What can one say: pizza is an almost perfect, universal food. And it runs the gamut from the Brooklyn slice-on-the-go to the pineapple and Canadian bacon deep dish, from West Coast style to the new "traditional" thin crust with arugula and prosciutto, or even just an artisanal pepperoni. Pizza is as diverse as the people who make it. And when pairing it with a suitable wine, there has always been a great deal of confusion. What is a great pizza wine? Without making any specific pairings, let's start out with some rules of thumb.
More acid, less tannins
Pizza, with a few exceptions, uses a tomato-based sauce as the foundation for the other ingredients. Tomatoes are high in acid. So to square off against the acids in the tomato sauce you need a wine with high acidity. Pizza has cheese as one of its ingredients. Again you need a high-acid wine to cut through the fat in the cheese, a wine that will bite through the rich creaminess of the cheese and form a counterpoint to cleanse the palate. This all points to young, fresher varietals — wines that have not been aged in barrels too long. The longer a wine ages in an oak barrel, the more it develops tannins that give older crus that characteristic velvety mouth feel. Pizzas are bright, casual food, and they need a wine that is equally bright. Pairing pizza with a vintage wine is a contradiction in terms — too much sophistication for such a gloriously simple food.
White or red?
In the fusty old days the rule of thumb was that one should serve reds with meat and whites with fish and vegetables. Rules are made to be broken, and originally this particular one was a convention that was applied too rigorously. White wine, in fact, meets the high acid/less tannin criteria very well. Many pizzas today include a variety of cured meats, like prosciutto, salami, and speck, which are sharper in flavor profile and higher in fat content than a roast or steak. They need the higher acid to cut through the fat. There are many whites that could be nicely paired with pizza. And don't discount rosés either. Many rosés are actually produced from red varietal grapes but the skins are removed before crushing, which lends them that beautiful, pink hue. Almost to a bottle, rosés are young, fresh, seasonal wines with high acid and less tannin.
It doesn't have to be an Italian wine
Granted, pizza is a southern Italian, Sicilian invention. But what constitutes a pizza in Naples is very different from what says pizza in Brooklyn … or Chicago (Brooklyn would say a Chicago pie isn't even pizza). So look at pizza abstractly: it's a thin flat bread, covered in sauce, with cheese and condiments. In today's globalized world, Mexican quesadillas or Indian Naan treated similarly could fit the definition of pizza. So the wine could be equally global. Southern France has been running its version of pizza — Pissaladière — for centuries.