Italian red wines seem made for drinking with pizza. However, there are many wines from other countries that are also perfect for pizza and other comfort-style foods. The wine experts at Jacques Scott sat down over lunch at XQs to discuss what makes a good pizza wine.
Wines are often said to pair best with the traditional cuisine of the region from which they come. It is therefore no surprise that Italian wines seem to naturally pair well with pizza, one of Italy’s iconic dishes.
In recent decades pizza has become more and more varied in terms of toppings. Whereas in years past, toppings like pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese dominated a pizza, today there seems to be no limit to the possible toppings, which can include ingredients like shrimp, chicken, pineapple and spinach, and all kinds of cheeses, including blue and feta. Pizzas can have a red, tomato sauce base, a green pesto sauce base or even a white base made of ricotta cheese or just olive oil.
Despite the great variety of ingredients that can go on a pizza, there’s a wine that will pair well with it and some wines will pair with almost any kind of pizza.
Jacques Scott wine professionals Sergio Serrano and Sarah Howard joined XQ’s Restaurant’s Manager Aurelio Orru for lunch to discuss pizza and wine pairings.
Because pizzas traditionally had a tomato sauce base and meat toppings like spicy pepperoni, most people think of pairing pizza with red wines. But depending on the sauce base and the toppings, the right wine could be white or even rosé.
Pizzas with seafood toppings – like XQ’s Frutti de Mare – or vegetarian pizzas will usually pair well with crisp, white wines.
Greco di Tufo Dei Feudi Di San Gregorio ($26.99), is a white wine from the Campania region of southwestern Italy. The soil in the region contains a lot of volcanic ash.
Howard said the ash-laden soil was what made the big difference in the flavours of wines from Campania.
She noted that dei Feudi di San Gregorio was the best known winery in Campania.
“There are other great producers in Campania, but the bar was set by dei Feudi di San Gregorio.”
The wine is made entirely from the Greco grape, Serrano said.
“The story goes that the Greeks brought the grape over to Italy,” he said. “But the Italians will never admit it.”
Orru said he really liked the Greco di Tufo.
“It’s my kind of wine,” he said. “It’s very aromatic – some people compare it to Viognier.”
The wine had refreshing aromas of lemons and summer fruits. On the palate, it had good acidity and strong lingering minerality.
“Minerality is the key word for this wine,” Orru agreed.
Howard thought the Greco di Tufo was a good wine for Cayman’s climate and for seafood pizzas.
“It’s a wine I can have a bottle of, not a glass,” she said.
“And it’s a wine that can go with scotch bonnet peppers, too,” chimed in Serrano, who admitted he was a fan of hot pepper on his pizzas.
Some pizzas offer pairing challenges because they include competing ingredients that are best paired with different kinds of wine.
Take mushrooms for example; the earthy meatiness of mushrooms generally pairs well with earthy red wines like Pinot Noir/Burgundy. But mushrooms often find their way onto vegetarian pizzas with ingredients that go best with white wines. In these cases, rosé wine might be a good choice.
Although she can no longer eat pizza because of the gluten, Howard said that when she still could, she adored rosé wine with pizza.
“I remember being in Paris and eating pizza and drinking rosé and thinking ‘this is the perfect wine for pizza’,” she said. “There’s something about the acidity of the tomatoes and the acidity of the rosé that makes it a perfect match.”
Coming from the wine business in Seattle, where rosé wines are big sellers, Howard said she was very surprised that it’s not more popular here in Cayman.
“Rosé sales should be a lot better here,” she said. “With this climate, it should be a huge seller, but it takes education.”
The wine sampled was Domaines Ott Château de Selle Coeur du Grain Rosé ($38.99), a high-quality rosé from Provence. Made from a blend of three grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Cinsault – it had pleasant aromas of apricots and spice.
The wine was tried with the Funghi Misti pizza, which featured assorted mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and topped with lots of fresh arugula/rocket and olive oil, and with the Napolitana pizza, which had fresh cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, anchovies, basil, fresh arugula/rocket and olive oil. Both pizzas had strong, varied flavours, but the Coeur du Grain Rosé was a good pairing, particularly with the Napolitana and its basil and fresh cherry tomatoes components.
The red wines were tried with pizzas, including a Quattro Formaggi, a four-cheese pizza with mozzarella, Parmesan, blue cheese and feta with a basil pesto base. They were also tried with a some other menu items, including a pork chop with mushroom sauce and crispy Niman Ranch pork belly with red wine demi-glace and apple black pudding, the latter of which was made using a slow reduction process by Chef Tobias Fischer.
The Fontanafredda Briccotondo Langhe Dolchetto ($21.99) is a wine made from the Dolchetto grape in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. It is an affordable, easy-drinking, fruity wine that pairs well with simpler foods. It is a perfect wine for traditional pizzas with tomato sauce and spicy meats.
Orru loved the pairing.
“The wine helps the pizza and the pizza helps the wine,” he said.
Howard loved the wine as well.
“What I love about it is that it is a gateway into the Old World. If you know someone who likes New World wines, this will have familiar flavours – it’s not too funky or too tannic – but it has Old World characteristics.”
The next wine tasted was the biggest surprise of the afternoon, Belle Glos ‘Clark & Telephone Vineyard’ Pinot Noir ($51.99) from Santa Barabara County in California.
The wine had some of the classic earthiness typical of Pinot Noir, but it had incredible notes of spice, including cinnamon and ginger, making at great wine for the Christmas season.
“It’s definitely a New World Pinot,” Howard noted.
Not surprisingly, the Belle Glos paired well with the mushroom pizza, but the pairing with both the crispy pork belly with apple black pudding and the pork chop with mushroom sauce was fantastic.
The wine made a lasting impression with Orru.
“It’s been a long time since I had a wine like this,” he said. “It sticks to your palate memory.”
The final wine tasted was La Spinetta Il Nero di Casanova Sangiovese ($28.99), the classic grape of Tuscany, Italy.
Like all wines produced by La Spinetta, this was a well-crafted wine. Sangiovese is a good food wine in general and is great for pizzas with tomatoes sauce and meats, but also with the rich four cheese pizza, which, as Orru pointed out, needed the acidity of a wine like Sangiovese.