A box of wine and two frozen pizzas are a staple of my bi-weekly grocery trip. The frozen pizzas are great when my fridge is empty and ordering delivery feels too spendy or like it’s just going to be a whole thing. And the wine helps to make me feel sophisticated — even when I’m just chowing down on frozen pizza in front of the TV and/or imbibing from a cardboard box.
It wasn’t until recently, however, that I found myself at the grocery store in a moment of deep reflection. “Can you pair wine with pizza?” I wondered, gazing at the same display of boxed wines I’ve seen a hundred times before. “Should I have been pairing different wines with different pizzas this whole time?”
There’s an entire industry built around pairing types of wine with every sort of foodstuff, after all. So to find out what wine best pairs with what pizza, I turned to professional sommelier David Bowen.
When in Doubt, Go Red
“The main thing to keep in mind when pairing certain wines with your pizza is that it’s all about the toppings and the sauce — those are the flavors that you want the wine to match and complement,” Bowen tells me. “In general, most pizzas pair well with red wine simply because most pizzas have tomato sauce and cheese.”
Be it a spicy pepperoni pizza, a BBQ chicken pizza, an anchovy pizza or “any meaty pizza that’s heavy and full of flavor,” you can’t go wrong with red wine. “Pizza can be quite heavy, and the dough tends to have an earthy flavor, so red wine works as a beautiful compliment,” Bowen continues. “Even just for a cheese pizza, any red will have the right amount of acidity to cleanse the palate after every bite.”
The Power of the Chianti
As for the grape variety or region? Don’t sweat it too much. “It can be practically any red, something that you know you like and enjoy,” Bowen says. But if you’re looking for a specific type of red wine to pair with your pizza, Bowen says a chianti would be his top pick. “The combination of flavors that it brings is very reminiscent of Mediterranean olives, which makes it pair so well with pizza.”
Even with all the unique flavors that a veggie pizza can bring, Bowen’s choice remains the chianti. “In this case I’d specifically recommend a Chianti Classico, which is both savory and spicy,” he explains. “Because with the veggies, you’re looking for something that’s a little more delicate in flavor.”
You Don’t Always Need to Be Faithful to Red
You can, however, shake things up. “Say you have a light pizza, something simple like the classic Margherita,” Bowen says, “I’d pair this with dry rosé wine, as it would be delicate enough to bring out the basil and herb flavors, all while complementing the tomato sauce.”
Similarly, Bowen recommends a white wine to go with fruity, sweeter-tasting pizzas such as the Hawaiian. “I’m a fan of pineapple on pizza, but I’d pair it with something that can match the sweetness of the fruit,” he explains. “A white wine will be best, and specifically, I’d recommend Riesling, maybe a semi-dry one.”
And for those who prefer a white pizza, or a pizza with a cream-based white sauce instead of tomato, Bowen suggests a Chardonnay. “It would go well with the heaviness of the pizza while complementing the creamy flavors by adding some fruity tones,” he says.
To put an exclamation mark on this whole exercise — which Bowen argues is anything but silly — he tells me, “People love wine, and people love pizza, so pairing wine with pizza is a great way to learn more about how certain subtle notes in different wines pair so well with different flavors of food. Pizza and wine together are the epitome of a classy meal — or maybe that’s just what my wife and I tell ourselves when we want a lazy night in.”