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Pizza Loves Vino

For the best match of wine with pizza, take a tip from your toppings.

It’s a classic pairing: a pizza loaded with tomato sauce, mozzarella and pepperoni, alongside a bottle of Chianti, made from the Sangiovese grape.

Chianti’s heartiness and acidity go well with the bite of the sauce, the creaminess of the cheese and the saltiness of the sausage. Chianti isn’t the only option, of course; Sauvignon Blanc, the near-universal wine, also works surprisingly well. But neither of these is right for every type of pizza. For pizzas that vary from the tried and true, the best wine depends on the topping.

How to choose? The same way you choose a wine for any meal: Focus on the dominant flavors in the topping and look for a wine that complements them. As a general rule, heat and spices will take well to a sweet or sparkling wine, while toppings with strong, earthy flavors get along best with wines on the dry side.

We’ve paired a few common gourmet pizza types with wines that complement them. If your choice does not lead to love at first bite (and sip), recork the bottle and save it.

WHITE PIZZA WITH WILD MUSHROOMS The “white” means cheese with no tomato sauce base, so the usual high-acid choices that complement tomatoes will not do. If the cheese is only mildly salty and the mushrooms dominate, you could pair this pizza with the complexity and intensity of a Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. Or elevate the pie into a total gourmet occasion with Champagne. The effervescence will cut through the richness of the cheese and accent the mushrooms indulgently.

SAUTÉED SPINACH AND GARLIC This is one of the rare gourmet pizza types that can stand up to Chianti. (A pesto topping is another.) Why settle for the ordinary, though? Sangiovese, made from the same grape as Chianti but lighter, spicier and more complex, has a natural love affair with garlic. This earthy topping pair also goes well with the fragrant fruitiness of Valpolicella or the simplicity of a Pinot Noir.

GOAT CHEESE Look for a dry Sauvignon Blanc, which has the versatility to support this cheese’s creamy mildness.

HAM AND PINEAPPLE Sometimes called a Hawaiian pizza, this style has a tricky one-two punch of salty and sweet. The combination requires a fruity white wine that’s midway between dry and sweet. Light, herbal Sauvignon Blanc fits the bill.

BARBECUE CHICKEN A German or California Riesling gets along with the peppery sweetness of this increasingly popular pizza. For German, choose a lieblich (sweet), if possible.

THAI CHICKEN The spicy peanut sauce calls for a sweet white wine, such as an Italian Pinot Grigio (or its West Coast relative, Pinot Gris), or a spicy, aromatic Gewürztraminer, which is widely produced in the United States now as well as in Germany. Don’t overlook a sparkling wine or Champagne. The bubbles bring a flair to sweet and spicy ethnic food.

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