Above: "Pizza al Trancio" (Pizza by the Slice) in Rome, paired with Coca Cola.
Here in the U.S., we don't think of it as an "odd pair." But in Italy, homeland of pizza and a country where wine is considered an essential element of healthy dining, pizza and wine are rarely if ever paired.
Don't believe me? Ask an Italian: From German-speaking Italy in the north to Sicily, Italians will invariably tell you that they pair beer or Coca Cola with pizza. In fact, the thought of pizza matched with wine is outright repugnant to some Italians, who tend to hold tradition above experimentation when it comes to their gastronomic heritage.
There is one exception to the rule. In Naples, the city where pizza originated, they pair a sparkling red wine with pizza: Gragnano. Low in alcohol, gently fizzy, grapey and bright in acidity, chilled Gragnano works well with pizza, which is traditionally served piping hot (I hate to break it to you but Italians -- even stoner Italians -- don't eat cold pizza for breakfast).
Ex-Wine Spectator editor, James Suckling, one of the world's most famous English-language chroniclers of Italian wine, loves to pair Lambrusco (from Emilia-Romagna) with pizza. But those who follow his enoic adventures wouldn't exactly call him a traditionalist.
As much as I am lover of classic Italian gastronomy and food and wine pairing, I must confess that I often stray from the canon when it comes to pizza. And like Italian food maven Arthur Schwartz (author of the landmark tome, Naples at Table, Harper Collins, 1998), I believe that when it comes to pizza, if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with.
Here are my top 5 picks for pizza wine:
1) Champagne. Ultimately, if we look to tradition, we find that chilled sparkling wine works well with pizza. The bright acidity of classic champagne makes it a great match for the acidity naturally found in tomatoes and mozzarella. With a little more body, Rosé Champagne can work particularly well.
2) Barbera. In Northern Italy, they often serve Barbera slightly chilled. When vinified in a traditional manner (i.e., unoaked), red grape is known for its lip-splitting acidity and its lack of tannin. Perfect for the doughy stuff.
3) Gewürztraminer. I know I sound like a broken record, but here, again, vibrant acidity is the key. The eye-popping white fruit flavors work nicely with pizza's intrinsic saltiness.
4) Californian Vin Gris. There are a few bold Californian winemakers who produce excellent rosé wine from Pinot Noir, called vin gris or grey wine in French. Especially when I want a wine with some tannic structure that I can serve chilled, I'll reach for Vin Gris with pizza.
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5) Finger Lakes Johannisberg Riesling. The gentle sweetness in New York State Johannisberg Riesling can play beautiful counterpoint to the spiciness of certain toppings (like chili flakes on a classic NY slice with peperoni).
What's you favorite pizza wine? Please share your top picks in the comments section.