Carbonated Beverages: The Essence of Effervescence
I’ve been thinking a lot about bubbles lately. The pizza world has long been afloat in a bath of bubbly beverages like soda and beer, but the landscape is rapidly bursting into fresh territory. Not only are the world’s biggest beverage barkers betting big on spiked seltzers and fizzy wines, but they’re also marketing them directly to pizzerias and pizza consumers.
As it turns out, bubbles are good for your taste buds. They liberate flavor compounds and release volatiles you otherwise may never have detected. Carbonated beverages are a great palate cleanser, particularly when they don’t have strong lasting flavors of their own.
That explains an experience I had a few years ago in Parma, Italy. I was judging the Campionato Mondiale della Pizza, which differs from American competitions in that it allows competitors to pair beverages with their pizzas. Just about every pizza maker presented their pizza with Prosecco. At first, I thought they were just trying to get the judges buzzed, but I soon realized the benefits of a dry sparkling wine like Prosecco.
You’d normally think of a beverage pairing as being complementary to the dish with which it’s served, but in this situation the competitors employed Prosecco to cleanse the judges’ palates of whatever they tasted previously. One of my biggest pet peeves is when competitors act as if theirs is the only pizza the judges will be tasting. We end up eating so many salty pizzas covered with sausage and pepperoni that it’s hard for one to stick out from the crowd. Ever since my Parma experience, I always bring seltzer to the judges’ table.
For a white wine alternative to Prosecco, there’s an excellent spumante called Aspirinio. It has a gentle mineral on the tongue but finishes with an exciting citrus note. It’s excellent with white pizzas. One product, called Aspritz, even claims on its label that it’s the “best wine for pizza.” You gotta love it when a wine tells you exactly who it wants to hang with.
As for red wines, there’s a fantastic alternative that’s been popular in Naples for years. Gragnano is Southern Italy’s version of Lambrusco but it’s drier and has smaller bubbles. Drinking it doesn’t feel zesty like seltzer, it’s more of a ticklish sensation. We serve Gragnano on pizza tours and it’s always a hit because it’s both delicious and surprising. I particularly love it with fried pizzas and pizzas with fatty meats.
Now that there’s Italian precedent for calling out bubbly wines as pizza pairings, American companies are starting to get into the game. Los Angeles-based Pie Wine offers three different canned effervescent wines. You can probably tell from the company’s name that pizza consumers are their target market. Pie Wine has a sparkling red wine (similar to Gragnano), a sparkling white (a sweeter Prosecco), and a rose. The company is aiming to own Gen Z with its bright branding and collaborations with YouTube stars and influencers. If one bubbly wine company is betting the farm on pizza, you can be sure more will follow.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that pizza loves bubbles. Whether it’s a Coke to cut through the greasy cheese of a New York slice or a glass of Prosecco to compliment a more delicate Pizza Romana Tonda, it just works. And let’s not forget that bubbles are FUN! At the end of the day if you’re not having fun while you’re eating pizza, you’re doing it wrong.