Do you recall the first dish you made when you were learning how to cook?
For me, if you don’t count toast, it was scrambled eggs. From there, it was baby steps, almost all involving breakfast: frying bacon… dipping and grilling French toast… mixing the batter for pancakes and then grilling them.
Finally, it was on to dinner and something much more involved: spaghetti with tomato sauce.
It was a perfect learning experience because I could build upon lessons learned each time we made it.
The basic tomato sauce called for placing chopped pieces of tomato in a skillet, adding some olive oil, pouring in a little water and letting the conglomeration simmer. We’d then add some more water and salt to influence the thickness and flavor. Simple stuff.
As we advanced in our cooking skills and confidence, we’d add other flavors to the spaghetti sauce: herbs, spices and vegetables — basil, oregano, parsley, black pepper, onion, garlic.
So while we have multiple ways to make a tomato sauce recipe our own, it’s still the base ingredient — tomato — that defines it.
And it’s the tomato that provides the challenge when trying to pair a tomato sauce-topped plate of spaghetti with wine. Specifically, it’s the high acid level of tomatoes.
While there are no absolute rules in food and wine pairing, there are some cases in which tried-and-true pairings handed down through generations are tough to beat.
So, with spaghetti and tomato sauce, we give you… Chianti.
Chianti is the Italian wine made from Sangiovese, a wine grape that’s high in natural acidity. And as generations of Italians will tell you, the acid of the sauce and the acid of the wine complement each other quite nicely with their engaging “tang.”
Chianti isn’t the only wine that one can uncork with spaghetti. Other red wines with relatively high levels of acid include Pinot Noir (from California, New Zealand or Burgundy) and Gamay (particularly from the Beaujolais region of France).
But there’s always something to be said for pairing food of a region with wine of a region. And there is no more classic meal than spaghetti topped with tomato sauce, accompanied by a glass of Chianti.
That’s a cooking lesson that’s delicious to digest.