THE BEST PIZZA AND WINE MATCH
A “pizza wine”
is shop talk for easy-sipping plonk of no particular distinction. It’s relatively cheap, tastes good and works well with casual foods and informal settings. It’s a wine “you wouldn’t feel guilty opening on a Tuesday night,” said Mike Baker, manager of Wine Discount Center in Chicago.Wine for pizza can be deliciously different.
Though it should be affordable enough to down a glass while sprawled on the couch, the wine also should be something to remember even after stuffing the pizza box into the garbage can. Choosing such a wine can take some thought, but that’s probably appropriate given the food you’re pairing it with is pizza.
“This is Chicago, after all; we take our pizza seriously,” said Ray Denton, wine manager at Binny’s Ivanhoe Castle in Chicago.
Pairing wine with Chicago-style deep-dish pizza can be a challenge. Consider the tomato sauce, gutsy toppings, the high collar of crust and a thick blanket of cheese.
Perhaps that is why Todd Hess, wine director for Sam’s Wines & Spirits in Chicago, said he would drink beer with pizza, specifically “an ice cold Pilsner Urquell” from the Czech Republic.
“The tomato is the difficult thing,” he said. “The tomato sauce has a lot of acidity and sugar, which is why beer works so well. A wine has to have reasonably low acidity and lots of fruit. It also has to be heard over the milky proteins of the cheese.”
When asked to name wines that go well with pizza, a number of Chicago-area wine merchants didn’t blink or cock an eyebrow in derision. Indeed, they treated the question as though weighing which wine would work best with foie gras.
A wine from Italy came to mind first for most. Perhaps the adage “Italian wine for Italian foods” was at work here. But the merchants diverged on specific recommendations.
For example, Mike Maracich, co-owner of The Twisted Vine in Orland Park, suggested a “nice light Chianti” that would help cut the tomato sauce.
Hess said a Chianti is “not bad,” but worried the Tuscan wine’s “acidity tends to be made more shrill by the tomato sauce.” For him, reds from the southern Italian region of Apulia, the “heel” of Italy’s boot, work better. They are “ripe, spicy, fruity and delicious,” he said.
Other Italians to consider include inexpensive barberas, rosso di Montalcino from southern Tuscany or a dolcetto d’Alba from Italy’s Piedmont region.
Brenda Fotopoulos, co-owner of Randolph Wine Cellars in Chicago, touts a Sicilian wine, Val Cerasa Etna Rosso, because the “earthier tones” work well with sausage, mushrooms and other toppings.
Outside of Italy, wine merchants point to hearty, assertive reds, including shiraz from Australia and California zinfandel.
“A zinfandel would be my first choice,” Denton said. “Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull is a terrific value. It’s not super big, but it’s got some fruit and some pepper and some spice.”
Non-traditional pizzas – “white” pies or those with unusual toppings – can call for more unusual choices. Champagnes work well off the salty spark of white pies, Denton said. Baker recommends an Alsatian pinot gris with a veggie pizza or an Austrian gruner veltliner with an artichoke or asparagus pizza. An Italian chardonnay “not quite as buttery or oaky” as a Californian chard works for Maracich of The Twisted Vine. Or, choose an Italian Gavi, a white wine made with the cortese grape, he said.
How much to pay for wine with pizza? Baker suggests looking for bargains in lesser-known wine regions of Italy.
“The further south you go, the more money you save,” he said.
Denton follows a simple rule: “You shouldn’t pay more than what the pizza costs. So, if you’re eating a Tombstone (brand of frozen pizza) you’re looking at $10 or under.”
The top five wines
We conducted an informal tasting of nine wines recommended by area wine merchants for drinking with pizza. Our “palate cleansers” were two deep-dish pies, one sausage and one spinach, from Bella Bacino’s in Chicago. Some of the wines seemed to pair more naturally with the pizza than others.
Ratings key: excellent, very good, good, fair
2001 Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull Zinfandel ($7). With its fruit backed up by some tannic muscle, this sassy California wine was our favorite. And the cheapest. Though robust, the fruity zin worked well with the pizza’s sauce and the cheese. Very good.
1999 Manzone Dolcetto d’Alba La Serra ($6). Bright, with almost cherry-like aroma (reminding us of cough syrup), this import from Italy’s Piedmont region offered an intensity and a fruity acidity that held up well. Very good.
2001 Falesco Vitiano ($9). Sometimes, it’s the little things that count. With this wine it was the tiniest spark of acid that seemed to work so well with the salt in the pizza. This Umbrian blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes was dry but with a nice hit of fruit. Good.
2001 Cataldi Madonna Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($13). This wine from Italy’s Abruzzo region matched the pizza well, perhaps too well. One taster felt the wine “disappeared” behind the fennel of the sausage, while another complained of a bland flavor. Good.
1999 Val Cerasa Etna Rosso ($10). A smoldering Mt. Etna adorns the label of this Sicilian red, whose fiery color in the glass was more vivid than any of the others. Too bad the flavor didn’t have a personality to match. Tasters liked this wine for its balance of fruit and tannin, they just wanted more pizazz. Good.
2001 Torre Quarto Puglia Rosso ($10). Tannins are astringent elements in the wine that can, when judiciously exercised, whip a wine into shape. For some tasters, this southern Italian offered a good flavor for pairing with pizza, but others found the wine’s astringency to be distracting. Good.
2002 Fattoria Laila Rosso Piceno ($12). A blend of montepulciano and sangiovese grapes, this wine from Italy’s Marche region shows a bit too much restraint, although one taster said it was “perfect” with the spinach pizza. Another thought the fruit-forward wine held up well to the sausage. Good.
Courtesy: Arizona Republic