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Food & Wine Pairing - Pizza

Simple rules to get started pairing food and wine...

Wine and Pizza is a glorious combination...

Pairing Wine with Pizza

Regardless of your pizza preference, whether you are a traditionalist and favour cheese and pepperoni or go for something a bit different like a white pizza, there are different wines for each type of topping. 

When it comes to veggie pizza with plenty of peppers, olives, onions, and mushrooms, you can’t go wrong with a cool, crisp Sauvignon Blanc with plenty of bright acidities to take care of the variety of veggies. A dry Rosé wine would also perform well with all of the competing components of flavor. 

Take your ‘typical’ Pizza—tomato sauce, lots of Mozzarella cheese topped with plenty of pepperonis, and a traditional thin crust. Wines that would work well with this order would need lower acid levels since the tomato sauce will contribute plenty of acid on its own, and should carry fruit very forward to conquer the sugar/acid combination of the tomato. Key wines to consider here would be a medium-bodied Syrah or Shiraz, an Italian Chianti, a medium-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, or a California Zinfandel.

We all know a grilled steak and juicy hamburger goes great with a full-bodied red wine, so why not a meat-topped Pizza? A Pizza that is chock-full of hamburger, sausage, pepperoni and more deserves a wine with some heft. So go for heartier red wines like a Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, or Merlot to handle the meat mega dose. The tannins in the red wines match well with the fattiness of the red meat—red wine alone can make your mouth feel dry while the fatty meat creates a sort of slippery sensation. Combining the two cancels each other out.

If you opt for the enigmatic white Pizza from time to time, totally devoid of the tomato sauce, then your wine options expand even more. Because white Pizzas are generally lighter and less acidic than pizza with sauce, a crisp white wine—or even something with a bit of effervescence—will pair nicely. A Champagne, Pinot Grigio, or an earthy Sauvignon Blanc would all hold up well to the lighter style of the white Pizza flavor combinations.

If you are a fan of this sweet and salty combination, a versatile white wine is the way to go. Ham and pineapple covered in cheese pairs very nicely with a Riesling, which has its own combination of sweet and acid, with aromas of tropical fruits (perfect!), flowers, and minerals.

A rich buttery Chardonnay or a full-bodied Pinot Grigio work well here. A simple Merlot will pair the red fruits with the BBQ chicken flavors of the pizza. The cool, crisp flavours of the Rosé work in harmony with the Pizza and give a delicious lasting impression.

A gourmet seafood Pizza, made with fresh grilled tuna and shellfish, deserves an elegant dry, ideally Unoaked Chardonnay. A sparkling dry Blanc de Blancs works well. A simple Chardonnay / Semillon / Colombard mix will lift the tuna and olives version to another dimension.

Go from a humble Pizza lover to a verified Pizza connoisseur.

Considerations for Pizza & Wine pairings

It all comes down to the toppings and the sauce. Toppings can be simple (tomatoes, cheese, and fresh basil) or adventurous (rich, earthy, or spicy like vegan pepperoni, mushrooms, green olives, or jalapeños). The same goes with sauce which range from  traditional tomato-based reds to more alternative creamy whites and herbaceous pesto sauces. All of these options bring us to the next question:

A red wine blend, such as a Côtes du Rhône is a great choice for pairing with cheese Pizzas. It has enough acidity to stand-up to the tomato sauce while also providing just the right amount of tannins to cleanse your palate and provide structure to your sips. Heavy tannins don’t play well with  acidity from the tomato sauce, putting you at risk for a combination that produces an unpleasant metallic taste. GSM blends steer clear of this danger by using blending techniques that concentrate on Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre in ways that produce a supple, balanced, delicious wine.

Grenache adds candied fruit, raspberry, and cinnamon flavours, while Syrah adds blueberry, plum and savoury black olive notes to the mix. Mourvèdre is similar in its flavour profile to Syrah but adds a hearty dose of tannin, colour, and structure to the wine.

Perfect for your lighter flavoured Pizzas like a Margherita. A Rosé is light enough to support the delicate basil with slightly more grip than a white wine to handle the acidity of the sauce. Made from red grapes, Rosé wines are stained red from just a few hours of skin contact, whereas their red wine counterparts might spend weeks on the skins. 

Rosés vary dramatically in both colour, taste, and style, depending on the type of their base grape and the winemaker’s choices. Fortunately, rosé’s most common  flavours of strawberry, rose petals, honeydew melon, and citrus zest all compliment the simplicity of Margherita.

If a slice of white Pizza is sitting in front of you and you want a red wine, Pinot Noir is a good bet. Pinot Noir or a Gamay supports the creaminess in two different ways. First, it’s a nuanced and oftentimes subtle red wine that doesn’t overwhelm food in the same way an Australian Shiraz might.

Second, it has its own herbaceous and earthy notes which lends well to pairing with green herbs and mushrooms, both fresh and dried, that are often present in Pizza. Pinot Noir is the one of the most highly prized wines in the world.

If you really want to play into the creaminess of your pizza, a Chardonnay is a good bet. It’s a full-bodied white wine which gives the structure and body to support  Pizza’s density. Cream-based Pizza sauces elevates the natural creamy notes of Chardonnay (a textbook definition of a complimentary wine pairing).

Pro tip on the Chardonnay front – the creaminess you taste is not caused by oaking, but instead by malolactic fermentation which is responsible for imparting butter and cream flavours. Chardonnay will add notes of lemon, pineapple, pear, peach, and passionfruit to your meal.

A popular Pizza trend these days is salad Pizza, where salad greens like Spinach and Arugula are piled high on top of a thin crust pizza. In other words, there’s a lot of green going on so you’ll need a wine that can handle herbaceous and vegetal qualities.

Sauvignon Blanc is a good bet, with natural green flavours like lime, green apple, and kiwi. Sauvignon Blanc also adds a refreshing element of tart acidity so your mouth is continually refreshed in between bites.

Feeling a little more adventurous? This Sparkling red wine from Italy gets us out of the box with  bubbles to clear your mouth of all the cheesy richness (even if it’s vegan cheese).

Lambrusco is also served chilled so it’s welcomingly refreshing to a meal that can otherwise leave you a bit sleepy. Avoid going overly sweet and instead, try a dry (secco) style to play into Pizza’s savoriness. Lambrusco is a favourite change-of-pace wines, especially with Pizza.

Chinati is probably the most classic Wine and Pizza pairing. Made from the Sangiovese grape in Italy. A good Chianti is both savory and spicy, with red fruits, bitter herbs, balsamic vinegar, smoke, and leather notes. It’s like drinking an olive when youI sip one of these, which makes it a divine Pizza pairing.

Beaujolais, a light red wine that can be surprising, made from the Gamay grape, Beaujolais has an earthy, mushroomy deliciousness that’s not unlike Pinot Noir but for a fraction of the cost.

The earthiness of the wine also lends to pairing well with Pizza, especially Pizzas loaded with mushrooms and veggies. The Cru wines of Beaujolais are a step up in quality and distinction from Beaujolais Villages and two steps up from Beaujolais Nouveau.

If you’re a sweet and salty fan, I recommend a semi-dry (demi-sec) Vouvray or Riesling with a pineapple Pizza. The sweetness in the wine will match the sweetness in the pineapple, while the acid in the wine will cut through the richness of the Pizza.

The general rule of thumb when pairing wine with sweet foods is to make the wine sweeter than food, so it still tastes delicious and not bitter when you take a sip.

If your Pizza is loaded with vegetarian or vegan meats, consider a fuller red wine for your pairing selection. Full-bodied wines like Syrah work well with veggie meats like sausage or pepperoni because they often include complex spices like fennel, anise, thyme and oregano, to intensify flavour.

Syrah works well with these savoury profiles while adding dark fruit flavours of blackberry, olive, plum and blueberry.

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