What to drink with pizza

The pizza vs. wine showdown gets ugly

By Mike Rosenberg

Imported Italian limoncello and Crema di Limoni from Limonoro, Italy  pair surprisingly well with Margherita pizza

Imported Italian limoncello and Crema di Limoni from Limonoro, Italy pair surprisingly well with Margherita pizza

Oh, do we love ourselves some pizza around the household. Pizza’s so deliciously egalitarian. Make it however you like it. Toppings? Your choice. Thickness? Your choice. Vegan, vegetarian, carnivore – there’s a ‘za out there for everyone. For me, it can range from indulgence to “don’t feel like cooking tonight … what can I throw on a crust?” Yep. Put toppings on a well-covered crust and I’m signing up.

If you’ve poked around this space for any amount of time, you know my usual recommendations for pizza. I either crack a medium-bodied Italian red or some kind of sparkling wine when the disc of deliciousness emerges from the oven. I swear by them both. After receiving a “come hang out and we’ll order pizza” invite from some friends, the idea hit me – why not try a side by side of Italian wine and bubbly. Cage match. Vino a vino. Or something.

Regardless, it made for the perfect excuse to kill a couple of bottles.

I’m pretty lucky. About five minutes from me is a pizzeria owned by a third-generation Italian family. They make a tremendous southern Italian, stone oven-baked, thin crust pie. I ordered two to sample – one pepperoni, one Margherita. For those not familiar, Margherita is fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil.

I packed up my dog (a beagle) and headed over to their place. While waiting for our pizza, we enjoyed a delicious antipasti provided by dear friend Chris and his lovely wife. A sufficient amount of time passed. No need for delivery. A block’s not too far to stroll, after all. Pizza retrieved, we opened the two wines for the evening:

Freixenet (NV) Extra Dry Cava and Capestrano 2008 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

The Freixenet is a Spanish sparkling wine I’ve used as a fallback basic bubbly for eons. It’s very flavorful and crisp. If you remember your sparkling wine terminology, among commonly available wines, one labeled “brut” will be the driest. “Extra dry” means that there’s a hint of residual sugar left in the wine. With something like pizza, an ever-so-slight amount of sweetness can make the wine pair a bit better, in my opinion.

The Capestrano is a very decent Montepulciano. It’s easy to get confused with this wine. You may remember: a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, like the one here, is made from the Montepulciano grape in the region of Abruzzo. It’s a medium bodied, relatively smooth red. You might also see “Rosso di Montepulciano.” This wine is from the Montepulciano region in Tuscany and is made from Sangiovese grapes, as is Chianti. For a general “drinking with anything” role, I think Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a very solid balance of value and flavor. Both these wines are around $10.

We fell to eating. We tried our best to do the 2×2 comparison, taking detailed notes and really tasting – but as is so common when we all get together, we got to chatting. After several slices and a few refills, however, consensus formed in a surprising manner.

The preferences broke along gender lines. Chris and I preferred the Cava with the pepperoni and the Montepulciano with the Margarita. We thought that the sparkler cut the fattiness of the sausage and let the flavor (and they use good pepperoni) come through. We thought the red wine pointed up the red sauce and the basil on the other.

Chris’ wife and mine, however, went the other way. They thought that the cava went better with the Margherita, since the bubbles cut the mozzarella and let the fresh basil reign. They also both thought that the depth of the Montepulciano was a better complement for the meat.

Thanks to a surprise from Chris, we got to do one additional comparison. A good friend of his, Blake, is in the Navy Reserves and is deployed in Italy. He sent Chris a “share package” not long ago. Within were a couple of traditional Italian aperitifs/digestifs: Limoncello and Crema di Limoni from Limonoro, a liqueur maker in Sorrento. We decided to open them. Chris also had some homemade limoncello – so we needed to do a side-by-side of those in the interest of science, of course.

There was a distinct difference between the Limonoro and the homemade. The limoncello had a slightly sharper flavor. We could taste a thread of bitterness from the rind and the tartness was sharper. The Limonoro was smoother. Chris and I split on this one. Brewer’s Tongue loyalty won out for him. However, with the Crema di Limoni, I thought I was going to lose Chris – I think he discovered his touchstone after-dinner drink. “This blows my mind!” he exclaimed. While I wouldn’t go that far, I thought it was pretty darned tasty and made a good closer for our evening’s experiment.

So, what did we learn? My beagle can co-exist quite easily with a cocker spaniel and a collie. You can’t go wrong with either Italian reds or sparkling wine if you’re throwing down a pizza. And palates may be gender-specific. We’ll have to come back to the last for further examination.

Especially if there’s more pizza involved.

Reach DCP freelance writer Mike Rosenberg at MikeRosenberg@DaytonCityPaper.com or visit his blog at www.TheNakedVine.net.

Mike Rosenberg
Reach DCP freelance writer Mike Rosenberg at MikeRosenberg@DaytonCityPaper.com or visit his blog at TheNakedVine.net.

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