If you are an NCAA men’s basketball fan and following this year’s tournament, it’s likely that the Big Ten has busted your bracket. Rest assured you can still enjoy the spectacle that is the Final Four matchups and perhaps make it even more enjoyable by adding a fun wine-and-pizza pairing to the equation.
Pizza and wine are natural together. Many wines make good pizza taste even better. I’ve found the best wines for pizza are from Italy and my favorites with pizza are youthful red wines that are not aged in oak but rather in stainless steel. These wines are focused on the balance of fruit and acidity with a rustic flair and an honest simplicity rather than depth and structure. They are approachable to drink and affordable to buy. I found four great candidates to face off in a Final Four Wine & Pizza pairing match up.
For pizza, I picked up a sausage pizza from Grata Bar & Lounge. This pizza has a flaky but firm crust with good flavor. The tomato sauce is tasty and evenly spread on the crust and the mozzarella cheese is spread heavy and caramelized to a tantalizing brown in places on top. The sausage has great flavor and a very slight spiciness.
For wines, I started with the number one seed Bonfante & Chiarle Barbera d’ Asti “Due Lilu,” 2018, Piedmont, Italy, $18.00. Barbera is a great pizza wine and this one is no exception. Ruby red in the glass with scents of red plum, warm earth and a hint of mint leaf. This wine is guided by a pleasing acidity that hits the whole palate and has flavors of red currant, spice and red berries. It finishes clean and easy. 86 points.
Facing off against the barbera is Cirelli La Collina Biologica Vino Rosso, 2019, Abruzzo, Italy, $18.00. This is natural wine maker dedicated to biodynamic farming. The wine is made from montepulciano grapes and is ruby red in the glass and offers notes of raspberry, cherry and plum. It is simple on the palate with firm tannins and rich ripe fruit flavors of brushed red berries that ride down the center of the palate with an abrupt finish. Simple, tasty and interesting. 87 points.
In the other bracket, the number two seed is Villa Corti Chianti, 2018, Tuscany, Italy, $12.00. Chianti is perhaps the most well recognized appellation in Italy, thus the high seed and expectation. Primarily crafted from sangiovese, this wine delivers for Tuscany with ruby red with orange flecks in the glass and notes of plum, dry fig and a hint of menthol on the nose. To the taste the wine offers dark fruit with some spice and a fair amount of weight on the palate. The wine is easy to drink with a lengthy and pleasing finish. A nice wine at this price point. 85 points.
Facing off against the Chianti is Corte Rugolin Valpolicella Classico “Rugolin,” 2019, Veneto, Italy, $19.00. From near Lake Garda in Northern Italy, this wine is a blend of corvina, rondinella, and molinara with a touch of other Italian blending grapes. It’s a light ruby red in the glass and offers enticing floral notes and ripe strawberry to the nose. The wine is generous on the palate offering fresh ripe strawberry, vibrant red raspberry, rhubarb and cherry. It has delicate acidity throughout the mouth and a subtle elegance that follows the nose to a bright finish. This is tasty! 88 points.
This was a heated contest with four wines that all work well with Grata’s delicious pizza. Both first-round matchups ended with an upset. I suspected the Bonfante & Chiarle Barbera D’ Asti would be the best pairing with the pizza, but the Cirelli Rosso was slightly better because its slightly darker fruit was superb with the sausage from the pizza. Another upset in the first round saw the Rugolin Valpolicella take down the Villa Corti Chianti. The ripeness of the Valpolicella with the toasty cheese on the pizza is a compelling combination. The pair made a really tasty wine even better and the wine brought out flavors in the pizza that were hidden. In the end, the Rugolin Valpolicella was this year’s champion. Almost too close to call, but it took a slight edge over the Cirelli Rosso as the best pairing with the pizza.
Tasting a variety of wines with pizza is a fun way to enjoy the Final Four matchups this weekend. Why not make it a socially distanced engagement with some good friends, wine and a hot fresh pizza?
Mark McDonald and his wife Kim own The Italian Vine, a Lincoln-based wine distributorship. They recently lived in Italy for several years and studied and developed a passion for wine that inspired them to open their own enterprise.