Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Za right stuff

Red wine -- almost any red wine -- is the perfect accompaniment to go with your favourite pie

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Winnipeggers are clearly passionate about pizza. It's a dish that's almost universally adored, and about which people get remarkably passionate.

Part of the reason there's no clear consensus on a "best pizza" is that there are so many variables: crust, sauce, cheese, toppings, method of cooking and so on. You'd think it would make it trickier to find a great beverage to serve with pizza, but, in fact, it's the opposite. I'm as happy sitting down with my kids for cheese pizza and pop as I am tucking into pizza with a beer while watching hockey (or helping someone move -- a classic pairing).

But for me, pizza and red wine is about as good a food-and-wine combo as you can get. There's something comforting about scarfing down your favourite pizza with a glass of red wine that's tough to beat.

The beauty of pairing wine with pizza is twofold -- you don't have to break the bank to get a great wine for your pie, and it's nearly impossible to pick a bad wine (well OK, stay away from dessert wines). For the most part wine-and-pizza pairing is carte blanche for the adventurous types, in part because there are so many variables when it comes to pizza.

Having said that, I have some tried-and-true faves for pizza pairing. First of all, I'll almost always go with a red wine, and I'll often go with something Italian. As pizza's place of origin, it's as good a place as any to start.

It just so happens Sangiovese -- the main red grape used to make wines in Tuscany's Chianti region -- works really well with pizza. Wine made from Sangiovese typically retains a splash of acidity that complements a tangy pizza sauce and cuts through the stringy, stretchy and mild mozzarella cheese typically topping a pie. Other red Italian options include Valpolicella, Primitivo and Montepulciano.

New World reds are typically great with pizza as well. Argentine Malbec tends to be big and rich, with dark berry flavours and a dense chewiness that's pizza-perfect. Shiraz and Shiraz-based blends from Australia, South Africa, Chile and beyond bring big fruit-forward flavours that make for perfect pizza pairing. The peppery notes sometimes found in Shiraz complements banana peppers, Italian sausage, pepperoni and other spicier toppings.

California Zinfandel (the red stuff, not the pink stuff) excels with pizza. Red wine made from the Zinfandel grape is typically dark and juicy, just a bit earthy, and doesn't have too much mouth-drying tannin. Zinfandel is a bit higher in alcohol than most reds -- 15 per cent or so, versus a typical red at around 13.5 per cent -- and while it's sometimes a bit excessive on its own, it works with pizza.

The most important thing to remember when pairing wine and food -- especially pizza -- is that there are no rules.

-- -- --

Terra d'Oro 2009 Zinfandel (Amador County, California -- $19.73, Liquor Marts and beyond)

The spice on this Amador County Zinfandel is fairly pronounced, but it doesn't overpower the attractive dark fruit and chocolate notes here. It's a big, full-bodied Zin that delivers loads of blackberry, spice, raisin and plum, with just enough grip courtesy of some light tannin. Pair this with your favourite classic combo or go with something meaty. 89/100

Donna Laura 2009 Alteo (Chianti, Italy -- around $18, private wine stores)

Raspberry and cherry aromas are enhanced by white pepper, anise and spice notes. This medium-plus bodied Chianti is well-built -- some light acidity and firm tannin give the ripe cherry and raspberry flavours some structure. Try with a traditional Neapolitan pizza or something savoury with capers and/or olives -- a Greek pizza would work. 88/100

Falernia 2010 Syrah (Elqui Valley, Chile -- $11.70, Liquor Marts and beyond)

Red licorice, cherry, black pepper and a hint of vanilla show well on the nose of the Falernia. It's a full-bodied Syrah (a.k.a. Shiraz) that features lush cherry flavours, is deliciously peppery and brings modest tomato and herbal notes on the palate -- yes, it almost tastes like pizza sauce. Try this with a veggie pizza or anything with green peppers on it. 86/100

Argento 2011 Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina -- around $12, private wine stores)

Inky black in colour (as Malbecs often are), the Argento delivers dark fruit notes on the nose (black cherry and blackberry) with a hint of dark chocolate. Full-bodied and juicy, the hint of acidity on the palate and the light tannin work well with the dense fruit flavours here. You could drink this with anything from a Margherita pizza to beef and onion to (yuck) Hawaiian; it's a tremendous value. 88/100

uncorked@mts.net

Twitter: @bensigurdson

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 26, 2013 E4

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