When I really want to delve into a person’s soul, I ask him what he would have as his final meal on earth. My answer? Pizza and wine. Just writing it sends a shiver down my spine. What makes this prosaic combo so celestial for me? Well, I’m not talking your ordinary congealed-cheese, cardboard-crust slice with jug wine. I’m talking Neapolitan-style, brick oven pies (puffy charred crust, scattered with hand-crushed tomatoes, dotted with puddles of cheese) paired with traditionally made Italian wines. It’s a complete and inexpensive meal, but one that’s scrumptious enough to drive me wild with desire.
There are people out there (Italians included) who will only drink beer with pizza. I like the combo, but find beer so carbonated that I feel full before I’m ready to be. A lightly sparkling wine, on the other hand, has enough acidity and just enough carbonation to aid your appetite without hindering it. The standard Italian sparkler, Prosecco, works fine, but it’s with frizzante (see Winespeak 101) reds like Lambrusco from Emilia-Romagna and Gragnano from Campania that the real chemistry happens. Served chilled, these wines are like a dry berry-flavored Fizzy Lizzy. Naples’ locals call Gragnano “pizza-cola” because of its soda-like qualities and ideal pizza pair-ability.
White pizzas, cleverly, match really well with white wines. Whether it’s quattro formaggi or formaggi e funghi, cheese is the focus, and all that luxurious richness calls for a sprightly white to contrast. Soave from Veneto, the indigenous whites from Campania (Falanghina, Fiano, Greco di Tufo, and Lacrima Christi), and Frascati from Lazio are a few favorites. All have the lean acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc, but with riper, more tropical fruit.
Of course, it’s with Italy’s red wines that the sparks fly. Their food-friendly acidity and juicy fruit flavors romance pizza’s tangy tomatoes and milky mozzarella so suavely that we should just leave them alone rather than argue the virtues of one region over another. Barbera and Dolcetto from Piemonte, Valpolicella from Veneto, Chianti and Morellino from Tuscany, Montepulciano from Abruzzo, Aglianico from Campania, Salice Salentino and Primitivo from Puglia, and Nero d’Avola and Frappato from Sicily are all eligible bachelors for the saucy temptress that’s always just a phone call away.
In my loftiest dreams, I live in Italy with a garden, a full-time pizzaiolo (pizza chef) and an outdoor brick oven. I eat pizza and drink wine twice a day until I’m fat and happy. Then I remember that my obsession (even in a less picturesque, less dilatory version) is cheap and attainable enough to indulge in for these years leading up to my final meal on earth—and, in my version of heaven, every night thereafter. Ah, life is good.
A big night
A new film and dinner series celebrating our well-endowed town’s local food and wine scene kicks off at the Paramount Theater on Sunday, April 3, with a showing of the ultimate foodie film, Big Night. The event begins at 3:30pm with a tasting reception and a 30-minute discussion (hosted by yours truly) with winemaker Gabriele Rausse, tavola’s chef/owner Michael Keaveny, and pastry chef Giancarlo Gnuli. A three-course, wine-paired, Big Night-inspired benefit dinner at tavola in Belmont will follow the film. Visit www.theparamount.net for tickets. And, yes, there will be a timpano.
Part of the trio goes solo
If you didn’t make it to King Family, Pollak, or Veritas for the March 3 release of their winemakers’ collaborative wine, ‘3’, you’re out of luck—it sold out within four days. But, Pollak’s winemaker, Jake Bushing, is releasing his own wine (Viognier and Pinot Gris this spring, and a red next year) under the label Pythias. Quantities will be extremely limited, so stay tuned and then pounce!
Frizzante (adj.): An Italian term for wines with light effervescence.