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March 28, 2010

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Let's have pizza, but what's the best wine choice?

I BOUGHT a pizza on the way home recently from a formal wine dinner in Shanghai at which I was too busy making sure the guests were happy to enjoy my meal. So I was hungry.

What's easier than a late night pizza? And what about the wine?

Some pizza purists in Italy and elsewhere claim beer as their preferred beverage, but I beg to differ. I think wine can make almost any food taste better, even pizza.

Perhaps because of sentiment, style or that the two have lived side-by-side for centuries, I prefer Italian wines with pizza. Keeping with the casual nature and modest price of a pizza meal, I'll suggest moderately priced wines all available in Shanghai.

The initial concern when pairing pizza and wine is the type of pizza, the topping and thickness of the crust. Also, pizzas worth eating, and those that go best with wines, are not the mass-produced commercial ones that add sugar to sauces and use an industrial glue-like cheese instead of the classic buffalo mozzarella.

A good pizza may be simple but, like all good foods, it depends on quality ingredients. These ingredients dictate the best wine solution.

Naples is generally considered the home of the modern pizza, but ancient references to pizza come from other regions of Italy including Abruzzi, Apulia, Sicily and Tuscany.

Even in Naples there's controversy over what constitutes the classic pizza: one with oil, tomato, garlic and oregano, often referred to as marinara, or the very popular Margherita, made with tomato, mozzarella and basil and named in honor of an Italian queen over a century ago.

I don't know who's right, but I do know that both are lovely with fruity white wines with good acidity. The fruit of the whites complements the tomato and basil flavors while the acidity cuts through the proteins and fat of the cheese. Quite simply, harmony of the palate is achieved.

Wines in this category include the Falanghina Campania Sannio from Campania where Naples is located, a crisp and fruity Soave from good producers like Masi or Zonin, or even a Pinto Grigio from northern Italy producers like Russiz in Friuli or Alois Lageder in Alto Adige. All these whites work equally well with pizzas with seafood toppings or white sauces.

When I crave meat, I'll choose a pizza with sausage or other meat topping along with the tomato sauce and cheese. The natural choice is a red wine to complement the meat and cheese; however, because of the tomato sauce you need a red with good acidity to match the acidity of the tomato sauce.

Your best solution is a well made, basic Chianti from top Tuscan producers like Ruffino, Carpineto or Castello di Querceto.

My personal favorite with meaty pizzas is a nice Barbera, a fruity, sometimes spicy red with good acidity from Piedmont in the northwest of Italy.

Quality producers include Pio Cesare and Michele Chiarlo. All these reds are sure to embellish your already delicious pizza experience. Remember to chill the light reds to about 14-15 degrees Celsius.


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