If you are like most people, you’ll be having pizza sometime this weekend as you watch your favorite team compete in the NCAA basketball tournament. There is something about America’s most favorite comfort food that manages to find itself in the hands of weekend warriors looking for a carefree dinner. Maybe it’s the combination of cheese and tomatoes spread over bread that makes this dish so enticing – or maybe it’s just something that requires no plate or fork and can eaten in front of the television.
Historians believe that pizza started in Italy as focaccia. Various items were added to the bread, but it was American tomatoes brought to Italy that created the pizza we know today. Italian immigrants brought it to our shores in the late 19th century.
Whatever the history, pizza is hardly a waning fad. Look around and you can find more pizzerias than ever with geographical specialties from every corner of the earth: New York, Chicago, Hawaii, Sicily – and styles – margherita, Neapolitan, pissaladiere.
While soda or beer are most often associated with pizza, there are a number of wines that marry well with it, too.
When we have pizza at our house, we turn to our most simplistic wines. We’re not dealing with steak here, so opening a complex cabernet sauvignon is a waste of money. Instead, we like to pair fruity red wines – zinfandel, syrah, and barbaras -- with tomato-based pizzas. These inexpensive wines marry well with the tomatoes, meat, and crust. If you have a cheese-only pizza, you can serve fruity white wine, such as pinot grigio.
These are 10 great wines to share with a slice of pizza this weekend:
Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2017 ($12). Here’s a delicious, fruity wine that goes well with white, margherita or tomato-based pizza. Made entirely from nero d’Avola grapes grown in Sicily, this easy wine has forward and bright red berry fruit.
Cecchi Chianti Classico Riserve di Famiglia 2014 ($36). Generous black cherry and dried herb aromas with red berry fruit and bright acidity. It is a blend of sangiovese, canaiolo and colorino grapes.
Masseria Li Veli Passamante Salice Salentino 2016 ($14). This is an incredible deal from the Salento region of southern Italy. Juicy red fruit flavors stem from the negroamaro grape variety. Soft tannins, delicious.
Masseria Li Veli Orion Primitivo 2016 ($14). A relative of the American zinfandel grape, this primitivo has ripe cherry flavors with a dose of spice and a soft texture.
Masseria Li Veli ASKOS Susumaniello Salento IGT 2016 ($21). The name of this wine is hardly easy to pronounce or remember, but you won’t forget the fresh and juicy red berry flavors of this quaffable wine. Raspberries and rhubarb notes abound. It’s a great match to pasta, pizza, burgers, and other light fare.
Rutherford Ranch Two Range Red Wine 2016 ($20). We like this juicy blend of merlot, petite sirah, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc. Full body with raspberry notes and hints of chocolate.
OZV Old Vine Zinfandel 2016 ($13). This reasonably priced zinfandel from Oak Ridge Winery has generous raspberry and blackberry flavors with oak-infused vanilla notes.
Tasca Tascante Estate Ghiaia Nera2016. Made exclusively from nero mascalese grapes grown on the northeast slope of Mount Etna, this Sicilian wine is pure fun. Young, vibrant red fruit flavors and soft tannins makes it a drinkable wine to share with burgers, pizza, or pasta.
Ventisquero Grey Glacier Garnacha Carinena Mataro Colchagua Valley 2017 ($20). A fruit-forward blend of 62 percent grenache, 20 percent carignan and 19 percent mourvedre. Strawberries and raspberry notes dominate this very well-crafted red wine. Delicious!
Bodegas LAN Reserva Rioja 2011 ($20). This beauty should be on every Rioja lovers list. Delicious cherry and plum elements display an elegant oak frame. The rear label gives a visual display of this wines expected evolution.
Cabernet franc is known mostly as a blending grape in Bordeaux, but lately, we’ve seen several wines that use this variety as its foundation. Traced to southwest France in the 17th century, it is a grape that is used exclusively in Loire’s red wines from Chinon. Poorly made, it can be vegetal and one-dimensional. But in good hands, cabernet franc can be as complex as cabernet sauvignon. Unfortunately, wines of this caliber are not cheap.
Here are several we recently tasted from California:
Robert Mondavi Cabernet Franc 2015 ($65). Blended with 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, this cabernet franc has generous violet and floral aromas followed by extracted dark berry flavors and firm tannins. Good complexity.
Merryvale Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 2015. ($90). Sourcing grapes from two excellent but different vineyards, this round and lavishly textured wine is made entirely of cabernet franc grapes. Ripe blueberry and plum flavors with moderate tannins and long finish. It has cellar potential.
Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc 2015 ($65). Made entirely of cabernet franc, this full-throttle wine has black cherry and blackberry flavors with dried herbs and a long, concentrated finish. Good complexity. Ripe, but with good acidity.
Failla Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Keefer Ranch 2016 ($64). The premium price tag is justified by the quality of this very good wine. Abundant ripe cherry cola nose and flavors with spicy cinnamon notes and a very long mouth filling finish.
Fossil Point Pinot Noir Edna Valley 2016 ($16-19). This is an amazing value. Good pinot noir is not cheap but this outstanding example defies this truism. Spicy wild cherry notes with elements of cola and menthol.
Tolosa 1772 Pinot Noir Edna Ranch Edna Valley 2016 ($65). A very classy bold style of pinot noir with cherry cola notes in the nose and mouth. Rich and complete with mocha notes in the long