Week 31: Drink Pairings – Classic Pepperoni Pizza with a Trio of Obscure Wine Pairings

Well this week’s challenge is quite the softball of a challenge considering my r/52weeksofcooking metatheme. Since this is the very theme I automatically take part in every week, I will spend my time this week reminiscing about some of my favorite less traditional wine pairings. One bonus in indulging in more obscure styles is the likelihood of finding wines of great value for not very much money.

During my early years of studying the hell out of wine, my then-boyfriend/now-husband worked the bar of a super delicious San Diego pizza joint, bringing home pizza after pizza to my endless delight. Pepperoni pizza was our base style that we would choose to build upon with various toppings or not and is the pizza I have the most wine pairing history with. Thus, I made a very clean, classic style of pepperoni pizza to trigger cherished pairings.

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The first pizza pairing experience I ever latched onto was a pepperoni pizza and Dolcetto d’Alba. While Italian wines on the whole are really well built for rich and cheesy dishes considering their tendency towards higher acidity, Dolcetto keeps just the right level of juiciness and structure to bring something new each bite. While complexity is somewhat limited to more youthful dark berry and rustic earthy tones, the style hails from Piedmont where it is overshadowed by the internationally-revered Nebbiolo and even dark and brooding Barbara.

 

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Blaufränkisch is an Austrian varietal I’ve found a range of success in pairing with pizza and beyond. The varietal tends to showcase a dark fruit fruit profile with leather and spice in a structured, medium-bodied format. It provides a platform for pepperoni pizza to dance around on.

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One pairing that caught me by surprise was an unplanned glass of Zweigelt that showed up next to a freshly made pepperoni pizza some years back. The style may be the most obscure varietal of the three chosen here, even as a direct descendent of Blaufränkisch, This particular bottling hails from Lodi, California, displaying a magenta-tinged ruby color, fresh bubblegum raspberry notes and a lighter body that achieve a refreshing contrast to the savory pizza flavors.

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There are so many other pairings to consider with a basic pepperoni pizza but considering the variance found in producer styles and personal preferences, there’s never any one right answer. It’s what pairing food with wine so much damn fun.

Week 30: Fermentation – [Cured] Meat Lovers Pizza

And now for a challenge I’m rather well versed in: fermentation. Let’s all give a quick air-five to Louis Pasteur, the man who put an end to the shoulder shrug of a mystery that we built civilizations around. Yet even without understand the mechanisms, we still managed to bust out thousands of years of worth of food and booze history all very much dependent on the process. Without fermentation, we’d all be extremely sober and things like bread would be seriously impaired.

Having built this blog, and really an entire career, around fermented items, I figured I might try to make a pizza wholly from fermented items. The crust would be a no-brainer but the remainder could really range in personality.

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For the sauce, I made a Spanish vermouth reduction with shallots and parmesan. The sweetness from the vermouth would help to balance out the salty toppings I had planned.

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Salami and cured meats were the biggest shock to find on the list of foods that require fermentation. This very fact would make up the foundation of this pizza, having finally found a reason to use an absurd amount of meat as topping. I selected a range of styles including pepperoni, Calabrese salami, finocchiona salami, and bresaola.

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I also took this as a chance to splurge on some San Dainele Prosciutto and wow was it so, so worth it.

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Parmesan was used to support all the bright, salty flavors, and it also happens to be a fermented product as well. My goal was to finish the dish with greek yogurt for some balanced creamy texture but after a quick couple of tests, opted against it.

 

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With the flavors leaning thoroughly into the super meaty, salty realm, I worked with the textures to create an interesting topography that crisped up just right (despite the lack of lighting in my oven).

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And for the final fermented product: wine. I opted for Champagne, a style that has seen two fermentations, one for the initial still wine and another reactivated fermentation to capture the CO2 in bottle. While I wasn’t enamored with the pairing itself, despite higher expectations, I built a nice little night on the couch around the meal and indulged my dumb face while watching Netflix and petting some dogs so overall, it was pretty okay.

Week 27: Tacos – Mushroom & Pepperoni Quesadilla Tacos

This week’s r/52weeksofcooking challenge required a melding of two of the most cooked items in my kitchen: pizza & tacos. Creating a hybrid would prove to be somewhat straightforward as I have also mastered my quesadilla craft during my desperate time with all the ingredients to make tacos but no meat. As a result, this taco experiment began with a pizza quesadilla base.

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On its own, this would make for a dope midnight snack. But we must march forward.

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With pepperoni already lining the foundation of our taco, cumin & black pepper mushrooms made up the meat of the taco.

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With another melting of cheeses, using a mozzarella and Mexican blend throughout, the mushroom tacos were built and ready to be dressed.

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To crush this pizza-taco hybrid, tomato sauce, ricotta & red pepper flakes made up the final touches before it was eating time.

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The pepperoni kills it. There’s a touch of spice here and there so habanero sauce could easily be included or ignored.

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For the sake of the pairing I opted out of extra spiciness so that a red wine has a shot at being a decent pairing. While the fruit in this Grenache is soft and juicy with black raspberries for days, the alcohol is emphasized by the spice and throws the wine a tad off balance. A noticeable but forgivable offense when I’m too busy jamming out with these little handheld feasts.

double taco dance

Week 23: Deep Fried – Fried Eggplant, Basil & Pepperoni Pizza

Having less and less time to adequately prepare for these weekly endeavors, a quick peek in the fridge was all the inspiration needed for this week’s deep fried challenge. In the O’Bryan household, we have a tendency to pick up a plump eggplant with ambitions of transforming the shiny beast into an Ottolenghi masterpiece. More often, we find ourselves dumping a blotched and festering limp vegetable corpse into the trash. This is all to say that we have yet to find the way to embrace their presence in our fridge. And we may have found the way.

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Fried eggplant on pizza is no genius idea of mine. Its true origin story remains a mystery to this blogger as she hasn’t the time nor the inclination to seek out any backstory, no matter how grateful I should be for the abundance of information available at my fingertips.

My first personal encounter, one that I remember quite fondly due to timing (I had just landed a job, albeit a shitty one, that would secure the path of my now career) and the tasty, tasty combination of toppings, was one that came recommended by the Bar Basic staff: fried eggplant, pepperoni, basil and garlic atop a large red pie. I went gaga for this shit. So here goes my attempt at recreating a super built-up cherished moment of my recent past. What could go wrong?

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After slicing up an eggplant to a consistenly moderate thickness, the slices were breaded in a panko and Italian crumb mix, the blend of the two resulting from a petty bout of indecision.

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Using a combination of high-heat oils, as I hadn’t the foresight to buy enough of any one kind, the breaded eggplant slices took turns crisping up in the pot.

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A rather sizable batch was produced, enough to feed three large pizzas as each pizza could barely take on more than 7 or 8. Any leftovers stayed rather well. If they never make it onto crust, they were reheated in the oven with tomato sauce and cheese on top for a quickie eggplant parmesana.

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While the original inclusion of garlic was mostly ignored (aside from the generous heap of garlic found in the tomato sauce), a few dollops of ricotta here and there made up for its absence with creamy, textured bites.

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After some fussing around with pairings, Barolo stepped up as the winner of the bunch. This 2006 Marchesi di Barolo from Piedmonte, Italy had just the right structure of tannin and acidity to tackle the richness here, but then the deeply-resonant tart fruits provided a great backdrop for all the savory notes to play off of.

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I loved this pairing. I loved this wine and the pizza and the whole experience of making it and eating it. This was so fantastic I wanted to die. Instead, I snapped some photos and obsessed over new angles and lighting. The work didn’t really pay off but the pizza itself was worth all the effort.

 

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It was so good, I actually made two.

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As for things that could go wrong? Nothing did. This was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever made. It will be one I continue to make for as long as I have eggplant in my refrigerator, which turns out to be more often than needed. It’s time to embrace their ever-presence.

eggplant love

Week 18: Brown Bag Lunch – Homemade Lunchables Pizza

This week’s Brown Bag Lunch challenge dangled the opportunity to poke at my nostalgia buttons and I took a swing at my very own set of homemade Lunchables pizza. Overall, this was a very smart decision.

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To begin, mini crust discs are made to fit the lunching tupperware I use on the daily for packing snacks for work. Puffing up in oven may be an issue, which can be remedied by a few stabs from a fork beforehand or a bit of pressure from above afterwards.

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Next the tomato sauce is made by gently cooking garlic in olive oil and then dousing crushed San Marzano tomatoes into the pot for a quick simmer. Fresh basil and dried oregano make up the whole of the spices used.

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Raw ingredients may vary based on personal preference but fresh tomatoes and pepperoni are great toppings of choice.

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A quick mix of cheddar and mozzarella made for a wonderfully complex assortment of cheese aromatics. For further instruction on preparing a two cheese blend, this brief video guide can provide the necessary guidance for mastery.

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Staging is key in creating a bag meal experience. For the majority of my packed food needs, I turn to a set of Rubbermaid kits I found at Costco once long ago. They just happen to fit the REI lunchbag I bought just as long ago.

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Being the responsible worldly thinker that I am, I chose to feature my handy-dandy reusable lunchbox as my “brown bag” for this project. Stocked with plastic utensils and an icepack, all this lunch needs is a nice view and a cool breeze.

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The build is simple. A microwave or toaster oven can zap this mini pizza into a blissful dance through a flavor meadow, but the extra effort can be easily overlooked when hungry.

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If wine is an option, rosé or lambrusco can make a daytime meal sing. If a lunch is forgotten until the later hours, a Louis Latour red burgundy can transform a Lunchables adventure into an epic midnight snack.

Week 13: Breads – Pepperoni Monkey Bread

For this week’s challenge, I revived a past memory of making pepperoni monkey bread as inspired by a cover recipe of Cook’s Country not long ago. Without the actual recipe in hand, and without all the necessary kitchen gear, I put together the best monkey bread my semi-stocked refrigerator would allow.

To begin, I rolled out a long sheet of leftover dough from a previous pizza thrill. The contents were then wrapped up into a tight roll for chopping.

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Inside were layers of mozzarella, cottage cheese and pepperoni.

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While chopping up the roll into bite-size morsels with a dough scraper is a handy use of a specific kitchen tool, not having a bundt pan is a somewhat difficult piece to find an equivalent for. For this semi-blind experiment, a cake pan with a centered ramekin will have to be sufficient.

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The chopped pieces were placed in a calculated, galactic pattern around the ramekin (which would later serve a dual purpose) and pressed into a compact form for baking.

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The results may have been messy with pepperoni and cheesy bits poking out, but the final product envelopes much of the clutter while still inviting a piece to be pulled off and dipped into the marinara that fills the center. To make savvy use of time, the marinara is best placed in the ramekin a couple minutes before the bread is finished setting.

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The marinara used here is my go-to recipe of San Marzano canned tomatoes cooked down briefly with a pinch of torn fresh basil, salt, sugar & red wine vinegar. When dipped, a piece of monkey bread transforms into a condensed pizza bite. It was really, really difficult not to eat this entire thing is one sitting. So that’s quite exactly what I did…but not without wine.

 

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COS is a killer producer from Sicily that I especially enjoy for the concentration of red cherry in its red wines balanced with the more savory, licorice elements the wines often display. While this 2011 Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico displayed a bit more age than I had hoped, the pairing is still sound with the boldness of juicy fruit and brightness of acidity that Italian wines are known for that will help to balance the classic pizza flavors in this dish.

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So I very thoroughly slaughtered both food and wine and have zero regrets.

Week 7: Air – Basil Foam Pizza Topping

For this week’s challenge, I dedicated some time to learning about modernist techniques for making foams and emulsions. After combing through stacks of online literature (like this, this and this), I managed to gain little confidence that some chemical tinkering would go without failure. And with that, I cannonballed into this project without concern for the outcome and came out lucky.

Basil Foam

To begin, I blanched fresh basil leaves, and a few spinach leaves for extra color, before dousing them in an ice bath.

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After wringing out the excess water from the leaves, I blended the leaves with a pinch of salt and a small amount of half and half, adding just enough to create a smooth liquid. I kept the additional cream to a minimum so as to maintain the concentration of both color and flavor in the resulting foam. This step required a few pauses to scrape down the sides of the blender for consistency, which probably would not have been as dramatic a task if I had made a bigger batch.

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Instead of leaning on any one particular technique discussed in the molecular gastronomy websites, I went for a combo punch of ingredients that would undoubtedly turn this mess into some kind of foam. Any foam.

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Adding in 1/16th a teaspoon of xanthan gum as a thickener and an egg white of one egg and 1/16 teaspoon of agar agar as stabilizers, I gave the emulsion one last blend before passing it through a sieve into an iSi whipped cream dispenser. After unloading two cartridges of nitrous oxide into the canister, shaking vigorously with each delivery, the iSi took a nap in the fridge while pizza was made.

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Basil works very well alongside tomatoes so I decided to flip this pizza onto its bottom and create an upside-down pepperoni pie with mozzarella spread right over the crust, followed by pepperoni and then heaps and heaps of freshly-made tomato sauce. Once out of the oven, the pizza was doused with parmesan and cooled slightly before basil foam was applied in the hopes of not deteriorating its delicate nature too quickly.

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The foam came out light, fluffy and of a satisfying shade of ecto-cooler green. The flavors remained fresh and leafy in its new form, which made a slice of pizza look like a crisply-wrapped present. Even when melted into alien goop, the foam was worthy of using as a dip for crust.

The pairing

With more herbaceous flavors to consider on a standard set of toppings, I wanted a wine to reflect the same green quality found on the pizza. Varietally known for its green bell pepper notes, Cabernet Franc from Bock (Hungary, 2011).

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The wine was remarkably plush and easy to get along with, primarily flaunting juicy black cherry and raspberry notes with hints of chopped mushroom and fresh soil interlaced. Together with the pizza, the soft yet powerful style of this wine was able to match the richness of the tomato sauce and provide a backdrop of dark berry fruitiness for the herbaceous flavors to play off of. Not the pairing that was expected, but one that worked nonetheless.

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With a canister of basil foam hanging out in the fridge, even some everyday cast iron tortilla pizza can use a little pizzazz. Though the classic remain classics, I found myself continuing to reach for the iSi for that extra hit of flavor. It seems I’ll have to mark this challenge down as a success.

Week 1 – Soup: Tomato Soup & Pepperoni Twists

Thrilled to get a chance to expand my soup repertoire, I used this first challenge to hunt down a tomato soup recipe worthy of repetition, with or without its pizza flair. By using tomato as a base, the expansion into the pizza realm would be as natural as garnishing with cheese and croutons, which, while delicious, would be a snooze fest. Instead, I swam around the internet until I found a perfect companion for the tomato soup: pepperoni twists.

Having just discovered the outrageous beauty San Marzano tomatoes can bring to a sauce, I already had my main dancing partner in mind for this project. Since these tomatoes are not often found fresh, the canned version helps to significantly diminish the amount of prep work involved. Tomatoes and artichokes are the only canned produce items I keep stocked as they both are able to maintain the same quality as their fresh counterparts with the added bonus of minimizing kitchen labor.

Wanting a basic soup to showcase the charm of San Marzanos, I worked off a Chowhound recipe, adjusting all the while to suit my fancy. A few springs of thyme were steeped during the simmer for a whisper of herbaceousness while I cut the cream altogether to keep the tomatoes singing brightly. To make up for the omitted liquid, I stretched out the soup with 1/2 a cup more broth.

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Building the pizza dough from a Cook’s Illustrated standard found in The New Best Recipe, I chose to experiment with this batch using half bread flour and half whole wheat, resulting in a more textured but equally workable dough.

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As for the pepperoni twists themselves, I kept true to much of the recipe, choosing to use an indulgent amount of pepperoni so as to pack in the pizza essence.

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The marriage of tomato soup to pepperoni twists is straightfoward and obvious, yet so captivating. With each dip of bread, the sweet, meaty oil slick left behind infuses an attractive savory character into tanginess of the tomato. The fusion remains present in every spoonful to follow inspiring a pepperoni twist massacre.

Chosen to pair for its boldness of style and fresh acidity, 2006 Tenuta di Trinoro – “Le Cupole,” Rosso, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy is a Bordeaux blend mainly featuring Cabernet Franc (47%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (30%). The decade of age has soften its edges, but the tannins remain firmly textured while the pairing proves to be just as hedonistic as the dish itself.

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Having leaned a little heavy on the red pepper flake usage in both recipes, the heat from the spice lingers and challenges the weighty alcohol level of the Tuscan. Even still, the bolt of intense fruit present in the wine refreshes the palate with dominating aromatics of black cherries, cooked blackberries and vanilla. Notes of tar and dusty tobacco mirror the savory components brought on by pepperoni, though the pairing seems to thrive on the contrasting of elements.

While hearty enough to stand up to the aromatics of this dish, the Tuscan is notably enjoyable all by its onesie. Meanwhile, tomato soup may never seem complete without a batch of pepperoni twists nearby. They may be distant lovers, capable of existing apart, but there will always the memory  of those couple passionate, wintery nights by the fireplace being engulfed by a cold, hungry pizza kitten waiting for a shiny upvote to appear.

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Knowing future challenges will not be as forgiving, I am exceedingly pleased with the outcome of my first r/52weeksofcooking metatheme challenge. Bring it on, Week 2.

Landini’s Pizzeria & Spanish red

The recent boom of trendy bars and restaurants in San Diego’s Little Italy has been all the chatter about town. From the killer wine list at Juniper & Ivy to the shiny upstairs patio of Kettner Exchange, there is plenty to talk about and more foodie fodder still to come. While old neighborhood standards may harrumph about with speculation as to what the competition means for business, the influx of roaming drunk hoards seems well-suited for a pizza joint to thrive in and Landini’s Pizzeria is situated within easy stumbling distance of it all.

San Diego kitchens shut down disappointingly early for a city that parties nightly until two. As bars unleash batches of wooing hot messes and their socially oblivious companions into the streets, Landini’s becomes a magnet for inebriated pizza zombies drawn to the ever-appreciated business model of late-night slices.

Initially enticed by the menu’s fancy sounding toppings of brussel sprouts and butternut squash, I opt for a less cerebral treat after standing in line between drunk toddlers in celebratory feather boas indicating some holiday nigh. Instead, the very chill people of Landini’s recommend a standard issue pepperoni pie, to which I add tomato and mushroom to half and contribute what I can to send some cat to ninja school.

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The toppings don’t seem to matter beyond pepperoni as the base components make up the whole of the pizza’s personality. A soft core that runs from crust to cheese is enlivened with collected pockets of juicy tomato sauce and a chewy texture. While the tomato and mushroom are decorative at best, contributing nothing much beyond texture to the pie, the pepperoni is spiced perfectly, calling for a bigger style of red wine to be its match.

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Bodega Margon Pricum (Tierra de León, 2007) is a Spanish red made up solely from the Prieto Picudo red grape of the region. Upon opening, the wine is immediately taut, tannins strained and fruit ungiving, and in need of time to breathe. Decanting is an option, offering more surface area for oxygen to interact with the wine and hasten its evolution, while swirling in glass offers smaller format aeration for those seeking to enjoy a glass or two.

As the wine opens up, aromas of black tea, pepper, and dusty earth are at first most notable. Dark fruit flavors emerge in the form of black cherry and blackberries that provide a counterbalance to the meaty landscape of the pizza and inherent spice never overwhelms the wine. With plumply ripe fruit aromas and moderately higher alcohol, there is just enough acidity to match the tomato sauce while the scrubby tannins play nicely off each cheesy bite.

landini's leftovers

Leftovers are an undeniable truth of pizza eating for one. To step up my pizza game, I ditched the microwave and learned a stovetop method for reheating pizza that revives any lifeless crust on the fly. All it takes is a pan prepped to low-medium heat with slices placed in dry for a crisp bottom while covering with a lid to heat the toppings evenly. Serve with eggs and call it breakfast.

Pauly’s slices with Old & New World wines

Pauly’s Pizza Joint is a quiet strip mall on the long, sunny stretch of Miramar Road churning out thin-crust pies and lots of personality. After much deliberation over the killer selection of by-the-slice, a slice of Buffalo Chicken Pizza and the House Pie (aka Christmas Pie) are squirreled back to the wine-pairing lair for intense observation.

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The Buffalo Chicken slice is made up simply of chicken, ranch and Frank’s RedHot hot sauce, the latter acting as sauce and dominating visual effect of the pie. With each bite, the creaminess of ranch hits first moving swiftly into the nostalgic spice of Frank’s RedHot that speaks to a long history of chicken wing indulgence. Chunks of chewy meat are scattered about while a blanket of chicken lurks below in sneaky ninja ways, emerging from the crust in places that seem populated by sauce alone. The resulting effect of this chewy, savory infusion is both delightful and addicting.

pauly's riesling and buffalo

Built from the American bar food classic of buffalo wings, this pizza swings well into the non-traditional realm of pies. Its personality could not extend much further from its pairing, a mineral-driven, off-dry German Riesling (Willi Schaefer, Mosel, Graacher Domprobst, Spätlese, 2013). Aroma of crushed slate, pears and apple blossom offer contrasting flavors to the pie while generous acidity and residual sugar counterbalance the lingering spice and twangy vinegar of Frank’s RedHot. Every bite has you chasing the heat-relieving sip of sweetness that in itself is never overly cloying thanks to the one-two acidic punch that comes with a cool climate and varietal typicity.

pauly's nebbiolo & house pie

The House Pie comes topped with bacon, pepperoni, spinach, garlic and feta, earning its second title, “Christmas pie,” due to reports of it being Santa’s favorite off-season snack. Fresh out of the oven, the slice is immediately alluring with sizzling pork products forming seductive wafts that almost make you forget about wine. Almost. Such a hedonistic pizza requires an equally hedonistic wine: Palmina Nebbiolo (Santa Barbara County, 2008).

Free from strict, tradition-driven rules that make up the viticultural framework of most Old World regions, the United States is constantly tinkering with different varietals, ranging from successful grapes of other established regions to the under-appreciated and unknown. Nebbiolo stems from the first category, already secured in its reputation as it makes up 100% of Barolo and Barbaresco, some of Italy’s finest quality wines. Palmina Nebbiolo wine expresses its Italian roots with intense red berries, violets and a gritty tannic structure. While dry, the fruit is as expressive as gummy bears, giving into its New World upbringing. The wine is so tantalizingly vigorous that even the occasional zing of pepperoni spice barks but never bites at the luscious fruit bouquet. Meanwhile, the comparatively quieter spinach cuts through all the greasy meat providing a welcomed vegetal contrast while the candied garlic mirrors the sweet oak present in the wine, which lends nutmeg and vanilla bean to the finish.