Traditionally, the world of wine pairing has mostly been reserved for fine-dining affairs. Bold reds accompanying juicy slabs of steak, silky whites alongside fatty cuts of fish, and sparkling rosés complementing soft, pungent cheeses have adorned dinner tables for hundreds of years.
But if you haven't noticed, the wine world has gone through a tremendous amount of change over the past couple decades, and the job of a great sommelier has expanded into pairing vino with everything from sandwiches and fried foods to barbecue and clambakes.
One of the most fun challenges for a somm is to delve into the world of pizza pairings. Alongside wines, pizza has had a revolution of its own this century, and toppings run the gamut from fruits and seafood to vegan cheese and meats.
To get a better handle on the best way to pair wine with pizza, we asked a few expert sommeliers from Italy.
The first is Danilo Fantini, the food and beverage manager and head sommelier at Toscana Resort Castelfalfi, a five-star oasis in the heart of a more than 2,000-year-old village in Tuscany. The other wine wizard is Leonardo Lazzerini, the food and beverage director and sommelier at Il Borro, a dreamy Tuscan spot owned by the Ferragamo family with an organic vineyard, luxe suites, and mouthwatering cuisine.
Take note, as these two wine connoisseurs will help you find the perfect pairing for your next pizza party.
Travel + Leisure: In the broadest sense, what wines pair best with pizza?
Danilo Fantini: "When it comes to white pizza with dairy products and/or cheese, it makes sense to pair a wine with strong acidity in order to create a sense of harmony with the fatness found in dairy. An example is Arneis della Langhe, Greco di Tufo, or Casa Poggio I Soli 2020 (Estate of Castelfalfi). For a red-based pizza, I suggest a white wine with medium structure that can play off the acidity of the tomato, such as a chardonnay or an Ansonica. Also, a red that has delicate tannins pairs nicely, like the Il Poggio Nero 2019 (Estate of Castelfalfi)."
Leonardo Lazzerini: "The world of pizza is anything but simple. From the ultra-thin crust to the thicker focaccia and the multiple choice of ingredients, I would follow just two simple rules that can make the pizza and wine pairings easy to understand: White-based pizza can be matched with white wines with a sustained acidity or sparkling wine. A red-based pizza's best marriage, instead, will be with silky tannin red wines that are able to attenuate the acidity of the tomato."
When it comes to Italian-style pizzas — tonda, al taglio, pinsa, pizza alla pala, Napoletana, fritta, Siciliana — what are some ideal pairings?
LL: "For tonda and al taglio, a young barbera — versatile vino with soft tannins and juicy fruit flavors (north of Italy). For Roman pinsa, a vermentino from the coast of Tuscany (unoaked) with that enhanced sapidity, fresh and floral. For pizza alla pala, Tuscan rosé is a perfect match, made with sangiovese, or even syrah, which is surprisingly an incredible grape to cultivate in Tuscany. Neapolitan pizza — here we can't go wrong saying that the compatriot ancient white grape falanghina is the best match. For pizza fritta, some bubbles are surely needed to clean the palate, so [try] Franciacorta or Trento DOC, or even a sparkling wine made with sangiovese grapes, like our Bolle di Borro. And for Sicilian pizza, a young red Etna wine — volcanic, elegant, rich in fruit, and Nerello Mascalese-based."
Obviously, not all pizzas are tomato-based. Do you have pairing ideas for pesto, pizza bianca, Hawaiian, or seafood-based pizzas?
DF: "For pesto-based pizza, vermentino Poggio I Soli 2020 (Estate of Castelfalfi). On white pizza and pizza bianca with ricotta, a cabernet sauvignon 2011 (Estate of Castelfalfi) or cabernet franc spumantizzato."
LL: "For Hawaiian pizza (with pineapple), fruits call for more fruits, and so a gewurztraminer would be the best pairing. But a rosé with some longer maceration on skin would also do a great job. When it comes to seafood pizza with clams, a sauvignon blanc — whose flavors can range from floral to fruity and sometimes even vegetal — can clean the palate with a fresh acidity and minerality."
How about Americanized pizzas? What pairs well with a New York slice, Detroit-style pies, or Chicago deep dish?
LL: "For a New York slice, both a crispy sauvignon blanc or dry rosé. A Detroit-style [pizza], more chewy and rich in salsa, will match with a Lambrusco di Sorbara. For Chicago deep dish, as the name suggests, this is more a dish than a pizza and will require a complex wine like a Chianti or medium-body cabernet."
If you have meat on your pizza — pepperoni, prosciutto, etc. — are there different wine recommendations?
DF: "Absolutely. For meats on pizza, a red wine with a good structure and delicate tannins is ideal for the fatness found in the ingredients. I recommend a Chianti Cerchiaia Reserve 2019 (Estate of Castelfalfi)."
LL: "Some options would be a Chianti Classico Tuscany DOCG, a Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, a Pinot Nero Alto Adige DOC, or a pinot noir from Oregon."
If you're strictly vegetarian, or like a lot of vegetables on your pizza, do you have specific wine pairings for that?
DF: "For pizza with vegetables, I recommend a sauvignon blanc due to the aromatic nature of veggies."
LL: "I would suggest a white wine with an aromatic expression and structure such as a Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi."
There are pizzas made with gluten-free crusts — do you have thoughts on wine pairings based on that?
LL: "There are no restrictions on the use of wine on gluten-free pizzas. In terms of taste, it depends on how it's stuffed, but if the gluten-free crust is not as good as a regular one, let's make sure to order a very good wine to save the dinner."
Instead of wine, do you have any pairings for pizza with an Aperol spritz?
LL: "Absolutely, and for some southern areas of Italy, that represents a classic combination for a beloved Italian aperitivo or pizza dinner. Perhaps a pizza rich in protein [with a] more rustic crust, topped with buffalo mozzarella from Campania, salmon, confit tomato, and courgettes, and lightly marinated in oil. Aperol spritz is a cocktail with a simple preparation, but on a gustatory level, it can be combined with different flavors or even wine. In fact, during summertime, a rosé Aperol spritz will offer a completely new level of fun to the pizza matching."
DF: "My suggestion is Castelfalfi blond beer, which is chilled and sparkling."