The draw to try Papa John’s Fritos Chili Pizza started early this fall. Every Sunday the TV would come alive with the alluring commercials for this insane mashup. Together Papa and Peyton would tell us of this pizza’s grandeur, and we’d wonder aloud what insane and evil genius had decided it should actually be made – perhaps it was an idea that came to Peyton following one of his many sacks…
Whatever the creation myth was, all we knew was that ultimately Papa John’s had done it, they were seriously taking the famed Texan Frito pie – a mix of chili, fritos and cheese – and using it to top one of their delightfully greasy cheese pizzas. We had to try it and we knew just the wine we wanted to drink with it when we did.
Wine and pizza have always gone together like peanut butter and jelly, they’re a natural combination, and when it comes to pizza, no wine is more famed than a red from Italy, so we knew that was going to be where our wine would come from as well. Since we were going big in the flavor department with the pizza – how could a Frito Chili Pizza not have bold flavors, as Papa claimed – we wanted a bold and rich wine to match. For that, nothing but a Brunello would do. Brunello Di Montalcino is one of the most famous wines made in Italy; comprised of 100% Sangiovese, these Tuscan wines are known for their brilliant berry flavors and earthy characteristics — they’d go perfect with the pie.
The problem is, Brunello isn’t a wine normally drunk with Papa John’s pizza. Being a wine of such stature, Brunello often fetches the highest prices of the wines coming out of Italy, and therefore, many people (snobs) believe it’s not a wine that should ever lower itself to being drunk along with a slice of greasy Papa John’s. But since we always say, drink what you like with what you like to eat, we knew we had to press forth.
The first step in our mission was actually acquiring the wine, so we headed to one of Lower Manhattan’s more well-known large wine retailers for help in choosing a bottle. When we arrived and told one of the clerks that we were seeking a Brunello to pair with a pizza, not even divulging that pizza would be the infamous Frito Chili Pie, their nose automatically went straight up in the air. “I can’t see why you’d want to drink one of these beautiful bottles with a pizza, but if you absolutely must, I’d take this 2006 Brunello Riserva,” the clerk said.
And once we read what James Suckling — a man who is the embodiment of everything people hate about wine snobs — had to say about 2006 Brunellos, we knew we had to buy the bottle. “I am finishing my blind tasting of 2006 Brunello di Montalcino today at home in Tuscany, and I am very excited about the vintage. The wines are subtle, yet rich, structured, and powerful. This vintage is the new benchmark for the region — a modern 1997.” Come on, such an insidery description like that from Mr. Suckling just begs for this bottle to be paired with a Fritos Chili Pie. It was decided.
It’s worth mentioning that our cameraman for this little adventure was not as excited about eating the Frito Chili Pie as we were, so as payment for his services, we ordered a plain cheese pie from one of New York’s more famous pizzerias. Part of the fun was hoping the delivery person for each respective pie would arrive at the same time and somehow realize they were delivering to the same apartment, thus breaking out in a brawl for our amusement.
Alas, this did not occur and the Frito Chili Pie arrived minutes after our hungry cameraman had already devoured his payment pizza. So we sat down, ready to enjoy. At first bite our reaction was mixed, there was no flavor bomb at all, no expression of the bold flavors Papa and Peyton promised. Instead, it was just a mix of bread, cheese, soggy fritos and odd tasting ground beef, all similar to the flavors of the worst soft taco you could order at Taco Bell. As we continued to eat, it didn’t improve – even a last ditch effort of dousing the pie in Papa’s famous garlic butter sauce didn’t help, it only caused us to taste buttery garlic.
Then we drank the wine, it was awesome – we mean seriously good. Sometimes a great pairing works for the simple fact that the wine is just so damn good, it could make anything you’re eating taste better. That was surely the case with this bottle of Brunello. While we don’t think we’ll order the Fritos Chili Pie again anytime soon, we’ll definitely revisit the Brunello.