Monday, April 16, 2012

Pizza and the Fox

Originally Published August 2010

Inspired after to listening to a few friends one night debate the topic of what wine goes best with pizza, I decided that the food for this month’s pairing would be pizza. I am told that if this was Italy, we would not be pairing pizza with wine, the ideal beverage would be beer. Why? well that I think is for another debate on another night for a different column.

While pizza may seem to be a rather straight forward food for pairing, it can be prove to be challenging and is not as straight forward as one may initially presume. Stop and think about it the last time you looked at a pizza menu, the options of choices are almost limitless, plain cheese pizza, 4 cheese pizza, pepperoni pizza, vegetarian pizza, white pizza, Hawaiian pizza, Barbecue chicken, I’ll stop now as I think I have made my point. So how does one pair wine with such a chameleon of dish like pizza? By thinking about the intensity, acidity, tannins and flavors of the wine and matching those to the pizza you will not go wrong. These factors will vary depending on the toppings, sauce and crust used to prepare the pizza. When matched well, one will truly enjoy the intermingling of flavors of the pizza and the wine. For pizza you generally want a wine that can stand up to the sauce with medium acidity and enough tannins to balance out or cut through the cheese(s). This type of wine is generally a young, medium bodied red wine.  Of course depending on how extravagant your pizza is, you can play with that last statement to work in more fuller bodied wines. One tidbit of advice for the fuller bodied red wines, they generally have more tannins and that can prove tricky with the pizza crust. Pizza crust sometimes has a drying effect on the mouth, so do the tannins in wine, the more tannin, the more of the dryness effect that is felt in the mouth.    
Since I tend towards pizza with at least one extravagant ingredient and a zesty sauce, my go to wine for pizza is generally a Sangiovese. This grape is the heart and soul of many wines from Tuscany especially ones from the region of Chianti. Sangiovese is rarely bottled alone; it is often blended with other red wine varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. The blending of different varietals often has a tremendous impact on enhancing or tempering the wines quality and flavor profile. If done well, Sangiovese is a smooth drinking wine with a beautifully balanced favor profile.

The Sangiovese that is featured in this paring is produce by Three Fox Vineyards located in Delepalene, VA in the heart of the Fauquier Wine Trail.  Three Fox Vineyards principally specializes in Italian varietals.  The 2008 ILVolpe Sangiovese is a blend of Three Fox Vineyards’ estate grown Sangiovese (75%) Cabernet Franc (20%) and Chambourcin (5%). The Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc are individually aged in American and Hungarian Oak. The wine is made in “Super Tuscan” style. The 2008 IL Volpe Sangiovese is a Gold Medal Winner, Eastern Seaboard 2008 Wine Competition and a Silver Medal, Hilton Head Island International 2009 Wine  Competition.  (IL Volpe means “the fox”).  

1)      Roasted Pepper and Tomato Salad with Herbs De Provence  Croutons

While to many a person, pizza can be a meal in itself. I generally like a salad along with pizza. I decided to roast a few red bell peppers, two types of tomatoes (Roma and Grape tomatoes) and torn up pieces of French bread. Herbs De Provence was liberally sprinkled on the tomatoes and bread prior to roasting. 

The IL Volpe Sangiovese paired wonderfully with the salad, the herbaceous notes of the salad really brought forth the Cabernet Franc influences in the wine. The nose on this wine was of cassis with a hint of tobacco. Taste was of darker fruits like cherry and was well balanced with a long finish. It balanced out the sweetness of the roasted peppers and tomatoes

 2) 2 Cheese Roasted Tomatoes, Mushroom Pizza with a zesty sauce on a whole wheat Pizza crust.

The two cheeses on this pizza were gruyere and mozzarella. For me, mozzarella can be rather one dimensional and the gruyere adds a depth and richness to the cheese mixture without overpowering the mozzarella. The mushrooms and tomatoes were sprinkled with Herbs de Provence before going on to the pizza (hint: place the mushrooms under the cheese mixture to prevent them from drying out during baking.)

The IL Volpe Sangiovese had the right balance of acidity and tannins to both bring out the richness of the gruyere and at same time cutting through the palate coating effect of the cheese. The wine was tangy enough and matched the zestiness of the sauce. The whole wheat crust brought out the toast and caramel notes of the wine. The touch of Chambourcin rounds out the full mouth feel of this wine. This wine has a beautiful long finish.  Notes of cassis, dark cherries and a hint of chocolate can be detected. This wine paired beautifully to the rich extravagant pizza. The Herbs de Provence brought forth the subtle hints of the herbaceous influence that both the Cabernet Franc and Chambourcin.

While I do not think the debate mentioned at the beginning of the article was resolved, it did inspire a wonderful meal.