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Tuscany's wine and Naples' pizza

Napoli-style pizza
Napoli-style pizza

There are several Neopolitan pizza “ristoranti” in the neighborhoods of Chicago, so just having dined at one, I decided to see what kind of wine would best match these thin crust, zesty woodfire cooked specialties.

Neopolitan pizza comes from Naples, and is distinguished from what we all know as American pizza by its blistered, charred crust, fresh crushed San Marzano tomatoes working as sauce, and just a touch of cheese. In this way, the ingredients are generally more equally balanced than the cheese laden thin crust or bready deep dish pizzas we usually feed on in Chicago. And the overall result is a light, crunchy, fresh blast of Italian flavors—oregano and basil, fresh tomato, creamy cheese, and a chewy crust with a perimeter of crunchy edges. The are served as single serve meals, sometimes flopping over the edge of a plate but about the size of it.

I’ve tried a few Neopolitan pizza places in town, most recently one that opened in my West Side neighborhood—Antico Forno. I tried the “Diavola,” a spicy pizza with cacciatore salami, red pepper flakes, and basil. I paired it with a 2007 Super Tuscan Sangiovese from Donna Laura—wine with enough weight and acid to balance Diavola’s hot spices.

Tuscany is the home to the Chianti region, and a traditional Chianti wine would have been a solid choice, too. Wines from Chianti are mostly Sangiovese, grapes blended with a few other local varietals to have the formal designation of “Chianti.”

The Donna Laura "Ali" Sangiovese I tried was 100% Sangiovese so by Italian rules cannot be designated a Chianti. Rather, good quality Tuscan wines that are not exacting on the rules of a blended Chianti are deemed “Super Tuscan.” Given the choice, I’ll usually choose the Super Tuscan over a Chianti as my experience is usually the Super Tuscans are bit more refined and rich, but retaining the earthy qualities that make Chiantis a good choice with tomato-based Italian cuisine (an admitted subjective opinion, that I urge you to experiment with for yourself).

Other Napoli-style pizza places I’ve sampled in the neighborhoods include Spacca Napoli in Ravenswood (right off the el) and Coalfire in the West Loop (nestled in a quaint old Italian neighborhood spanning Grand Avenue near Ashland--an area worth checking out if you're a fan of authentic Italian eateries).

And while my general rule is “when in Rome, drink as the Romans do” when it comes to matching ethnic cuisine with wines from its country, I always think an American Zinfandel is a good “pizza wine,” too. Then again, Zinfandel is derived from Italian Primitivo grapes, so it’s really an Italian-American wine cousin. We’ll talk about Zinfandel more next time.

Meantime, Mangia la pizza Napoli, e beviamo il vino Toscano!


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