The Great Pizza and Wine Pairing Expedition, Part II: Central Italy

Ciao a tutti! This week we are traveling south in the Great Pizza and Wine Pairing Expedition, in diligent pursuit of Italy’s best regional food and wine pairings. Our traveling compass is the esteemed Brick Fire Tavern and its regional menu that is optimized for a regional pairing paradigm. In Part I, we explored northern Italy and the tremendous cuisine inspired by the mountains and forests of the Italian Alps. As our journey heads south, we stop over in central Italy and Rome, its illustrious capital. Here history, culture and cuisine collide in a wonderful accord of fresh flavors and bustling excitement.

Wine and food pairings in the region date back over two thousand years, and some of the most acclaimed cuisine of Italy finds its rudimentary beginnings in the Eternal City. With so much culinary and vinous history, we are certain to discover some incredible pairings.

Excitement untamed; commence unbridled exploration!

Eat Fresh, Eat Local

The rolling hills and fertile soils of central Italy produced a strong farming heritage, with many crops that are difficult to find elsewhere in the country, including farro and saffron, in addition to more common crops such as tomatoes, artichokes, lentils and beans. This fresh produce is combined with rich pasta dishes, meat and tomato sauces and internationally-acclaimed cheeses (such as Pecorino-Romano, which is more of a Roman garnish). The taste buds will be very pleased. 

Central Italy emphasizes the fact that Italian authenticity runs parallel with fresh, local and seasonal dishes. The region has plenty to offer; make good use of it. Cooking techniques are often simple yet precise and well-executed. With some of the finest farmland in all of Italy, chefs have prudently concluded that the less they do with these ingredients, the better.

The fresh, local ethos was one of the most impressionable aspects of Matthew Resich and Inthira Marks' experiences in Italy. The result was an intentional effort at their restaurant to craft dishes that utilize the highest-quality fresh, local and seasonal products available. This is the underpinning of Brick Fire Tavern's menu, showcasing delicious, fresh ingredients.

The robust, often rustic flavors of the fields, combined with the acidity of the tomato sauces and salty cheeses, require a medium-to-full bodied wine with balanced acidity, smooth tannins and plenty of complexity. Look for Super Tuscans, Sangiovese (particularly in the famed regions of Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino) and Montepulciano. For white wine, track down Verdicchio, one of the best white wines produced anywhere in the world.

A Peasant Pizza Finds Noble Favor

While pizza was enjoyed in Naples as far back as 600 B.C.E. as an inexpensive peasant dish, it rose to royal intrigue in the nineteenth century when a famed pizzaiolo was summoned for a regal tasting during a visit by the King and Queen. In true Italian style, he kept things simple and fresh: tomato, mozzarella and basil. The classic combination garnered the adoration of Queen Margherita, and the world’s most famous pizza was born.

Brick Fire’s Margherita combines the best of central Italy in one delicious, classic dish. San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy, fresh mozzarella cheese made everyday in-house, Pecorino Romano cheese and a few leaves of peppery sweet basil highlight the fresh flavors of the region. To pair, a Tuscan of super stature.

Originally crafted by winemakers who refused to follow the traditional Chianti appellation requirements, Super Tuscan blends have developed cult followings for their delicious, approachable and uniquely-styled wines. Super Tuscans became so popular, in fact, that the Italian wine regulations established a separate distinction primarily for Super Tuscans - Indicazione Geografica Protetta (or "IGT") - that contained less stringent requirements, thereby affording vinters more flexibility in the winemaking process.

This Super Tuscan is a blend of 80 percent Sangiovese, with 10 percent each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. An inviting, medium ruby color with a bouquet of black fruit, cherries, coffee and spices. The palate is greeted with a soft, round flavor profile, elegant tannins and balanced acidity. The wine's full body and subtle pepper notes balance the acidity of the red sauce and enhances the subtle saltiness from the Pecorino Romano. A thoroughly enjoyable wine paired perfectly with the Margherita. An excellent introduction to this cultish collection from Tuscany.

Cesanese with Caesar

Want to eat like a Roman and drink like Caesar? Brick Fire Tavern has just the pairing for you.

The region of Lazio and, in particular, the city of Rome, claims carbonara as its one of its culinary pillars. The tasty traditional dish is ubiquitous in the Eternal City, appearing everywhere from hole-in-the-wall cafés to fancy, fine-dining establishments. Brick Fire Tavern's pizza tribute to this spaghetti dish is the [aptly named] Carbonara. The pizza has all of the classic elements of its namesake with a Pecorino-Romano and Parmesan cheese blend, fresh mozzarella, smoked pancetta, white onion, and a local egg yolk broken overtop. While the Romans would balk at a spaghetti carbonara containing cream, pizza needs a sauce, and a creamy besciamella fits the flavor profile perfectly.

For your vinous accompaniment, a bottle of Cesanese, the most famous and important grape of Lazio, its native region. Bearing ancient origins, Cesanese is thought to be the ancestral grape and preferred inebriating beverage of Ancient Rome. A splash of Cesanese with Caesar, anyone? 

Cesanese remained a popular selection with the princes and popes of early papal Rome. Cloth and crown converge in vinous adoration. And why not? An accessible, fruit-forward wine with delicate sweet spices of cinnamon and white pepper, Cesanese is one of the most exciting wines coming out of the Lazio appellation.

With a wine that remains relevant and popular 2,000 years after its introduction and a dish with ingredients as classic as it can come, this might be considered, as Matt would say, the Great Grandfather of all pairings.

As the sights and smells of Rome fade into the background, we look forward to our final destination: the southern shores of Italy. The scenery is gorgeous, the weather perfect, and the food and wine exquisite. Onward!