Canadian Pizza Magazine

Features Business and Operations Marketing
Marketing Insights: June 2012

Words on a vine


Those of us who love food tend to agree that a great wine pairing can make any dish sing.

Those of us who love food tend to agree that a great wine pairing can make any dish sing. Integrating your wine list with your menu allows your customers to enjoy the food more completely, and gives you an opportunity to increase your cheque average. Here’s how to leverage those wine varieties that are hot right now with consumers.

Let the food lead
A great wine tends to see the wine either complement or contrast the dish. If the dish is spicy or salty, try a sweeter wine like an off-dry Riesling or a fruit-forward red. Salt is a flavour enhancer, so the sweetness of the wine will intensify it. Consider the texture, weight, structure and bouquet of both wine and food. Delicate food requires a delicate wine, and vice versa. 

Kristina Inman, estate sommelier at Trius Winery at Hillebrand in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., says Malbec is a great choice for grilled toppings. “Since Argentina is known for its Malbec, the Argentinian grilled foods are great with this red wine. Malbec has nice tannins [a slight drying quality on the mouth] and ripe berry notes.” A bit of savoury herb quality allows Malbec to pair nicely with meat-topped pizza. Arugula would be a great topping here too.

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Let your whites shine
Most people think of red wines when they think of pizza, but about 38 per cent of wine consumed in Canada is white, shows 2010 Statistics Canada reports. Many customers wouldn’t traditionally consider pairing a white wine with pizza, but it’s a matter of how the pie’s prepared.

One of the hottest white in terms of sales growth is Pinot Grigio, which Nielson reports is growing at just over five per cent this year (Wine and Spirits Daily). Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are actually the same grape but the wine-making style is slightly different. Pinot Gris is the traditional French Alsacian style, which is richer, honeied, with a touch of spice. Pinot Grigio is the traditional Italian style, which is crisper and more acidic. Pinot Grigio is more popular than Pinot Gris and is characterized by a light, fresh citrus taste. “Pinot Grigio has a nutty undertone,” says Inman. “It also has notes of honeysuckle and pear, so a white pizza with chestnuts, pears and mushrooms would be lovely,” she says. 

Add a little sparkle
There’s lots to love about sparkling wine. It instantly makes any occasion more special, and it pairs well with just about any food. It’s the “little black dress” of wines.Canadian Brut is hot right now. Brut is just another name for champagne. Only sparkling wines made in the Champagne region of France are allowed to be called champagne.

Many Canadian wineries are making wonderful sparkling wines in the classic champagne method at a fraction of the price. The bubbles cut right through the fat and protein, and if the sparkling wine is aged on its lees (yeast cells), it will have a beautiful biscuity flavour. Inman suggests a potato pizza topped with creamy mozzarella as a nice pairing. If you age your dough, the yeasty notes in the crust will sing with the sparkling wine.

The war horse
Although new and trendy wines and foods are great to capture early adaptors and buzz, many consumers still want the tried-and-true. For that significantly sized customer base that wants a meat lover’s pizza with double cheese, Cabernet Sauvignon is a great pairing. Cab Sauv, as it’s affectionately referred to, is a big, bold red with lots of tannins. Tannins latch on to proteins and drinking a tannic wine without food will dry your tongue and mouth because it connects to the proteins in your saliva. However, meat and cheese toppings are dripping with fat and protein so the tannins in a Cabernet Sauvignon will perfectly balance this profile.

The Next Big Thing
Millennials who are just developing their palates tend to start with sweeter wines as they begin their wine journey. Moscato is one such sweet wine causing a buzz. Moscato’s volume sales are the fastest growing of the whites in the United States, up more than 53 per cent (Nielson Scan, Wine and Spirits Daily). It’s especially popular with Americans, so if you are in a tourist area with lots of visitors from the United States, this is a variety you’ll want to include. “Moscato would be amazing when paired with a pizza topped with blue cheese, caramelized onions and grilled pineapple,” shares Inman. The salt in the blue cheese will intensify and contrast the sweetness of the wine, while the sweet onions and pineapple will complement the notes in the wine.

Make sure you integrate the wines into your menu. Suggest a wine pairing right on the menu underneath each item and indicate why it’s a good pairing. Give your servers wine training so they are comfortable making suggestions, opening a bottle at the table and speaking to the flavours. Give your wines more profile in your restaurant and you’ll likely discover that your customers will respond favourably. As Ernest Hemingway said, “Wine is the most civilized thing in the world.”


Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical, financial services and wine industries. She specializes in retail brand strategies.


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