Pairing Off Hawaiian Pizza

Football, pizza and vintage sparkling wine.

Red state versus blue state? Child's play. Giants or Dodgers? Not even close. Simply put, there is nothing more divisive than pineapple on pizza.

Polls repeatedly show a world split down the middle on the topic. And two peaceful nations almost came to blows over the matter. Well, sorta. In 2017, when the president of Iceland threatened—jokingly—to ban the fruit from ever touching pizza again, he incited a war of words with Canada, of all places, and was bombarded (by pizza deliveries).

But we’re not here to enter the pineapple fray. It’s clearly rife with peril. Besides, we’ve already ordered a Hawaiian-style pie from Pelican Pizza in Monterey, so there’s a more pressing issue at hand: Is there a wine to go with it?

“The first thing that comes to mind is a sparkling Rosé,” says Jeff Birkemeier, co-owner in charge of the wine program for the newly opened Amapola Kitchen and Wine Merchant in Salinas. “The elevated acidity would balance the pineapple.”

Birkemeier explains that with Pinot Noir as part of the recipe, Rosé delivers enough of an inkling of red wine savor to flirt with other ingredients on the pie. And sparkling pink wines are generally versatile, willing to take on foods still reds and whites shrink from.

And he doesn’t hesitate on the perfect bottle.

“I would do the Caraccioli sparkling Rosé,” Birkemeier says. “Outside of Champagne”—the region—”they are one of the best sparkling wine houses around.”

Solid choice. Caraccioli Cellars owns a string of 90-plus ratings and first prizes and...well, their Carmel tasting room is sold out of the current vintage of Rosé.

Fortunately, there are options. One is not so reasonable: reach into the stacks for an older library vintage and then wait for the response when you try to expense an $80-plus bottle of wine to go with delivery pizza. The other?

“Our 2015 Brut Cuvée,” suggests Samantha Cooper, Caraccioli’s director of hospitality. “There’s enough acidity and it’s very citrus driven. It will complement the pineapple.”

The 2015 is a 60-40 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, prepared by the painstaking methode champenoise and worthy of 92 points from Wine Enthusiast. It feathers the nose with apple crisps, dried apricot and fresh peaches. Yet there’s a zesty citrus and soft floral honey note floating over a briny minerality.

Lemon zest is more pronounced on the palate, as is the notion of stone washed by ocean breezes. It’s a sharp wine with herbal traces, but a genteel, creamy finish.

This level of elegance is pitted against a yeasty dough with puffs of toasty char topped with pineapple that’s on the sweeter side, ham and bacon—because, well, bacon. 

The combination is sensational.

Caraccioli’s Brut Cuvée blunts the sweetness, bringing forward instead a juiciness from the pineapple. Ham takes on a meatier hue. Vivid pockets of smoke release from the charred crust and rustic pricks of dry herbs come out from hiding in the sauce. A pizza that was fine for a day watching football (and chugging world-class wine) is elevated at least to checkered tablecloth level.

The wine’s brazen citrus expends a lot of its energy contending with pineapple. But that’s well and good—a mineralic earthiness resonates, speaking of highlands terroir. Crisp, calm peach waltzes in, along with an elusive spice that contains in its grains hints of dried petals and clean crystals of sea salt. It’s a refined accompaniment.

To be fair here, bacon is not part of the original Hawaiian pizza recipe. But the folks at Pelican applied it with a deft touch, so as not to steal too much attention from the ham—which is really Canadian bacon.

It’s likely the first Hawaiian pizza drew on back bacon. Although some point to a parlor in Portland, Oregon as the first to toss bits of pineapple onto a pizza, the consensus is that a Greek immigrant toiling in a Chatham, Ontario kitchen in 1962 layered a pie with ham and pineapple, naming it the Hawaiian pizza.

Sam Panopoulos was supposedly inspired to create the pizza after sampling the sweet and sour contrast in many Americanized Chinese dishes. 

Yes, the history of Hawaiian pizza is a bit bizarre. The only association to the islands, so the story goes, is the brand of canned fruit Panopoulos used on his creation: Hawaiian.

Hence the name. And old advertisements proudly claim the fruit was packed in syrup, so it would have been on the cloying side.

No wonder pineapple on pizza has its legions of detractors. According to a BBC article, there are memes claiming “if 2020 were a pizza, it would have pineapple on it.”

Maybe 2020 wouldn’t have been so bad if there were enough Caraccioli Cellars sparkling wines to go around.

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