Some might say that the two best things to come out of Italy are pizza and wine. Even when they’re bad, they’re still kind of good. And not so surprisingly, these two mainstays of deliciousness go very well together, even when you want to indulge in that crazy trendy Buffalo Chicken pizza.
If you want to play it safe, your best bets are to stay with wines made from the classic Italian grapes Sangiovese and Barbera. The slightly subdued tannins in their respective wines overwhelming complement traditional Neapolitan Margherita pies and NY-style slice pizza. On the Sangiovese side, the grapes are mostly grown in Tuscany and Umbria so don’t be surprised if you can only find them in bottles of the ubiquitous Tuscan red Chianti. But go with Chianti Classico, as those tend to be worth a few extra dollars or better yet, get a 100% Sangiovese Umbrian red. Barbera grows in the Northern Italian region of Piedmont. You’ll want to pick up Barbera d’Asti or Barbera d’Alba, both are high in acidity and low in tannins (the bitter compounds that make your mouth feel dry).
But this is America and we demand more than Margherita and NY-style extra cheese pies. Fan of the red-sauce-less, ricotta-dolloped white slice? Then go for aromatic Italian whites like Vermentino, or try a Pinot Grigio from Trentino-Alto Adige (Barone Fini makes a good Pinot Grigio from their “subzone” Valdadige). Want a few veggies on top? Then pick up a nice Sauvignon Blanc to go with the herbal elements.
Salad pizza? You’ll also want to go with a Pinot Grigio from northern Italy, a white Pecorino (yes, it’s a wine AND a cheese), or pick up a nice Portuguese Vinho Verde.
Taking the exact opposite approach and going with sausage? The crumbly and fresh kind, especially those heavy on the fennel, should go well with the wild berry fruit and easy tannins in a Dolcetto from Italy’s Piedmont, or a fruity Pinot Noir from California or Oregon. The fiery spices in pepperoni call for strong, full-bodied wines like Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (the red, not the rosé), or a fruity Australian Shiraz.
Of course, the best pizza is Buffalo chicken pizza. You have blue cheese and spice to contend with, flavors that a white with just a touch of sweet can cut through. We go for an off-dry German Riesling, or if you’re in the mood for sparkling, pick up a bottle of Asti Spumante.