Pair it Up! Pizza with Fennel & Feta

Gather Journal is one of the most aesthetically pleasing places to look for recipes. It's a part of the new wave of independent magazines with a heavy design focus and stunning full-page photography. The content, thankfully, has the merit to back up the journal's looks. The flavours they play with are fresh and vibrant. Often prepared with simple methods to highlight the produce or protein, and often flavour combinations that aren't your status quo.

While checking for the new edition online, I found a recipe from the Spring/Summer edition that caught my eye: Pizza with Fennel and Feta. It's a simple, rustic style of pizza topped with fennel, feta cheese, red onions and, if you'd feel like adding meat, Coppa. The reason I was drawn to this recipe is probably the same reason that it makes for a challenging wine pairing: fennel. I had just cooked one of Nigel Slater's fennel recipes where he pan-fries quartered bulbs in butter and tops it with Parmesan. I was drinking a white Burgundy from the Bret Brothers and it paired quite nicely—the richness of the Chardonnay works with the butter and can stand up to the aromatic, anise flavours of the fennel.

The challenge with the pizza recipe is that we have to contend with a marinara sauce where the standard, and very appropriate solution is often Sangiovese, Barbera, Dolcetto, or anything else from a list of red Italian grapes with acidity and herbal notes that won't necessarily pair well with the fennel or the feta. When we're talking about cooked fennel, red onions and feta, aromatic whites like Sauvignon Blancs tend to work really well, also Pinot Gris with some spice and intensity. Sauvignon Blancs are one of the few whites regularly suggested as a pairing for tomatoes and tomato sauce. I like the idea of a white with a touch of sweetness, as we have to consider a dough and crust that packs a natural sweet flavour, as well as the sugars that are brought out in the vegetables once they begin to cook and caramelize. Here are a couple My Wine Canada whites that I think would be pure magic with this pizza:

Tawse 2013 Gewürztraminer 'Quarry Road' - Many people like to hate on Gewürztraminer and for reasons that are not completely invalid. It can taste cloying because Gewürztraminer has naturally low acidity, and it can also be overly perfumed. Tawse's Gewürztraminer is neither of those things. The acid is bright and balancing. The perfume is kept in check. This is rosewater, grapefruit rind and spice with a touch of sweetness and it should pair brilliantly.

Road 13 2012 Honest John's White - This wine is a blend of nine grapes, but some are in such small amounts that we don't need to mention them. The main four grapes are Riesling, Bacchus, Pinot Gris, and Kerner. The German grapes bring citrus and floral character (orange blossom) that will work well with the fennel and the onions. There is refreshing acidity to stand up to the marinara sauce and the feta. It doesn't quite have the sweetness that the Tawse Gewürztraminer has, but its richness and texture will pair nicely.


Jake Skakun is a writer and sommelier from Vancouver, currently living in Toronto. He can be found most days pulling corks and twisting caps at the Black Hoof. He Tweets and Instagrams @jakeskakun.

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