Perfect Wines For Pizza
About 10 years ago, caught up in the hedonism of the eighties, I once recommended (albeit somewhat in jest) drinking champagne with pizza. Its yeastiness and effervescence, I argued, made it (I think “it” was Veuve Cliquot) a fine accompaniment for the pie. In the “cents-ible” nineties, however, where mortgages and children’s college tuition have taken precedence over Guccis and Rolexes, that argument would probably not go over too well. If you want the bubbles, go for a good cold beer. But if you’re a wine drinker read on.
Choosing a wine for pizza can depend a lot on what you like about this Italian staple. If you’re a crust fancier, you’ll want a wine that tones down the sauce and toppings and brings out the baked flavor of the crust. If you’re a toppings nibbler (we’ll limit our discussion to cheese, pepperoni, and mushrooms-no gourmet fare), select a wine with enough acidity to stand up to the sauce and just enough flavor to complement your topping. But if, like many of us, you think the whole pizza is greater than the sum of its parts you want a wine to counterpoint the blend of bread, tomato, and topping. And those are the wines we’ll be discussing here.
We held two tastings for this feature. Each included at least six bottles of wine that ranged in price from $5.99 for a Farnese Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 1995 to $11.95 for an EXP Syrah, Dunnigan Hills 1994, from R.H. Phillips. We tasted the wines in pairs, matched for price and type, starting with less expensive, lighter wines and ending with more expensive, stronger ones. The pizzas were standard pizzeria fare; one with cheese, another with mushrooms, and of course we had to have a pepperoni. Now for the results:
Interestingly the two top wines from both tastings came from the same producer, Laurel Glen, perhaps best known for their Sonoma Mountain cabernets.
Their Terra Rosa North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 ($10.99) was superb. Dark, deep opaque red in color, it had an enticing nose of spice and bell peppers. On entry, it was smooth almost velvety. Very dry, it left hints of chocolate on the tongue and had a superbly long finish. It complemented all three pizzas, subtle enough not to overwhelm the cheese but hardy enough to stand up to the pepperoni.
In second place was their unpretentiously named and strikingly labeled Reds, 1994. ($7.99)
It had a clear ruby color and a wonderful licorice nose. Dry and smooth, with just enough acidity to have a bit of a bite, it offers flavors reminiscent of red berries and cherries. It provides a more than adequate finish. Like the Terra Rosa, it complemented perfectly all three pizzas.
I hope that Laurel Glen maintains the quality of their low-priced entry. I predict this wine will catch on and soon be hard to find. Try it while you can.
For this tasting I wanted to try a couple of chiantis, and to keep in our price range I stayed away from the higher priced riservas. We tasted two. The first was a Cecchi Chianti Classico 1994.($6.99) This unpretentious, simple yet delightful chianti evoked memories of straw-covered flasks. It had a deep ruby color but not much of a nose. Dry and somewhat tannic, its earthy flavors did not deliver much of a finish. Nonetheless, this wine seemed to warm you up. One taster observed: “The pizza enhances the wine.” And after all, pizza compatibility was one of the qualities we were looking for.
The other chianti was Coltibuono’s Cetamura Chianti 1993. ($6.99) This has always been one of my favorite low priced wines and is often found on lists of bargain bottles. Unfortunately, the wine was a major disappointment-especially considering the fact that ’93 was a great vintage for Chianti. Maybe the wine had fallen into its “dumb” stage and needs a little more time. But I’ve included it here because, it has more often than not delivered a lot for the price. I hope to return to this wine in a future review.
Another one of my favorite low priced Italian reds has always been Taurino’s Riserva Salice Salentino. We tried the 1993 ($8.99). This wine has an attractive ruby color and a distinctive barnyard nose that may turn some tasters away. It’s a heavy, spicy wine with good acidity that might overwhelm a plain pizza, but if your preference is for pepperoni, sausage, or bell peppers, you might give this wine a try. It has a real hot southern Italian character that may not be for everybody.
We also tasted a Banfi Col di Sasso 1994 ($6.99). This is an equal blend of Sangiovese
and Cabernet, one of the relatively new Tuscan wines. It has a deep, deep ruby color but
not much of a nose. Very smooth on entry, it has good body and a real mid-palate
(rare at this price) of cherries and tobacco. Very smooth with a good finish, but almost
too light for pizza-perhaps better with a grilled fish. But I do recommend you try this wine.
The final Italian wine in our tasting was also the least expensive, Farnese’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, 1995 ($5.99). Deep red in color, this very young wine has a rich bouquet of currants or raisins. It’s simple and pleasant enough with no complex flavors, just good grape. A smooth-drinking wine with just a little tannin and really no finish to speak of, it’s just what you might expect from a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. (Note: Don’t confuse the simple Montepulciano d’Abruzzo with the renowned, complex Vino Nobile di Montepulciano from Tuscany.)
For our next wine, we turned to France and, given the menu, chose as you might expect, a Rhone: Domaine d’Andezon, Cotes de Rhone, Vielles Vignes, 1995 ($10.99). This very dry red was one of the more expensive wines in our sampling, but it was well worth the price. It has a deep ruby color, and long legs that reflect its full body. It delivers a nose of red currants and black pepper. Tannic, but that’s no surprise given its age, it’s full of rich fruit and is jammy on the tongue. The wine finishes strong and lingers on the palate. I happened to try this wine a day after the tasting and found that over night it had developed a deep black cherry nose. This wine is almost too good for pizza-unless maybe you’re indulging in one of Wolfgang Puck’s.
I also thought it would be interesting to try some California Rhone-style wines. The first was EXP Syrah, Dunnigan Hills, 1994 from R.H. Phillips ($11.99). The wine is smartly packaged and has a sophisticated label. It has a musty, wine-cellar, cigar-box, tobbaco nose. It was smooth on entry and slightly acidic. The flavor was full of red grapes and berries, but surprisingly the wine’s fruitiness fought the pizza. I look forward to tasting this wine again-perhaps with lamb.
The second Californian Rhone-style wine was a disappointment: Rabbit Ridge, Allure 1993 ($7.99). A blend of syrah, mouvedre, carignane, grenache and cinsault, I found the wine thin with almost no mid-palate.
Chilean wines are being touted these days as bargains so I thought we should include at least one. Los Vascos, Cabernet Sauvignon, 1993 ($7.99). This has always been one of my favorite Chilean wines. The label was taken over by the Rothschilds and ever since has been dependable for quality. It has a ruby color and some glycerin around the edge, which indicates a maturing wine. It delivers a rich cherry and bell pepper nose. It enters smoothly, but I found it has a thin, though adequate, body. A lovely cabernet taste with an OK finish. Like some of our other selections, this was not the best choice for pizza. Try it with French bread, brie, and pears.
Finally, the last wine we tasted was a pleasure to drink. Although not the best of the lot, it definitely held its own. Marietta, Red Table Wine, Sonoma County, Old Vine Red Lot #17.($8.99) The wine is a deep red color and has a bouquet of cloves. It’s full bodied, almost jammy, with a good mid-palate. It drinks smoothly and delivers a nice, long finish. I highly recommend this wine.
Please let us know what you think about these wines on our feedback page. In our next issue, we’ll publish selected visitors’ comments.