This week The Kitchn is awash with wonderful pizza recipes, pizza techniques and pizza stories , so why not look at pizza wines. While I am pretty flexible in what I drink with my pizza, there are a number of tried and trusted wine styles that have stood the test of time as perfect pizza partners.
Red or White?
Traditionally pizza meant a thin crispy dough base with two key ingredients: tomato sauce and melted cheese. The best wines for pizza take into consideration these ingredients. While fuller-bodied white wines, and even Champagne or sparkling wine, can be delicious with the right pizza, in general you are looking at a red wine. Pizza, regardless of topping, is always fairly earthy and substantial fare that begs red over white.
High Acidity + Moderate Tannin
Color decided, next thing to take into account is the fat in the melted cheese. To cut this you need a wine with medium-high to high acidity. Then the tomatoes. As tomatoes are high in acidity you need a fairly high acid wine. Avoid reds that are high in tannin as the combination of the tomato flavor and lots of tannin can be quite metallic.
After that I like the wine to have plenty of juicy fruit flavors as well as a savory/earthy dimension to help bring out the flavors not just in the topping but also from the crispy dough base.
Italy: The Motherland of Pizza Wines
It is no surprise that the source of some of the best pizza wines is also the home of pizza — Italy. Italian red wines are noted for their high acidity. Given the unparralled number of grape varieties grown in Italy, and the amount of tomato based dishes they eat, it is easy to find an array of red wines that are moderate on the tannin front.
But, as it would be unfair (as well as too easy) to only consider Italy when sourcing a good pizza wine, I have spread my wings and looked further afield.
6 Great Wines to Drink with Pizza
While not exhaustive, in my opinion the following six wines will pair with any pizza.
1. Barbera d'Asti or Barbera d'Alba, Piedmont - Italy
Barbera is the first wine that comes to mind when I think of pizza. From Piedmont in Northern Italy, Alba and Asti are two communes that are demarcated for Barbera. Barbera is noted for its high acidity and low tannin. Barbera wines are very juicy and packed with cherry-berry flavors. Go for the simpler fruity unoaked versions.
2. Ceresuolo di Vittoria DOCG, Sicily - Italy
Sicily is a much overlooked region when it comes to quality wine. It is the source of this lively, fruity red made from a blend of Nero d'Avola and Frappato. Frappato, the lighter of the two grapes adds brightness, lightness and perfume as well as a savory gamey note.
3. Chianti DOCG, Tuscany - Italy
No need to aim for the weightier Classico style - just straight-up, straightforward Chianti is a natural pizza partner. Made from Sangiovese, simple Chianti is less concentrated and less tannic than its classico big brother. Typically unoaked or very lightly oaked the wines tend to be jucier and lighter-bodied — perfect with your pizza
4. Beaujolais Villages or Mâcon Rouge - France
While I could easily stay in Italy, with so many pizza-friendly wines, I am veering west to France and specifically to the Gamay grape. Beaujolais, the Macon and Anjou (Loire) are great sources of fresh, light-to-medium bodied, fruity Gamay wines. Gamay wines also have a delicious earthiness which is another plus when eating pizza.
5. Blaufranckish - Austria
Don't let the name turn you off. Over the past five or so years Austria has been making great strides with its red wines. Blaufranckish, an indigenous black variety, is all about the fruit — bramble fruit, black cherries and plums — with sufficient but supple tannins. It is a recent addition to my list of pizza wines.
6. Zinfandel, California - The United States
Branching further afield across the Atlantic and the United States to California and to our much loved Zinfandel. However a caveat. Avoid the blockbuster, full-bodied, heavily extracted (and expensive) styles when having pizza. Instead look for the fruitier, unoaked or lightly oaked, medium-bodied wines. Simple Zinfandel at its best is juicy, only moderately tannic and packed with wild and juicy blue, black and red fruits.
Mary's 6 Wine Picks for Pizza Week
- Oddero Barbera d'Alba, 2009, Piedmont, Italy - $17
- Planeta Ceresuolo di Vittoria DOCG, 2010, Sicily - $20
- Frescobaldi, Chianti "Castiglion", 2010 - $14
- JP Brun, Domaine de Terres Dorees, Beaujolais L'Ancien Vieilles Vignes, 2011 - $16
- Heinrich Blaufranckish, Burgenland, 2007 Austria - $18
- Ravenswood, Sonoma County, Old Vine Zinfandel, 2009 - $16
Happy pizza pairing! What are your favorite pizza-wine combinations?
Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant.
(Images: Faith Durand)