For many years pizza was amongst my least-favourite foods. Unfortunately, I’m old enough to have suffered through the 1990s, when pizza bases were doughy, cheese was stringy, and you typically had to visit a ‘Hut’ to eat it. No self-respecting wine merchant could possibly recommend drinking anything ‘serious’ with such junky food.
Little did I know that this British/American pizza appropriation abomination bore little resemblance to the gloriously simple, yet deliciously real deal from Italy.
My eyes were opened when I spent two weeks cycling around the south of Italy in my early 20s. Here the terrain is largely shaped by volcanoes, and the landscape is about as glorious as it gets on a bike, full of twisting climbs, flat-out descents, and stunningly ancient hill-top towns.
One of the best things about cycling is that allows you to consume the daily calorific allocation of a mid-sized elephant. Rolling into one of the hill-top towns at lunchtime on the first day, the only thing that was going to fill my pachyderm-sized hole was a seriously large quantity of carbs and fat. And so, my love affair with pizza was born.
Suddenly, I understood that pizza bases could be fluffy rather than doughy. Cheese could be hand-torn and scattered rather than smeared. Tomato sauce could be rich, herby and tangy. Flavours could caress, rather than assault, your palate. Proper pizza could, and should, be matched with properly delicious wine.
So without further ado, here are the best wines to match with your proper Italian pizza:
Pizza Capricciosa offers a whirl of flavours, combining creamy mozzarella, salty prosciutto, earthy mushrooms, and tangy artichoke. Those are a lot of different flavours to partner!
A match tested by our other resident pizza expert Jack Green (see video above), Piedrasassi’s PS Syrah stands up to these complex flavours brilliantly.
This is a wine that sits shoulder to shoulder with the greatest wines of the Northern Rhone and offers a brilliant entry point into one of the most critically acclaimed producers of Rhone varieties in California. Fruit-forward, with pure blackberry flavours and layers of spice it is a wine to match with the finest foods – including, of course, the finest pizzas.
MURGO ETNA ROSSO WITH PIZZA MARGHERITA
Some people think of Pizza Margherita as boring, or the ‘vanilla’ of the pizza world. Those people are wrong! Margherita is a design classic – something so perfectly able to execute its purpose that it’ll never be bettered.
The best Pizza Margherita is made with sweet San Marzano tomatoes, grown in the volcanic soils of southern Italy. Combined with top quality mozzarella and fresh basil, these simple yet perfectly balanced flavours call for a flavoursome, yet fresh and juicy red from fruit also grown in volcanic soils.
Murgo’s Etna Rosso is grown on the slopes of Sicily’s Mount Etna, and it is beautifully fragrant with aromas of wild strawberry, yet underpins this fruit with a savoury, earthy, mineral backbone. It is fresh, juicy and can be served lightly chilled.
SOBON 'SHENANDOAH' ZINFANDEL WITH PIZZA DIAVOLA
The devil’s pizza is probably the invention of Sicilian émigrés to America, for whom the slightly bland pepperoni pizza they found there required a little spicing up.
The key trick with any spicy food is to avoid matching it with any overly-tannic wines – instead you should look for smooth, round reds with plenty of sweet, ripe fruit.
Sobon’s Shenandoah Zinfandel is a perfect example. Not too heavy, bursting with ripe red-berry fruit and with bags of personality, it’ll more than stand up to the heat and intense flavours of a Pizza Diavola.
MAUBERNARD BANDOL ROSÉ WITH PIZZA ROMANA
In Naples they call this pizza the Pizza Romana. In Rome it is called the Pizza Napoletana. Either way, in both places anchovies are added to the traditional tomato and mozzarella base, alongside plenty of oil.
With this dominant fishy flavour, a fresh, fragrant rosé such as Maubernard’s from Bandol in Provence works brilliantly. From fruit grown in vineyards only a short distance from the coast, you can practically taste the Mediterranean sea spray in this vibrant, refreshing wine – perfect for the saltiness of the anchovies.
‘I COLOMBI’ SANGIOVESE WITH PIZZA QUATTRO FORMAGGI
A classic Pizza Quattro Formaggi should be made with Mozzarella as its base cheese, accompanied by a blue cheese, a creamy cheese, and a hard cheese.
As a result, any wine match has to cope with a lot of contrasting flavours of cheese! A simple, yet fabulous partner is Castello di Querceto’s ‘I Colombi’ Sangiovese, which is a wine made from fruit wholly grown in Tuscany’s Chianti Classico region, declassified to offer utterly brilliant value.
Ripe, smooth, full of dark cherry fruit, this red finishes with wonderful juiciness that will cut through even the strongest and cheesiest of flavours.
Got any of your own pizza and wine pairings? Let us know on social media, @robersonwine.