After decades as both a sommelier and wine writer, I realized I have never written about pairing wine with America’s favorite food. To make matters worse, your intrepid reporter grew up in New York, which by any standard was and is America’s pizza mecca.
So before I lose all credibility, let’s break this down. We have two distinct categories with the pizza pie experience: in the parlor and to go. By the way, the loss of pizza parlor as common parlance in this country is borderline tragic in this pundit’s eyes, so here it is my attempt to bring this vivid term back into your lives. You are welcome.
We will use little of this column space on pizza-parlor wine offerings because they are almost universally lacking in both selection and quality. Most parlors also don’t have a corkage policy. If you visit one regularly, let the management know you would be happy to pay such a fee to bring your own wine.
The much larger category of pizza to go opens the wine options to a brighter palate of possibilities. As with any food/wine pairing, a good match prioritizes the dominant flavors of the food. In the case of classic pizzas, these are the robust flavors of Italy delivered in the sauce and toppings of the pie. This is why Italian red wines shine; they bring bright acidity, herbs and earth notes and dark punchy fruits that dance oh so well with the assertive sauces, meats and vegetables that define pizza.
Here is a wine-by-the-region hit list of options that rock with pizza pie. If the wine name does not tell you the primary grape, I will add those along with brief tasting notes that will help with pairing the wine with the pie.
Chianti, which hails from Tuscany, is made from Sangiovese grapes and is earthy and spicy, which makes it ideal for cured-meat pies like pepperoni and sausage.
Valpolicella is made primarily from Corvina grapes from the Veneto region and has more vivid fruit, which makes it match with non-traditional pies such as pineapple with Canadian bacon.
Barberas or Dolcettos from Piemonte are going to be your flex partners and are perfect with your everything-but-the-kitchen-sink pizzas.
Formerly rustic Negroamaros or Primitivos from Apulia are moving in a new-world direction with California Zinfandel profiles. A barbecue sauce pizza could not ask for a better tablemate.
Other Italian reds that are pizza lovers are: Montepulciano from Abruzzo, Aglianico from Campania and Cannonau from Sardinia. All are all earthy and therefore are mushroom and meat pie mates.
Nero d’Avola from Sicily features bright cherry fruit that goes with veggie pies like a bell pepper/sweet onion combo.
So there you go, your official pizza-pie-pairing primer. Mange.