Winemakers trying to woo Americans more comfortable with cola than Cabernet tend to lard their labels with extraordinarily user-friendly language: "The perfect wine for afternoons spent with friends," a description might read. "Enjoy with hamburgers or pizza."
The problem is not every wine is an ideal match for pizza. Pizza pairs best with light-bodied, acidic red wines: Early Italian-American restaurateurs who put straw-covered bottles of Chianti on their tables had the right idea. Sadly, a few local pizzerias have put together wine lists that are strangely out of whack.
I started grousing about wine and pies last night, when I showed up at Times Ten Cellars just minutes before Il Cane Rosso's dough ran out. My dinner date suggested we seek a substitute pizza at Eno's, which -- I want to be clear here -- is a place I really like.
The salad and pizza were terrific, but the wine selection was disappointing. My choices on the red end were Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Tempranillo and Zinfandel. When it comes to pizza, Tempranillo can do in a pinch, and a Zinfandel -- if it's not too big, too dark or too chewy -- is a fairly good alternative, since it's made from an Italian grape. (Italians call it Primitivo.)
But why not stick a Sangiovese on the list? Isn't there a moral imperative requiring a restaurant in the pizza-and-pasta trade to serve an Italian-style wine?
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Not in Dallas, apparently. I checked the wine lists at other popular upscale pizza joints, and discovered the situation at Eno's is by no stretch an aberration. Fireside Pies offers eight reds, including two Cabs, but only one Chianti, the Tuscan classic that's made primarily from Sangiovese grapes. At Coal Vines, which bills itself as a pizza and wine bar, by-the-glass drinkers have the choice of 11 reds: Among them, three Cabs, two Merlots and a single Chianti.
What should a proper pizzeria wine list look like? Check out the list at Grimaldi's, where red wine drinkers can choose from Chiantis, Sangioveses, a Valpolicella and a Nero d'Avola from Sicily. The list at Sfuzzi is a touch goofy -- paying $29 for a glass of Chianti to go with pizza is a pure ego-stroke -- but there are half a dozen Italian-style choices, including a Primitivo from Puglia for $8.
My favorite rule in wine pairing is "if it grows, it goes." You can't go wrong by drinking wine from the same place as your food. Even if the pies at Eno's, Fireside and Coal Vines aren't exactly Italian, mouth-watering Sangiovese still makes a brilliant match.
Speaking of doctrinal correctness, Italians don't drink wine with their pizza. They like beer, or sometimes Coke. But I'm not yet ready to give up on the wine-and-pizza thing, especially here in Texas, where winemakers are producing some stunning Sangioveses. I look forward to one day enjoying them with my pie.