The best pizzas in America pay homage to classic Italian toppings and preparation methods.
The real magic to authentic Italian pizzas are the flavor pairings in the toppings. For example, the most popular Neapolitan/Margherita pizza creates synergy with fresh, acidic tomatoes, aromatic basil and smooth creamy mozzarella. Of course, great pizza reaches a whole new dimension when paired with a well selected wine. Let’s take a look at 6 classic Italian pizzas and the wines that go with them.
Pairing Wine with Classic Italian Pizza
The simplest pizza with several variations (you can add cheese or thinly sliced potato). You’ll find the true foundation of a great Bianco pizza is great dough (try Jim Lahey’s outstanding no-knead dough ), decent olive oil, salt and a sprig of rosemary (or sage).
WINE: Fiano di Avellino
Fiano di Avellino, Ciro Picarello 2013 ~$25 To pair with such a blank canvas, I think a wine that highlights some of the subtle aspects of the salt and piney-herbal characters creates a really exciting, comparative pairing. Fiano di Avellino from Ciro Picarello, with its naturally smokey, piney aromas, its fresh, lees-y character and its balanced acidity make an exciting match.
The Margherita or Neopolitan pizza is a flat round of dough topped with nothing more than tomato gravy, pieces of fresh mozzarella and fresh basil. It should be about as large as your plate and, honestly, it doesn’t have that much cheese on it. It’s one of those pizzas where a “proper serving” is the whole pie.
WINE: Barbera d’Alba
Barbera d’Alba, Cascina Fontana 2012 ~$29 Because a Margherita is all about simplicity, I find a pure, expressive version of Barbera, like the Barbera d’Alba from Cascina Fontana, pairs very well as it mimics the freshness of the pizza and has a strong backbone of acidity to match the red sauce.
It seems that the more variety in mushrooms (miatakes, crimini, porcini) the better. The intensity of umami rich flavors in the mushrooms with the fat of mozzarella and a smattering of thyme make this, arguably, the best pizza of all. But, of course, you have to like mushrooms.
Barolo, Bartolo Mascarello 1998 ~$250 A Funghi pizza is all about umami and savory herbs positioned on top of a creamy, cheesy base. To pair with this style of pizza, a softened, aged version of Nebbiolo, such as a traditional Barolo from Bartolo Mascarello, works well to highlight similar flavor characteristics all with wonderful acidity to cut through the creaminess of the cheese.
4. Fennel Sausage
Ground pork and fennel unite to create an amazing flavor profile that is dabbed on top of a pie with angel hair sliced scallions and mozzarella. Some will use razor thin slices of red onion instead of scallions… Just remember, what’s important is that the onion should caramelize and charr while in the oven.
WINE: Lambrusco di Sorbara
Lambrusco di Sorbara “Vecchie Modena” Cleto Chiarli 2014 $16 Bubbles and pizza are a match made in heaven. Sparkling wine offers effervescence to scrub your palate clean and wonderful brightness to entice you to take another bite and another sip. Pairing a light style of Lambrusco (of the Sorbara clone) from Cleto Chiarli offers a fresh, juicy red fruit character, effervescence and acidity that play a wonderful partner to the richness of the pork and savory-ness of the onion.
5. Vongole (clam) and Parsley
The least popular (and yet outstandingly delicious) authentic Italian flavor pairing is chopped clams and red pepper flakes over mozzarella with minced parsley on top (make sure to put the parsley on after you pull it from the oven). Chopping the clams will eliminate any childish gross-out factor and make this pizza an all-around favorite.
WINE: Etna Bianco Superiore
Etna Bianco Superiore “Pietramarina” Benanti 2010 ~$45 Clams, parsley and cheese call for a salty, round and refreshing white. Some of the greatest whites from Sicily hail from Etna and the Pietra Marina from Benanti is the benchmark. This textured, saline-driven white pairs exceptionally well with the briny quality of the clams and the creaminess of the cheese.
6. Prosciutto Arugula
This is the real Italian precursor to the Canadian Bacon pizza. During the early fall you’ll often see prosciutto and arugula sharing space with fresh figs (which adds delicious sweetness to the salty prosciutto).
WINE: Collio Bianco
Collio, Borgo del Tiglio 2013 ~$35 Cured meats and salad greens always bring me to Friuli as the whites from this region share a unique ability to offer refreshing minerality and acidity with a rich, textured background. The combination of salty ham, crisp refreshing greens and a Friulano-based blend creates the perfect balance of richness and elegance in a wine and pizza pairing.
Do Try These At Home
Thanks to Jack Mason for his recommendations, do try these at home! Also, if you’d like to see Mr. Mason in action, we highly recommend you check out NBC’s Uncorked (download on itunes for $10). See our review of Uncorked here.