Pizza, pairing, and Pasolini

Above: Chef Julian Barsotti’s excellent Margherita at Nonna in Dallas last week, paired with Inama Soave Classico Superiore Foscarino 2006, one of my favorite expressions of Garganega. The bright acidity of this wine and its structure were a great match for the intense flavors of the mozzarella di bufala, tomato, and fresh basil. YES, I paired wine with pizza! Keep reading…

Last week, Dr. J (that would be me) inspired a thread in Dr. V’s blog, “Pizza: a forbidden food-wine pairing?”

I was glad to see the doc have fun with it and the many colorful comments. One entry, however, merits special attention. Pinotage (“an international cyber-based fan club for wines made from the Pinotage variety”) wrote:

    The statement about Italians in Italy not drinking wine with pizza doesn’t match up to the many times I have been in Italy. But maybe the giveaway is ‘pizzeria’, in other words the type of restaurant and their clientele. Pizzas are served in more upper class restaurants and Italians do drink with with them.

    I suppose an Italian in the USA might come away with the idea that Americans don’t drink alcohol with chicken if they’d been saving money by eating in KFCs.

Above: Two slices at my favorite old-school, by-the-slice pizzeria in Bensonhurst, Da Vinci (6514 18th Ave at 65th St, Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, NY 11204, 718-232-5855).

Let me set the record straight: in my view, there’s nothing wrong with pairing pizza and wine and I do it all the time. The observation culled from my blog by Dr. V actually referred to a would-be Italian cookbook author whose claim of “authenticity,” in my opinion, was undermined by the fact that he paired pizza with wine. Ask any Italian (I swear: I speak Italian with native-speaker proficiency, I lived in Italy on and off for ten years, I travel there regularly for my work, and I have a Ph.D. in Italian!). They will tell you that pizza is traditionally paired with beer. The fact of the matter is that pizza culture in Italy is a youth-based culture. The number of young enonauts in Italy has been growing steadily but wine consumption is a relatively new phenomenon among Italian young people.

Above: pizzaiolo Mark Iacono at my favorite NYC pizzeria, Lucali (575 Henry St and Carroll, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, NY 11231, 718-858-4086). He’s cooler than Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck. Last year I did this post on the best pizza in NYC (worth checking out in my humble opinion, one of my top posts ever).

There are technical reasons for not pairing pizza and wine: the acidity of fresh plastic cheese (i.e., buffalo-milk mozzarella), tomatoes, and the intense flavor of fresh basil can easily overpower the nuance of fine wine. But “rules are rules” and I must confess: I have written many times on my blog about my guilty pleasure of pairing pizza and Nebbiolo.

Above: In San Diego, I have been often known to indulge in Produttori del Barbaresco 2004 Barbaresco and pizza at my top-spot for authentic Italian pizza, Mamma Mia (1932 Balboa Ave, where Balboa and Grand intersect) San Diego, CA 92109, 858-272-2702).

I do take ideological issue with Pinotage’s “upper crust” (forgive the pun) attitude that “Pizzas are served in more upper class restaurants” in Italy. It’s simply not the case (but then again, his blog is called “Pinotage,” so I should slice him some slack… I guess…).

Pizza is a wonderful part of Italian life but in terms of authenticity, it needs to be understood as an element of youth and popular culture. Pizza in the U.S. can be wonderful as well, but it is the result of that great misunderstanding otherwise known as the Atlantic Ocean.

Above: One of my favorite sequences from Pasolini’s 1966 Uccellacci e Uccellini (Hawks and Sparrows). Note the counterpoint between the joyous youth culture and the squalor of suburban Rome.

Aside from alliteration, what does Pasolini have to do with all of this? Nothing really: I currently find myself mired in that hellish experience called “indexing” and today, I happen to be on the letter P.

In his films, Pasolini repeatedly reminded us of the struggles and the beauty of popular culture (and by popular culture, I don’t mean Warholian culture; I mean the workaday culture of the populus).

In the U.S., drink whatever you want with your pizza. Have fun with it. Enjoy yourself. In Italy, try pizza paired with beer in a crusty ol’ pizzeria in Trastevere (Rome).

If you made it this far into the post, thanks for reading! Have a great week.

19 thoughts on “Pizza, pairing, and Pasolini

  1. Ah, the pizza-with-wine debate rears its floury head. I’m not entirely convinced by the claim that pizza culture is the realm of Italy’s youth alone: obviously “pizzerie” are a popular choice with ragazzi by virtue of being relatively cheap, but I’ve never been to a pizzeria that was solely patronized by the under-50s (in Italy youth ends somewhere around between 47 and 53). Most are packed with kids and families, young couples, and usually one really long table of ragazzi celebrated someone’s birthday or “laurea”. I knew a girl from Naples who drank red wine with pizza, but she’s the only one I know of. Personally the only thing I ever want with my pizza is a cold European beer (preferably Menabrea), though if the wine in question was Lini’s Labrusca Rosso I could perhaps be swayed…

  2. JT, you certainly have “taken the pie” with the pun “floury head.” LOL. Chapeau! Also, point well taken about Italian youth ending somewhere between “47 and 53.” The Lini pairing is making my mouth water… we’ll drink some Lini tonight at Jaynes Gastropub!

  3. Jeremy Barbaresco with pizza don’t sound so good for me! But you can pair pizza with many Italian white wines (like Falanghina, or Lacrima Christi, or Soave), and overall with some good rosé wines from Apulia (Negroamaro grape) or Abruzzo (Montepulciano grape). Try and tell me your opinion!

  4. “The fact of the matter is that pizza culture in Italy is a youth-based culture.” — of course!!

    It’s because it is cheap food and the young don’t have as much money, and for that same reason they also drink beer not wine.

    When you say of pizza’ ‘it is simply not the case’ that pizzas are served anywhere other than cheap restaurants that serve only pizza then I can only say that you’ve not been looking.

  5. Dr J another fine post for the letter “P”. Your pizza post was one of your best and here it is again in all its floury yeasty glory. When we make pizza, as we are going to tonight since we are freezing out posteriors off, I like to drink a Nero d’Avola or a Puglese red with some stuffing. My significant spouse usually goes with Zin or a red Rhone. Try a decent red Rioja or Ribera del Duero sometime. You should do a post for each letter.

  6. The combination of pizza with wine is endless, as both can carry such a broad range of subtle flavors, textures and aromas. From Chianti to Amarone, and the Ribera del Duero mentioned above. Even when it’s not a perfect match, there is still chemistry, like a relationship that doesn’t work, it still has much to offer, but I digress… Excellent article!

  7. Love that clip! And I know it’s not so Napolitano but old fashioned Barbera sound pretty good to me. On the other hand, some Frappato is not so bad. What a fun clip.

  8. interesting post. My Italian and I have really enjoyed following your blog. Also love that picture of nonna pizza – I live in Dallas but haven’t been there yet. You’ve just given us a kick to go =)

  9. One of the things that I noticed when I arrived in Friuli was that pizza was one of the few things, if not the ONLY thing, that Italians (or at least, Friulani) ate in a restaurant that they DON’T NORMALLY EAT AT HOME. All the other things they ate, pasta, meat, some simple fish, was part of everyday fare at home.
    It seemed to be the best party food as well… Going out for the end of the year? For a reunion? Won the volleyball match? PIZZA.
    And here at least I almost never, ever saw anyone (regardless of age) order wine with pizza.

    REGARDLESS: I have a couple winers that I like to pair with pizza. One of my first loves with pizza back in my ‘tator days was Renato Ratti Dolcetto. The play of the Dolcetto fruit and acidic tomato sauce was awesome! These days I have fallen in love with well-made lambrusco, and that for me is the best mach I can think of at the moment. Try “Acino” Lambrusco from Corte Manzini, or even their base level Lambrusco Secco… PERFECT!

  10. I’m Italian and live in Italy, but I don’t have a PhD in Italian. Like Big Moz said, going to the pizzeria is the normal get-together- not only for young people. I’ve never seen anyone order wine with pizza unless it’s someone who doesn’t drink beer at all (in which case of seen them order the house red wine). No doubt about it, beer is usually drunk with pizza.

  11. I remember a visit to my father’s home town of Barsano del Grappa. My wife and I walked the fairly large village and came upon a loud, buoyant place that lured us in.

    It was THE neighborhood pizza house. The large, labyrinth was fully packed with patrons in two major groups: young people and families where many older people joined in.

    The pizza kitchen was in the open. You took a table, placed your order with a waiter or waitress (yes, a waitress!) and then you selected a wine, all of which came in a carafe.

    A lot of beer flowed in that place–but so did a lot of wine.

    The pizza w had was as good as any Neapolitan version I’ve ever tasted, and it came with fresh toppings, as it should.

    From that experience, I’d say that at least in that village, pizza is more than a cheap dinner for the young.

  12. Good idea Jeremy to break the conservatism that we Italians keep with regard to the pairing Pizza-Beer.

    While I agree with Franco that pizza with nebbiolo seems to me a little aggressive, I believe that many of the pairings mentioned here (some whites, barbera, Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo..).

    But even when keeping the pairing with beer, I believe it is a real pity that most Italians (and most pizzeria) do not make the effort to select a decent beer to pair thei pizza. Living in Brussels we obviously enjoy a much larger choice but an easy-to-find Leffe Blonde is already a much better pairing that a Stella or other basic lager.

    Otherwise…but here I know that only Italians (and only a very small bunch of them) will follow me….try CHINOTTO (the best alternative to coke in the world).

  13. ok, cold nastro azzuro on draft aside, you musta to dreenk a frothy gragnano (all of you northerners are suggesting lambrusco, how about its cugino meridionale? doesn’t it just make more sense? this is the pairing of tradition with the panuozzi of the eponymous city.)

    or, agreeing with franco, a crisp and fruity falanghina would be my second choice.

    all of the heavy reads are just too much for the authentic, delicate pizze one would find in napoli!

    potessi trovarmi almeno una…

  14. Pingback: More pizza porn… « Do Bianchi

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