Pizza and Wine Pairings that Go Beyond the Classics

Restaurants are pairing creatively, no matter how you slice it. Take pizza and wine to new heights with a variety of bottles from around the world.
Pizza at Moleskine in Montreal

UNESCO has just sent the world a big reminder: pizza is Italian.

Specifically, it’s Neapolitan. During its annual meeting in early December, the organization added Naples’s 3,000 or so pizzaiuoli (pizzamakers) to their Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The “grows together, goes together” rule suggests these pies should be paired with Campanian wines, or at least Italian bottlings. But some pizza places today find that a bit limiting. Here are a few restaurants that take pizza and wine pairings further afield.

Marta in Manhattan
Marta / Photo by Liz Clayman

Marta, New York City

While Marta’s wine list is, in fact, mostly Italian, the cellar includes more than 50 selections of Champagne, and the wine director, Katie Morton, says it’s not just to be festive.

“Champagne is high in acid,” she says. “Pizza can be rich and cheesy, but then you have the tomatoes and their acidity, or lemon juice on a white pizza.” Champagne both matches that acid profile and cuts through the richness. “A second factor is the lees flavor [that] can give a bready undercurrent to the wine, and good pizza dough has similar notes.”

Recommended pairing: “One longtime favorite of mine is the Paul Bara Grand Rosé Brut, paired with our mushroom pizza. The earthiness of the mushrooms makes a great contrast with the fruitiness of the Paul Bara.”

White Lightning pizza at John & Vinny's
White Lightning pizza at Jon & Vinny’s

Jon and Vinny’s, Los Angeles

With a retail wine shop, Helen’s Wines, in the back of the restaurant, Jon and Vinny’s gives diners a chance to enjoy their pizza with wines pours from all over the world, via bottles purchased at the retail wine shop located in the back of the restaurant, helen’s wines, which have a retail and dine-in price. The options include up-and-coming Californians, older vintages from Burgundy, and yes, Italian classics.

Recommended pairing: “I always have a Gamay on.” says Helen Johannesen, the beverage director. “Usually a cru from Beaujolais. To me those wines really lend themselves to red sauce and Bolognese, especially if they’re a little semi-carbonic in the winemaking. They come out of the wine shop at cellar temperature, and it just goes so well with all the flavors.”

Pizza at Moleskine in Montreal

Moleskine, Montreal

Moleskine is a chameleon. Depending on your mood, it can be a pizza place, an elegant gourmet destination, a snack bar or an ice cream stand. But all of its personalities possess playfulness. Pizza offerings, for example, include classics like a margherita, as well as more unexpected pies, like a salmon pizza, with Mornay sauce, black sesame seeds, red onions, capers, dill and gravlax. The wine cellar allows slice fans to explore the same selections as diners seated in the more formal, upstairs section, featuring a frequently changing list of nearly 40 small producers from all over Europe.

Recommended pairing: While the list is diverse, co-owner and sommelier Veronique Dalle admits a liking for classic combinations. “I love Lambrusco with pizza. Cinque Campi’s is particularly delicious.” For Dalle, it’s more about choosing wines “that are coherent with our values…wines that are honest and sensitive.”

Pizza and Wine in the Vineyard

A pizza oven at a Planeta winery in Sicily.
Pizza oven at Sicilian winery Planeta’s Vittoria estate
Sometimes, it seems as if pizza and wine have been paired together since birth. At Sicilian winery Planeta’s Vittoria estaste , workers uncovered an ancient pizza oven on the premises during renovation. An evening spent making pies together is now a highlight for guests, who also get to take advantage of Sicily’s bountiful ingredients.
“My cousins are producing a great cherry tomato variety, Kamarino, on a nearby farm, so we have the possibility to use an extra tasty sauce as a base for our pizzas,” says Alessio Planeta.
Recommended pairing: “Another reason we do a lot of pizza dinners at this estate is because the wines from Vittoria fit superbly. Fine, delicate tannin structure, a lot of fruit, and a playful taste are characteristics of both the Frappato and the Nero d’Avola grown in this area.”
Pizza at Bebu
Pizzeria Bebu

Pizzeria Bebu, Chicago

“Ultimately where it’s from and what kind it is was irrelevant,” says Zachary Smith, Pizzeria Bebu‘s owner. “We just wanted to serve wine that was very drinkable.” The concise list found here highlights picks from around the world. “Whatever we pour by-the-glass, people will try,” he says. “We can put something esoteric in the Italian slot and people will either gamble on it or go for something else. And we have those things that most diners love to see, like Oregon Pinot or California Cabernet, things that people can fall back on very comfortably. But we also want them to know they can confidently take a risk with us.”

Recommended pairing: “The concrete minerality and great fruit on the Cruse Monkey Jacket red blend pair naturally with our house sausage and pickled piparra peppers pizza”

Red wine and pizza at Pizzicletta in Flagstaff, AZ.

Pizzicletta, Flagstaff, AZ

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with an Italian wine list, especially when it explores the nooks and crannies of the peninsula’s vineyards. “The backbone of all [Italian] wines is acidity, so it’s likely to go well with all the food,” says Pizzicletta owner Caleb Schiff. “That’s the beauty of [it]. So we do have some richer, cheese-based pizzas that could really hold up to a Barolo or something fuller and more tannic, but also the high-acid white wines go really well with that because they can cut the richness of that cheese.”

Recommended pairing: “Our ss-145 pizza has gorgonzola, almonds, charred kale and a little spray of lemon juice. On our list we’ve got this really beautiful Chardonnay from Vignai da Duline in Friuli. You get the oak and power and body of the wine, but you get this acidity that you almost don’t expect because of everything else going on, and that complements that pizza really well.”

Published on January 5, 2018
Topics: Slice of Life

The latest wine reviews, trends and recipes plus special offers on wine storage and accessories