller body than wine #1. I really didn’t get much of a nose the first time I tried it but it opened up a little the second time with some strawberry aromas. It had some decent flavors of strawberry, earth and spice. Decent wine that seemed to be opening up with some air but a little one-dimensional. I originally had this at 86 points but raised it to an 88 with a retaste.
Wine #3 – 2008 Williams Fevre Domaine Chablis (In Stock)
I guessed the grape and the region on this one! It had aromas of citrus and honeysuckle on the nose. This went with flavors of stone, mineral and lemon. Could have went for a Sauvignon Blanc but the mineral component made me think of Chablis. I gave this 90 points.
Wine #4 – 2007 Pahlmeyer Napa Valley Merlot (Call for availability)
I brought this and immediately knew what it was. The nose on this was just so much more powerful than anything else we had up to that point. I got some great cherry, strawberry and dusty berry scents. This led to some great flavors of cherry, black berry, chocolate and plum. The finish went on for about 30-40 seconds and it was just a great Merlot. I gave it 94 points. This edged out the Chandon for Wine of the Night.
Wine#5 – 2008 Orin Swift Saldo Zinfandel (In Stock)
This also had a pretty powerful nose too, with berry, licorice and spice aromas. This was difficult for me to identify at first because it really wasn’t tannic and I sometimes confuse bigger Zins and bigger Pinot Noirs blind. This really had gobs of dark berry fruit and had another long finish but not quite as long as the Pahlmeyer. I gave this 93 points.
Between the wine and the pizza it proved to be a very pleasant evening. Hopefully we can try another pizza face off somewhere down the line!