Phaedra Hise on August 11, 2016 0 Comments Sometimes you go to a concert to sit and listen to the band play, and sometimes the band is there for you to dance and have fun with your friends. Either way, the experience is enhanced by music, but only if it’s the right vibe for the right event. A wedding band would feel like a failure if the guests just sat there and stared. It’s the same for pizza. Whether you’ve built your own backyard wood-fired oven or you’re sprinkling your favorite toppings on a frozen crust, pizza is a meal that brings friends together. The pizza hovers in the background, more of an enabler to the social gathering than a “hey, look at me” main course. And the wine should play along. Google “wine with pizza” and way too many results pop up. There’s no shortage of ideas for what to drink with your slice. But make sure you are taking the right approach. “What wine goes with…?” is the wrong question to ask. “What wine do I like that goes with…” is actually the right place to start. Wine choices are personal and idiosyncratic. So rather than recommend specific types I’m going to list five different guidelines. These will help you always make the right choice that works for you, not for the fancy wine expert (although thanks to sommelier and Modern Gentleman author Jason Tesauro for the music analogy). Select a rule, and start tasting! 1. Wines You Already Like This is really my favorite pairing rule, because it’s so generous. There is lots of room for trying new wines, and the only real guideline is to remember what type you like. We can all remember that rule, which makes it easy. For example, if you like Rosé, then drink a Rosé. If you prefer reds, then stick with those. Test your favorites until you find the right bottle that works with your preferred pizza. One key thing to remember here is that those old rules of what goes with red and white wine don’t really apply anymore. There are powerful full-bodied whites that can stand up to cured meats. And plenty of red-wine fans drink their favorites with pasta or seafood dishes. The key here is to find the best red or white or Rosé to pair with your pizza choice. This isn’t to say that every wine would work for every pizza. For example, if you gravitate toward Big Reds like Amarones, Cabernet Sauvignons or Riojas, you may find that breaking out one of those bad boys can overwhelm a mushroom and herb pizza. But hey, if you love a full-bodied wine, it’s worth trying. You may discover an inspired new pairing that you love. 2. Terroir If you’ve been pairing wines with food for a while then you may already have heard of the concept that “things that grow together go together”. This is the idea of “terroir”, or the special mix of soil and climate that makes each growing area unique. Terroir drives inspired blendings of kitchen ingredients like ratatouille, that French summer mix of garden-fresh eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini and bell peppers. The same rule works with wines. And for pizza, that obviously sends us to Italy. Now that we’ve got the country targeted, narrow down the wine selections. This can be difficult for Italy, home to over 2000 grape varieties. The good news is, with that many options you’ll find one you love. Personally, when I think Italian, I think reds, but why limit yourself? You could use an Italian wine flowchart to help select the right Italian red or white for your taste. Or, go to the source. Pizza originated in Naples, and even today Neapolitan pizza is governed by strict rules for ingredients and cooking. Naples is based in Campania, in the center of Italy’s southern wine region, and mostly known for its whites. In fact, the French are crazy for pizza as well, so you could really try any lovely Vin de Pays from your favorite region. 3. Food and Wine Pairings If you already have some experience with pairing wines with various foods, you can use that knowledge as a launching pad to pair a particular bottle with a specific pizza. This guideline works best if you are the one cooking or ordering the pizzas, rather than the guest bringing a bottle to dinner. Forget about the pizza for a moment and focus on the toppings. Mushroom and truffle oil; artichoke and prosciutto; cured salami medley – whatever your toppings, if those were the main elements of a plated dish, what wine would you pair with it? A meat-focused pizza can handle your favorite tannic red that you would pair with a charcuterie plate or a sausage and pasta dish. A delicate mushroom or four-cheese and herb pie would work better with a full-bodied Chardonnay. Obviously this can get tricky if you are serving several different types of pizza. You may find that your wine choice actually steers you in a pizza “grouping” direction – such as having an intense all-meat pizza night, or only serving spring veggie pizza options. You can also use this cool app to help guide you with wine pairings for pizza toppings: Wine/Pizza Pairing App. 4. Wines Your Guests Like My husband, a former chef, is the host with the most. He remembers what people like and the last time he served it to them. He never forgets a food allergy or sensitivity. His guideline for entertaining is often: Do our guests have a preference? For example, he remembers that one of our regular guests spends summers in France and loves Rosés from Provence. When that friend comes for pizza night, we will select either a favorite Rosé, or one we think our friend would like to meet. On the flip side of the guest coin, this guideline can help you when guests ask what they can bring. If they are wine people, encourage them to indulge their tastes by suggesting, “You know Rosés so well, bring one you think would work with goat cheese, prosciutto, rosemary and honey.” Or you can use any of these rules to offer a general guideline that your less-experienced guests can take into a wine shop for recommendations. Something like, “a light Italian red”, or “a heavier Viognier”. 5. Wines Your Favorite Pizza Place Serves Ok, I’m not talking Papa John’s, or even the corner trattoria. I’m talking the chef-owned, trendy fresh-ingredient place with a well-stocked bar and a wood-fired oven for making hip gourmet pizzas. Even if they don’t have a sommelier in house, the wait staff at higher-end restaurants are trained to pair their wines with everything on the menu. Drop by, buy a drink, and ask the bartender what they would pair with one of their pizzas (maybe don’t do this on a busy Friday night). Ask what their customers tend to drink with different pizzas. Even better, eat there and try some pairings yourself. Tasting a few wines by the glass will help you discover a few favorites that you can then try at home. So there you have it, a few guidelines that can liven up your next pizza night. Of course, you could make all of this really easy by simply buying “Pizza Wine”, which is apparently a thing that someone out there is actually putting in bottles. But I recommend classing it up, and impressing your friends with your confident pizza and wine pairings. It all starts with knowing what you like.