In my ongoing quest to find what wines go with fast food, I turn now to my favorite fast food of all, pizza. What epitomizes fast food, and I’m talking New York City fast food, more than pizza? Grabbing a slice on the go is as natural as hopping on the subway or taking a stroll through Central Park. It’s what we do.
This should be easy then, right? Pizza after all is one of the quintessential Italian restaurant staples. All that tomato sauce, cheese and herbs mean this is a classic pairing for Chianti and Barbera, of course. But is that really true? Let’s find out.
I want to be able to include as many people as possible in this exercise, which means that in addition to classic NYC street pizza, I included both upscale and chain iterations of my two favorite pies, plain and pepperoni. While we don’t have a Pizza Hut close at hand here in NYC, we do have both Domino’s and Papa John’s, so in addition to the “gourmet,” super thin crust pizza that has become all the rage here in NYC, I included both of those nationally available staples.
As always, I caution against interpreting the results of this tasting too narrowly. These are the wines I chose, but only to represent the general styles of wine. I am not suggesting that these are specifically the “ideal” wines.
2010 Folonari Pinot Grigio – A light, crisp white
2009 Rutherford Ranch Chardonnay - A moderately rich Chardonnay
2010 Cono Sur Pinot Noir – A light, fresh Pinot Noir
2010 Coltibuono Cetamura Chianti – A classic Chianti
2007 Cantine Valpane Barbera – A rich Barbera
2008 Tamas Zinfandel – A lighter, fruitier style of Zinfandel
NV Cleto Chiarli Pruno Nero Lambrusco – A relatively dry style of Lambrusco, a lightly sparkling Italian red wine.
Domino’s Plain Pizza
Domino’s plain pizza was well, sort of plain. It’s a bit on the doughy side, with cheese and herb flavors. With such light flavors in play, it’s not surprising that the bigger, more intense wines, like the Barbera, Lambrusco and Chardonnay, totally dominated the flavors of the pizza. Both the Chianti and the Pinot Noir turned thin and a bit too astringent with this pairing. This left the Pinot Grigio and the Zinfandel as the clear winners for this flight, both of which exhibited bright, fruity characters that complimented the pizza.
Domino’s Pepperoni Pizza
The pepperoni used by Domino’s is not particularly aggressively flavored, so the overall flavor profile didn’t change that much. There was just enough difference to nudge some wine into and out of the sweet spot.
Both winners with the plain pizza, the Pinot Grigio and the Zinfandel, still worked fairly well, but both showed their softer sides. The Pinot Noir smoothed out nicely, but lacked the flavor intensity to show much. The Barbera began to come on strong, actually loosing some of its fruit, but really brought the pepperoni flavor to the fore.
The Chardonnay was a bit of a soft mess here, leaving the Chianti and Lambrusco vying for top honors. The Chianti added lovely red berry fruit and a hint of spice to the palate, while rounding out nicely. The Lambrusco was clear, cleansing and refreshing on the palate, which made for an ideal pairing.
Papa John’s pizza was even cheesier than the Domino’s, and sweeter to boot, though it still was not particularly tomato flavored.
Oddly, the sweetness in the pie just made the Pinot Grigio seem sweeter. That sweetness stripped out the fruit from the Pinot Noir, Chianti. and Zinfandel, leaving these reds lean and dry. The Barbera showed fairly well here with a smooth, rich character, but the pizza had trouble competing with this Barbera’s intensity.
That left the Chardonnay and Lambrusco to vie for the top spot. The Lambrusco was not terrible, a soft and easy pairing with flavors that competed with the pizza’s for attention. Surprisingly, though I should stop being surprised by this, the Chardonnay turned out to be the best pairing here. Its richness worked well with the cheesiness of Papa John’s pie, and the wine and food melded well, revealing a nice array of fruit and oak spice that complimented the pizza.
Papa John’s Pepperoni
Papa John’s pepperoni was more flavorful than the pepperoni used by Domino’s, as well as a touch spicier.
You might think that just adding a few rounds of pepperoni to a slice wouldn’t significantly change the food and wine pairing dynamic, and for the most part you would be right. The Pinot Grigio didn’t seem quite as sweet here as with the plain pizza, but it was a bit flat and too lightly flavored to work well here. The Pinot Noir and Zinfandel both remained a bit flat as well, and the spice of the pepperoni did little to help the cause of the Barbera.
The Chardonnay turned a bit softer as the fat of the pepperoni took its toll on this relatively low acid wine, leaving the Chianti and the Lambrusco to duke it out. The Lambrusco was once again nicely refreshing, and the herbal notes perked up nicely in the mouth with this combination. The Chianti though really showed its strength, exhibiting nice textural contrast while integrating well with the flavors of the pizza.