According to PMQ Magazine, as of September 2010, there were almost 65,000 pizzerias in the United States. Add to that a ton of people making pizza at home, and you've got a lot of pies. What's the best wine to serve on pizza night? That's depends.
Food for Thought
When you're picking wines for pizza, you need the answers to these questions:
- Is the pizza sauced? With tomato? Or garlic oil? Cream or pesto-based sauce?
- Think toppings. If there's meat, what type is it and how is it spiced? Are there vegetables to consider?
- Cheese: fior di latte or bufala mozzarella? Gruyere, goat cheese, blue cheese, smoked Edam? Cheddar?
Once you have the answers to these questions, you can determine the pie's driving personality and select a wine around that dominant element. Tomato based sauces tend to be high in acidity. Pepperoni can be about heat or about salt, while basil (pesto or otherwise) adds an sweet herbal accent that needs to be accounted for in your selection. You don't need to worry too much about the crust when you're selecting a wine, unless it's popping with personality. (Stuffed-crust pizza, anyone?)
Today we'll focus on a homemade Margherita pizza: the classic combination of good bright tomato sauce, fresh, creamy mozzarella, and basil leaves. It's simple, timeless, and pretty straightforward from a wine standpoint.
You'll want to lean into the tomato's acidity; a wine with bright fruit will bring out the tomatoes and the inherent sweetness of the cheese. While the 'red with red' can work here, don't overlook a clean white wine that simply frames the quality of these ingredients. A snappy Vernaccia redolent with sweet herbal flavors, green melon, and raw nuts would be great, or a Friulano with its citrus and mineral backbone (and hint of blond tobacco) to frame the clean simplicity of this pie and bring out the integrity of the ingredients.
From a red point of view, think legacied Italian grapes like Sangiovese (the grape of Chianti) with it's plum and cherry flavors, hints of flowers and coffee beans. Or go with Barbera, which is equally zesty, with dark fruit and deep color. Another option is something fun like Teroldego, a Northwestern Italian red treat that sings with zippy red cherry fruit, soft leafy notes, and bright acidity. And of course, Zinfandel is an easy option: enjoyable, slightly rustic, and always good with pizza!
Get the Recipe
Evan's Wine Picks
Falchini Vernaccia di San Gimignano (2009): A solid value that exudes flavors of lemon, Crenshaw melon, raw pine nut, and mild fennel. ($12-17, find this wine)
Bastianich Friulano (2008): Lightly aromatic with perfumed floral, verbena, sorrel, and chalky notes. Texturally sublime when you get a 'big mozz' bite. ($13-16, find this wine)
Michele Chiarlo Barbera d'Asti Superiore 'le Orme' (2008): Richly pigmented with a vibrant frame and stony berries, spice, and notes of dark underbrush. Brings out the basil! (About $12, find this wine)
Castellare di Castellina Chianti Classico (2008): This balanced wine sings with pizza. It has a core of red cherry, soft anise, light espresso, and evenhanded tannins. (About $20, find this wine)
Four Vines Paso Robles 'Biker' Zinfandel (2008) A spicy wine, amply loaded with dark plum and cherry fruit and intriguing nuances of caraway, mustard seed, and fresh thyme. (About $20, find this wine)
Foradori Teroldego Rotaliano (2007): A great example of this grape, springing forward with smoky dark fruit, piquant spice, and minerals. A super food wine. (About $20, find this wine)
About the author: Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein, a four-time James Beard award nominee, is the author of Perfect Pairings: A Master Sommelier's Practical Advice for Partnering Wine with Food and Daring Pairings: A Master Sommelier Matches Distinctive Wines with Recipes from His Favorite Chefs. He is the President and Chief Education Officer of Full Circle Wine Solutions; you can follow him at winecouch.com.