Contrary to popular thought, the pairing of pizza and beer is decidedly recent. It came into practice decisively during the methanol crisis of 1986 when the large beer manufacturers took advantage of the downturn in wine consumption and introduced the first models of paid-for advertising. “Beer and you know what you’re drinking” was a typical slogan during those times which were very hard for the wine producers.
Up to that point it had been especially the bottles of Gragnano, Solopaca and of Piedirosso dei Campi Flegrei, kept cool on ice, to accompany pizza; that is if you sat at a table to eat it. When you ate your pizza standing, it was rare that you would also drink.
For the entire 19th century and first half of the 20th, Naples’ thirst was quenched by a circle of winemakers that surrounded the city. It is not by chance that they are the ones who and can boast the most years of business: Scala in Portici, De Falco in San Sebastiano, Romano in San Sebastiano al Vesuvio, Russo in Boscoreale. Varchetta in Agnano, D’Ambra in Ischia, Martusciello in Pozzuoli and Quarto just to cite the more famous. And, starting from the beginning of the 1960s, there were the cooprative cantinas of Sannio where the farmers banded together to defend the income from their grapes. Large quantities of wine travelled in large barrels towards the city, and as soon as the new wine was ready they did ‘a trafecia, or in other words, they bartered for the price after having tasted it.
For many years, especially before they organized the DOC system, there really was not a big distinction between the grapes and the great wine consuption of the city. In fact the wineries acquired grapes all the way from Puglia and Abruzzo.
In fact with the main pizzas, the margherita and the marinara, they drank sparkling red wines, mostly Graganos and Solopacas, because they were the two towns near the metropolis that were the best known in the wine business.
In fact today, following the principle of local pairings, the Gragnano, obtained from aglianico piedirosso and sciascinoso grapes, plus other local wines, and all the reds with a piedirosso base (so the DOC Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio e Campi Flegrei) are the most appropriate to pair with the classica marinara and margherita pizzas. These are wines that are not excessively alcoholic, not heavy, and are drinkable thanks to the scarse presence of tannin.
And with the fried offerings? The old custom was …. marsala wine! This because it was eaten early and the energy had to last for the entire day. A few pizzerias have tried to replicate the pairing, but it is truly something of another time and for other palates. Today the sparkling wines obtained from white grapes are certainly the most appropriate and most modern.
The situation is different for all of the other gourmet pizzas that are proposed in the various pizzerias. Here the situation is complex and the choice for a pairing is wide, begining with the different regions where the pizza is made.
But this is another story…