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Malcolm Jolley: Wine and pizza: A field guide to this (non)traditional pair

Commentary

Early in my career as a food and wine writer, I interviewed the Italian newspaper columnist Beppe Severgnini. Severgnini was promoting his new book, La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind (2005). The interview was set up on the suggestion of the restaurateur and informal ambassador to all things Italian, Roberto Martella, who had hosted a dinner for Severgnini at his very much missed Grano restaurant in mid-town Toronto.

Cramming for the interview, I devoured the book in one or two sittings. I had been to Italy a few times and considered myself a budding Italophile, but Severgnini’s book explained to me a lot of things I had observed without really understanding. The conversation that made up the interview made a great impression on me and I can remember two parts of it vividly.

The first thing I remember was the answer Severgnini gave to a question that was wine related. Is it true, I wanted to know, that Italians only ever drink alcohol when they are sitting at the table? “Yes, it’s mostly true,” he replied with a smile, adding, “But then that’s why we invented the five-hour lunch!”

The other topic I remember from that afternoon meeting nearly 20 years ago was the matter of pizza. People outside of Italy weren’t (aren’t) eating it properly. Pizza was a sit-down dinner meal, not for lunch. And the correct pairing for pizza, in Italy, wasn’t wine it was beer.

This information hurt. It still does. Pizza is one of my favourite weekend lunch meals, and as much as I like a beer, I like a crisp white wine with my midday pie. Wine with pizza refreshes the palate after an onslaught of dough and cheese. Was I really doing it all wrong?

Like so many wine and food questions, the answer is a bit yes, a bit no, and a bit it really doesn’t matter. Drink whatever you like with your pizza. Here are some ideas about some who might choose one thing or another.

The Risorgimento politician, Massimo d’Azeglio, wrote in his memoirs, on the subject of Italy’s 19th-century unification: “We have made Italy, now we must make Italians.” In my experience, he is quoted a lot by his later-day compatriots who acknowledge that most Italian identity is still very regional.

Severgnini is a Northerner, from Milan. Northern Italy has its own culinary traditions and its own starches like risotto from rice and polenta from corn. Pizza is from Naples in the South, where the starch is hard wheat. Pizza in the modern age would have come up with Southerners looking for work in the Northern factories in the last century.

Much of Northern Italy was, until the Risorgimento, dominated by Austria and open to Germanic influence from across the Alps. Beer would be plentiful and make a good pairing with an inexpensive and casual meal when pizza came up to the Po Valley.

On reflection, the pizza I have eaten in Northern Italy has tended to be at more casual pizzeria than fancy. Mind you several of those times were at lunch, so having a beer, especially between wine tastings made sense.

I had dinner at a pizzeria in Turin last fall. I was by myself and just arrived after a long night and day’s travel from Canada. It was a weeknight and most of the tables looked like they were families from the neighbourhood, which was a little bit outside of the historical centre.

Some of the patrons drank beer, some soft drinks, and some drank wine from the carafe. I had nameless, vintageless Arneis from a carafe with a pizza that had some kind of salumi on it. It worked and I can remember the happiness that simple meal gave my jet-lagged body before I headed to my hotel to crash.

Most of my lunchtime pizza meals are at a local branch of the Toronto mini restaurant chain, Terroni. Terroni means roughly ‘people of the earth’, or maybe, less charitably, just ‘dirt’. What was a put down of Southern Italians by their Northern cousins has become a point of pride for the Mammoliti family who run Terroni successfully, and who have roots in Puglia, Italy’s boot heel.

There is beer at Terroni, but there’s also a lot of very good wine, from all over Italy. I used to order by the glass, but I have started ordering a bottle of lunch because, since the loosening of liquor laws during the pandemic, they’ll recork the bottle and let you take what you don’t drink home. This is what I did with a delicious Coda di Volpe white.

Coda di Volpe means fox’s tail, which refers to the bushy shape of its clusters of grapes. It’s grown and made in the hills of Campania around Naples. When I was in Naples last spring with some friends and family, we defied Severgnini and ate pasta at lunch and pizza at dinner… with wine… but red because it was the evening.

Naples is the home of pizza because Naples is where tomato growing got serious in the 19th century. San Marzano is basically at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, and its volcanic soils impart, locals say, the tomatoes with a particular concentration of flavour, and maybe a little more of that particular umami and savoury qualities that make a delicious tomato sauce.

Umberto is a serious pizzeria in a fancy Neapolitan neighbourhood with a well-healed clientele. Umberto has a serious wine list, and from it we ordered a Lacryma di Christi made from Piedirosso grapes grown on Mount Vesuvius. It was perfect with the chewy doughy pizza verace of Naples. 

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the table of four next to us. Two couples: one older and the other younger. They were likely a family combination out for a Sunday pizza dinner. True to bella figura, they were each impeccably dressed. The older gentleman wore a cravat and a jacket and, while the rest sipped glasses of red wine, he happily drew from a long, cold glass of beer. Severgnini may have had a point, after all.

David McDonough: How the West must prepare for a world after Putin’s defeat in Ukraine

Commentary

All wars end, and the Ukraine hostilities will be no different. With Russia undertaking offensives primarily around Bakhmut and Ukraine preparing its own counter-offensives, the end may seem far off. But someday it will end.

How it does is very much up to Ukraine and Russia, whether by a negotiated settlement that sees Russian troops leaving occupied territory or by Ukraine forcing the Russians out. Achieving a just peace depends largely on how the ground war ends and what compromises are made by the main actors.

Yet now is the time for Ukraine and the West to be planning what happens once the guns turn silent. How should we think about the war in Ukraine and its end game?

First, we need to ensure that Putin’s invasion fails utterly—not only for the sake of Ukrainians fighting for their right to exist but also on behalf of a European rules-based order that Vladimir Putin’s invasion is meant to overthrow.

This will require relentless commitment not only from the Ukrainians, through counteroffensives in the Donbas and possibly Crimea, but from the democratic world itself. To ensure Russia does not topple a democracy on Europe’s doorstep, Western countries have little choice but to continue supporting Ukraine with more ammunition and weapon systems.

Second, the West cannot simply rely on the Americans to continue providing the bulk of this support. Europeans, especially Germany, have the economic heft to do significantly more for Ukraine. Canada should also renew its own military support. To this end, Europe and Canada must accelerate defence production and replenish their depleted munitions and weapon stockpiles sooner rather than later.

The U.S. can and should play a role in backstopping this effort and improve its own weapon production facilities, which have been under duress to sustain sizeable armament deliveries to Ukraine. But with the need to better prepare for military contingencies in the Indo-Pacific—not least Taiwan, where it wants to substantially increase that country’s weapons stockpiles—Washington may not be willing to continue its military largesse to Ukraine indefinitely. It’s time for other countries to stand up.

Third, we need to figure out our post-war approach to Moscow. The war in Ukraine is leaving Russia weakened and isolated. Putin himself is an accused war criminal, while international sanctions promise to further shrink Russia’s economy and reduce its warfighting potential, its vaunted military suffering battlefield losses that dwarf anything it experienced since the Second World War.

If Putin remains in power, it seems unlikely the West can ever reset relations. His history of territorial aggression and brinkmanship speak clearly to his fundamental threat. It’s possible Putin would not survive a Russian defeat in Ukraine, but there is no guarantee a new leader would be any less bellicose, more stable, or represent a break from the past. Thus it is critical to maintain a strategy of containment against Russia for the foreseeable future.

There might be some areas where engagement is necessary, not least when it comes to Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal—a point recently underscored by the Kremlin’s decision to suspend its involvement in the New Start strategic arms reduction agreement, which led to a slew of contradictory statements on what measures it planned to continue following. Otherwise, Russia remains a dangerous rogue state that needs to be contained, isolated, and militarily declawed. Only a new regime can escape the opprobrium caused by Putin’s criminal actions.

The West should buttress its military depth across NATO countries, while maintaining sanctions to limit any post-war rebuilding of Russia’s forces. Forward-deployed NATO forces in Eastern Europe and the Baltics—including in the newest NATO country Finland—will ensure a sizable and punishing response to any potential Russian military adventurism there. Europe and Canada should take the lead on this and enable the Americans to pivot more to the Pacific.

Fourth, the recent and much-hyped “summit” between China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Putin brought their “marriage of convenience,” to quote U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, into sharp relief. (Blinken called Russia the “junior partner” in this partnership—and it is hard to disagree with that assessment.)

One clear consequence of Russia’s struggle in Ukraine is its increased reliance on China. Beijing likely enjoys seeing the West committing energy and resources to containing Putin, even if the scenario inflames tensions between Beijing and the West and places China in the Catch-22 of escalating hostilities by arming the Russians. Moscow will be no more comfortable playing a junior role to China than Maoist China was with the Soviet Union.

Any hopes of somehow detaching Russia from China’s sphere of influence remain fanciful so long as Putin’s kleptocratic, siloviki-dominated regime remains in power. Instead, Putin will likely only accelerate his country’s further decline into being a regional, subordinate power within China’s hegemonic orbit. As Russia becomes more dependent on and resentful of China’s strategic largesse, this relationship could magnify tensions between both countries. If it hopes to take advantage of such Sino-Russian discord, the West will need to wait patiently until a new and fundamentally different regime emerges in Moscow.

Fifth, Ukraine will need a significant infusion of funds to rebuild its country. The World Bank estimates this will cost US$411 billion over the next decade. It is no exaggeration to say the West will need to support Ukraine with its own Marshall Plan to recover from this disastrous war—and partly for the same reasons.

An economically prosperous Ukraine would not only be a valuable addition to the European community and resilient bulwark against Russian influence, but—much as Western Europe’s success magnified its contrast with Eastern Europe’s listless Soviet satellites—it would also be a useful mirror to the kleptocratic nihilism of Putin’s regime, hopefully fuelling internal pressures within the Russian state itself.

Just as Western countries proved resolute in supporting Ukraine in wartime, we must show the same resolve when it comes to helping the country get back on its economic feet in peacetime, including supporting its path to full membership in the European Union. As a wealthy G7 nation, Canada has a role to play in propelling these post-war reconstructions.

Sixth, Ukraine’s allies must ensure that Russia never again attempts such territorial aggrandizement. Western countries should continue their training and capacity-building programs (including Canada, given its past involvement with Operation Unifier) while expanding their defence production capacity to support Ukraine with an expansive rearmament program.

This “porcupine” strategy—a concept often used in reference to Taiwan—would seek to deny Russia the means to successfully seize and hold Ukrainian territory. This approach is meant to prevent Russia from achieving its war objectives in order to deter them from invading and to deny them victory if that fails. Ukraine will likely emerge from this war with the most battle-hardened military in Europe with extensive experience fighting Russians, so such a strategy seems particularly well-suited for them.

Some of the military capabilities to be prioritized include long-range and high-altitude air defences; anti-tank weapons; long-range artillery and missile systems capable of hitting logistic hubs deep in Russian territory; landmines; anti-ship missiles; defensive fortifications; and the continued transfer of advanced Western battle tanks and armoured vehicles. Other priority measures include civil defence, critical infrastructure protection, and preparation for urban warfare.

Lastly, the West must offer Ukraine security guarantees. NATO membership would be controversial. Some members believe that even a post-Putin Russia would never accept such an arrangement, however, this must be weighed against the fact Russia has never dared to invade a NATO country—though that has never been tested against a country, like Ukraine, which Russia has both invaded and partly annexed. Irrespective, given the Alliance’s need for consensus, it will be an uphill climb to bring Ukraine into NATO’s fold.

Alternatively, key NATO countries could offer bilateral security guarantees to Ukraine, an initiative that could involve the entire Atlantic Alliance.

In either case, some Western countries would need to deploy military forces in Ukraine, acting as a “tripwire” to ensure an allied response to any Russian incursion. It also complements the above-mentioned denial approach. After all, given Ukraine’s strategic depth due to its geographic size and its porcupine strategy, Western countries would have enough time to mobilize a counterattack long before a Russian victory becomes a fait accompli.

In sum, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has upended the post-war European order; there is no going back to business as usual with Putin. The West must keep that end in mind as it supports Ukraine while making sure that its rightful and immediate emphasis on Europe does not detract from focusing on the long-term, global strategic challenge posed by China.

Importantly, the West must remain united in providing security guarantees to Ukraine. This cannot be another version of the Budapest Memorandum, where our promises to Kyiv proved worthless.

Ukraine has already stood up against Russia. The West will need to do the same.