Dine Italian Style: Pasta and Wine Pairings

Is there any type of cuisine we associate more with wine than Italian?wine, drink, italian, pairing, food

I sure can’t think of one.

This perception has been carved out and perpetuated through hundreds of years of tradition in Italy, followed in the 20th and 21st centuries by big-screen Hollywood productions, from “The Godfather” to “Under the Tuscan Sun.”

Images of the Italian dinner table — with plates piled high with pasta, and tumblers of red wine — have almost become cliché. But pasta and wine can make a satisfying meal, especially on a chilly night.

The question is: What kind of wine goes best with pasta?

The answer involves the basic “rule” we suggest with virtually every food-and-wine pairing: The wine should be selected to complement the primary flavor of the food.

Pasta itself — whether strand, ribbon, tubular or other shapes — doesn’t have a whole lot of flavor. Pasta dishes are defined, in most cases, by the sauces used.

Most Italian pasta dishes utilize some sort of red sauce, and while recipes often are handed down from generation to generation, many are not precise because they may call for “a pinch of this” or “a little bit of that.”

So, even a “tomato-based red sauce” calls for a couple of wine suggestions. If the sauce is fairly basic with tomato being the primary flavor, Pinot Noir can make a wonderful pairing partner. On the other hand, if the red sauce is a bit on the spicy side, a more hefty red wine such as Sangiovese works great.

With a richer dish such as lasagna, with its layers of pasta housing a flavorful meat sauce and melted ricotta, Sangiovese is a solid wine choice, and so is a spicy California Zinfandel. (Note: Sangiovese is the primary wine in bottles labeled “Chianti,” so feel free to select a Chianti to drink with lasagna.)

Honestly, virtually every medium-bodied to full-bodied red wine — as long as it isn’t too “oaky” — can be a wonderful pairing partner for pasta with a red sauce.

But what if you’re in the mood for a mushroom-based white sauce for topping your pasta? Try a wine you’d drink with mushroom risotto. If you feel like drinking a red wine, try a light Pinot Noir. If you’re in the mood for white wine, a lightly oaked or “unoaked” Chardonnay works well, as does Pinot Gris.

Like so many foods, much of pairing wine with pasta involves personal preferences. That line of thinking opens the door to a lot of experimentation, which can be a lot of fun.

Start with the “classic” pairings, and if you find one you love, you’re good to go for the upcoming winter months. If you don’t, try different combinations until one really clicks.

Discovering a food-and-wine pairing you really love is almost like meeting a new friend. Only instead of a potential BFF, you’ll have a possible NFW (new favorite wine).


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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes
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