In the dead of winter after a long day skiing and snowboarding on the Colorado Mountains, we are finding ourselves settling in front of a fire with a delicious pizza more often than we care to admit. Pizza is fare we are currently coveting, so we thought we’d share our favorite wine pairings with this delicious, tangy, gooey, deliciousness.
So what makes pizza pizza? The crust is traditionally a neutral component – a vehicle to transport scrumptiousness from the box to our mouths. What makes pizza delectable or disappointing is the red sauce and the cheese, so these are the elements that are best suited for pairing.
While exceptions will always prove the rule, red sauce seems to marry best with red fruit flavors in, well, red wine. Though tomatoes themselves are acidic, the creamy cheese up top begs to be cut with a robust and acidic wine. A wine with a big fruit taste will pair nicely with pizza’s inherent earthiness and the sweetness a tomato brings. Though be wary of red wines high in tannins, as the combination of tomatoes and tannins can come across as metallic.
As intuition may dictate, regional food will typically go with that region’s wine, so we of course will first look at Italy for a beautiful pizza pairing. Salice Salentino, of the Negroamaro grape, is surprisingly the only wine that’s specifically been designed to go with tomatoes, and received DOC status in the late ‘70s. A great example is the Liveli Passamante Salice Salentino. It has soft aromas, with a nice fruit. The tannins are nice and low, and the sweetness on the nose comes out on the tongue, but not overly so – in a pleasant earthy way.
In our modest opinions, the best pizza sauce begins with a base of gorgeous San Marzano tomatoes, which, according to legend, originated in southern Italy near Naples. When compared to the Roma, San Marzanos are thinner and pointier, with thick flesh, scarce seeds, and a strong taste with some sweetness and miniscule acid.
For this reason, we also love other southern Italian wines with pizza, such as a surprising DOCG in Sicily: Ceresuolo di Vittoria. These producers blend a vigorous Nero d’Avola grape with a lighter Frappato grape that brings freshness and brilliance, and these wines again have only moderate tannins and lively acidity.
We won’t leave other great wine producing countries in the lurch though. Afterall, pizza is certainly a staple of American fare as well! The organizers of National Pizza Month may have an agenda, but they estimate that 94% of Americans eat pizza at least once a month.
The spiciness of a California Zinfandel can meld well, bringing a complimentary tang and acid to the pizza. Our caveat is not to go cheap with this one though. You want to find a nice Zin that’s soft enough to not overpower the pizza. Turley’s Old Vines Zinfandel is a vibrant red with noticeable cherry and a lingering caramel finish. Mamma Mia!