wine Features
Pizza: Beyond Tomato Sauce, Beyond Chianti

Jody Adams' Smoked Salmon Pizza

Kerry Simon's California Pizza

Sean Griffin's Steakhouse Pizza

Hans Rockenwagner's Strawberry Pizza

By Jim Clarke
October 2006

Pizza and Chianti – it’s a no-brainer pairing; the Sangiovese-based wine has the right acidity to balance with the tomatoes and the tannins and earthiness to cut through the mozzarella. Whatever your toppings, if you want wine with your pizza (beer, of course, being a respectable alternative), it’s hard to go wrong with Chianti.

But what if your pizza is…different? Today’s top chefs have not neglected pizza as a place to experiment; is Chianti going to cut it when there’s smoked salmon on your pizza? How about wasabi paste? Strawberries?

Chefs like pizza because the dough is a neutral base which they can improvise on. If you have fond college memories of cold pizza for breakfast, for example, Jody Adams has created a pizza that caters to the nostalgia, but is quite a bit more sophisticated: Smoked Salmon Pizza with Mascarpone Cheese and Capers. There are several flavors for a wine to take into account: the salty bite of the capers, the smoked fish, and the mild sweetness of mascarpone. A Chardonnay with a moderate touch of oak would integrate well with the latter two elements, but some decent acidity is still called for. Try the Bouchard Finlayson Missionvale Chardonnay 2004 from the Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven and Earth) Valley in South Africa. While it is 100% barrel-fermented, the oak comes through as clove and marzipan notes that go well with the salmon and mascarpone, and its elegant character is the perfect foil for your grown-up breakfast pizza.

Kerry Simon looks farther afield for his California Pizza. California, in this case, is where East meets West, piling sashimi-grade tuna, crab meat, wasabi, and avocado onto a classic pizza base. There’s lots of flavor here, an equally complex wine will balance well. Gewurztraminer is a good choice, and it needn’t be sweet; the wasabi is toned down enough that there’s no fire that needs putting out. Keeping it Californian, the Claiborne & Churchill Dry Gewurztraminer 2004 from the Central Coast works very well; their signature wine, it’s got a great mix a fruit aromas – lemon, peach, mango, lychee – counterpointed by floral notes and a spicy finish.

The first two pizzas work a lighter palette of flavors; Sean Griffin works a “manly man” combination of red meat and pizza in his Steakhouse Pizza, with hen-of-the-wood mushrooms and Point Reyes blue cheese. Certainly something full-bodied and rich is in order for the meat and cheese, but some complexity will help bring out the subtler flavors of the mushrooms as well. Instead of turning to Australia or Argentina –classic steak country – how about something from Oregon, where wild mushrooms are a local fave? Bergström’s Pinot Noirs are rich and exuberant affairs; the De Lancellotti Vineyard Pinot Noir 2004 has tons of dark fruit flavors and body, plus some spice and earthy notes that will ensure that the mushrooms don’t lose their place in the mix.

I mentioned strawberries on pizza earlier; dessert pizzas, in fact, are popping up all over the place, often using a puff-pastry or brioche base instead of pizza dough. Hans Röckenwagner recipe for Strawberry Pizza with Almond Cream needs a simple and fruity partner; dare I suggest an Italian red? Not Chianti, of course. Instead, a Brachetto d’Acqui; in particular the Banfi Rose Regale 2004. It’s a bright, cherry red color; it’s a bit sweet; it’s sparkling. It tastes of strawberries and rose petals, and the strawberry pizza is calling its name.

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