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Pizza may be the perfect food.
It covers all the major food groups, and it offers nearly infinite possibilities, no matter your dietary preferences or restrictions. Grains, dairy, meat and vegetables feature in every bite, if you want them to, except for those prized nibbles of crust when the rest of the pie is gone. Pizza makes a great lunch, dinner — and even breakfast, that congealed feast from the fridge we all remember from college.
Pairing wines with pizza can be as enjoyable as eating it. There may be no such thing as a “pizza wine,” because there are so many variations of pizza. Margherita or meat lovers? Clam or Hawaiian? There’s no one answer, but we sure can have a good time mixing and matching. A pizza party is a great opportunity to open a variety of wines and have fun.
But there are some principles to keep in mind:
Pizza is casual food, appropriate for casual wine. Drop the pretension and go for fun. This is not the time to pull out your collectibles. Look “out of the box,” pardon the pun, and challenge yourself with a wine you’ve never heard of. If you have a bottle you’ve been staring at, wondering what to pair it with, pair it with pizza.
Red sauce does not require red wine. We tend to look at the tomato sauce on a pizza (or pasta) and think “red needs red.” But the acidity of tomato sauce pairs nicely with a crisp white wine. It could be your favorite pinot grigio, but I would urge you to explore other white wines that favor acidity over oak. Soave, verdicchio or refreshing rosés from just about anywhere meet these criteria. A margherita pizza, with just red sauce, basil and cheese, is a good candidate for a white wine.
Match the wine to the toppings. Lots of pepperoni and sausage on your pie? This calls for a red. A nero d’avola from Sicily fits the bill, but so does a sangiovese from Tuscany or Romagna, or a valpolicella from up near Venice.
Here’s a sneaky pick for a “meat lovers” pizza: lambrusco. A dry sparkling red wine from northern Italy, and a traditional partner for salumi and other antipasti, lambrusco may be one of the world’s most underrated wines and is a great match for pepperoni and other spicy meat toppings on pizza. Lambrusco seems weird to us — it’s that wine our mothers kept in the door of the fridge, from which we would sneak a sip or two when everyone else had gone to bed. (Guilty!) But true lambrusco is not that slightly sweet swill of our memory. It boasts an earthy, dark cherry character that matches well with smoked or cured meats, such as pepperoni and salami. Its palate-cleansing bubbles cut through the spice of red pepper flakes and the funk of roasted or dried garlic. And it’s versatile. I love lambrusco with charcuterie, pizza and smoked meats such as barbecue.
Just remember: Pizza is fun food, and all it requires is a fun wine to wash it down. What could be simpler?
There’s no requirement to drink Italian wine with pizza, but why not? Italy’s wines are as diverse as the toppings we load onto our pies and are incredibly versatile with food, which shouldn’t come as a surprise from a country with such varied cuisine.
Our greatest value of the week is the delightful Castelluccio Le More Sangiovese Superiore 2017 from Romagna. That’s not one of Italy’s famous wine regions, which may help explain why this charmer of a wine is only $11 a bottle. It’s almost cheap enough to be your house pizza (or spaghetti) wine for the summer.
Romagna, Italy, $11
The label may bring a grimace as you squint to read it, but the wine brings a smile of delight. Sangiovese, the red grape of Tuscany, shines in this version from Romagna with its characteristic flavors of dried cherries and cocoa and hints of rosemary and sage. Alcohol by volume: 13 percent.
Imported and distributed by Winebow: Available in the District at the Bottle Shop, Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits, Rodman’s. Available in Maryland at Downtown Crown Wine and Beer in Gaithersburg, Old Town Market in Kensington, Shawan Liquors in Cockeysville. Available in Virginia at Arrowine and Cheese in Arlington, Vinosity in Culpeper.
This is not your grandmother’s lambrusco, that fizzy, slightly sweet red wine she kept in the refrigerator door for a nip after grandpa went to bed. This dry sparkling red wine, redolent of dried fruit and wild herbs and a traditional Italian partner to salumi, is ideal for barbecue and pizza, especially pies featuring pepperoni and sausage. Affirmation that life is, indeed, good. ABV: 11.5 percent.
Imported by deGrazia Imports, distributed in the District and Maryland by Bacchus, in Virginia by Free Run: Available in the District at Calvert Woodley, MacArthur Beverages, Rodman’s. Available in Maryland at Eastport Liquors and the Italian Market in Annapolis, Harbour Spirits in Severna Park, Midway Discount Liquors in Joppa, Piazza Italian Market in Easton, Pine Orchard Liquors in Ellicott City, Wine Source and Wells Discount Liquors in Baltimore.
Sicily, Italy, $15
Nero d’avola is Sicily’s answer to syrah, packing the warmth and depth of the better-known grape but not so much the heft. The Regaleali grabs your attention with savory flavors of blackberries and blueberries, and a dry herbal finish. Delicious. ABV: 13 percent.
Imported and distributed by Winebow: Available in the District at Bloomingdale Liquor, the Bottle Shop, Calvert Woodley, Paul’s of Chevy Chase, Rodman’s. Available in Maryland at Bradley Food & Beverage and Lance’s Beer & Wine in Bethesda, Downtown Crown Wine and Beer in Gaithersburg, Longmeadow Wine & Liquor in Hagerstown, Port Tack Wine & Spirits in Arnold, Rodman’s in White Flint, Urban Cellars in Baltimore. Available in Virginia at Cheesetique in Shirlington, the Italian Store (Lyon Village, Westover), Norm’s Beer & Wine in Vienna, Wegmans (Alexandria, Fairfax, Fredericksburg, Woodbridge).
Campania, Italy, $17
Aglianico from the southern part of Italy’s boot is often overripe and pruny, with rubbery, stewed fruit flavors and high alcohol. This wine is a beauty, with balance and finesse, showing ripeness but also elegance. Try this with anything off the grill this summer. ABV: 14 percent.
Imported and distributed by Banville: Available in the District at Magruder’s, Rodman’s, S&R Liquors. Available in Maryland at Downtown Crown Wine and Beer in Gaithersburg, Knowles Station Wine & Co. in Kensington. Available in Virginia at Chain Bridge Cellars in McLean.
Mango, peach, jasmine and sneaky acidity that doesn’t attack your palate but holds the wine together — that’s what 60-year-old, organically farmed garganega vines can offer. Try this with any sort of seafood topping on a pizza, or a margherita with tomatoes and mozzarella. Not having pizza? Think salads, asparagus or anything we normally think of as a “wine killer.” This beauty can handle it. ABV: 12.5 percent.
Imported by deGrazia Imports, distributed in the District and Maryland by Bacchus, in Virginia by Free Run. Available in the District at A. Litteri, Cork & Fork, MacArthur Beverages, Rodman’s. Available in Maryland at Eastport Liquors and the Italian Market in Annapolis, Harbour Spirits in Severna Park, Midway Discount Liquors in Joppa, Piazza Italian Market in Easton, Pine Orchard Liquors in Ellicott City, Wine Source and Wells Discount Liquors in Baltimore.
Availability information is based on distributor records. Wines might not be in stock at every listed store and might be sold at additional stores. Prices are approximate. Check Winesearcher.com to verify availability, or ask a favorite wine store to order through a distributor.