Vino Files: Wines fit for your late-night pizza habit

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Heading into finals, you’re bound to have a few late-night pizza sessions to help you unwind from stuffing your cranium with a semester’s worth of knowledge.

You’re also likely to become quite thirsty from indulging in slice after slice of such salty, carb-laden bliss. Your natural instinct might be to reach for an ice-cold brewsky, but why not spring for a more intellectual beverage to slake your thirst?

True, beer and pizza have a natural predilection for each other. The carbonation in beer is a great counterpoint to the gooey cheese on pizza. Its bubbles are abrasive, allowing it to cut through the melted goodness and leaving the palate feeling refreshed. Flavor wise, the roasted malt in many lagers and ales brings out the toasty quality of the crust. This, my friends, is called food-and-beverage synergy.

But depending on the pizza, wine can be an equally — if not more — favorable match.

You may recall from previous Vino Files articles the words tannin and acidity. Tannins are astringent, naturally occurring compounds found in grapes, which can lend red wines a drying sensation that is often referred to as grip. Acidity is also a component in grapes, which can give the finished wine a saliva-inducing sensation. It is these two structural elements that make pizza and wine a superb duo.

Just as the carbonation in beer cuts through a cheesy pizza, the tannins and acidity in wine act in a similar fashion. In fact, wine often has the upper hand when paired with pizzas that are laden with hearty fixings. Rich toppings like sausage and peppers or mushrooms and bacon will often trounce a light, easy-drinking beer. You won’t taste the beer; you’ll only feel that there is a dilute liquid sitting in your mouth. Yuck. But a hefty red wine with its acidity, tannins, flavor intensity and body has all the elements necessary to make for a successful pairing.

To ensure that you get the most from your late-night wine-and-pizza session, here are five popular pizza toppings paired with appropriate wines. All of these bottles should be available at local Fairfield wine shops.

Plain cheese: Zardetto’s NV Brut Prosecco ($14) hails from northeastern Italy’s Veneto region. Prosecco (proh-SEHK-koh) is a sparkling white wine based on a grape called Glera (gah-LAIR-uh). Just like beer, Prosecco is also fizzy, which enables it cut through the melted cheese, leaving your palate feeling clean. But tell the pizza shop to go easy on the tomato sauce: too much can strip Prosecco of its flavors.

Pepperoni: A fitting match for a pizza loaded with cheese and pepperoni is D’Arenberg’s 2010 Stump Jump Shiraz ($11) from Australia. The grape Shiraz (shir-AHZ) is known for its richness and delectable flavors of ripe fruit, pepper and smoked meat, all of which help to make this wine a winning candidate for this pie.

Sausage and peppers: For a hearty pizza such as this one, you need a wine that has some body and tannins to stand up against the meat component. A wine like Los Vascos’ 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon ($8.99) from Chile has the grip to handle the sausage, and it also has an herbal element that pairs well with the peppers. Caveat: Make sure you order bell peppers instead of hot peppers. Hot peppers are challenging for wine as their heat makes the wine’s alcohol content feel elevated—your mouth will feel even more aflame.

Mushrooms: Frescobaldi’s 2011 Castiglioni Chianti ($11.99) is based on Sangiovese (sahn-joe-VAY-zay), a red grape that thrives in Italy’s Tuscany region. Chianti (key-AHN-tee) is an easygoing pizza wine that offers plenty of succulent fruit flavors and a light earthiness that will meld well with the mushrooms on this pie.

The works: If you like your pizza teeming with toppings like sausage, bacon, mushrooms and olives, you need a wine that is equally hearty. Bogle’s 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel ($11.99) from California’s Sierra Foothills is a full-bodied, robust red wine that has plenty of oomph to withstand this pizza’s abundant fixings.

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