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Which Wines Pair Best With Pizza?

Welcome to Ask a Somm, a column in which experts from across the country answer questions about wine.

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Considered one of San Francisco's essential restaurants, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana is a multi-faceted pizza operation that fires up myriad of pie styles, from Detroit to Sicilian to coal-fired. With its wide range of pizzas and toppings, wine director Juli Gregg pairs mostly Italian and California-sourced juice, much of which is based on the tomato-friendly sangiovese grape. Below, she offers up a few suggestions on how to pair wine with pizza.

Q: What kind of wine best pairs with pizza?

Gregg: To Italians, wine and food go hand in hand. One of the most iconic Italian family dishes is pizza. So, pairing pizza and wine should be easy, right? Or maybe there is more to it. I work with the pizza maker, Tony Gemignani at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. Tony’s is truly the fine dining of pizza due to the quality of products we use, make, and put out. With seven different ovens and nine different kinds of dough, here, wine pairings becomes a little more challenging. The wine list at Tony’s is about 75 percent Italian, with the rest California, not to ignore our backyard in Napa and Sonoma. I personally love the quality and value you get from Italian wines, plus the amount of varietals makes it fun to explore different regions.

Barbera is a great varietal to get non-Italian wine drinkers over to the Italian side with easy, smooth tannins, good fruit, and medium body.

So, what is there to consider when pairing wine and pizza? Well, let’s start with the basics. Dough — is it a thin crust or a thick crust? Is there charcoaling? Next, sauce — is it a delicate hand crushed tomato sauce? Is it a hearty tomato sauce? Pesto? No sauce at all? Just a white pie? Consider then the cheese or cheeses that are used — just mozzarella? Burrata? Goat? Lastly, are there meat toppings? Prosciutto or pepperoni? Sausage? What kind? All these are the key elements to look at when pairing wine with your pizza.

An easy hack to figure out pairings is to look at the ingredients and consider what region of Italy the toppings represent. For example, we have a pizza called the Tartufo. It is a white pie with delicate cheeses, prosciutto, arugula, and finished with truffle oil. These ingredients all are very northern Italian, especially Piemontese. One of my favorite northern Italian varietals is barbera. Barbera pairs with almost everything. It is a medium-bodied, fruity varietal that has enough acid and body to pair with almost any dish. A barbera I love to pair with this pizza is the Marchesi di Barolo, Barbera d’ Alba, Ruvei ($16). This single vineyard Barbera is a smooth, easy drinker that pairs perfectly with the ingredients of the Tartufo pizza, or any pizza with somewhat similar ingredients. Barbera is a great varietal to get non-Italian wine drinkers over to the Italian side with easy, smooth tannins, good fruit, and medium body.

An easy hack to figure out pairings is to look at the ingredients and consider what region of Italy the toppings represent.

Let’s talk meat. Hearty meat pizzas definitely need a different pairing, and therefore, a different region. At Tony’s, we make all our sausage in-house, as well as all the sauces, so pairings become a little easier when you are familiar with the ingredients. Looking for a meat lover’s pizza? Pizza with a heavier tomato sauce and meat always takes me to Tuscany. Since the location of Tony’s is in San Francisco, I have many customers who are very California cabernet oriented when it comes to wine. One of the Tuscan blends I always recommend to my California cab drinkers is the Villa di Capezzana, Carmignano ($21). This blend of sangiovese, cabernet, and cabernet franc satisfies the palate of the California cab drinker, and pairs perfectly with heartier meat pies, such as a sausage and pepperoni pizza.

The San Francisco food scene, like lots of other foodie cities, is very seasonal. The wine by the glass list at Tony’s changes seasonally as well, to help pair with the best of what the season is offering. In the summertime, think tomato, eggplant, corn, and cherries, just to name a few. For those of you who are vegetarians, this is the best season. This takes me to Southern Italy, where the food is a bit more rustic and farm-friendly. This summer, if you’re looking at a pizza with lots of vegetables, tomato sauce, mozzarella, a great varietal to pair with is Nero d’ Avola from Sicily. My favorite this summer is from Cantina Cellaro, Luma ($10). This Nero d’ Avola is a very fresh expression of this varietal that will pair with any vegetable that is in season that you would like to add to your pizza. Yet, it has enough weight to go with meat if so desired. At Tony’s we are very serious about our pizza and our wines. The wine by the glass page of the wine program also lists a food pairing to help those not so familiar with Italian wines, or wine in general. If you find yourself in San Francisco, have a pizza craving, and want to come try some fun stuff, come over to Tony’s Pizza and I will be happy to help pair, taste, play with our wines.

Tony's Pizza Napoletana

1570 Stockton Street, , CA 94133 (415) 835-9888 Visit Website