A Pizza Wine Fiasco*?

Pizza Fiasco

This article appeared in the August 2007 edition of Connections Magazine (Ireland) A man walks into a restaurant just outside of Naples and barks out his order. “I want three things: a pepperoni pizza, a green salad and a bottle of red wine – Chianti.” This guy just wasn’t about to get sweet talked into some local flavor. No siree, especially since he had already perfected the formula. It’s a little like when tourists in Italy ask for the olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip their bread in; opting for traditions that never really existed locally but have become de rigueur in US Italian restaurants. Sorry no punch line here, our hero got his pizza with the classic pizza wine: a cheap Chianti. In wine parlance a pizza wine is a cheap red wine, usually Italian, with the assumption that a fine wine would be wasted on a pizza. Inexpensive Chianti, Barbera, Valpollicella and Montipulciano are all usual suspects. Pizzaria Da MicheleSo what’s wrong with Chianti and pizza? Let’s go to Naples, the ancestral home of pizza, on a quest to find the perfect pizza wine. Do the clichés hold true? Is it Chianti or at least red and cheap? Flatbreads called pizzas were long popular as a peasant food in Italy with a form of them brought over by the ancient Greeks. But what we now consider pizza owes itself to a visit by Queen Margherita to Naples in 1889. She had developed a taste for the popular food and summoned a local pizza maker, Rafaelle Esposito to bake a selection for her and King Umberto I. Her favorite was topped with basil, mozzarella and tomato (representing the green, red and white of Italian flag) and soon after became known as Pizza Margherita. Her approval of the humble food increased its popularity, which obviously has grown well outside of Naples and Italy.

Red?

So what do most Neapolitans drink with their pizza? It’s probably not that shocking that the beverages of choice are beer and soda. Da Michele, Naples’ most popular Pizzeria, which is minimal in both its décor and menu -- serves only beer and soda in addition to Marinara and Margherita pizza. Their beverage of choice makes sense especially during the heat of the summer. OK then, does anyone in Naples drink wine with pizza? Yes, but it’s usually a local white. Fiano di Avellino and Falanghina were top suggestions. Interestingly enough, the Italian Trade Commission which has an extensive food and wine website - italianmade.com- recommends Fiano di Avellino as a pairing for Pizza Margherita, which I could have learned without travelling to Italy. It was almost as if the Trade Commission made sure that the entire city is on message, which is no doubt unlikely. While Fiano di Avellino is one of the great white wines of Italy, the locally very popular Falanghina seems to be the most in keeping with the bold Neopolitan spirit. It throws its arms around you and gives you a big basket of fruit all the while maintaining its elegance and composure. It also has a great history, thrives in the local volcanic soil and was a favorite of Pliny the Elder. It isn’t widely exported but is definitely a wine to seek out, especially ones from Campi Flegrei, Sannio and Taburno. So is red wine wrong with Pizza? Not necessarily. Just because Neopolitans don’t usually pair the two doesn’t make it wrong. The local Aglianico and Piedrosso grapes make wines that actually pair superbly with pizza, with just the right amount of acidity to balance the tomato sauce.

Cheap?

Why not drink a good (or even great) wine with a pizza? The prevailing wisdom that pizza is peasant food that deserves a peasant wine should have been made irrelavent by Queen Margherita’s endorsement of it back in 1889. While peasant in origins, pizza is pretty much universally enjoyed regardless of how much or how little you have in the bank. In fact the simple elegance of a well made traditional pizza can complement the finest wines – I know of at least one group of tasters who regularly have pizza with some of the finest (and most expensive) wines in the world. Fiano di Avellino, one of the top local suggestions is not a cheap wine. The region was recently elevated to DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) becoming one of the 30 (out of 457) Italian appellations to achieve this status. Still, the wine is not expensive for the level of quality achieved by top producers such as Feudi San Gregorio, Mastroberardino, Terradora and Vesevo. Remember a traditional pizza is mostly bready crust, which is fairly neutral and acts as a buffer for the creaminess of the mozzarella and the sweetness and acidity of the tomato sauce. Indeed, bread and crackers are palate-cleansing staples of many fine wine tastings.

So what is the perfect pizza wine?

Now that we know a good pizza wine is not necessarily red and not necessarily cheap, is there such a thing as a perfect one? Our visit to Naples didn’t exactly narrow down our search. Referring to the latest and greatest book on wine and food pairing, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenberg’s What to Drink with What to Eat, also reveals a wide variety of options and opinions. Depending on the expert cited, it’s almost as if pizza can go with any wine, just remember a few pointers: 1. You can’t go wrong with a simple, classic, traditionally made pizza like a Margherita. 2. A more acidic wine works best with the tang of the tomato sauce so choose a wine with a little zip. 3. You’ll need a sweeter and fruiter wine to go with the sweeter sauce of fast food pizza like Domino’s or Pizza Hut – a dry wine will taste sour with these. 4. An extra cheese pizza will probably work better with a white wine than a red. 5. Avoid heavily oaked wines. 6. Spicy toppings like pepperoni work well with spicy Italian reds, but will still dominate the wine so go for something inexpensive in this case just like our American friend above. Pizza is simply an amazing food – even a bad pizza is pretty good. Too bad we can’t say the same thing about wine.

Some Campanian wines that are excellent with a Pizza Margherita

2006 Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino4 stars A fairly new producer, Feudi di San Gregorio was founded in 1986 and has been a driving force in increasing the overall quality of Campanian wines. Although their methods and winery are all ultra-modern, they use the ancient grapes that made Campanian wines a favorite with the Romans. OK, they also grow a little Merlot for a couple of their top wines; a decision that seems to have made more sense in the 1990’s when Merlot was the it grape. Their Fiano di Avellino is an excellent example of how good this wine can be: very aromatic with a strong perfume of floral, citrus and frangipan, adding apple on the palate and finishing with the trademark pleasantly bitter almond. 2006 Ocone Falanghina del Taburno4 stars Of many good Falanghinas, the Ocone stands out with beautiful aromas of melon, apricot and pineapple. It’s fairly rich with great acidity so it could probably stand up to a double cheese pizza, especially Buffalo mozzarella, a Camapnian specialty. Characteristic with its high quality it finishes long and elegant as well. This wine is a true bargain – if you see one in a shop, don’t hesitate to snap it up. 2006 Mastroberardino Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Bianco3 stars Lacryma Christi literally means the “tears of Christ” which may seem a little heavy for your average pizza party. That it’s made from the indigenous Coda di Volpe (“tail of the wolf”) grape doesn’t seem to add much levity either. The wine, however, is light and refreshing and made by the oldest and most traditional producers in Campania. Mastorberardino was founded in 1878 and has been a legendary example of how excellent wine could be made with ancient varieties. There’s also something refreshingly old school about this wine, restrained lemon and grapefruit peel aromas with a nicely bitter almond finish. 2005 Villa Matilde Terre Cerase 2005 Rosato3 stars Since we’ve discovered how well white wines work with pizza, why not a rosé? There’s something fun about rosé that goes with the fun of pizza. Hey wait, matching fun? What about the flavours? OK, they too go together well. Villa Matilde, one of the region’s top producers, makes this refreshingly light (12.5% alcohol) wine that has a wonderful lightly herbal, lightly strawberry notes that somehow work perfectly with pizza. 2005 Terredora Aglianico Campania4 stars The two brothers that controlled Mastroberardino split their enterprise in 1978, with one half becoming Terredora. They continue in the tradition of making fine wines out of the ancient grape varieties, Fiano, Greco and Aglianico that made Mastroberardino legendary. This wine is an easy drinking and casual version of Aglianico. Great aromatics with spicy black fruits and undertones of tar on the palate, it’s a very enjoyable wine. Yes, it’s still alright to have red wine with pizza. 2000 Mastroberardino Radici Taurasi5 stars Radici is the most famous wine in Campania. It’s also one of the main reasons that the Taurasi appellation was elevated to DOCG status in 1993. Like the Phoenix that rises from the ashes, it was first made in 1986 after the devastating earthquake of 1980 in a contemporary style symbolic of the rebirth of Mastroberardino. The 2000 is just now ready to drink with an amazingly aromatic bouquet of black licorice, black cherry, cedar cigar box and smoky tar notes. It’s fairly high acidity makes it surprisingly refreshing and an excellent food wine. It’s an outstanding world class wine and perhaps the ultimate pizza wine. *fiasco fi·as·co –noun 1. a complete and ignominious failure. 2. a round-bottomed glass flask for wine, esp. Chianti, fitted with a woven, protective raffia basket that also enables the bottle to stand upright. (definition from Dictionary.com)

Amazing Pizza Facts

from pizzaware.com Americans eat approximately 100 acres of pizza EACH DAY, or about 350 slices per second. Pizza is a $30+ BILLION per year industry. There are approximately 69,000 pizzerias in the United States. Approximately 3 BILLION pizzas are sold in the U.S. each year. (Source: Blumenfeld and Associates) 93% of Americans eat AT LEAST one pizza per month. (Source: Bolla Wines.) Each man, woman and child in America eats and average of 46 slices, (23 pounds), of pizza per year. (Source: Packaged Facts, New York.) Pepperoni is by far America's favorite topping, (36% of all pizza orders). Approximately 251,770,000 pounds of pepperoni are consumed on pizzas annually. Other popular pizza toppings are mushrooms, extra cheese, sausage, green pepper and onions. Gourmet toppings are gaining ground in some areas of the country such as chicken, oysters, crayfish, dandelions, sprouts, eggplant, Cajun shrimp, artichoke hearts and tuna. More recent trends include game meats such as venison, duck and Canadian bacon. US pizza makers have turned breakfast into a pizza-eating opportunity by adapting peanut butter & jelly, and, bacon & egg toppings to their pizzas. 62% of Americans prefer meat toppings on their pizza, while 38% prefer vegetarian toppings. (Source: Bolla Wines.)

45 Comments

Michael B
Michael B

June 16, 2014

Travaglini Gattinara

Tom
Tom

June 16, 2014

A good Beaujolais or a North Italian white.

Beth
Beth

June 16, 2014

Masi Campofiorin

Tony
Tony

June 16, 2014

Chianti Classico Villa Carfaggio

Patrick Ballin
Patrick Ballin

June 16, 2014

Sardinian Cannonau, with a juicy calzone

Gene
Gene

June 16, 2014

While not an Italian, I enjoy a nice Albarino with my pizza. Laxas goes quite well.

JS
JS

June 16, 2014

a quality Lambrusco

Philip
Philip

June 16, 2014

Arneis or Vermintino

Irene
Irene

June 16, 2014

A good champagne

Blaise Le Mesurier
Blaise Le Mesurier

June 16, 2014

Gewurztraminer 2003 Muehlforst Hunawihr D.B. Reserve,
Rich and fruit driven, cutting through any sauce including spice’s it’s a must have.

Andrew Kellner
Andrew Kellner

June 16, 2014

A south american wine, sells for about $8, Yauquen

Holly Wehmeyer
Holly Wehmeyer

June 16, 2014

While I have to agree with the locals, a really sweet soda goes great with pizza, if I have to choose a wine, I would go with a Zinfandel – probably Ravenswood.

Eric S Crane
Eric S Crane

June 16, 2014

Barbera please!

Ed Brown
Ed Brown

June 16, 2014

In Summer, Il Mimo Nebbiolo Rosato, In Winter, A-Mano Primativo, but you don’t need pizza to enjoy them!

Cliff
Cliff

June 16, 2014

Coppo Pomorosso Barbera d’Asti is my new favorite homemade pizza wine.

Robert M
Robert M

June 16, 2014

Commanderie de la Bargemone Rose from Aix en Provence.

Deborah
Deborah

June 16, 2014

Fiano or Greco prego!

Dan Collins
Dan Collins

June 16, 2014

I like a Dolcetto d’Alba

Ray Manza
Ray Manza

June 16, 2014

Whatever red I’m drinking at the time….

Marcus
Marcus

June 16, 2014

The wine I’d choose would follow the topppings on the pizza. That said, for a universally suitable wine, I would suggest Prosecco.

Teddy
Teddy

June 16, 2014

Though a wine lover, I much prefer a lager or pilsner with pizza. I haven’t tried a white wine of any sort with pizza, but will do so next time I have pizza at home (which is almost never). Probably an Italian white (Falanghina? Orvieto? Tocai Fruliano?)

Waldo Pete
Waldo Pete

June 16, 2014

No doubt about it – Biale Black Chicken Zinfandel

Michele
Michele

June 16, 2014

oh, I believe ALL wines go with pizza! We have pizza & wine night monthly with friends — picking a wine type (recent examples were pinot noir, petite sirah, valpolicella, French cabernet franc), each couple bringing a bottle, and tasting them blind with our dinner. We’ve yet to find one that is not a great pizza wine!

Marco Meijer
Marco Meijer

June 16, 2014

Lafite 1982 goes excellent with a calzone!

Erwin Dink
Erwin Dink

June 16, 2014

Preston of Dry Creek Valley Barbera

Tam
Tam

June 16, 2014

Since we usually eat the more spicey toppingson pizza, we go with a zin or Barbera.

Tom Canty
Tom Canty

June 16, 2014

Without going into too much detail, for a red, Salice Salentino and for a white, Vinho Verde. Just depends on the mood!

David
David

June 16, 2014

A young Zinfandel of course!

Steven S
Steven S

June 16, 2014

A Nero d’Avola, an inexpensive and underappreciated (in the US) Sicilian red.

Doug Ricks
Doug Ricks

June 16, 2014

I love the Napa Valley 2005 Zinfandel with my pizza.

John Knuth
John Knuth

June 16, 2014

Aglianico…Campania is on fire. Quality is on the rise, but would someone please tell them they don’t need to use such a big bottle!

Nick Kitto
Nick Kitto

June 16, 2014

A diet cola used to work for me, kind of washing away the fattiness of a pizza, but, it isn’t a wine, so this doesn’t really answer the question. I have discovered any dry mousseux or cremant from France goes nicely. It’s those bubbles that do the trick. Choose any wine made in the methode champenoise, but don’t choose champagne.

Jason S.
Jason S.

June 16, 2014

A fizzy Moscato or Brachetto… or a Cab Franc… depending on mostly my mood to be honest.

Lorraine
Lorraine

June 16, 2014

Vineland Estates Pinot Gris (Ontario winery)

Jessica
Jessica

June 16, 2014

Wow! Depends entirely on the pizza! I often pair my favorite baby portabella and fresh mozz pizza with an inexpensive cattaratto/inzolia blend from Sicily called Talia. Or, if I’m craving a red wine, maybe a nice earthy cotes du rhone or Spanish garnacha (Perlat is one of my favorites!).

Joe
Joe

June 16, 2014

Gragnano- a fizzy red. They serve it in Manhattan at Una Pizza Napolitana. Gragnano is not far from Napoli and the town is also famous for its home made pasta.

Isabel Luther
Isabel Luther

June 16, 2014

Showket Vineyards (Oakville Valley, Napa) SuperTuscan (sangio 75%- cab 25%). We like our pizza and wine big and bold. YUM YUM. Alternately…whatever’s open and needs polishing off!

Sean
Sean

June 16, 2014

I was raised by my Grandmother. She was born in Italy but lived in the U.S. all of her life. Although she spoke fluent Italian she rarely spoke it. Her gift was cooking. I never had spaghetti sauce from a can. Ours was made from garden tomatoes and cooked for an entire day since tomatoes back then actually were acidic.

Her pizza specialty was Sicilian style. It was a big fluffy easter bread looking affair with giant pockets of air and a thin spicy sauce that brought tears to your eyes. She always served wines with pasta’s and other dishes. With Pizza you had beer. This was what beer was made for. The two merge so well together that it’s almost a national anthem.

I like wine. I detest beer, except when it’s pizza night. I humbly submit that the author of this article is insane for suggesting any wines with pizza. Good hop rich beer wins out every time.

Steve De Long
Steve De Long

June 16, 2014

Thanks for everyone who left their pizza wine recommendation. I was surprised at how many people went with Zinfandel including our WINNER:

Holly Wehmeyer

(from random.org:
Random Integer Generator
Here are your random numbers:
11
Timestamp: 2008-06-02 16:23:31 UTC)

I usually associate Zinfandel with BBQ but it does seem to make sense with pizza. After all, it’s also known in Italy as Primitivo!

Here’s the number of Reds/Whites/Roses mentioned in all the suggested pairings:

Ron Stalenberg
Ron Stalenberg

June 16, 2014

I’m with Jeff Grossman on a Zin to go with a tomato-ey meat topped pizza. Preferably from some older vines to get a real kick of fruit with an acid balance. Failing that, a Zhiraz-Viognier would do the trick. All those aromatics and a bit of spice! Yum

On the other hand, if it’s a cheesey pizza, then for me, an Alsace Pinot Gris.

Jeff Grossman
Jeff Grossman

June 16, 2014

With all the cheese, acidic tomato sauce, and, maybe, rich protein toppings, the wine has to have some kind of guts: either a good cutting edge of acidity or enough fruit/tannin stuffing to stand up to the food pyramid onslaught. My top pick is CA zinfandel, followed by NZ sauvignon blanc.

Pizza Night | nonamewineclub.com
Pizza Night | nonamewineclub.com

June 16, 2014

[…] Here are some suggestions and (very good) ideas from DeLong wine: […]

Getting ready for the race « S2N 2009 September 18 – 21, 2009 Meets the Mystery Machine!
Getting ready for the race « S2N 2009 September 18 – 21, 2009 Meets the Mystery Machine!

June 16, 2014

[…] A Pizza Wine Fiasco? | De Long Wine Moment […]

Roger Berg
Roger Berg

June 16, 2014

Malty ale.

Steve De Long
Steve De Long

June 16, 2014

Hi Sean,

I’m with you that pizza and beer are an authentic combo, especially with a spicy sauce. Where you lose me is with the hop rich beer. Are you crazy? Wouldn’t the classic choice be a lager like Peroni?

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