I don’t always agree with wine critics, particularly some of the better known ones.
I guess it bothers me that a small handful of individuals can have so much influence over an entire industry.
There’s no doubt in my mind, for instance, that when big, buttery, oaky Chardonnays began getting 90-plus ratings from a couple of big-name critics, a lot of vintners changed the way they made Chardonnay to emulate those big ratings-getters.
In a similar manner, the term “pizza wine” has fallen into disrepute because, when it’s written or uttered, it’s done so with a negative connotation. The critic is basically saying, “This is a wine that you don’t want to serve with a fancy gourmet meal; it’s only good enough for pizza night.”
To me, that’s an insult to good pizza and a lot of perfectly good wine — and I suspect the folks at California Pizza Kitchen and other purveyors of gourmet pizza would agree.
If you’re dealing with a really good pizza, you’re experiencing some very tasty flavors — mozzarella and other cheeses, well-seasoned tomato sauce, spicy pepperoni, meaty mushrooms, zesty green peppers and so on. And such flavors deserve a complementary wine, not some flavorless jug from the supermarket.
The classic vinous companion to pizza is California Zinfandel. It embodies just the right combination of acid, fruitfulness and spiciness to complement virtually any type of pizza, with the exception of Hawaiian-style.
But Zin isn’t the only option. As we noted in yesterday’s blog, there now are high-quality renditions of Lambrusco that make absolutely perfect pizza pairing partners.
I’ve also had great pizza dinners with Syrah, Primitivo, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and the “G-S-M” (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre) blends of Australia. Chateauneuf-du-Pape, because it’s often somewhat herbal, is a great match when the primary pizza topping is green pepper.
And what about Hawaiian-style pizza? It’s a challenge mainly because of the pineapple, which eliminates all red wines from the equation. What I like to do is order it with just a small amount of tomato sauce, and then pair it with sparkling wine — Blanc de Blancs, Brut or Rosé. It needn’t be a well-aged, vintage
Champagne. In fact, I prefer a youthful, fruit-forward sparkler — or, now that high-quality renditions are available, a bubbly Lambrusco. Give it a try; you may be pleasantly surprised.
Don’t let those snobby critics prevent you from enjoying two of life’s guilty pleasures — pizza and wine — together.