Pizza Nova & Sancerre

Perched overlooking the sleepy harbor of Point Loma, San Diego’s Pizza Nova is a spacious bayside joint cooking up wood-fired pizza amongst other restaurant standards. Aside from the expected basics of pepperoni and margherita, a range of non-traditional pies tempt the more adventurous with toppings not often found on pizza, such as pears, zucchini or thai flavors. Proximity to the sea seems to have had some minor influences on their chosen style as their eponymous signature pie features smoked salmon. Fluffed up with flavors of red onions, caper and goat cheese, the Pizza Nova pie is a tasty departure from loveable classics most swear allegiance to.

pizza nova whole pie

When ordered to-go, the freshly baked pizza kisses salmon with boxed-in heat, cooking in a bit more flaky texture and pink opaqueness. While the salmon brings a sweet smokiness to the overall profile, the capers are bright with ocean-like salinity and the goat cheese peps up each bite with a hit of grassy tang. The oily presence of fontina and mozzarella cheeses wants for a super palate cleanser of acidity while the most prominent flavor of salty brininess calls for something light and mineral-driven.

We return to the Loire Valley where Sancerre grows Sauvignon Blanc from a limestone-rich soil littered with fossilized seashells and capable of fostering a chalky minerality in these vibrant wines. Quintessential Sancerre is unoaked and bone dry with aromatics encompassing a broad spectrum, from green bell pepper to wet rocks to gooseberries. The 2013 Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre is a clean, straightforward style with flavors of citrus blossom, tart lemon and grapefruit as well as contrasting tropical fruit aromas that are especially loud and lush when juxtaposed with the savory pizza elements. Enhanced with aromas of garlic and red onion, the sharp flavors on the pizza soften the edges on this piercing style of Sauvignon Blanc, balancing each other in turn.

pizza nova sancerre and salmon

One ingredient here truly secures this pairing: goat cheese. Sancerre and chèvre are a classic “grows together, goes together” combination, adhering to a culinary philosophy that resonates throughout cultures worldwide. While terroir may be an influential factor, the main driving force behind so many of these “perfect” pairings is more likely a matter of time and space. When food and wine find themselves at the dinner table again and again, regional preferences drive the two beyond mere coexistence into a balanced dynamic reinforced by generations of tradition. Since this culinary symbiosis requires ample time for coevolution, most examples of the phenomenon unsurprisingly emerge from the Old World, encompassing classics such as Muscadet and oysters or Nebbiolo and truffles. The many traditions are worth exploration and thoughtful engagement, but they should be considered handy tools rather than governing guidelines. Otherwise this whole business of pairing food and wine would prove way less fun.

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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.

pauly's pizza joint collage

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.

Zia’s Gourmet Pizza & Valdeorras

From 5 to 10pm, a mere five hours each day, Zia’s Gourmet Pizza cooks up an array of quality-driven pies that gently push the boundaries of pizza composition. The pizzeria is driven by the high standards set by founder Khlaed Waleh and showcases ingredients such as yogurt, cranberries and turkey pastrami without bowing to expected norms like pepperoni. Welcoming and unpretentious, Zia’s offers visitors to Normal Heights a chance to expand their pizza horizons through slice-at-a-time exploration.

zias pizza and wine

Every pizza features a whole-wheat crust, airy and light with a rustic flair. For how easily it crumbles with each bite, the texture is surprisingly crisp and well structured. First off the by-the-slice line up is a crowd favorite, the Papay, a playful and zesty pizza alive with peppery spinach, mozzarella, garlic, capers, and a yogurt sauce counterbalancing the spice with a creamy tang. Pairing up with this savory ass-kicker is a wine matched in both structure and aromatics: Rafael Palacios, 2011 As Sortes, Valdeorras.

papay

Hailing from Galicia in northwestern Spain, Valdeorras is an up-and-coming region reviving the native white grape of Godello. Featured as the main component in the style, the varietal was nearly extinct until the late 20th century, but has been slowly building a cult following in recent years. Displaying fruit-driven roundness and acidic backbone, Valdeorras keeps a core minerality of wet river stones fleshed out with aromas of lemon curd, apple blossom and lime zest. With some of the delicate floral characteristics dashed away by the Papay’s zestier components, the Potato slice proves to be an overall better dancing partner.

zias potato

Succinctly named, the Potato features rosemary potatoes, garlic, scallions, feta, cream cheese and mozzarella over a red sauce. Upon first glance, the potatoes appear as dishearteningly dull as getting a plate of home fries for breakfast when you wanted hash browns. On the playing field, these puppies pack earthy appeal with a smooth texture melting into every bite. Fragrant wisps of rosemary, scallions and garlic build upon each other, lingering long after each bite while the tomato sauce chimes in with an occasional bright hello and without much contribution otherwise. Meditating on flavors alone, the experience is best likened to a well-crafted stew: herbaceous, comforting and delightfully rustic. With the pairing, both pizza and wine are able to showcase their distinctive personalities without hindering the other’s. They’re not going to have each others babies or anything, but they sure do dance prettily together.

Surf Rider Pizza & Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Tucked away from the Ocean Beach bustle of daytime drinkers, surfers and street gypsies, Surf Rider Pizza Café is a neighborhood gem with a local following earned with their east-coast style pizzas and welcoming hospitality. Unruffled by its OB pizza competitors (Newport Pizza and Pizza Port, gobbling up much of the Newport Avenue foot-traffic with their respective sets of fancy beers), Surf Rider prides itself in churning out a quality product with a zen-like OBcian attitude that spanks a little love into each of their hand-tossed pies.

The signature “Surf Rider Pizza,” is a mainstay in the by-the-slice offerings with roasted garlic, gorgonzola, basil, and tomatoes to entice hungry browsers. Even more tempting, the “Bacon Rider” specialty pie sports all the goodies of the house style with the brilliant addition of bacon, a decisive detail that wins my order. Mere blocks away, 3rd Corner wine shop and bistro keeps shelves stocked with fun wines, from which I source this week’s pairing: The Flood Pinot Noir (Chapter 24, Willamette Valley, 2012).

surfrider wine & pizza

Atop the thin chewy crust of the Bacon Rider, flavor colonies populate the cheesy plains in small groupings of finely chopped bacon and juicy tomatoes. Toppings are kempt and well integrated with the occasional sleeping giant of roasted garlic disrupting the scenery. While subtle in flavor, each bite of garlic clove disperses a tidal wave of sweet aromatic pulp that coats the palate with a soft-focus filter. At the opposite end of the spectrum, gorgonzola is immediately vivid and boisterous, giving the pizza a briny backbone.

slice & a glass

The new world Pinot Noir plays a refreshing role in the balancing act of this pairing, enveloping all the savory elements with a blanket of dark berry fruit. In turn, the contrasting saltiness of the pizza brightens these rhubarb and stewed strawberry qualities in the wine, which sing extra loud in the presence of bacon or roasted garlic. Layered aromas of black pepper, nutmeg, saline and damp earth builds upon this Pinot Noir like a cinematic portrayal of Hi-C’s Flashin’ Fruit Punch dabbling in a high school goth phase: a bubbly, fruity core indulging in dark makeup and a more complex sense of identity.

To contribute to the annual social event of going glossy-eyed numb while friends gather around the television for Super Bowl Sunday, I have gone samurai on my leftovers, chopping them into finger-food-sized pieces. Topped with a chiffonade of fresh basil, these puppies make for a pretty Pinterestable Super Bowl snack to share. In tow, the remaining wine will be a delightful byob treat to shed the gloss from my eyes and make this year’s Super Bowl that much less dreadfully boring.

super bowl sunday

Berkeley Pizza & the Rhône Valley

In a Chicago pizza joint last year, I joined four hungry locals in ordering a pizza from Lou Malnati’s, a classic Chicago chain. A deep-dish novice, I sat quietly outraged at what I thought was a rather prudish order of a single pie. At most, we could evenly divide the pizza into a slice and a fraction of another. It was only until halfway into my first slice that I had finally realized what everyone else at the table had grown up knowing: Chicago pizza is a beast.

A lifetime of thin-crust preferences has led me to demolish slice after slice without thought, taking down minimally half a pizza order, depending on size. To have a starvation-level hunger smacked down by a single slice felt like an embarrassment. A couple of us made idealistic moves towards a second slice but despite our efforts we still walked away with leftovers.

Deep-dish pie looks more like actual pie than the flatbread pizza of the rest of the world. Toppings are layered upside-down with a chunky tomato sauce keeping quiet the secrets of what lies below. Chicago-style pizza is all but overlooked in San Diego, but the spirit lives on strong in the few places that do champion the style.

Berkeley Pizza is an oasis from the soulless clumping of restaurants and bars tourists so lovingly refer to as the Gaslamp District. They bait the hot mess of drunk fools and hoards of clubbers roaming the streets with a chill vibe, respectable lineup of beers, late hours, and pizza by the slice. Berkeley Pizza has recently cast a net in North Park, a fresh pond of drunk fools, with a new location posted up between Coin-Op Game Room and The Office. It was from here I ordered a couple slices, a classic pepperoni and their signature combo of spinach & mushroom, to be whisked home between two paper plates for a pairing.

berkeley pizza slices

Such a rich and robust pizza requires a rich and robust wine to match. Acidity is also important so to the Old World we go, specifically the Rhône Valley in southern France. Once a papal summer palace, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a Southern Rhône region that produces red wines made from a blend of up to 13 different varietals, with Grenache at its core.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is one of Robert Parker’s favorite styles of wine, which he prizes for its immediate parade of “intellectual and hedonistic elements” that generally takes great age-worthy wines decades to develop. Robert Parker reflects this same attitude in many of the wines chosen for high scores on his 100-point scale, providing consumers looking for those ripe and approachable styles a shortcut in research. While I dabble in the other end of the stylistic spectrum these days, I began my love of wine with juicy, sun-humped wines of the New World and moved away only to explore other styles for education purposes. Though I never returned, I can always enjoy a plumped up red, hedonistic and generous with fruit.

Hedonistic is right. The 2012 Domaine de Saint Siffrein (Châteauneuf-du-Pape) opens up hot and lush with stewed berry aromas of raspberry and blackberry pie on a backdrop of matted earth and dried leather. With just enough acidity to balance the wine’s weighty presence, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape is bold enough to handle the monster punch of flavor divvied out in each bite. Meanwhile, the tomato sauce is alive, racy with acidity, fighting an internal battle with globs of cheese and thick, buttery crust threatening to overwhelm the senses. Shockingly, the crust is sturdy enough handle the lasagna of weight above and all can be managed without a fork and knife. And thank the pizza gods for that, lest we disappoint Jon Stewart.
forkgateWith all toppings drenched beyond recognition with pizza sauce and cheese, there is almost no perceptible difference between the two different slices except for the intense animal charisma and lingering spice brought on by the pepperoni. The spiciness, while subtle, doesn’t bode well for the Châteauneuf-du-Pape as perception of alcohol, considerably elevated for an Old World wine, is exacerbated by spiciness in food. In the wake of this realization, I reach for a different bottle of the same region in France to play nice with the pepperoni slice.

St. Joseph

In the neighboring Northern Rhône, red wines showcase Syrah almost exclusively, where the varietal displays aromas of cured meats, olives and leather with black pepper and a medley of dark berries. The comparatively cooler climate of these northern vineyards offers up a bit more acidity to their fruit, and allows for leaner alcohol levels in wine while keeping a firm and powerful frame. Some of the most classic representations of Syrah come from small regions such as Cornas and Hermitage. Though variable in quality as the largest appellation of Northern Rhône, St. Joseph is stylistically similar at a fraction of the cost. The nose on the 2012 Domaine Vincent Paris (St. Joseph, les Côtes) is rich with a sense of copper and rust with raspberries on the palate. The leaner alcohol and higher acidity allow the meat and pepper aromas to play amongst its flavor companions in each bite.

The story ends happily, with the signature pie finding a dance partner with the Châteauneuf-du-Pape while the pepperoni slice took the spotlight with St. Joseph pulling off coordinated dance moves too good not to have been choreographed ahead of time.

she's all that

the Haven’s Popeye pie & Provençal rosé

Within a quiet stretch of blocks on the Kensington side of Adams Avenue sits an airy neighborhood pizza joint called The Haven. Of the selection of specialty pies featured, a small circular feast named Popeye catches my eye and the recommendation of the employee that day. The white pizza boasts an irresistible lineup of roasted garlic topped with chicken, mushrooms, fresh spinach, mozzarella and goat cheese. Squiggly lines of sweet aromas radiate from the pizza box as a combination of baking spices and roasted garlic creep into the nostalgic territories of my senses and stir up some hunger.

The swaths of garlic, caramelized into a candied sweetness, is a welcomed fiesta instead of an intrusion on my palate. With a salty, almost briny quality to the pie, there is no want for extra cheese. Overlaying the medium-thin chewy crust, chunks of chicken and fleshy mushrooms make up the bulk of textural layout.

Chicken may at first seem to play an integral role in any dish when in actuality the protein generally bows to any sauce or strong flavor present, the same way a neutral grape varietal such as Chardonnay can showcase terroir or a winemaker’s influence with clarity. The mix of aromatic and vegetal pizza aromas allows for a dry rosé to swoop in and play hero. Our hero today is a Provence rosé, 2013 Commanderie de la Bargemone of the appellation Coteaux d’Aix en Provence.

the haven set 3

Provence is a region in southern France dedicated to dry styles of rosé that will quickly win over any drinker’s taste buds when paired with light cuisine or a sunny day. Don’t let those pretty hues fool you: not all rosés are sweet. Not even slightly sweet. Most styles of rosé found in the wild are dry, especially when taking on a global perspective beyond the grocery aisle. Fruity aromas in wine tend to distract from sweetness level, making it easy to confuse the ripeness of fruit detected on the palate for the sugar level of the actual juice in the glass. Similar they may seem, only the latter is referring to actual sweetness as opposed to the perception of sweeter flavors.

This particular rosé is pretty close to bone dry, keeping fairly intense notes of tart strawberries and floral rosy aromas. Provençal rosé is especially refreshing when chilled down to refrigerator temperature, a low preferable for simple and crisp beverages. The rosé beside the pizza’s earthy aromas and boisterous, tangy flavors make for an uncomplicated yet all-encompassing pairing. Come salad or ham sandwich, carpaccio or root vegetable, rosé is generally well equipped to wrangle a range of flavors into a composed pairing. It is best to keep it stocked at all times. Always.

Pizzeria Luigi & Temecula Zinfandel

Let’s begin the great 2015 San Diego pizza adventure with the basics: pepperoni pizza from Pizzeria Luigi, a no-fuss pizzeria often listed by locals as a favorite, paired with 2009 Reserve Primitivo from Wiens Cellars of nearby Temecula Valley. The bottle was a gift from a fellow sommelier with the sole stipulation that it could only be opened with pizza by its side. So be it.

altogether luigi and weins

Though its origins have been genetically tracked back to Croatia, Primitivo is the Italian name for the varietal we know better as Zinfandel. With this nominal borrowing, it’s not surprising to find some stylistic leanings towards the more acid-driven wines of Italy. Acid in wine is a great accompaniment to most food, especially foods high in acid themselves like tomato-based cuisine. The acidity in this Primitivo is balanced enough to stand up to hearty pizza sauce while the tannins, textured and dusty, are a perfect complement to rich cheese. Though somewhat leaner than the ass-kicking abv levels of 16% found elsewhere in California, this Zinfandel is thoroughly New World in style, driven by ripe fruit aromas and a full body. The generous heaps of dark raspberry and blackberry fruit provide a lovely, uncomplicated counterpart to every saucy bite of pizza.

It’s easy to get smitten over an abundance of sauce on a pizza, especially thin-crust, since it’s so rare to find naturally in the wild. The chewy crust holds up well under the weight of the bright, herbaceous tomato sauce so generously spread on while the pepperoni slices supply a faint but distinct spiciness. Any lengthy focus on minute details beyond this would only take away from the experience. Like the wine, this pie isn’t built for complexity. Pizzeria Luigi supplies straightforward New York style pizza relying on classic flavors without being overly complicated, which is perfect for an indulgent night of Parks & Rec in sweatpants.