Flour in your Ears


Someone I know foolishly remarked last week that pizza is not real food. He is Russian, so that might explain it. He is also an idiot. He’s one of those people who are always right, so there’s really no point disagreeing with his daft comments. He thinks the British are pompous and over-bearing; he thinks that most Americans are dim-witted and as for the Chinese… well, perhaps I’d better not repeat what he thinks about the Chinese, but coming from a Russian, it’s pretty rich.

Pizza, of course, has been around for centuries. It’s probably been around longer than Russia. The word itself first appeared over a thousand years ago and the kind of pizza that we’d recognise today has been popular in Italy since the early nineteenth century. But there are precious few places in Thailand where you can buy a really good one.

You can of course make them yourself, provided you’ve got an oven that can reach the minimum temperature of 260°C or 500°F. Although they’re not particularly difficult to make, it can be a bit tricky getting the dough right. It’s a messy business too, working with all that flour. But as they say in Italy, Non si lavora in un molino senza infarinarsi, which means, more or less, that you don’t work in a flour mill without getting flour in your ears.

Wine is the traditional drink with pizza. Italian wine, of course. Italian wines are made for food. Forget Bordeaux and Burgundy. They’re just not the right style for pizza. You can forget those big fruity numbers from Australia too. And yes, I know that pairing food and wine is highly subjective, but basically you have only two choices; either match like with like or go for contrast. Pizza tends to be richly flavoured, so I’d tend to choose a contrasting plain wine. Here are few wines that usually go well with pizza, but limited to what you’re likely to find in local shops.

For reds, try a medium bodied wine like Chianti, which is very dry and moderately tannic, with a sharp cherry flavor. Valpolicella is usually less dry and has a bit less tannin, while Bardolino is a light-bodied summery wine, rather like a less assertive version of Chianti. If you enjoy richer wines, some of the Sicilian reds go well with pizza. For whites, try Frascati – the classic Italian white; dry and very light-bodied with a subdued flavour. Orvieto is usually slightly less dry and a decent Pinot Grigio should be light-bodied, dry, and crisp. Soave is an attractive plain dry wine that goes well with mild-flavoured pizzas. Verdicchio, from Central Italy is perfect for seafood pizza, because of its crisp mouth-feel and sea-air freshness.

Simply Chianti 2010 (red) Tuscany, Italy (Bt. 549 @ Tesco-Lotus)

Chianti (kee-AN-tee) is one of the most well-known Italian reds and is perfect with pizza. The name Chianti is not a grape variety, but a region in central Tuscany. Years ago, it came in a fiasco: a flask-shaped bottle enclosed in a straw basket, but these days most of it comes in a regular wine bottle.  This Tesco blend is made from 75% Sangiovese along with Canaiolo and Colorino grapes. You may be unfamiliar with the last two grapes, but they’re nearly always used in Chianti blends. There’s a perfumed and spicy aroma of cherries, hints of red berries and a faint farmyard smell. I know it doesn’t sound very appealing, but it’s a typical Sangiovese aroma and is actually quite pleasant. It adds a kind of rustic touch. On the palate, the wine has a lovely firm and clean dryness with an attractive layer of tannin that comes through at the start and continues right through the long, dry finish.

You may notice a vague reminder of cherries and raspberries on the taste but in keeping with Italian tradition, the fruit is quite restrained. The wine is firm and medium-bodied with a slight dash of acidity. All the same, it’s a fairly simple basic wine: exactly what’s needed for pizza which after all, started life as peasant food on the streets of Naples. To test how well the Chianti partnered a pizza, I cooked one specially. The pizza was rather spicy, with olives, capers, Italian salami and lashings of olive oil. The wine and the pizza worked really well together because the wine cut through the bright flavours of the pizza, and its firm body made a pleasing contrast to the olive oil, the cheese and the soft textures of the pizza toppings.

Cavallina Nero d’Avola – Syrah 2010 (red) Sicily, Italy (Bt. 445 @ Tesco-Lotus)

This is the kind of complicated name that can easily deter the uninitiated. Perhaps the words on the label needs a bit of explanation. Oh dear, I can see your eyes glazing over already, so I shall try to get it over quickly. Right then. Sit up and pay attention. “Cavallina” is not the name of a grape and it’s not the name of the wine.  It’s the name of the company that makes it. “Nero” in Italian of course, means “black”. If I remind you that Avola is a city in southern Sicily, it should be matter of simple deduction to work out that the full name means something like “Wine from the black grape of Avola, made by a company called Cavallina”. They don’t call me Sherlock for nothing, you know. Actually, the Nero d’Avola is the most important red wine grape in Sicily and in this wine, it has been blended with Syrah with which it shares the typical spicy plum and peppery flavours.

The wine is a deep ruby-red with hints of purple and there are quite intense aromas of cherry, raspberry and vanilla with a sort of rustic brambly, forest smell. There’s red fruit on the taste too but very little tannin. It’s a medium-bodied wine with a rather short but soft and spicy finish. It’s only 12.5% alcohol and if you prefer a softer and richer wine with pizza, this one could fit the bill.

Despite the illustrious-sounding name and the fact that the wine was commended at the International Wine Challenge, it strikes me as a fairly basic wine. It’s the kind of easy-drinker you’d find at any Italian taverna and would go well with rich meaty pizzas, but be sure to give it plenty of air contact and serve it on the cool side. Incidentally, the wine is labelled IGT which stands for Indicazione Geografica Tipica and is one of the four classifications defined by Italian wine law, roughly equivalent to the French Vin de Pays.

When I told my Russian acquaintance that I’d like to quote some of his comments, he asked to remain anonymous. Naturally, being a person of unfailing integrity, his wishes will be respected. But just in case you’re wondering, he is Mikhail Petrov and he lives at 645 Nevski Mansions, St. Petersburg 199402. Don’t mention my name.