A story from somewhere around the net.
A man walks into a restaurant just outside of Naples and barks out his order. “I want 3 things: a pepperoni pizza, a green salad, and a bottle of red wine - Chianti.” This guy just wasn’t about to get sweet talked into some local flavor. No siree, especially since he had already perfected the formula. It’s a little like when tourists in Italy ask for the olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip their bread in; opting for traditions that never really existed locally but have become de rigueur in American-Italian restaurants. Sorry, no punch line here, our hero got his pizza with the classic pizza wine: a cheap Chianti. In wine parlance, a pizza wine is a cheap red wine, usually Italian, with the assumption that a fine wine would be wasted on a pizza. Inexpensive Chianti, Barbera, Valpollicella and Montipulciano are all usual suspects. So what’s wrong with Chianti and pizza? Let’s go to Naples, the ancestral home of pizza, on a quest to find the perfect pizza wine. Do the clichés hold true? Is it Chianti or at least red and cheap?
Flatbreads called pizzas were long popular as a peasant food in Italy with a form of them brought over by the ancient Greeks. But what we now consider pizza owes itself to a visit by Queen Margherita to Naples in 1889. She had developed a taste for the popular food and summoned a local pizza maker, Rafaelle Esposito, to bake a selection for her and King Umberto I. Her favorite was topped with mozzarella, basil, and tomato (representing the green, red & white of the Italian flag). It soon after became known as Pizza Margherita. Her approval of the humble food increased its popularity, which obviously has grown well outside of Naples and Italy. So what do most Neapolitans drink with their pizza? It’s probably not that shocking that the beverages of choice are beer and soda. Da Michele, Naples’ most popular Pizzeria, which is minimal in both décor and menu, serves only beer and soda in addition to Marinara and Margherita pizza. Their beverage of choice makes sense, especially during the heat of the summer.
OK then, does anyone in Naples drink wine with pizza? Yes, but it’s usually a local white. Fiano di Avellino and Falanghina were top suggestions. Interestingly enough, the Italian Trade Commission which has an extensive food and wine website - italianmade.com - recommends Fiano di Avellino as a pairing for Pizza Margherita, which I could have learned without travelling to Italy. It was almost as if the Trade Commission made sure that the entire city is on message, which is no doubt unlikely. While Fiano di Avellino is one of the great white wines of Italy, the locally very popular Falanghina seems to be the most in keeping with the bold Neopolitan spirit. It throws its arms around you and gives you a big basket of fruit all the while maintaining its elegance and composure. It also has a great history, thrives in the local volcanic soil and was a favorite of Pliny the Elder. It isn’t widely exported but is definitely a wine to seek out, especially ones from Campi Flegrei, Sannio, and Taburno.
So is red wine wrong with Pizza? Not necessarily. Just because Neopolitans don’t usually pair the two doesn’t make it wrong. The local Aglianico and Piedrosso grapes make wines that actually pair superbly with pizza, with just the right amount of acidity to balance the tomato sauce. Cheap? Why not drink a good (or even great) wine with a pizza? The prevailing wisdom that pizza is peasant food that deserves a peasant wine should have been made irrelavent by Queen Margherita’s endorsement of it back in 1889. While peasant in origins, pizza is pretty much universally enjoyed regardless of how much or how little you have in the bank. In fact the simple elegance of a well made traditional pizza can complement the finest wines – I know of at least one group of tasters who regularly have pizza with some of the finest (and most expensive) wines in the world. Fiano di Avellino, one of the top local suggestions is not a cheap wine. The region was recently elevated to DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) becoming one of the 30 (out of 457) Italian appellations to achieve this status. Still, the wine is not expensive for the level of quality achieved by top producers such as Feudi San Gregorio, Mastroberardino, Terradora and Vesevo.
Remember a traditional pizza is mostly bready crust, which is fairly neutral and acts as a buffer for the creaminess of the mozzarella and the sweetness and acidity of the tomato sauce. Indeed, bread and crackers are palate-cleansing staples of many fine wine tastings. So what is the perfect pizza wine? Now that we know a good pizza wine is not necessarily red and not necessarily cheap, is there such a thing as a perfect one? Our visit to Naples didn’t exactly narrow down our search. Referring to the latest and greatest book on wine and food pairing, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenberg’s What to Drink.”