One Pizza Wine to Rule Them All

Rachel Tepper Paley
June 23, 2014

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Familiar scenario: You’ve had a stressful day, and the local bring-your-own-wine pizza joint is calling your name.

What do you snag at the wine shop?

"Lambrusco," suggests Joseph Hernandez, assistant editor at Wine Enthusiast magazine and one of the red sparkling wine’s most ardent admirers.

"Lambrusco comes from Emilia Romagna [in Northern Italy], which is also the spiritual home of Parmesan," Hernandez explained. "When you think of pairings, a really good rule of thumb is to drink wines with something from the same region. So Lambrusco [is] obviously perfect for pizza.”

Lambrusco sometimes gets a bad rap for being cloyingly sweet, he continued, but plenty of winemakers are successfully combating the stereotype by producing dryer varieties. These light-bodied, slightly fizzy options nimbly cut through the fatty notes of a gooey slice of cheese pizza. Even better, they’re served cold—perfect for a sipping on a balmy summer night.

"You’re not getting the big heaviness of, say, a cabernet, which is so serious,” Hernandez said, adding that “it’s better to have a nice refreshing wine instead of one that puts you in a coma.”

Hernandez, who managed the Olivino Wines wineshop in Brooklyn for two years before heading to Wine Enthusiast, suggests looking for bottles that are between eight- and 10 percent alcohol by volume: “There are really sweet Lambruscos that are around five percent alcohol, so you want to stay away from those,” he said—and priced between $15 and $20, which will help weed out cheap, sickly-sweet varieties.

Higher-quality wines tend to be more specific on their labels, too. “If it just says, ‘Lambrusco,’ the grapes might come from all over… and they’re more likely to be lower in quality,” Hernandez said. Look for descriptions like “grasparossa,” “salamino,” and “sorbara”—all traditional Lambrusco grape varietals.

Among Hernandez’s favorites are the medium-bodied, fruit-forward Cantina di Sorbara NV Nicchia Lambrusco, the dry, berry-laden Medici Ermete Concerto Lambrusco Reggiano Secco, and the earthy-but perky Medici Ermete NV I Quercioli Secco Lambrusco. They’re all great with a cheesy slice of ‘za—or fatty cured meats such as salami.

"Lambrusco is just so fun, it’s different,” Hernandez said. “It’s meant to lighten your palate and get you ready for your dinner.”

Dilemma: solved.