Wine Guy: Pairing with Pizza

Categories: Booze Hound
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John Linn


Sven Vogtland is the Advanced Sommelier at the Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale, and a 13-year veteran of the craft who has recommended bottles in the sunny Virgin Islands and in far-away Vietnam. In this column, Vogtland will discuss the latest trends in wine, from what bottles and regions are blowing up to the newest cocktail crazes. This week, Sven talks about what wine to pair with the most popular of Italian foods: pizza.

"For me, wine is about where you are at and who you are drinking it with. So a lot of things will go well with pizza, but when I'm thinking of drinking wine with it, I look to a classic combination of Italian wine with Italian pizza. The first wine I'd look at is Chianti and, more specifically, Super Tuscan."

"Chianti is a staple of Tuscan wine, made primarily with the Sangiovese grape. If you look on the side of a bottle of Italian Chianti it should have a DoC label on it (Denominazione di Origine Controllata). This is the governing body of wine in Italy, similar to the French label of AoC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée), that places standards on wines that use a particular name. So to be a true Chianti Classico or Chianti you have to have at least 70%-80% Sangiovese in there.

"An issue that Italians were having in the 1970s were that the Chianti sales were plummeting and the quality wasn't as good as it used to be, mainly because 70% of the wine has to be Sangiovese and the difference is made up by regional white wine(s) that are blended in to Chianti to actually achieve that DoC label. Chianti used to be a wine that was traditionally bottled in short, wide jug with a straw basket called a fiasco. It was widely recognized as a table wine. While Chianti in general still is one of the most exported wines from Italy to the United States, it doesn't get the highest rating in terms of quality. It comes across as being a little flat sometimes without as much depth to it. Since it has traditionally been an everyday drinking wine in Italy, it's carried a little bit of a bad stigma. You can get some very high end, expensive Chiantis that are quite deep. But if you are in Italy and you're drinking out of a jug, chances are it's Sangiovese, and likely Chianti.

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John Linn


"If wine makers wanted to change your Chianti by adding other grapes, and ultimately have it taste better, it wouldn't get this DoC label. Instead, it would be labeled Vino da Tavola, or table wine. Regardless of the label, Italian wine makers started changing up the formula of Chianti in the 1970s by using large amounts of Sangiovese but also blending in Cabernet Sauvignon. The result was a beautiful wine called Super Tuscan. Super Tuscan does not have that DoC label on it (nowadays, it sports the IGT label), but it's an incredible wine - some say one of the best put out of Italy.

"The first wine maker to really market a Super Tuscan was Antinori, a big wine producer out of Italy. As a result of this Super Tuscan, their wine sales really took off on the United States. In the 1980s Antinori put out a very successful wine called Tignanello, one of the most expensive and incredibly beautiful Super Tuscans.

"This is what I would drink with pizza: a Super Tuscan. A good example would be Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico Riserva 2004; a bottle costs about $20 to $30, while cheaper vintages can go for as little as $10. Some people look for a wine with more finish, but this is a good drinker with the pizza. The way I would do it is take a taste of the wine first and then take a bite of the pizza. What you'll notice is the caramelization of the cheese and crust on the pizza will go really well with the bold richness of the wine.

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John Linn
 "If you wanted to do something a little less traditional, another unique wine to drink with pizza is German Riesling; particularly Kabinett Riesling. There are a couple different types of Rieslings: Trocken, which is dry; Halb Trocken, half dry; Kabinett, more acidic; and QbA, or Estate Riesling. Riesling is a sweet wine, so it really offsets the sweetness in the cheese and the crust, like eating fresh cheese and bread. This Riesling is Trimbach, a French Estate Riesling available for about $20 a bottle. This would pair great with a light lunch or a margherita pizza, while you may go with a red for dinner or in colder weather. In the wine you'll get a lot of honeysuckle and granny smith apples. And though it's a sweet wine, the pizza has some of those flavors too, particularly in the basil, cheese, and crust. You'll also notice the tomato will 'pop' more after a taste, strengthening the crisp acidity and really bringing those flavors to the surface.

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John Linn


"Many Rieslings come with a twist off cap, a trend that's carried over to other white wines mainly because of a shortage of cork and the prices associated with that. Wine makers all over are looking for alternative stoppers - some are using glass stoppers, synthetic, and, like you see here, screw tops. There is a backlash against screw top wine, which I can understand. When you order a bottle at a restaurant, it can take away from the romanticism of opening a bottle of wine and presenting it when all the server has to do is twist a cap. And people have a lot of preconceived notions of box wine and twist tops. But in reality, these tops do achieve their purpose of preserving the flavor of a wine well."

Each of these wines - and some fine pizzas too - are available in the Ritz-Carlton's Wine Room and Scotch Bar.


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