KEY POINTS:
* Australia produces many Italian style wines which complement Italian cuisine
* Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz are all good locally produced choices
* Choose a medium-bodied wine to ensure it complements rather than overwhelms — you want the flavours of the food to be at the forefront
* Wines with bright, fruit flavours tend to be higher in acidity, helping to balance the flavours of common pizza ingredients like tomato and mozzarella cheese
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ITALIAN CUISINE AND WINE go hand in hand, and no wonder given that Italy is the world’s biggest wine producer generating the mind-boggling figure of 49.5 million hectolitres in 2015.
It almost seems as if the Italians produce as many regional wine varieties as they do regional cuisine styles — enough to make a sommelier’s head spin!
While most Australian diners are unlikely to specify such exotic varieties as a Valpolicella or a Rossi Montalcino, these regional specialities are nevertheless finding their way into some upmarket pub and bistro wine lists.
Of course there are also plenty of homegrown wines which will perfectly complement your pizza or pasta dishes as well as other Italian meals, from parmigiana to saltimbocca and beyond.
The first consideration is to make sure you have a good selection of Italian style wines, as these are the ones that will complement Italian cuisine.
Italian style wines tend to be medium-bodied, which means they won’t overpower the flavours of the meal. There’s no hard and fast rule about whether red is preferable to white, or vice versa — it all comes down to the preference of your customer.
Well known Australian produced, medium-bodied Italian style wines include Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz. These are all ideal for serving with pizzas as well as meat or seafood-based Italian meals.
With TV programs like Masterchef encouraging customers to take an active interest in food and wine matching, it’s imperative to make sure your wait staff are across what’s on the wine list and in the cellar, and able to advise diners accordingly.
Wine distributors can be of assistance here in providing wine appreciation sessions for staff. If your business is located near local wineries, it’s often worth a phone call to see what they can provide to you direct, and also what they can offer in terms of wine education and supporting information.
In deciding which wines you’ll recommend to accompany specific dishes or even pizzas, it’s important to bear in mind the specific flavours of key ingredients, then choose a wine which complements these.
For example, an ingredient like Italian prosciutto is often quite salty, so you’ll want to recommend a lighter wine like Pinot Grigio, whereas a heavier red wine might be too overpowering.
Conversely, meals which feature lamb can benefit from accompaniment with a Sangiovese, which is a fuller-bodied red and can add greater depth to the overall palate.
Remember the food itself should always be the main flavour that the customer experiences — the wine is there simply to add a complementary note, but never to overpower the taste of the meal.
As tomato is a key ingredient in many Italian pasta sauces, as well as the base for your pizza toppings, its high acidity needs to be balanced with the wine you recommend. But you also want a wine with only moderate tannins, as too much tannin combined with tomato flavour can give a metallic edge to the taste.
So choose wines with distinctive, bright fruit flavours — especially those with fruity tones like cherry and plum — as these tend to be higher in acidity. Chianti and Zinfandel are traditional Italian accompaniments to pizza, while Pinot Noir is also an excellent choice as is Lambrusco.
By working closely with your wine supplier, doing your own research and checking out what imported Italian wines are available, you can build up your own signature list which will work to complement your Italian cuisine choices.

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