Pizza can be as simple or as complicated as you like; that’s the magic of it and why it’s one of the most popular foods on the planet. It’s a vessel for unlimited topping combinations from the tried and true to the never been tried before. Options are endless with various crusts and a sometimes-dizzying choice of cheeses.
For most though, pizza signifies a meal of convenience and a meal of comfort, which is why any white wine that’s chilled, or any red with a screw cap is often a go-to pairing. But with a little bit of planning and food pairing know-how, a simple night of delivery or homemade pizza can become an evening extravaganza – miles away from a humdrum weeknight.
Food Pairing Basics
Generally speaking, the intensity of the ingredients in a dish should match the intensity of the wine.
A devoted carnivore’s pizza with layers of ground beef and cured meats will complement a big, bold cabernet sauvignon from California or a South African pinotage. A veggie-inspired pizza with caramelized onions, roasted squash, or even Brussels sprouts, would shine alongside an unoaked chardonnay or a dry, fruit-forward rosé.
Take it a step further and pair regional ingredients with regional wine; it’s often a winning combo. Match a pizza with Italian sausage, prosciutto, pepperoni, sun-dried tomatoes, or roasted eggplant with an Italian speciality like a negroamaro from Puglia, a cannonau from Sardegna, or even a house priced, wallet-friendly montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Pair ingredients such as chorizo, olives, red onion, roasted peppers or mushrooms with a Spanish Rioja, a tempranillo from Castilla y Leon, or a monastrell from Valencia.
A Deeper Dive into Pairing Toppings
Spice is one of the most popular elements to add to pizza. Whether you introduce it by layering in pepperoni or kicking it way up with jalapeños or sriracha, it should still be balanced. Try a cheesy tomato sauce as a base to help cut through the heat, and then pair it with a chilled white wine that has a touch of sweetness such as an off-dry riesling or a moscato d’Asti.
The cool temperature will help soothe the heat, while the sweetness will help bring some balance. If you opt for red wine, ignore what you think you know about drinking it at room temperature, and throw a full-bodied dry red wine in the fridge for 20 minutes. In this instance, the wine should be dry to balance the spice, so opt for a shiraz or carménère.
- Clean Slate Mosel Riesling CSPC +757403 about $14-$16
- Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato D’Asti CSPC +788585, $20-$22
- Errazuriz Single Vineyard Carménère, CSPC +737070, $21-$24
The key to pairing effectively with meat is paying attention to tannins. Higher tannin levels (that drying sensation on your gums) are a great match to intense, meaty flavours. Cabernet sauvignon is a fail-safe option, while tempranillo or malbec would also be good choices.
- Santa Julia Organic Malbec CSPC +735417, about $15-$17
- Marques de Riscal 1860 Tempranillo CSPC +716003 $17-$19
- Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon CSPC +748004 $20-$24
Agree with it or not, many people adore fruit on their pizza. Pineapple, grilled peaches, or figs – they bring sweetness that will need to be harmonized. As with spice, an off-dry option is the way to go, especially if you can find one with higher acidity to help cleanse the palate. Try sauvignon blanc or riesling with your fruity pizza. Or perhaps even a prosecco to really step things up a notch with some bubbly. Try:
- Kono Sauvignon Blanc CSPC +58032, about $14-$16
- Summerhill Riesling CSPC +130575 $18-$20
- Astoria Treviso Prosecco DOC CSPC +818904 $21-$24
Whether you opt for a quattro formaggio of mozzarella, gorgonzola, gouda, and gruyere, or simply love a ton of cheddar, cheese adds richness to your pizza. Too much, or the wrong selections may show itself in the form of greasiness, so cut through that grease with a wine of high acidity. Try for a medium-bodied zinfandel, a cool-climate pinot noir or a light and bright Beaujolais.
- Cline Zinfandel CSPC +451963 about $19-$21
- Yealands Pinot Noir CSPC +744476 $22-$25
- Louis Latour Bourgogne Gamay CSPC +755022 $27-$30
It’s A Pizza Party Afterall
Food is fun and wine is an adventure. Put them together well and you’ll often have an unforgettable meal. Following the ‘rules’ gives a guided path to the best possible experience but it can be an easy trap to fall into trying to match everything.
When all you want is a glass of wine with your pizza, and you feel like winging it – then by all means strap on your wings and fly! But if tannins and mouth-feel, and complementary flavours are your game – then break out the corkscrew for a pizza party you’ll never forget.