Ordinarily we'd be less than two weeks away from the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four. The four best teams battle it out to determine who is the best in the land. It’s become my tradition on Final Four weekend weekend to grab a pizza and pick the best of four great wines to pair with it.
Because of the coronavirus, however, the tournament was canceled. Fortunately, many local restaurants remain open for carryout, Valentino’s included. So I picked up a large hamburger pizza and was primed for my pizza Final Four tradition a little early.
Pizza is a food people increasingly recognize as great to pair with wine. It’s long been one of my favorites. The Valentino’s pizza is particularly ideal because of the generous cheese topping that is baked to a golden brown, the tender almost pastry-like crust and pleasantly sweet tomato sauce. It’s perfect for my Final Four project.
For this tasting I matched two groups of two wines to see which would go best with the pizza. The competition was to determine wine that worked best with the pizza, not necessarily the better wine.
The wines I picked are all from Italy, as these tend to be my favorites to pair with pizza.
I started with a wine from Piedmont versus a wine from Abruzzo.
Seghesio Barbera d’Alba, 2017, Piedmont, Italy, $20. Made by an iconic producer whose relatives also operate a famous winery in California. This wine is deep ruby red in the glass, and it offers scents of raspberry, anise and spice. On the palate, the wine is soft and plush with red raspberry, blueberry and licorice flavors that carry through the center of the palate and finish abruptly. A well-made wine. 89 points.
The Barbera went up against Agriverde “Piane di Maggio” Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo, 2017, Abruzzo, Italy, $15. Produced by Italy’s first true organic winery. The winery is in the Abruzzo region and lies at the base of the Apennine Mountains with a majestic view of the Adriatic Sea. The wine is garnet in the glass and on the nose exhibits black fruit, petrol and earth notes. The wine is plump and juicy with dark plum, black cherry and forest floor. The wine is simple but very tasty. 87 points.
With the pizza, the clear winner in a major upset in this round is the Montepulciano. On its own the Barbera is a better wine, but the simplicity of the Montepulciano allowed the pizza to take center stage and shine. In contrast the Barbera took over and overpowered the pizza.
In the other matchup I started with Montesole Aglianico, 2016, Campania, Italy, $15. It's from a winery built on volcanic soil near Mount Vesuvius and not too far away from the Bay of Naples. Deep ruby red with subtle aromas of red raspberry, brambleberry and smoke. On the palate, bright red fruit flavors dance on the tongue with candied cherry and light smoky flavors that envelope the mouth. The wine has delicate tannins that grip the palate and a lengthy finish. This wine feels like Naples in a glass. 87 points.
The final wine is Gracciano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, 2016, Tuscany, Italy, $22. This is one of Italy’s grand wines. Made from a noble clone of the sangiovese variety called Prugnolo Gentile and aged in large oak casks for two years. Scents of antique rosewood, raspberry jam and vanilla give way to ripe red cherries, hints of toasted oak and delicate spice. The wine has pleasing tannins that grip the sides of the palate and a finish that lingers. The wine is subtle yet complex, delicate and compelling. An amazing wine at this price point. 89 points.
This head-to-head match-up was really close, but I give the nod to the Gracciano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. With the Valentino’s pizza, this wine brought out even greater flavors from the cheese and hamburger toppings on the delicious pie.
In the final competition, the Gracciano Vino Nobile was a decisive winner. This wine took the pizza to another level. It’s always fun when a wine is intriguing on its own and brings out the best in a food pairing.
While we are all trying to stay safe, don’t forget to keep your local restaurants in mind. Most of them are delivering and providing great carryout food options for you, and thanks to a recent executive order by Gov. Pete Ricketts, restaurants with a liquor license can sell wines to go and can deliver.
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.
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