Pizza Wines

Sugary American-style pizzas need something more than Chianti

Pizza Wines
Photo by John Anderson

For wine lovers, the important ingredient to consider in pairing wine with pizza is the tomato sauce. Its naturally tangy taste is what makes pizza work with so many wines. Traditional Italian pizzas make do with the inherent sweetness of the tomatoes, but American-style pizzas frequently throw a good amount of sugar into the sauce, and that changes the wine recommendation.

Italians drink all sorts of wines with pizza, but the most popular is Sangiovese, the grape in Chianti, as well as Brunello di Montalcino and its little brother, Rosso di Montalcino. The Montalcino wines are too expensive and subtle for pizza, but Chianti fits the budget. These are food wines. They can be a tad too astringent for sitting and sipping, but the acidity in the traditional tomato sauces really opens up Chianti's fruitiness. Some of the best widely available budget choices (all less than $15) are Banfi's Chianti Classico, Badia a Coltibuono's Cetamura Chianti, and Da Vinci Chianti Classico. However, Hill Country wineshops are awash with Chiantis from tiny producers, so for those who like to explore them, check with a trusted wine seller.

American-style pizzas don't work so well with Chianti because the sugar in the sauce gives an unwanted boost to the perceived acidity in the Chianti. The ideal wine for our pizza is Zinfandel, and the bigger, the better. Zinfan­del's inherent fruitiness is usually enhanced by caramel and vanilla aromas from new oak barrels, and its unctuousness is just right for an American pizza. Edmeades, Rosenblum, and Rancho Zabaco all make great Zinfandels in multiple price ranges (from less than $10 to $75), and each delivers value for the money.

Barbera is another Italian grape that works beautifully with pizza. Romana Carlo's Barbera Rumanota ($21), locally imported by Terra Verus Trading, combines the requisite acidity of Sangiovese with the blockbuster fruit of Zinfandel.

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