Pizza and wine seems like a no-brainer combination, but the two are tougher to pair than you’d think. The simple pizza is not what it used to be. Thai pizza anyone? Curry pizza on naan bread? Pulled pork pizza? No wonder we can be easily disappointed with our pizza and wine combinations.
When I was growing up, a fancy pizza was one with added pepperoni. I still remember my first Hawaiian pizza as an exotic treat: ham and pineapple. As my dad used to say, ”less is sometimes more.” My tastes still tend to lean towards basic and natural ingredients—this is a good place to start with a primer on matching two of Halifax’s favourite things.
Piatto Pizzeria + Enoteca on Hollis Street has a special high-heat VPN-Certified Neapolitan-approved oven. The best selling red is a Valpolicella from Italy, and not surprisingly Pinot Grigio for white, but it also offers a quaffable Montepulciano from the Italian Adriatic coast.
Up the street at Morris East the pizzas created by the Jennie Dobbs team are also delicious, and include ingredients like pear and Gorgonzola. These combinations calls for an eclectic wine menu that ranges from Dolcetto to a Reisling to a Syrah-Mouvedre blend.
At the bustling Ristorante a Mano on the Halifax waterfront, everything is made from scratch and the wine list is very Italian, with frequent new offerings.
So why is pizza (especially red pizza) so hard to pair with wine? Traditionally pizza is made with two key ingredients: melted cheese and tomato sauce. While some white wines, and especially sparkling wines, can be fantastic with pizza, in general you need reds to pair with cheese, sauce and the weightier extra ingredients that most of us like to add. To cut the fat in the cheese and to match the high acidity of tomatoes, you need a wine with higher acidity, versus the mouth drying tannins of bigger reds, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Barolo.
Use this list as your basic guide but don’t be afraid to experiment. And if you order a donair pizza, I recommend beer! Cheers.
Basic Cheese or Margherita
The simplicity of this type of pizza is its secret, so it calls for a fruit-forward red that won’t overpower: the perfect match is Barbera from northern Italy. If you like white, try a Pinot Grigio from Italy that will have more zest than a Pinot Gris from the New World. And to experiment, try some of the great, newer dry rosés that are now available in Halifax wine stores.
Chianti is a bright, fruit forward wine with enough depth to stand up to at least one or two meat toppings. Montepluciano from Abuzzo has earthy and rustic flavours that also work well with pepperoni.
Pinot Noir, as a lighter style red wine will not overpower your vegetarian pizza, and it loves mushrooms. If you want white wine, try Sauvignon Blanc or experiment with Gruner Vetliner from Austria (now available at the NSLC).
All that meat needs something with more body, and Syrah with its dark fruit flavours is the way to go, or experiment with a quality Shiraz or a rich Spanish red.
Hawaiian Pizza/Barbeque Chicken
Sweetness is the key here from either the pineapple or the barbeque sauce. A Zinfandel from California has that touch of sweet berry fruit and spice to be a great match. Slightly off-dry Riesling would be an interesting white-wine choice.
Without the tomato sauce you can open up a whole new line of opportunity like Chardonnay to match with a creamy white sauce, or Pinot Noir for the herbs often on these pizzas.
The under-$25 wine review
De Morgenzon DMZ Chenin Blanc 2013
South Africa, $19.49, Bishop’s Cellar
Scents of peaches and apricots and a fresh palate—unexpected from this varietal. Some weight in the mid-palate, but the zippy backbone and spicy finish balance the wine. The stone fruit flavours are delicious. Let’s hope that this is part of a revival in the popularity of wines from South Africa. 91/100
Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone 2013
France, 23.49, Bishop’s Cellar
Are you looking for a change from the same old Shiraz that’s always at the end of the store aisle? Do you like the rich berry flavours and spice but want to tame the sweetness and alcohol with some acidity and soft velvet tannins? Welcome to the Rhone Valley, where Syrah sings with a bright berry fruit, earthy, plummy notes and a licorice finish. Well integrated and delicious—get a case. 92/100
80–84: A great sipper, good value.
85–89: Won’t last long, great value.
90–94: Brag to your friends and buy a case—fantastic.
95–100: A classic, run to the store, extremely rare.