Sherry vs. Pizza

13 February 2017


In the foodie world, it’s oft repeated that Champagne pairs with everything. That’s false. Champagne is good enough to drink with everything, but it’s really Sherry that takes the mantle as the best pairing beverage—it truly goes with everything. But why not put my money where my mouth is? In this short series, I’ll drink Sherry with a range of popular and hard to pair foods and find out what works and what doesn’t. Far from science, this is one man and an arsenal of Sherries. However, like science, I encourage you to try and replicate the results.

Sherry vs. Pizza

Forget oysters, lobster and pasta for a romantic meal. Your date wants pizza. You want pizza too. Truth be told, pizza is the most amorous of dishes. But, if you’re going to take your loved one to a romantic pizza dinner, you might as well do it right. Find the best pie you can, which means skipping carryout or chains and finding a pie made in a place that touts fresh ingredients. Most importantly, bring a bottle of Sherry. 

Yes, Sherry. Let me explain.

The flavors of pizza are extremely complex. For one, pizza is generally slathered in roasted tomatoes. That sweet, sharp combo can send most wines askew, creating dissonant and awkward combinations. img_3420.jpgMost sommeliers will tell you to match acid with acid but the rich, umami character of cooked tomatoes can bowl over lighter wines that may be high in acid but lack texture (what I also refer to as weight). So, you need something heftier, and yet something that doesn’t necessarily increase the perception of acid, alcohol or tannins. Sherry can do just that.

Then there’s what I call the “pasta fallacy” in wine pairing. The pasta fallacy is when you read the back of a wine and it says it goes well with pasta. That’s just absurd. What kind of pasta, what kind of sauce, any other ingredients? Pasta is not monolithic and neither is pizza. They are generally served in many different combinations. Therefore, it's important to approach wine pairing with pizza in a more nuanced way. 

As I did with blue crabs before, I decided to put Sherry to the test. My favorite pizza is Etto’s in Washington, D.C. They mill their own flour for true-to-form Neapolitan pizzas, cooked in a wood oven. While stuffing my face there, I usually sip housemade vermouth by bartender, vermouth-maker Kat Hamidi, who has turned her craft into a business with Capitoline Vermouth. However, I’ve never been more charmed than drinking her vermouth at Etto itself. There she adds a touch of soda water to the rosé vermouth, garnishes it with a speared olive and pepper, and sets the seltzer bottle next to you. I wouldn’t steer you away from that as an aperitif but, as I mentioned above, strong, salty and tangy flavors of pizza require something a little more flexible with the main course. Therefore, I grabbed a few bottles of Sherry and ordered some pies to go from Etto. The trial began.

I started with marinara, which is commonly made with roasted tomato sauce, garlic, oregano, olive olive, salt and crust. It's the most basic of pies and the closest to Spain’s rustic version of pizza—pan con tomate—made with fresh tomatoes, garlic and olive oil. Manzanilla and Fino Sherries both went well with the marinara pizza, leaving the flavor of the sauce intact while rousing the flavor of roasted garlic (garlic with Fino is one of my favorite combinations).

Moving on, I decided to try pizzas with a parade of toppings on them, starting with seafood. Manzanilla won the day with both sardines and clams on pizza, but that’s no surprise since Manzanilla goes extremely well with seafood and shellfish in general. Manzanilla wines are aged in criaderas—or “nurseries”—by the ocean where the salty air affects the resting barrels, leaving a saline finish. Next I tried the Sherries with salumi-topped pizzas (cured meats). Fino worked, more or less, but I still found the most delight in munching on a side of prosciutto alone while drinking Fino, which was the singular best pairing of the night. Sorry, pizza. Ham and Fino always wins.

Then I tried more meat-driven pizzas with Amontillado and Oloroso sherries. They had some synergies but mostly seemed out of tune with the pizza. While they matched with some of the ingredients, especially the fennel sausage, it was by no means a great pairing across the board and they sometimes seemed to clash with some vegetables apart from roasted mushrooms. 

img_3421.jpgThe pizza pairing of the night came by surprise, a seasonal pizza with lamb meatballs and pecorino paired with Palo Cortado. That’s right, Palo Cortado and pizza. I didn't see that coming. I had opened the Palo Cortado but really didn’t expect much out of it except pure enjoyment on its own. However, the light warm spice notes of the lamb were heightened while the nutty rich, character of the pecorino came through in troves. The result was a sensuous experience where the pizza and sherry both seemed like a lush symphony, all instruments playing in unison. This is the bite you want, you crave, you seek, and why Sherry can be such a great choice in so many pairings.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of El Consejo Regulador.
Derek Brown is a leading spirits and cocktail expert with four of the country's most respected craft cocktail bars, James Beard Award nominee Mockingbird Hill, Eat the Rich, Southern Efficiency and the twice James Beard Award-nominated Columbia Room, located in Washington, D.C.

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