Monday, December 8, 2008 at 12:54 p.m.
The special artichoke pie at Motorino, shown with a splendid bottle of Gragnano
I was sitting in an internationally famous pizza parlor recently, one in which you're permitted to bring your own wine. Three French-speaking guys sat down next to me, and one reached under his coat and pulled out an $80 bottle of Brunello to go with the cheese pizza he'd just ordered. A wave of nausea swept over me as I contemplated drinking that complex, expensive, super-saturated, aged-in-oak wine with pizza. Dudes! Why not just pour the bottle down the toilet? You're totally wasting it.
Go to the sainted pizza parlors of Naples, and what beverages are they serving? It sure ain't wine. In fact, your choice is generally limited to Italian beer and - that other great Italian invention -- Coca Cola. Everyone knows that beer goes great with pizza. But what if you want to drink wine? Nothing wrong with that.
In looking for the perfect pizza wine, you need to look no further than the Sorrento peninsula, which extends into the sea south of Naples like the bony finger of Vesuvius. In that rugged precinct is produced a red wine that is often drunk with pizza, which is a regional staple for residents and tourists alike. The pizzas of Sorrento are lusher and larger than their Naples counterparts, which are delightful in their austerity. (Note that I don't say "Neapolitan" - that forever designates the magnificent thin-crust pies of Brooklyn and the rest of our city.)
Gragnano is purple, slightly fizzy, and not exactly what you'd call dry. It has historically been made in the town of Gragnano from a combination local grapes that includes piedirosso, sciascinoso, and aglianico. The number of acres under cultivation has dwindled in the peninsula over the last decades, making the wine rarer, though it is now protected by D.O.C. status. Gragnano easily stands up to a cheesy, doughy, oily pizza without trying to outfox it with excess complexity. In fact, the two marry well, and you'll look forward small gulps between each bite of pizza. It's better than washing your pie down with Coke. Though maybe not as good as beer.
A Gragnano made by Cantine Federiciani Monteleone can be purchased for $13.99 at Astor Wines and Spirits, 399 Lafayette Street, 212-674-7500