Finding good pizza in the USA used to be a pie-in-the-sky proposition. All that was available was the soggy mush made with loads of waxy fake mozzarella and way too old vegetables. When you picked up a slice the sodden crust would collapse under the weight of mediocrity. Of course, the vast majority of pizza in America is still like this, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
That light hit me the other night while traveling on business. Often you arrive too late and too tired to seek out fine food and the restaurant at hand is the only thing you have the time and energy to consider. This is what happened just the other night in Atlanta when I was lucky enough to walk through the door of Baraonda, an excellent pizzeria a block from my hotel. I ended up with a great pizza, but what’s exciting here is that crisp thin crust pizza made with fresh ingredients and cooked in wood-fired ovens are getting a lot easier to find. There seems to be a growing pizza revolution baking in America these days. Everywhere you turn there are pizzerias investing in wood-burning ovens and paying attention to their ingredients.
Now that there’s good pizza to eat, the next question is what to drink with it. The Italians tend to drink beer or fizzy local red wine, both of which are great matches. Woody or high-alcohol wines are absolutey terrible with pizza, but fresh, zesty young reds that appreciate a bit of a chill are perfect. Dry pink wines are also great for pizza. Good draft beer is a match made in heaven and most pizzerias that invest in these expensive ovens can be depended on to have a range of good micro-brews on tap.
Often when presented with really good pizza like Baraonda’s, I can’t resist trying a bottle on the list that normally would be considered too elite for pizza. That night I was inspired to try the 2001 Vigneti La Selvanella, Chianti Classico Riserva, Fattoria Melini, this Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri winner is made predominately from sangiovese grosso aged in large old barrels. It is a complex, balanced and elegant wine that reflects real sangiovese character. The combination of an excellent wine with an excellent pizza made for a lovely dinner. I admit a chilled frizzante barbera would have been a better match, but each glass and each bite was so good on its own I could have cared less.
A great pizza is the ultimate comfort food. Drinking this wonderful Chianti Classico Riserva with it my not have been the ultimate match, but it was very, very comforting.