Wine with pizza: all-rounders
Barbera | Gamay | Medium-bodied rosé | Sangiovese | Frappato | Fresh dry whites | Nero d’Avola
For a classic, wood-fired Napoletana pizza with tomato, mozzarella and simple toppings then think about a wine with good acidity and lots of bright fruit that will balance nicely against the acidity of the tomato.
If you’re keen to go for Italian reds, then that could be Barbera d’Asti, light styles of Sangiovese or even Frappato from Sicily, but you could also consider Beaujolais Cru.
Pizza sets a relaxed tone and pairings can work best if you pick a wine ‘that isn’t trying too hard’, according to Helen Johannesen, a sommelier who runs the ‘Helen’s’ wine shop joined to popular Los Angeles pizza emporium Jon & Vinny’s.
‘I love pairing lighter reds like Gamay, rosé made from interesting varietals like Montepulciano, and even skin-contact wines (aka orange wines),’ she told Decanter.com.
‘Obviously you can ball out with some killer Barolo or lusciously rustic Rosso di Montepulciano, but I think the ease and comfort might be lost.’
If you go for wines that are too heavy, dark and brooding then the tannins can clash with the acidity levels in the tomato sauce, leaving a metallic taste in the mouth – as Matthieu Longuère MS points out in his Decanter article on matching red wine and fish.
That said, a spicier topping such as pepperoni will dominate the pizza’s flavour and may be able to handle a wine with a bit more attitude.
You could go up to a Syrah or Syrah/Grenache blend to match the intensity of peppery flavours, but watch out for too much tannin and oak.
Fruit-driven styles of Nero d’Avola from Sicily have become a mainstay on several pizzeria wine lists in the UK and have the weight to pair with meat-based pizzas – although some poorer-made examples can lack balance, especially if served too warm.
Adding pineapple to pizza is a controversial topic, as Iceland’s president discovered in 2017, but if you’re a fan then think about wines with good acidity and some sweetness, but only a touch; it’s more about off-dry Riesling than Sauternes.
White pizza with ricotta or mushroom
White pizzas change the nature of the pairing, because the acidity of the tomato is no longer such an issue.
‘I love having our ‘white lightning’ pizza, with pickled jalapeños & ricotta, with white wines grown in the volcanic soils of Sicily or Campagna,’ said Johannesen.
‘My favourite pizza we make is the ‘super shroom’, that is a mushroom pie highlighted by rachera cheese. It’s drops a slightly funky beat, begging for some high acid Carignan or Zinfandel, or even a pet nat rosé with a tiny touch of residual sugar.’
Lots of Garlic
Garlic can be another very strong flavour and if you’re combining this with basil, then try experimenting with skin-contact white wines, such as those made from Vermentino, which would ordinarily match up well with green pesto.
With so many toppings involved, then you might also like to refresh yourself on Karen McNeil’s 10 rules of food and wine pairing.