Wine Claims a Piece of the Pie as a Delicious Companion to Pizza.
When celebrated chef Wolfgang Puck introduced “gourmet” pizza topped with smoked salmon and caviar at his Los Angeles restaurant, Spago, in the 1980s, even the upper crust took notice. Pizza rose in status from merely a food for cardboard box presentation or a staple at checkerboard tablecloth restaurants to an acceptable menu item at white linen establishments. Since pizza’s status has picked up, it’s deserving of a beverage beyond Budweiser or Miller Lite, and wine certainly fits the bill. Whether you favor the trendy or traditional pie, both red and white wine can be a delicious match—the key is to either counterbalance or complement the dominant flavors of the toppings and sauce.
The classic pizza with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese topped with pepperoni calls for wine with higher acidity levels to balance the acidity of the tomato sauce. A wine that is also fruit-forward works well with the tomato’s sugar and acid combination. Italy’s Tuscan region, famous for Chianti, Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino are all made from the Sangiovese grape and are a classic match for this style of pizza, as are some California Sangiovese. Cabernet Sauvignon can stand up to the pepperoni and won’t overwhelm the cheese, but the very low acid ones from Napa may not have enough oomph for the sauce. If you prefer white wine, try Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris, which can refresh after the pepperoni’s spiciness. Herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc can also work well. If you want some bubbles, Prosecco, the fruity yet dry lightly sparkling white wine from Italy’s Venito region balances the tang of tomato and also cleanses the palate after the cheese component.
Meat Medley and Veggies
If you like a pie topped with a flavorful medley of ingredients such as pepperoni, sausage, and bell peppers, you might want to give Salice Salentino a try. Made in southeastern Italy with the Negroamaro grape, this is usually a full bodied, spicy wine that can overwhelm a plain pizza, but works well tackling this flavorful combination. California Zinfandel or Aussie Shiraz’s fullness and zip complement hearty sausage and earthy mushrooms on your pizza. And if you want a white wine that’s up for the challenge, a full-bodied toasty Chardonnay can stand up to the sauce and the richness of the cheese plus sausage, mushroom, and the sweetness of onions.
A vegetarian pizza made with green pepper, black olives, mushrooms, and onions won’t be overpowered by Pinot Noir—plus the wine’s earthiness synchronizes with the mushrooms. Burgundy in particular has the spicy, earthy component and the acidity needed to pair perfectly with the veggie pie. For a white wine selection with these toppings, the herbaceous quality of Sauvignon Blanc nicely matches the green pepper and mushrooms. Sauvignon Blanc is also a good choice for a pineapple and Canadian bacon pizza. It harmonizes with the pineapple while offering a good balance with the savory ham and cheese. An off-dry Riesling will also do the trick.
“White” and Gourmet Pie
Nontraditional or “white” pizza, made without tomato sauce, has a milder flavor base and opens up more unusual topping options—and the wines to go with them. Such items as chicken, oysters, sprouts, eggplant, Cajun shrimp, artichoke hearts, or even venison and duck may find their way atop trendy pies these days. And even some of the larger chain pizza delivery restaurants feature chicken, spinach, and various other alternative toppings. Try an Alsatian Pinot Gris or an Austrian Grüner Veltliner with artichoke or asparagus-topped pie. Sparkling wine, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio also work well with these “designer” discs. Pizza and Champagne? Give it a try—the yeastiness and effervescence make a good team and work well with pizza’s saltiness.
Whether you’re kicking back with a traditional pizza on a weeknight or raising a glass to the weekend with a gourmet pizza pie, your favorite wines—both red and white—match like amore.
The Wine Guy Suggests:
Cascina Adelaide Barbera “Le Mie Donne” 2009………$20
This fruit-centric, all-stainless steel Barbera is bursting with flavor. It has notable acidity (true to the character of Barbera) that cries out for and stands up well to food.
It has a stunning blueberry and pomegranate aroma, and a silky texture. Made by Sergio Molino, one of Italy's greatest young winemakers, your pizza will thank you, as well as your guests.
Redi Rosso di Montalcino 2007…………………………..$17
100% Sangiovese Grosso from the Brunello region, this delightful, fruit forward red has bright berry flavors, earth and some spice. It’s a great pizza wine.
Borgo Scopeto Borgonero 2009……………………………….$20
Produced from 60% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Syrah, this intense supertuscan red is an exceptional value. Broad, refined and captivating with notes of leather and tobacco, it is extraordinarily structured, of great harmony and surprisingly soft and balanced. The excellent 2009 vintage is showy now and will improve in the bottle for several years.
Nugan Estate Shiraz 2009………………………$15
This wine is a great value. It offers loads of blackberry fruit characteristics intertwined with notes of licorice and vanilla. Dense and medium to full-bodied, with outstanding purity as well as flavor, it will make the pizza jealous.
Ratti Nebbiolo d'Alba Ochetti 2009……………………………..$22
A delicious Nebbiolo from Alba in Piedmonte, it has a round, soft, generous mouthfeel, deep dark fruit flavors and a smooth finish. It’s another perfect pizza wine.
Jon Genderson is co-owner of Schneider’s of Capitol Hill, one of the finest wine shops in the country.