More Than a Pairing, Pizza Wine is a State of Mind

Pizza wine can be red or white, group of friends at table
Getty
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Pizza is the rare dish you can serve to a group of discerning adults or ravenous children, and eat alone on your couch at midnight or while standing in front of the fridge at 8 am.; and somehow, everyone always ends up happy. 

That far-reaching appeal, plus the diversity of a category that spans cracker-thin Roman crusts to buoyant Chicago deep dish, makes it difficult to pin down definitive advice on the best wine with pizza. Do you pair wine with pizza sauce and toppings, as you would a plate of pasta? What if you’ve ordered a half-and-half pie with two very different toppings, or are sharing multiple pizzas with a group? Should you go for Italian wine as a nod to pizza’s origins, even if your preferred pie features tropical pineapples and American-supermarket-style baked ham?

Fortunately, there are more right than wrong answers here. The modern world is rife with decision fatigue, but perfect pizza wine is in the eye of the beholder.

“I’ll drink any wine with pizza, I’m not that focused on the pairing,” says Mark Capriotti, a partner at Eeva, a bakery, pizzeria and bottle shop in Philadelphia.

Sean Jensen, partner and wine buyer at Houston’s Tiny Champions, has a similarly inclusive philosophy. “I really think that all wine can be good with pizza, it just depends on context. A lot of it is environmental, the vibe you’ve got going on.”

The modern world is rife with decision fatigue, but perfect pizza wine is in the eye of the beholder.

For Jensen, Capriotti and many others, the ideal pizza wine is more about amplifying the atmosphere of your meal than stressing whether the bell peppers on that sausage slice might make your Cab Franc taste green. Sure, it can be fun to pair your favorite slice with the perfect pour. But pizza wine is a mood, not a brain buster. The trick is to find bottles that celebrate rather than compete with what’s on your mind and your plate.

Shareability is Key

Cut into geometric squares or slices, pizza is inherently shareable. This presents challenges and opportunities when it comes to choosing pizza wine for a group.

If you’re serving one type of wine with your pizza, opt for a versatile bottle that will appeal to as many palates as possible. Lauren Buzzeo, executive editor at Wine Enthusiast, keeps an easy-drinking South African Cinsault on heavy rotation in her house because it works with everything her family and friends like on their pizzas.

“It’s light and juicy enough to crush with a slice, but also has the depth and intrigue to stand up to hearty red sauce and all sorts of toppings,” says Buzzeo.

If you’re planning to open multiple bottles, make the act of sharing wine part of the experience. 

“Oftentimes, people go out to get pizza in groups of four or more,” says Capriotti. For that sort of meal, he recommends groups order multiple bottles to share and discuss. It’s a communal, convivial approach to restaurant wine selection, which can be otherwise fraught for those uncomfortable swirling and shoving their noses into a glass while their friends and server stare expectantly.

“Then, instead of wine being this scary or anxiety-ridden experience where you’re like, ‘Am I going to pick the right bottle?’ it’s like, ‘We paid 70 or 80 or 90 bucks for this, and six or seven people shared it, and we all got to talk about it,’ ” he says.

Plus, the typical price point of pizza tends to be lower than other restaurant entrees, Capriotti says. “That leaves you more of a wine budget.”

For instance, at Roberta’s Bushwick, an acclaimed pizza-centric restaurant in Brooklyn, New York, the most expensive pizza on the menu is $23. Whether that strikes you as expensive or affordable is subject to countless factors, but it’s worth noting that, by some estimates, the average cost of a full-service meal at a New York City restaurant was more than $46 in 2021. 

Pizza wine can be red and shared
Cut into slices or squares, pizza is inherently shareable / Getty

Red, White and Beyond

Since pizza is such a broad category, you can conceivably pair it with white, red, rosé, orange and sparkling wines and be very happy. For guidance, consider the body or “weight” of the wine vis-à-vis your pizza’s heft and toppings. Wine structure is arguably more important than variety here, says Bashir Solebo, a sommelier and sales representative at Wine For The World. A good pizza wine needs to stand up to the crust and cheese without overpowering either. 

For that reason, Solebo finds that medium-bodied orange wines work with a variety of pizzas. “The body, the texture, the tannins, the roundness, all that stuff goes well with the fatty cheese and dough,” he says. 

Jensen agrees. “I tend to gravitate more toward orange wines, red wines and sparkling wines than I do white wine. More often than not, with red sauces and the big bold flavors, a lot of those red wines and skin-contact white wines just work better.”

That’s not to say white wine has no place next to pizza. 

“Whites work beautifully with veggie-topped pizzas, like Pieropan’s tangy, mineral-driven Soave Classico or a dry but fruity Falanghina del Sannio,” says Kerin O’Keefe, Italian Editor at Wine Enthusiast.

White wine pizza
Try minerally white wine with veggie-topped pizzas / Getty

Lambrusco and other dry sparklers are also adroit pizza wines, she says.

“Lambrusco di Sorbara secco is a personal fave, like Paltrinieri’s Leclisse and Cavicchioli’s Vigna del Cristo that go with all types of pizza, from a classic Margherita to pizzas topped with salami. Bone-dry, savory, pét-nats, or metodo ancestrale as these are known in Italian, also make great pairings with almost all pizza versions.” 

Go Wide

Wine professionals sometimes use the adage “what grows together goes together” to describe the benefits of geographically linked wine pairings like oysters with Muscadet or Chianti and bistecca alla fiorentina. 

Pizza is an iterative food, however, with distinct styles from New York, Detroit and more. And pizza wine is a state of mind, not a point on a map. If you find it rewarding to pair Campanian Aglianico with a Neapolitan-style pie, then by all means have at it. But there’s no need to limit yourself to wine from one country or region when pizza is on the table.

Solebo tends to drink Argentine Malbec if he’s eating pizza with meaty toppings and swears by South African Chenin Blanc or Cinsault with vegetable pizzas. The only pairing he shies away from is beer. “For me, personally, I may not want to do beer with pizza because beer fills you up a lot faster than wine does,” he says.

All pizza wine has its time and place, too. On pizza night, you might pour a glass of whatever’s already open or uncork a special bottle you’ve been saving just because.

“When you tell certain winemakers, ‘Hey, your wine makes a great pizza wine,’ you kind of get a look like, ‘How dare you,’ ” says Solebo. He means it as a compliment, though. “I have to remind them, I live in New York City, and we make some great pizza.”

Pizza wine pairing
All pizza wine has its time and place / Getty

The Best Wine with Pizza, According to Pros

The ideal wine pairing for any food, but especially pizza, is always the one you like best. Here, however, are 13 bottles that wine professionals pour when pizza is on the table.

Red Wines

Fattoria La Vialla Casa Conforto Chianti Superiore

La Vialla Chianti is a pizza wine
Courtesy of Vivino

“For those who just love red wine with everything including pizza, a racy, savory Chianti works well, for example Fattoria La Vialla’s Chianti Superiore Casa Conforto,” says O’Keefe. Her review of the bottle was rated 92 points.

Planeta Frappato 

Planeta Frappato is a pizza wine.
Courtesy of Vivino

O’Keefe calls this Sicilian red wine a “delicious, vibrant” option “that shows juicy red berry sensations and fantastic freshness.” She gave the 2019 bottle 90 points in her Wine Enthusiast review.

The Blacksmith Barebones Cinsault

The Blacksmith Barebones South African Cinsault is a pizza wine
Courtesy of Vivino

This easy-drinking red wine is one of Buzzeo’s favorites for its juicy freshness and ability to pair with an array of pizza styles or toppings. The South African wine reviewer at Wine Enthusiast, Buzzeo rated it 91 points.

Domaine Mathieu & Camille Lapierre Raisins Gaulois

Domaine Mathieu and Camille Lapierre Raisins Gaulois is a pizza wine
Courtesy of Vivino

“It’s everything I want in a red,” says Capriotti. “It’s juicy, it’s bright, it’s got a tiny bit of funk, but it has some sort of Cru Morgon in the background. It’s mostly fun, with just enough to feel a little more serious.”

Bussola Ca’ del Laito Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore

Bussola Valpolicella is a pizza wine
Courtesy of Vivino

Jensen likes how Valpolicella Ripasso wines can have “stewed, chewy, raisinated fruit [flavors], but they still maintain the fresh acid to cut through the richness of the food you’re eating.” He recommends Tommaso Bussola’s Valpolicella Ripasso with pizza. “I’ve never put that wine in front of anybody and had them be mad at it,” he says. 

Bodega Catena Zapata Catena High Mountain Vines Malbec 

Catena Malbec is a pizza wine
Courtesy of Vivino

“My first choice is always a Malbec,” says Solebo, a self-professed meat lover who prefers prosciutto, sausage or bacon on his pizza. He likes this affordable Argentine bottle for its “plummy” flavors that pair well with salty meats and cheese. Wine Enthusiast’s South America reviewer rated it 90 points.

White Wines and Orange Wines

Enderle & Moll Weiss & Grau

Enderle & Moll pizza wine
Courtesy of Vivino

This Austrian skin-contact wine is popular on Eeva’s menu, says Capriotti. “It’s well balanced, it’s got great acidity, it’s a little tropical, and it has some tannins. I feel like I can drink that with anything.”

Fattoria La Rivolta Taburno Falanghina

La Rivolta Taburno Falanghina pizza wine
Courtesy of Vivino

O’Keefe notes that this dry but fruity Falanghina del Sannio, an Italian white wine grape, pairs especially well with vegetable pizzas. In her 90-point review of the 2019 bottling, she writes, “The crisp savory palate features banana, yellow pear and citrus alongside vibrant acidity.” 

Domaine de la Pépière La Pépie Sur Lie Muscadet

La Pépière sur lie muscadet pizza wine
Courtesy of Vivino

“We usually have a sur lie Muscadet on the menu,” says Capriotti of this approachable white wine from the Loire. Wine Enthusiast’s review of the 2018 bottling notes that its “apple and pear flavors are balanced with tangy acidity and a mineral texture that drives the wine forward.” 

Sparkling Wines 

Ca’ dei Zago Rifermentato in Bottiglia Valdobbiadene 

Ca' dei Zago  sparkling pizza wine
Courtesy of Vivino

One of O’Keefe’s favorite pizza wines, this Prosecco is refermented in the bottle. “The wine has a savory, racy palate that delivers lime, orange zest, fennel seed and ginger before a tangy mineral close suggesting oyster shell,” she writes in her 94-point review. “Vibrant acidity gives it intriguing tension and energy.”

Paltrinieri Radice Lambrusco

Radice Sparkling Lambrusco pizza wine.
Courtesy of Vivino

“Fantastic and incredibly pizza-friendly,” says O’Keefe of this sparkling wine from Sorbara, Emilia Romagna. Her 95-point review of the 2020 bottling adds: “Bone-dry, focused and loaded with energy, the delicious palate delivers strawberry, pomegranate, fennel and a hint of citrus zest alongside bright acidity.”

Paltrinieri Leclisse Lambrusco

Leclisse Lambrusco pizza wine
Courtesy of Vivino

Another Lambrusco di Sorbara, this sparkling red wine is “radiant and bone-dry,” writes O’Keefe in her 95-point review of the 2020 bottling. A good match for pizza, the wine’s “crisp acidity keeps it lively and focused.”

Cavicchioli Vigna del Cristo

Cavicchiolo Vigna del Cristo pizza wine
Courtesy of Vivino

Fresh acidity, wild berries and a mix of spices come together in this Lambrusco di Sorbara, writes O’Keefe in her review of the 2020 bottling, which she rated 94 points. 

Published on March 16, 2022
Topics: Pairings