Pairing Wine with Pizza

7 wines go up against 4 popular pizzas


Pizza and wine: It’s a natural combination, right?

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.

The Pies

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.

The Wines

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

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.

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  • I bet you had fun "researching" this article. I have actually never had a Lambrusco, but now I want to get a pizza and bottle and try this pairing out. Is Lambrusco better chilled or room temperature?

    Nov 08, 2011 at 10:22 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 233,904

    Lambrusco, being a lightly sparking wine, is usually better a bit chilled, but to around 55F, not refrigerated. Most are a bit sweet though firmly red wines so getting them too cold highlights there soft tannins and smothers the fruit. I hope you find and enjoy one. Also great with salami and the like!

    Nov 08, 2011 at 10:51 AM

  • In the store we carry one, and it's called Barbolini. Have you ever heard of that?

    Nov 08, 2011 at 11:07 AM

  • My second comment disappeared.... Thanks for the information. In the store we carry one called Barbolini Lambrusco. Have you heard of that one?

    Nov 08, 2011 at 11:07 AM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 9,990

    Very interesting article.

    Thank you, Greg, once again you are there for us. Your research is invaluable and appreciated.

    Nov 08, 2011 at 1:52 PM

  • Snooth User: jalfieri
    603989 0

    You said Pizza, and then you said Domino's. Which is it? Major non sequitur.

    Nov 08, 2011 at 3:44 PM

  • Arrrrrrrrrgh! WHEN are people going to step outside of the white wine box and recommend/try something other than chardonnay and pinot grigio???? So boring! How about chablis or vedicchio or vouvray or viognier? Or my personal favorite, Gruet? Red is not the only color of wine that has variety.

    Nov 08, 2011 at 3:55 PM

  • Snooth User: Sallyha
    969261 0

    Call me weird, but I like champagne with pizza. I told that to an Italian and he didn't laugh - says some Italians have prosecco with theirs.

    Nov 08, 2011 at 5:59 PM

  • I agree, Sallyha. Gruet is champagne, although it can't be called that technically, since it is produced in the U.S.

    Nov 08, 2011 at 6:19 PM

  • Snooth User: Sallyha
    969261 0

    Hi Snoother, I didn't know about Gruet but I understand that as in Australia we must refer to it as sparkling wine.

    Nov 08, 2011 at 6:22 PM

  • There are also some great 'stuffed' pizzas out there, about 1" thick with crust on both sides. Definitely worth trying. I live near one purveyor in Williamstown, NJ - Giuseppi's - which makes one that can satisfy a small army for $ 22. Deep reds, even simple, magnify the experience.

    Nov 08, 2011 at 7:20 PM

  • Snooth User: cellarat
    169900 12

    I really do believe that red wine red sauce too much red when I sit down with my favorite pie Samosky's in Valley City Ohio I will always try to have a bottle of sparkling wine chandon blanc noir is one of my go to bubblies it melds so wonderfully with the acid from from the red sauce and quells the saltiness of the ham and anchovies,

    Nov 09, 2011 at 5:40 AM

  • Snooth User: teddz
    880703 39

    Sorry, gang, but I tend to follow tried and true traditions and drink what Italians most often drink with their pizza: BEER.
    There are just too many other food and wine pairings out there that merit some attention. Not this one.

    Nov 09, 2011 at 9:52 AM

  • What a bizarre selection of wines to try with Pizza!

    One I find offers the best value match, is Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, time after time. Its red, it comes from Italy, and is perfectly able to deal with cheese and tomato, and any herby toppings.
    Yet its simple enough and usually cheap - dont let that put you off. I find wines of the east coast to be underpriced

    Nov 09, 2011 at 10:42 AM

  • Am I right in believing that Papa Johns does not use Mozzarella in its "pizzas"?
    If so, should you be advertising it as pizza?

    Nov 09, 2011 at 10:45 AM

  • Snooth User: nyjazzman
    970624 11

    Are Papa John's and Domino's paying for this piece? Having grown up in New York and eating PIZZA how could you even mention that crap! I'm sure that there is good and maybe even great pizza outside of New York ( we recently had a terrific pie in Sutter Mill, California with a local Sangiovese)but using those manufacturers as examples in an insult!

    Nov 10, 2011 at 6:33 PM

  • Even though it was last tasted thirty years ago when I was a youth, I can still taste real New Jersey Italian pizza by the slice, by using my imagination, here in England.

    nyjazzman is right to complain!

    And right about Sangiovese, which always pairs well with cooked tomato sauce

    Nov 11, 2011 at 5:54 AM

  • Snooth User: Fabiocubo
    690739 8

    @teddz: being Italian, and loving pizza (goes without saying...), I can confirm that you'd be hard pressed to find wine on a pizzeria table, beer being by far the favorite pairing, with Coke (sic) a close runner-up. Still, a Lambrusco Secco (not Amabile) would be a good choice as well. In the end, though, I believe it's the pizza itself that makes the difference, and US- and genuine Italian Pizza are so different that as Cole Porter said: Anything Goes!

    Nov 11, 2011 at 6:29 AM

  • Snooth User: ZoeSimon
    578241 0

    I had to try a pairing that night! Lambrusco and NY-style pizza. It was fabulous.

    Nov 11, 2011 at 8:36 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 6,156

    jazzman, I assume Greg mentioned the chains because that would be relevant to the folks who live outside NYC. Frankly, I think another piece might be in order for pizzas more purely Italianate--in tokyo I live in easy walking distance from four pizzerias that take their inspiration from Italy, rather than North Amreica. Domino's, Pizzahut and their ilk exist, but never make the cut at my household either. I usually end up having chiantis and barolos and pinot biancos with mine, though a few chards from Israel and elsewhere, as well as champagne and cavas and proseccos and southern Italian whites and even an occasional Rhone (even syrahs from WA) enter the mix. One or two of those pizzerias make me think of those I've had in Campania--most often with seafood....

    Greg, hilarious rant by Stewart. Thanks for the link!

    Nov 14, 2011 at 8:25 PM

  • Snooth User: Isaac42
    98135 33

    Weird. I lived in Italy for two years, and never once saw an Italian drink beer. Must be a different part of Italy.

    Dec 10, 2011 at 12:56 PM

  • Give Pizza Chants with Nero D' Avola.

    Feb 15, 2012 at 2:37 PM

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