Zin and 'za
Anyone who believes that wine enthusiasts graze only upon high-tone gourmet fare like foie gras and the classic French "mother sauces"* need only inquire about which wine goes best with pizza to get a quick attitude adjustment.
In fact, based on both E-mail questions and the response to periodic Wine Lovers' Voting Booth surveys that take on this Important Question, just about everyone who claims a serious interest in wine will eagerly pair it with the world's favorite snack food.
To be honest, when I'm enjoying a sizzling slice of pizza with its perfectly balanced blend of molten mozzarella, tangy sauce and hearty toppings, I'm likely to choose a beverage that can be swigged with gusto to wash it down: A cold beer, perhaps, or tall glass of iced tea.
But turn that snack slice into dinner by serving it on a plate and eating it neatly with knife and fork, and wine becomes the beverage of choice. After all, wine was made to go with food, and a big part of the enjoyment of wine-as-hobby for many of us is pursuing the infinite variety of flavor experiences that matching wine and food can bring.
For years, I adhered strictly to the conventional wisdom that Italian reds in general and Chianti in particular make a perfect marriage with pizza; and you certainly can't go wrong with this approach. Lately, though, I've become a great fan of Argentine Malbec with standard pizzas, finding its combination of forward fruit and zippy acidity works even better than Chianti for me.
But whenever we take an informal "Voting Booth" poll on the topic (most recently in January 2002), the wine-loving people's choice is generally neither Chianti nor beer (and certainly not Malbec), but that quintessential American red wine, Zinfandel.
I don't fully get this - to my palate, most Zins are too soft (low-acid) and too alcoholic to make a perfect pizza match. But hey, I'm always willing to make a sacrifice in the name of research, so the recent arrival of a newly released 2001 Zinfandel from Madrigral, one of my favorite small California producers, prompted me to phone out for a sausage-and-garlic pie from my usual purveyor, Louisville's Tony Boombozz.
Thus fortified, we sat down for a wine and pizza dinner last night, and ... hey! ... this stuff is pretty good! Another? Don't mind if I do. Zin and 'za may not convert me entirely from Malbec, or beer. But it's certainly a palatable option. The details are below.
* FOOTNOTE: Wondering what the five "mother sauces" are? Actually those wacky French chefs count six, but for categorical purposes, they wrap the two "emulsified" sauces into one. There's the standard white sauce Béchamel; its light stock-based sibling Velouté; the brown sauce Espagnole; the joined-at-the-hip Hollandaise and Mayonnaise, and the good old oil-and vinegar Vinaigrette. Wines to go with? That's another story for another day.
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Madrigal 2001 Napa Valley Zinfandel ($25)
Very dark ruby in color, this stylish Zinfandel offers distinct raspberry aromas but shows more restraint than "fruit-bomb" styles of Zin; distant herbal "leafy" and "sappy" scents form a subtle backdrop. Ripe mixed-berry fruit shows on the palate, with structure provided more by 14.5 percent alcohol than acidity, creating an offbeat textural impression that seems both soft and full at the same time. It's a big mouthful of Zin fruit, with appetizing berry flavors in the finish. (March 9, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: We sampled it with a hearty pizza to test Zin's affinity for the humble Italian pie, and it worked well enough, although a little more acidity might have made for a more snappy food match. Next time I would serve this one with Zin's most favored companion, char-grilled meats.
VALUE: Retailers may knock a few bucks off this at-the-winery price, which runs a bit above the limit for everyday wine for most of us, but it's certainly competitive in value and price with similar quality Zinfandels in today's market.
WHEN TO DRINK: I like Zinfandel young and fresh, but this big boy certainly wouldn't suffer from a little cellar time.
WEB LINK: The winery's informative Website includes forms you can use to order wine (local laws permitting) direct from Madrigal:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: In addition to the winery Website, you can find online vendors for Madrigal wines on Wine-Searcher.com:
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Wednesday, March 10, 2004