Dial your favourite pizza joint and pull a cork: pizza and wine are as natural a pair as peanut butter and jam.
Italy’s best-loved export comes in a rich variety of styles and flavours. There is the pliable, blistered crust Neapolitan, cracker-thin Roman, the foldable New York, or Chicago deep dish styles. Which is best? Doesn’t really matter because the usual response is always ‘my pizza is better than your pizza.” But what’s the best wine for pizza? ‘Many wines’ is the only answer!
Pizza is simple to match with wine. Remember the pairing essentials: ensure the weight of the food and wine are fairly even, and then you can play around with contrasting or complementing flavours and texture. Tomato sauce is sweet and acidic, and if the red stuff is on your pie, you need to consider that. Play around with toppings and wine to send pairing to the next level. Pizza is versatile and casual – so it’s appropriate to be just as laid back with your wine choices. And, you do not have to drink only Italian wine… go global, just as pizza has.
Here are seven of the most popular pizza toppings and wine choices that will work with any crust.
Tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil leaves (the colours of Italy’s flag) is blissful pizza simplicity. The sauce needs a good zingy wine, and the cheese can take a bit of weight. We should start in Italy with this quintessential pizza: try a really good (not dilute and wishy-washy) Pinot Grigio like Alois Lageder’s Dolomiti 2015, where citrusy fruit and emphatic flavours will hold your attention. If it’s to be red, then a Chianti, starring Tuscany’s Sangiovese grape is the ideal choice. Brisk acidity, bright and spicy fruit, and firm tannins will prop up melting cheese and robust sauce. Frescobaldi has over 700 years making Chianti like this Frescobaldi – Leccioni Chianti 2014.
The assertive flavour of spicy pepperoni combined with acidic tomato sauce needs a sturdy wine with verve and refreshment. Pepperoni is a sausage made from cured pork and beef, ground with intense spices like cayenne and garlic. It releases oils as it heats up, adding to the pizza’s weight and mouthfeel. The fruit-forward Vivace Pinot Grigio 2015 from the South Okanagan’s Italian-styled winery La Stella would do. It has broad, peachy flavours but plenty of lip-smacking acidity too.
Look for the Italian word salsiccia (say sal-SI-cha) on the menu for a meat-lovers delight. Piquant tomato sauce studded with nuggets or slices of juicy Italian sausage – sometimes with fennel seed and hot chilies – sets the stage for a powerful wine.
Syrah, with its intense dark fruit and smoky, meaty personality, is perfect, and there’s enough acidity to carve through the flavourful fat. If you are doing “candles and crystal” with your upmarket pizza alla salsicca, try the magnificent Cornas from Vincent Paris. Cornas is in the Northern Rhone valley, where the smoky, peppery, meaty Syrahs are found, and this one called Granit 30° comes from a thirty degree terraced rocky slope). White wine can work really well here too, but it needs both girth and refreshing acidity. Rhone grapes Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier bring fatness and weight for meat, plus a herbal note to match a fennel-driven sausage. Naramata’s Terravista Vineyards makes a beauty, aptly named Figaro, which brims with ripe fruit expression, possesses a kiss of sagey herbs, and B.C’s. trademark high acidity.
Here’s where wine and pizza pairings can get truly geeky. The earthiness of funghi invites mature wines that have developed a similar woodsy character, like an aged Tempranillo wine from Rioja. Lopez de Haro Reserva 2010 is alive with raspberry fruit, but mellowed by time in wooden barrels. At 22 bucks, it’s a sensational value . There’s also a great synergy between mushrooms pizza with herbs and garlic and Pinot Noir. Chile’s cooler coastal areas produce handsome versions like Undurraga’s cherry-fruited, smoky Sibaris Gran Reserva from the Leyda Valley where both limestone and cool temperatures suit Pinot’s needs.
Perhaps the most trending topping now! Whether it is four cheese, potato pizza or a something more like an Alfredo sauce, white pies are everywhere, and so flattering to wine. Bring on a Chardonnay that has both a cut of necessary acidity and orchard fruit, like Domaine Laroche’s classic unoaked Chablis. It has the weight and mineral punch for rich and silky white pizza. Pinot Noir wines can play here too, especially one with a plenitude of tart summer berries, pulsating acidity and fleshy tannins. This delicious village Burgundy is made by a charming family in the Chablis region, and is built for earthy potato pizza with melty cheese and a dusting of chopped thyme.
Arugula and Prosciutto Pizza
This is a classic style, and you get the benefit of healthy greens, too! Rucola is peppery and slightly bitter, while prosciutto is salty and rich tasting. A sturdy Gamay can partner up, and the Samantha Gamay from Okanagan Crush Pad is a tasty contrast marriage, where concrete-fermented red fruit stays vivid and sweet to counter the pepper and salt.
Imagine double smoked bacon (or Canadian back bacon) and fresh pineapple. This pie is polarizing – you either love it a lot, or not at all. It’s a modern pizza packed with flavour but the sweetness of the fruit places demands on the wine. Here’s Riesling’s moment at the table, where peachy fruit and a little fruity sweetness will stand tall with tropical flavours. Look no further than Tantalus Vineyards’ Riesling 2015, where old vines deliver heft, concentration and striking flavour.
This article was originally published as 7 ways to pair pizza and wine for Daily Hive Vancouver, now adapted for this blog post.