Expanding pizza’s wine horizons

What wine goes with pizza? Many people will say Chianti, and I’m on that team. The happy reds of Tuscany are favorites.

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Others will call for beer, and that’s an easy choice, too.

But is that all there is? I’m going to answer that question with a firm “No.”

A while back (okay, it was Jan. 8, 2002), I proposed beer as the most appropriate beverage with pizza. It became one of the first Wine Advisor editions that went viral, thanks to massive pushback from wine lovers like you who told me that I was nuts.

I didn’t give in immediately, but over time I’ve come to accept the conventional wisdom. While I’m still happy with the cleansing, cooling quaff of a good craft beer or respected import alongside a sizzling, cheesy slice, I’m now much more likely to pull a wine cork (or twist a screw cap) when pizza is on the table.

A margherita pizza from Louisville's popular Coals Pizza.

A margherita pie from Louisville’s Coals Pizza.

What’s more, it doesn’t have to be Chianti (even though it often is). The world of wines is open for our pizza-noshing enjoyment. Still, even if pizza has become thoroughly Americanized, its deep roots in Italian culinary culture make Italian wine feel right. So with a basic tomato-and-cheese pie with traditional toppings, if I don’t open a Chianti or similar Tuscan Sangiovese, I might look to Italian reds of similar profile. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, for instance.

Or even, maybe … are you ready to celebrate the simple goodness of pizza with a higher-end red? Why not uncork a Vino Nobile or even a Brunello? Hint: If you try this, consider an artisanal pie. Matching these noble Italians with Pizza Hut or Papa J just seems wrong.

How about a Lambrusco? I’d steer clear of the once popular, still available Riunite and other cheap, sweet mass-market brands; but smaller, higher-quality producers are showing up these days, and their off-dry flavor and effervescent fizz can make a great match with pizza. Stumped for a brand? Try one of the goodies listed at the bottom of this Lambrusco info page.

Speaking of bubbles, just about any fizzy wine makes an easy food match, and pizza is no exception. If you want to keep it Italian, Prosecco is both available and affordable. Or even elevate your pie with real Champagne.

Finally, consider the toppings. If your tastes in pizza go beyond the standard tomato sauce and cheese, follow standard wine-matching principles and choose your wine to go with whatever’s on top of the pie. If you must add pineapple, for instance, your choice suggests a Riesling, ideally, or perhaps an oaky, buttery Chardonnay.

We matched both a classic Margherita pizza and an offbeat Greek-accented pie with Kalamata olives, artichokes and feta cheese last night. Both went very well with a southern French favorite from Provence, Mas de Gourgonnier 2016 Les Baux de Provence. You’ll find my tasting notes below.

What’s your favorite wine-with-pizza match? Drop in on our WineLovers Discussion Group forum or our WineLovers Facebook Page and let us know!


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Today’s Tasting Reports

Mas de Gourgonnier 2016 Les Baux de Provence ($17.99)

Mas de Gourgonnier

This Provence red is made with organically grown Cabernet Sauvignon (32%), Grenache (31%), Syrah (22%) and Carignan (15%) grapes. The Cabernet, a bit surprisingly for a Provence red, has been bumped up from a minor player to a major component in this vintage. The wine is fairly dark reddish-purple in color, shading to a clear edge. Delicious but not overbearing mixed-fruit aromas bring black plums, cherries and red berries to the table, carrying over on the palate in juicy, tart fruit shaped by crisp acidity and a soft edge of astringent tannins that work with modest 13% alcohol to keep it food-friendly. U.S. importers: Vintner Select, Mason, Ohio, and Skurnik Wines & Spirits, NYC. (Oct. 6, 2016)

FOOD MATCH: Steaks and burgers or grilled chicken would be fine with this natural red, as would be bean and cheese dishes. It was fine with pizza, too, both a classic Margherita and a more offbeat Greek pie with artichokes and feta.

WHEN TO DRINK: It should keep for a few years on its side at cool temperature, but I like to drink up Provence wines in this happy, easy style within three or four years of the vintage, then look for newer models.

My local $18 tab was within reach above Wine-Searcher.com’s $16 U.S. average retail. It’s certainly a fine value in the middle teens, and even more so if ou can catch up with the retailers offering it for $12 to $15 on Wine-Searcher.com.

Importer Skurnik Wines & Spirits offers this detailed fact sheet for 2016 Mas de Gourgonnier.

Find vendors and check prices for Mas de Gourgonnier Les Baux de Provence on Wine-Searcher.com.


More affordable wines

Want tips to more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10 or less that I’ve told you about during the past few months. Please tell us about your favorites!

  • Laroque 2016 Cité de Carcassonne Cabernet Franc ($9.99)
  • Domaine de Pouy 2016 Côtes de Gascogne ($7.99)
  • Alamos 2015 Salta Torrontés ($9.99)
  • Alamos 2015 Mendoza Malbec ($9.99)
  • Caposaldo 2014 Chianti ($8.99)
  • d’Arenberg 2012 McLaren Vale “The Stump Jump” ($9.99)
  • Oveja Negra 2014 Maule Valley Cabernet Franc – Carmenere Reserva ($9.99)
  • Côté Mas 2016 “Rouge Intense” Sud de France Pays d’Oc ($12.99/1 liter)

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