When it comes to pizza, I am a traditionalist.
It is all about the tangy dough, bright sauce and warm gooeyness of the cheese. Toppings are great as long as they don’t fight with the perfect trinity of dough, sauce and cheese. Your wine should not fight these things either.
The first question is red or white?
Regardless of the toppings, pizza is a pretty substantial food, so it requires a substantial wine. In general you are looking at a red wine. A fuller-bodied white wines can work too depending on the pizza.
Of course, the thing that makes pizza so delicious is the fat in the cheese.
The tomato sauce, with its high acid, cuts through that fat to create the perfect compliment. Your wine should do the same. It should be high in acid and full of juicy fruity flavors. Avoid high tannin wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. Tannins fight with the tomato flavors and can create a metallic aftertaste.
So what are the best wines?
Obvious but true, Italy makes the best pizza wines. However not all Italian wines work well and wines from other countries are just as good. Here are some favorites:
The Sangiovese grape is used to make the famous Italian Chianti, which is the natural pizza partner. Choose one that is light, young and minimally oaked. If you are going for Chianti, select a simple Chianti over the Chianti Classico, which is heavier and more tannic. Sangiovese from the West Coast is delicious too; choose one from a cooler climate such as Washington State or the Pacific Coast.
Originating from the Piedmont region of Italy, Barbera is noted for its high acidity and low tannin. Barbera wines are very juicy and packed with berry flavors. If you are going for a California Barbera, choose one from the Sierra Foothills region.
Some sommeliers would argue that bubbly wines make the best pizza wines because bubbles create a contrast to the heaviness of the cheese and meat toppings. So what would be better than a red, sparkling wine from Italy? Please don’t think of the candied, fizzy wines that were popular in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Select one that is secco (dry). The fruity, simple, pleasantly bitter taste will nicely wash down the pizza.
California Zinfandels can range from light and fruity to gigantic, high alcohol blockbusters. The best pizza zins will be the lighter fruity ones with a touch of oak. Zinfandels have a unique wild berry flavor and spiciness that will pair well with plain tomato, meat or veggie pies. Luckily the lighter Zinfandels are the ones that are reasonably priced, making them the perfect companion for pizza night.
By Georgene Mortimer
The perfect bottle of wine awaits at Island Winery on Cardinal Road. Store and tasting hours are Monday-Saturday from 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wine Flights and Cheese are available from Monday-Friday, 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., and Saturday from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 843-842-3141 or go to www.islandwinery.com.