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The Best Pizza-Friendly Wines, Picked by the Pros

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Welcome to Vintage America, a column in which Eater Wine Editor Talia Baiocchi takes a hyperfresh look at all things wine related.

osteria-mozza-tough-doors-eater.jpg [Photo: Pizzeria Mozza]

In honor of Pizza Week, we are going straight to the trenches to ask the beverage directors at some of the country's most revered pizza joints (and one four-star Italian restaurant, why not?) about how they fell in love with pizza, where they eat it and, most importantly—what they drink with it.

Here now, please meet Steve Wildy of the Vetri Restaurants in Philadelphia, Taylor Parsons of Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles, Chris Wright of Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco, Philip Walters of Balena in Chicago and the fancy wrench in the line-up, Jeff Porter of Del Posto in New York.


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Steve Wildy | Beverage Director, Vetri Restaurants, Philadelphia

When did you first realize you loved pizza?
I grew up in Northern Ireland where pizza wasn't really a thing. But I watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles religiously and they would eat it at the end of every episode, and I would imagine eating it in America some day and being as awesome as Michaelangelo. So I kind of fell in love with it before I'd really had it. And I fell in love with it again when I had Pizza Hut for the first time, and again when I tasted goopy, NY-style pizza, and then again when I had real deal wood-fired pizza, like we do at Osteria. I still love each of those styles, even that first imaginary anchovy and marshmallow pizza, dude.
Best pizza in Philadelphia?
I honestly believe that Osteria's pizza is the best in Philly. There are also amazing pizzas at Taconelli's, Stella, Lorenzo's, and Mama Palm's.
Your favorite pie?
When I'm working it's the "Lombarda" pie: bitto cheese, tomato sauce, and a whole egg. The menu version has sausage, but I go without.
Your go-to pizza wines?
1) Lambrusco! It's a great palate cleanser and the tannins works well with cheese and the acid with the tomatoes. I really like Lini 910 "Labrusca" and Medici Ermete "Concerto", but pretty much any Lambrusco works fantastically. 2) Really light, fresh sangiovese like Le Ragnaie's Chianti Classico Colli Senesi, is great for the same reasons. 3) I also really love light, fruity reds from Southern Italy. Calabrian and Sicilian food tends to be chock full of our stereotypical Italian-American ingredients, such as tomatoes, basil, chili flakes, black olives, eggplant, etc, and these things show up on pizza quite a bit. The gaglioppo grape in the hands of Calabrian producers like Librandi, Statti, and Tenuta del Conte works incredibly well with these flavors, as do some of the fresher nero d'avola and/or frappato wines from Tami, Arianna Occhipinti, and COS in Sicily. [Photo: Steve Wildy]



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Jeff Porter | Wine Director, Del Posto, New York

When did you first realize you loved pizza?
My first cognitive love of pizza came from this place is in College Station, Texas (home of Texas A & M). I lived there from age two to five. It was this place called Mama's Pizza. The only things I can remember about it today are the jukebox, pool tables, and the smell. That smell of greasy cheese and pepperoni (which was probably plastic) and that thick, yeasty dough. I LOVED IT! Four slices of pepperoni, mushroom, and black olive...that was my jam!
Best pizza in NYC?
The NYC pizza experience is a long, continual path and I am torn between Motorino, Keste, Franny's and Roberta's. I like them each for different reasons but if it comes down to just the pie itself I'd have to go with Franny's. Your go to pie? I have two: Tomato, basil and Buffalo Mozzarella, and when I need my weekly salt intake adjusted to its zenith I go with tomato, anchovies, capers, olives, chilies and parmigiano reggiano.
Your go-to pizza wines?
1) Rose. I like the fruit and the chill to keep my palate fresh while the cheese is hot and the sausage spicy. Right now I love the Bonavita Rosato IGT Sicilia. This may be one of the best rosati I've had in a long time. 2) Fiano. There is nothing better than a fiano with a Margarita pizza or one with some veggies. The citrus, herbal, and mineral qualities of the wine seem to pull these kinds of pies together. 3) Nero di troia. I am currently stoked about Cefalicchio's Puglia Rosso di Canosa. The wine is plump, inky, full of dark fruits mixed with leather and dust, firm tannins and bright acidity. This is for when I have to hit up the "Meat Lovers" pizza.
Any weird pairings?
I love Margaritas with my pizza. I am a bit of an acid hound so I tend to make my Margaritas quite tart, and I love the freshness of the drink with a classic Margarita pizza in the summer. [Photo: Jeff Porter]


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Chris Wright | Beverage Director, Delfina, Pizzeria Delfina, Locanda Osteria - San Francisco

When did you first realize you loved pizza?
Five or six years ago I was having dinner for the first time at Pizzeria Delfina with my buddies. It was loud, I think "Welcome to the Jungle" was playing. We finished our pizza and I drank the rest of my beer, stood up to go to the bathroom, the song ended and I knocked my chair over hard onto the tile floor; everyone's heads whipped around and just stared at me in silence. I was standing there, embarrassed, buzzed, and just threw my hands in the air and yelled, "This is the best pizza I've ever had!" Everyone else just started yelling and clapping and we all went on eating pizza. Pizza really is the most non-American, American thing there is.
Favorite pizza in San Francisco?
When it comes down to it, it's Pizzeria Delfina's Margarita pizza. Your go to pie? Salsiccia pie. The meatball calzone on the "secret menu" at Pizzeria Delfina (they're going to kill me for saying that).
Three of your go-to pizza wines and why?
In general, I think that lighter un-oaked white wines work better than reds do with pizza. The acidity and the tomatoes play well together. At the moment, my favorite all around pizza wine is the Tami Grillo from Sicily. It works well with the sauce and really brings out any herbs in the pie. The Cantina di Gallura "Pedres" Vermentino di Gallura is bright, fresh floral and fruity. It's especially delicious with our salsiccia pizza because it rips through the fat and brings out the fennel in the sausage. My favorite red wine for pizza at the moment is definitely nerello mascalese. Were working with the Passopisciaro Nerello Mascalese right now. It's bright acidity and ashy minerality are perfect with the charred crust and sauce. [Photo: Eric Wolfinger]


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Taylor Parsons | Beverage Director, Mozza Restaurants, Los Angeles

When did you first realize you loved pizza?
I'm an equal-opportunity pizza lover: great pizza, crappy pizza, cold pizza, hot pizza, stuffed pizza, thin crust. There's just something about bread, sauce and cheese that is all primal deliciousness. But it was Nancy [Silverton] who taught me that pizza is ultimately about the structure and flavor of the crust. Favorite pizza in LA? Professional bias aside, I think Mozza's pizzas are utterly fantastic. It's not about rigid adherence to any one tradition (e.g. Neapolitan, etc.), nor is it about crazy excesses like that Crown Crust madness going on at Pizza Hut. It's about quality ingredients and a touch of chefly ingenuity. Your favorite pie? Mozza's Tomato Pizza with Di Napoli tomatoes. No cheese, just hand-pureed sweet organic tomatoes, Sicilian oregano, Maldon salt and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Blow-your-mind good.
Your go-to pizza wines?
With our funghi misti pizza, for example, you can play off the funk of the taleggio, the earthiness of the mushrooms, and the herbal intensity of the thyme. Schiava from the Alto Adige just shines with that pizza...particularly from producers like Franz Gojer or Baron Widmann. With many of our tomato-based pizzas—and particularly the vegetarian options—I tend to love crisper whites or rosés. The 2010 Castello di Ama Rosato from Tuscany is a slam dunk with our squash blossom-tomato-burrata pie and La Distesa's Verdicchio "Terre Silvate" 2010 from Le Marche has got that briny lemon and ocean-spray thing going on, and it absolutely rocks with our Ipswich clam pizza and anchovy pizza. [Photo: Taylor Parsons]


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Philip Walters | Owner/Beverage Director, Balena, Chicago

When did you fall in love with pizza?
I learned to love pizza the first time I ate at A-16 in SF seven years ago. A-16 focused on the dough, let the wood fire give it crunch and char while maintaining the "tug" as you bit in. The pizza that did it was a simple white sauce and cerignola olive pie- salty, chewy, creamy goodness. Crust before then seemed uninspiring in comparison.
Best pizza in Chicago?
Balena's spicy sausage pizza made from his Peter Becker's special dough recipe and baked in a brick oven. The country went nuts for Great Lake and for good reason: when you show such provenance in ingredients and display the cooking in such simplistic terms with a result like that, its inspiring. I also think Piece is a great Wicker Park haunt, as is Pizza Rustica, which has been bringing in fans of that buttery thin crust style of pizza.
Any notable rivalries?
If you're from Chicago there is reverence for classic deep dish pie and there's a longstanding war between Pizzeria Uno and Duo across the street. Uno was first and uses fresh mozzarella on their pies, Duo came second but has given them a run for their money. You still see people waiting 30-40 minutes to get pizza from either place.
Your favorite pizza wines?
Sagrantino de Montefalco from Umbria, specifically Paolo Bea Montefalco Rosso. Its bitterness balances with sweeter tomato sauce pie. Primitivo from Puglia—Tarabuso is a great producer—for its spicy, fruity core, which plays off of chile spices from spicy sausage or soppressata. Giusto Occhipinti (COS) Nero d'Avola from Sicily gives a bit more structure but its fruit and accessibility make for an easy companion to a great slice of pizza. [Photo: Philip Walters]


Talia Baiocchi is Eater's Wine Editor. Find her on Twitter at @TaliaBaiocchi and over at Eater NY where she covers the treacherous world of New York wine lists via her Decanted column.

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