For thousands of years and across countless cultures, kings and queens and commonfolk alike have gathered ‘round to delight in freshly baked flatbreads topped with oils, cheeses, herbs, proteins, and veggies—all to be washed down by jugs of the finest locally-fermented grape wine. While the duo has certainly grown and evolved since their first iterations in antiquity, no matter how you slice it, pizza and wine are a pairing that’s stood the test of time. You’d be hard-pressed to find a meal as convenient, versatile, affordable, and just as plain fun as pizza. It’s quick to make, easy to consume, and the perfect solution for just about any casual gathering. Read on for tips on leveling up your next pizza night, inspiration on topping combos from our own oven, and even a bit of geeky pizza history to impress your guests after a few glasses.
Pizza Night Pro Tips
So what’s it take for your pizza night to reign supreme? Here are a few quick tips to really heat things up to the next level.
- Perfect your dough and cooking process. Your dough can be as simple or complex as you’d like. You can spend years perfecting a from-scratch sourdough recipe, or pick up pre-made dough rounds at the local market. The key is finding something that works well with your style and heat source. Different levels of hydration, flours, proofing and kneading times, and type of yeast, are among the many variables that will change how your dough reacts to different levels of heat and cooking times. So while you can certainly utilize a universal store-bought dough for terrific results, geeking out a bit and developing a ‘house’ dough can really set your pizza apart.
- Choose your style and master it. Keep a notebook as you go. With so many factors, such as the way your oven heats, moisture levels in the air, the rise time of your dough, pan choice, ect, you’ll want to keep track of as many things as possible along your pizza pilgrimage. How was the crust? Was the heat too high? Did the dough cook in the middle? Stick with your certain ‘style’, (pan, NY, Neapolitan, Chicago, Detroit, Roman, and New England are among the many modern forms), take notes, make adjustments, make the recipe your own, and keep improving. And if it’s your first time with a new dough recipe or process, definitely do a test run prior to hosting. The last thing you want is soggy-bottomed pizza and a house full of hungry guests.
- Don’t stress it, try premade dough. You don’t have to be a professional baker to make amazing pizza, and now most local grocery stores now carry quality dough balls ready for shaping, and even pre-made flats already shaped and ready for toppings. If you’re getting pre-made dough balls, make sure you allow enough time for the dough to warm up and come back to life, usually about 3-5 hours out of the fridge prior to cooking. And it’s totally ok for it to come frozen! In fact, that’s a great way to batch your own dough and save it for ease of use later. Transfer freezer dough to the fridge a day or so before you intend to use it, then treat it the same as the aforementioned fridge dough. At the end of the day, pizza is just flatbread with fun and exciting topping—keep it simple and don’t stress it.
- Prep your toppings beforehand. Marinating and roasting mushrooms, browning sausage, picking basil, slicing cheese, breaking down proteins, and crushing or pureeing sauce are among the many things that can be easily done ahead of time to make for a more efficient party process later—especially for a build-your-own toppings bar. You can even pre-build your pizza in a well-oiled sheet pan or cast iron and keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to bake it in the oven.
- Add homemade toppings to frozen pizzas. For something really quick and easy, try adding your own toppings to a premade frozen plain pizza from the store. This is a great way to have a pizza party with all the topping action at a moment’s notice, while also enjoying a well-deserved break in most of the prep work.
- Make a menu. Planning your wine and toppings can be a ton of fun. Show off your work with a well designed menu. Post it up on the wall or fridge and get you’re guests even more stoked.
- Choose approachable wines. It’s really tough to go wrong here, and pizza can easily be paired with anything from beers and ciders to whiskeys and cigars. It’s the age-old fermented grape juice however that’s been pizza’s longest dancing partner, and it’s tough to find a better way to wash down a slice than with the ol’ rosso. Choose a wine that’s versatile, with a balance and drinkability that matches the ease of pizza. For a large group, choose several wines and encourage guests to explore their own tastebuds—at the end of the night what was everyone’s favorite combo?
- Load up on Marietta OVR and Family Series wines. Crafted to be easy-drinking and approachable, these wines over-deliver, offering superb quality with unrivaled value. They’re designed to pair with a wide variety of food styles and meal options, and will not only have your guests howling for more, but also leave plenty of room in your budget for extra Prosciutto. Whether you’re gathering with family and friends in celebration, or simply relaxing at home, our Family Series and OVR Series wines are the perfect matches for your next pizza night. Browse our entire library of wines here.
- Have fun! Grab life by the slice and take a bite. Above all, keep experimenting and have fun out there, there’s so much joy (and cheese) in the journey.
You can rest assured that pizza will pair with virtually anything—yet thoughtful topping combinations and wine pairings can really make the entire meal sing. To get you started, here are a few combos from our own oven.
Prosciutto di Parma | Burrata | Cherry Tomato | Arugula |Parmesan
Satisfyingly refreshing with a dry, mouthwatering finish, this quintessential summer rosé is perfect for the salty-savoriness of Prosciutto di Parma (salt-cured Italian ham), and a refreshing compliment to the hearty creaminess of Burrata (cream inside a ball of mozzarella, you heard that right). Cherry tomatoes cooked on the pizza add a burst of acidity, and a fresh bed of arugula added to the pizza after it’s been taken out of the oven (slice it first!), along with shaved Parmesan to top add a savory, peppery kick to the finish. Wash it down with our Old Vine Rosé, and you may have found your new favorite summer combo.
Crushed Tomato Sauce | Fresh Mozzarella | Basil
It’s tough to beat a classic, and the Margherita pizza, with its bright and juicy tomato sauce, creamy mozzarella, and fresh, herbal bursts of torn basil, is a perfect complement to our own classic, Old Vine Red. OVR—the groundbreaking combination of varietals and multiple vintages first produced in 1982—harkens back to our own Italian heritage, and has blazed the path for CA red blends for decades. It’s smooth and long in the mouth, with a balance of bright acid, a rich center, and a structured finish. Our goal of OVR is always to create an enjoyable table wine made with integrity, that combines pure fruit, a supple mouth feel, and a rich, solid structure. Try adding savory toppings such as olives, oregano, or pepperoni slices to really make this combination sing.
BBQ Pulled Chicken | Red Onion | Smoked Mozzarella | Oregano | Pickled Jalapeno | Smokey & Tangy BBQ Sauce
One of the grape varieties that Marietta is famous for, this wine captures the bright, juicy character of Zinfandel, and hearkens to an era before dark, thick, and oaky styles took hold. Román’s Zinfandel is delightfully ripe and approachable, yet offers a seamless transition into layered complexity with the perfect pop of crunchy acidity. For a real treat, try it with a smokey and tangy BBQ pizza, topped with red onions and pulled chicken from the grill or smoker. Finish with a drizzle of your favorite BBQ sauce.
Wild Boar Sausage | Carmelized Onion | Crushed Tomato Sauce | Fresh Mozzarella | Oregano | Parmesan
This California-grown Rhône varietal blend is focused and piquant, with a smack of black pepper lifted by the scent of dried roses. It surges with ripe Rainier cherries, a touch of dark chocolate, and a depth of black tea and licorice, delivering both power and balance with a seemingly endless finish. Named and styled after Marietta’s founder, Chris Bilbro, this wine is a conundrum of opposites: extracted, intensely flavorful, yet somehow gentle and welcoming. Try it along with a red pizza topped with gamey wild boar sausage, hearty caramelized onions, and the beautifully pungent trio of garlic, oregano, and Parmesan. Your taste buds will be singing for more and more.
Marinaded & Roasted Mushrooms | Garlic | Guanciale | Fresh Mozzarella | Basil | Pecorino
This Cabernet Sauvignon conveys a taut freshness and aromatic purity. Stylistically balanced between modern California and Old World, this wine is dense with fresh, dark fruit and tempered with a savory, earthy character. Blackberries, bright cherries, and plums, with hints of leather and tobacco, all intertwine for a wonderfully balanced mouthfeel. Sumptuous yet racy, polished yet spirited, delicious and gratifying—it is an iconic culmination in the glass.
For this pizza, earthy mushrooms are marinated in rosemary, thyme, garlic, chunky sea salt, and olive oil a day or so in advance, then roasted in a 425-degree oven until golden brown, before being cooled and sliced for topping. Cook the guanciale on the stovetop to render out the fat the same way you would for bacon, then cool and slice into slivers for topping. The heartiness of the mushrooms and guanciale is offset by the cooling herbal notes of the basil and a tang from the Pecorino, and are a delightful match for the supple tannins of Armé Cabernet Sauvignon.
A Slice of History
Pizza is truly the meal of the people. While the origins of the word itself are lost to the crusts of time, the earliest known reference to pizza comes from Virgil’s Aeneid, an epic poem recounting the founding of Rome written between 29 and 19 BC. Early in the poem, the hero Aeneas is given a prophecy, “When you arrive at a place so tired and hungry that you eat your tables, you will know you have reached your promised land.” Later in the epic, as Aeneas and his famished crew arrive ashore in mainland Italy, the men scrounge together ‘fruits of the field’ and stack their bounty on thin, round ‘plates’ or ‘tables’ of stale bread. The men sat, “ripping into the thin dry crusts, never sparing a crumb of the flat-bread scored in quarters,” Near the completion of the meal, as Aeneas’s son Ascanius finishes the crust of his pizza, he joyfully exclaims, “Hey, we’re even eating our tables!”
Food historians, however, believe that the almighty ‘za predates even Virgil by centuries, tracing its earliest origins back to the ‘bread plates’ of early Mediterranean civilization. These round flatbreads were topped with olive oil, herbs, cheese, vegetables, and proteins, and were a convenient grab-and-go meal option for travelers or commonfolk on the go who didn’t have access to clay or metal plates. For thousands of years, pizza would remain the staple of the people, unassuming, unpretentious, …and without tomato sauce?!
Tomatoes simply didn’t exist in the old world, and weren’t brought back from the Spanish new world (present-day Central and South America) until the 16th century. The first reference of tomato sauce in Italy isn’t found until 1692 in the cookbook, ‘The Modern Steward’, and the first reference with pasta wasn’t until 1790. The earliest reference to the ‘modern classic’ pizza is in the now-famous story of Italy’s King Umberto I and Queen Margherita’s visit to Naples in 1889. Growing tired of the complicated French meals they were being served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the royal couple requested a local Neopolitan specialty, and the legendary pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito brought the heat.
Naples, a bustling seaside city in the heart of the Mediterranean with more people than space, had refined and perfected pizza over the centuries into the modern beauty we know today out of the sheer necessity of their environment. They needed to feed people fast and affordably, and with the ingredients they had on hand—including the tomato, which arguably grows in southern Italy better than anywhere in the world. That day in Naples, Raffaele stoked his oven and made three pizzas for the king and queen. All we’re loved, but it was the final combination—tomato, basil, and mozzarella—chosen for the colors of the Italian flag–that truly delighted the queen, and the now-classic combination was henceforth christened ‘Pizza Margherita’ in her honor.
With royal approval, pizza was tossed into the spotlight, transforming the doughy delight from a food of Italy’s poor ‘Lazzaroni’ to something enjoyed by kings and queens and commonfolk alike. It would be the second world war however that truly accelerated the popularity of pizza into a global staple. When Allied soldiers invaded Italy in the 1940’s, they were so enthralled with the local pizza that they requested it everywhere they went, including post-war back in the states. By the 1960’ pizza-mania had spread across Europe and America, with every big city and small town developing and perfecting their own local style and specialties.
From Aeneus’s soldiers to the Allies of World War 2, pizza has stood the test of time, feeding hungry soldiers and entire civilizations for thousands of years. So next time you make it for your crew, remember the words of Aeneus’s son—go ahead and eat your table. And when you’re finished, wash it down with some Marietta.