I can’t imagine eating a pizza without accompanying it with a good bottle of Italian wine. Until the Covid virus came along, I was a member of a group that met once a month to drink Italian wine and eat pizza. Our conversations would focus on the best pizza and wine combinations, which wines were complemented by which pizzas, the latest wine vintages, and the latest doings at some of our favorite local pizzerias.

I hope one day soon we will be able to resume our regular meetings, but even without my pizza and wine lovers group, I continue to indulge my passion for pizza and wine. I frequent a number of pizza restaurants, including Keste Pizza and Vino, Ribalta, and Norma Gastronomia Siciliana in Manhattan, and Sottocasa in Brooklyn. Not only do they all make great pizza, but each has a list of wines I enjoy exploring.

Pizza and Wine Matches an Italian Could Love

Sauvignon Blanc and Pizza Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc Friuli DOC 2019 Pighin (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) is made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is produced without malolactic fermentation or oak aging so it is a true expression of the Sauvignon Blanc grape from Friuli. This dry wine has hints of citrus, sage, tomato leaf, and yellow bell pepper.

  • Technical notes: Because of the sandy subsoil, the roots of the vines go down deep, resulting in richer fruit. The training system is single Guyot with 4,000 vines per hectare. These hand-picked selected grapes of optimum ripeness are gently pressed in a pneumatic press immediately after the harvest. This is followed by a 14- to 18-day cold fermentation in stainless steel tanks.

Pizza Zucchini – Topped with walnut cream, zucchini, smoked provolone, and extra virgin olive oil.  The fresh citrus, sage, and vegetable flavors of the wine complemented the nutty, smoky, and cheesy topping.

Zucchini pizza topped with walnut cream, zucchini, smoked provolone, and extra virgin olive oil
Zucchini pizza topped with walnut cream, zucchini, smoked provolone, and extra virgin olive oil paired with Pighin Sauvignon Blanc from Friuli. Photo: Charles Scicolone

Just the Classics

Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2018 is made from 100% Sangiovese by Tenuta Di Nozzole (Tuscany). The wine has hints of red fruit, cherries, a touch of violets and a note of what my wife calls “sunshine on the Tuscan pines.” This is a traditional, classic Chianti from the Folonari family.

  • Technical notes: The vineyards are at 300 meters, and yields are kept low to obtain concentration and complexity in the wine. The grapes are hand harvested, destemmed, and crushed. Fermentation takes place on the skins in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks; maceration lasts 15 to 20 days. The wine is racked into stainless steel tanks for malolactic fermentation. It is then aged for 24 months in large Slavonian oak vats followed by a minimum of three months in bottle before release.

Pizza Margherita — The simplest and the best pizza in my opinion is a pizza margherita, topped with fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, basil, and a final drizzle of olive oil. The quality of a margherita is the true test of any pizzeria. The fragrance and richness of the fruit and the warmth of this traditional wine makes it a perfect combination with Pizza Margherita.

Pizza Margherita — the simplest and the best pizza (1)
Pizza Margherita — the simplest and best pizza is also the most classic. Pair with a Chianti Classico. Photo: Charles Scicolone

Hearty Wine with Hearty Pizza

Barbera Nizza “Cipressi” DOCG 2018 is made from 100% Barbera, by Michele Chiarlo (Piedmont). The wine has hints of mature cherry, violets, blackberries, raspberries and a touch of sweet spice with good acidity, which makes it a very good wine with food.

  • Technical notes: The grapes are grown in a type of soil called “astiane sand.” It consists of calcareous clay marl of sedimentary marine origin, with a good presence of lime and sand, rich in micro elements, in particular magnesium. The exposure is southeast to southwest at 230 to 280 meters. The training system is Guyot and low spurred cordon. There are 5,000 vines per hectare and the harvest is manual. Vinification is in steel tanks with 10-12 days maceration with the skins with a soft “shower” system of wetting the cap. Malolactic fermentation is in steel. The wine is aged for a minimum of 18 months of which 12 are in large oak casks.

Pizza with Sausage, Mozzarella, Onion, and Peppers — Barbera is my first choice for this pizza because the hearty combination of toppings are enhanced by the wine’s fruit flavor and good acidity.

Pizza with sausage, mozzarella, onion, and peppers
Pizza with sausage, mozzarella, onion, and peppers is a hearty wine that Barbera is a match for. Photo: Charles Scicolone

A Rosé, Fresh and Fragrant, for Focaccia

Pinot Nero Rosé Umbria IGT 2020 is made from 100% Pinot Nero by Tenuta Di Salviano. This is a fresh, fragrant, delicate and fruity wine from Umbria with hints of red fruit, strawberry, cherry, a touch of citrus, and good acidity.

  • Technical notes: Made from a single vineyard located on the right bank of Lake Corbara in Umbria at 1,640 ft. The soil is calcareous-clayey. The farming is organic. The manual harvest starts in late August and only select bunches are chosen. Destemming does not take place so the grapes are pressed quickly. Fermentation is in steel tanks at a low temperature and then the wine spends 6 months on the lees. The estate is owned by the Incisa della Rocchetta Family, producers of Sassicaia.

Foccacia — Topped with rosemary, coarse salt, and extra virgin olive oil, focaccia, while not exactly a pizza, is a close relation. With its simple clear flavors, I like to serve it with this delicate, fruity rosé, and perhaps some cold cuts as a starter or a snack.

Focaccia with rosemary, course salt, and extra virgin olive oil
Focaccia with rosemary, course salt, and extra virgin olive oil pairs well with an Umbrian rose. Photo: Charles Scicolone

Lively Lambrusco with Prosciutto-Topped Pizza

Reggiano Lambrusco “Concerto” 2019 Medici Ermete (produced at the Tenuta La Rampata vineyard in Modena) is a dry red wine, lightly sparkling and fermented naturally. The wine is dry and fruity with a clean finish and pleasing aftertaste. Concerto is the world’s first single vineyard vintage Lambrusco. It is served lightly chilled.

  • Technical notes: Made from 100% Lambrusco di Sorbara. The training system is cordon speronato and the soil is clayey. The wine is certified organic. It has hints of red fruit, strawberry, raspberry and cherry.

Summer Pizza – Mozzarella, prosciutto, whole grape tomatoes, basil, and extra virgin olive oil top this light and fresh pie and make a perfect combination with the lively, cool flavors of the Lambrusco. The slightly salty flavor of prosciutto di Parma enhances the combination.

Summer pizza with mozzarella, prosciutto, whole grape tomatoes, basil, and extra virgin olive oil
Summer pizza with mozzarella, prosciutto, whole grape tomatoes, basil, and extra virgin olive oil goes best with a dry, fizzy Lambrusco from Reggio Emilia. Photo: Charles Scicolone

Charles Scicolone is a wine consultant, writer, educator and blogger. For 11 years, he was for the sommelier and wine director at I Trulli Ristorante and for Vino, the Italian wine store, in NYC. Charles was nominated by the James Beard Awards for outstanding wine service and wine list for six years running. His love for pizza goes back to 1970 when he first went to Naples, where he returns often. He is coauthor along with his wife Michele of the book “Pizza Anyway You Slice It.” Charles teaches wine and food pairing courses, and his favorite class is pizza and wine.

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