It would be all too easy to simply say “anything red and Italian”, I was actually quite shocked to recently find out that most Italians actually don’t pair pizza and wine together! No Sir! They much more prefer a nice cold Peroni or Moretti beer, and consider pairing wine with pizza “for the tourists”. I guess I’m a tourist!
I can’t be too sure why most pizza places have terrible wine lists, but it’s a fact I’ve come to live with. Now that I come to think of it…..I wonder if that’s why the Italian’s only drink beer with their pizza?!?!? Maybe it’s just that the wines suck at most pizzeria’s in Italy! I digress.
The point that I was going to make was that I’m going to try and point out what I consider to be some of the best wines to pair with pizzas; but considering the generally poor wine lists, you may be a little pushed to find some of these varietals on you local pizza joints’ wine list. More likely, by the glass, what you will find is California Cab, Merlot, and Aussie Shiraz. Not that these wines don’t have a place on their list; but let’s face it, the real reason is that most pizza restaurants are too lazy to train their staff on something a little “outside the box”, and more complimentary to what they’re serving.
The customer should also probably take some of the blame for not demanding something a little “appropriate”, rather than something “recognizable”.
Montepulciano is the grape, Abruzzo is the region of Eastern-Central Italy. For someone who’s looking to try Montepulciano, I often describe it as almost a cross between Merlot and Chianti. You should find it very easy drinking; with a combination of red and blue fruit, and enough acidity to cut through the red sauce and cheese. Probably my favorite pizza wine!
Check out my review of: Gran Sasso Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
Italian for Zinfandel, but not as “in your face” as most Californian examples. The grape leans toward more fuller in style; with blackberry, cherry, pepper and earthy notes. Make sure you’re drinking it with a pizza that has plenty of meat!
Dolcetto has taken quite a while to grow on me, and I still don’t quite “get it”. With pizza though, it comes into its own. Dolcetto is the grape, and Alba is the region of Piedmont, Italy. The name Dolcetto translates to “little sweet one”. I have no idea why though. The grape certainly isn’t sweet; far from it in fact, with the wines showing more in the way of savory notes of olive, truffle, and earthy funk, with some plum thrown in. Usually finishes dry.
Check out my review of: Borgogno Dolcetto d’Alba
Barbera d’Alba / d’Asti
Alba and Asti are two towns in the Northern Italian region of Piedmont. Barbera happens to be the 3rd most widely planted grape in the country (after Sangiovese and Montepulciano). The grape possess a low tannin level, with the wines being produced for (most-often) immediate consumption. The Italian’s are said to drink the Barbera while the Barolo (the more famous and profitable wine from the region) is aging. Much in the same way as Montepulciano, the wines are a blend of red, blue, and small amounts of black fruits (depending on producer), with vanilla, oak and often a smoky bacon aroma.
The Tempranillo grape is native to Spain, the most widely planted of all Italian red grapes, and arguably the most “noble” of all their varietals. The reason I threw Tempranillo into this almost exclusively Italian mix is that they are some of the most food friendly wines on the planet!
Check out my review of: Volver Tempranillo
German Kabinett Riesling
White sauces call for a change of pace, and German Riesling’s are a staple food pairing wine. “Kabinett” is a semi-sweet classification for German Riesling. The wines typically have a lower alcohol level, and can equally stand up to (without overpowering) red or white sauce pizzas.
Pinot Grigio / Pinot Gris
Sure! Why not! It would be hard to write this article without including it!
Pinot Grigio / Pinot Gris (same grape, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) has gotten such a bad rap! Is it deservedly so? Yes! The Italian’s have pumped out millions of gallons of thin and watery junk over the years, and hoped that people wouldn’t notice. Well, people did notice (eventually, and most are still in the dark)!
Good Pinot Grigio is hard to find, and upping your budget doesn’t exactly help! If you have a choice, stick to the smaller producers (which is virtually impossible at most restaurants). Light in body, refreshing, floral, minerally, and exuding peach, apricot and melon flavors. Alsace / Californian Pinot Gris tends to yield more body, with an almost oily complexity.
Check out my review on: La Fiera Pinot Grigio
Pinot Blanc from Alsace
A little-more off the beaten path than your usual pizza pairing wines. Pinot Blanc often gets confused in the vineyard for Chardonnay in the vineyard. One of the most under-rated and misunderstood wines there is, Pinot Blanc from producers such as Trimbach and Marcel Deiss can be stunning. Green apple, citrus, pear, nuts, herbs, and wet slate. This is white sauce pizza territory!