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The best tip on pairing wine with pasta is to ignore the pasta and pay attention to the sauce. Pasta is simply a canvas to deliver the accompanying ingredients. For example, the Apulian specialty rigatoni ragu barese is a rustic, meaty tomato-based dish. A dish like this needs a wine pairing with enough oomph to hold up against roasted tomato and red meat. If you’re thinking red wine, you’re right, but which one? It so happens that from the very same area in Italy (Apulia, the boot of Italy) you’ll find a wine called Primitivo which has a powerful nose of sun-kissed red berry flavors and a medium body with the right amount of structure to match the dish.
On Pairing Wine With Pasta
Here are 5 popular pasta dishes with a selected wine style as well as several suggested wines (both Italian and otherwise) to get you started. We’re not suggesting this is the only way you could enjoy these wines or pastas, just one way. Many roads lead to Rome, as it were. And, hey, there’s only one way to find out. Start popping bottles! Happy drinking.
Tomato-based sauces are powerful, high acid and are often blended with rich, red meats. Because of the acidity in tomatoes, a relatively tart red with middle-weight body is your best option. As much as this sounds limiting, there are a ton of different grape varieties (and blends) that will happily fill this role. As you add more richness (meat, cream) you can move up in body, but definitely keep the fresh acid! Here are a few examples:
- Strozzapreti With Roasted Tomatoes and Primitivo
- With sweet cherry tomatoes and fun-to-eat rolled noodles this Strozzapeti recipe would be awesome with Primitivo. Primitivo is the same grape as Zinfandel, but the Italian version generally has a slightly softer taste profile with more savory-focused aromas. Perfect.
- Rigatoni with Ragu Baresee and Salice Salentino
- This recipe has big rigatoni noodles and makes us drool for the wines of Salice Salentino. Salice Salentino is an affordable red blend that hails from Puglia made with Negroamaro grapes (along with a little bit of Malvasia Nera thrown in). Negroamaro (“bitter black”) has more richness and tannin than Primitivo and will hold up better to red meat.
It’s hard to find a wine that won’t pair fairly well with cheese, so instead, think of this pasta style as an opportunity to try some of the more texture-based, nuanced pairings. For example, a white wine with some creaminess to it, like an oak-aged Italian Trebbiano or Chardonnay, is going to create a congruent pairing and highlight the creaminess in the cheese (think ricotta!). Also, lighter more floral red wines are another awesome pairing partner with tart, intense hard-cheese pasta, especially if there are mushrooms or root vegetables involved in the sauce. Here are a few options to try:
Red: Langhe Nebbiolo, Nerello Mascalese, Pinot Noir (or Italian Pinot Nero from Oltrepo Pavese) and Sangiovese
- Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe and Montefalco Rosso
- The most simple recipes are often the most classic; Cacio e Pepe (no exception) is a just black pepper, Pecorino cheese and olive oil. The black pepper in this dish bumps up the intensity factor and makes this pasta ideal for Italy’s most important grape variety: Sangiovese. A Tuscan Chianti would do nicely, but we like the neighboring region of Umbria. Their Montefalco Rosso is also based off Sangiovese, combined with the truely local Sagrantino, which has a deep, herbal and savory flavor as well as powerful structure. It’s a local specialty that tends to deliver more body and ripe fruit characteristics (along with ample tannin).
If you look up great coastal Italian recipes, you’ll discover that many contain some anchovies, clams, or some sort of seafood. Being surrounded by the Mediterranean is an essential part of coastal Italian cooking. Perhaps this is why the Italians make such deliciously lean, acidity-driven white wines, often with a sense of refreshing bitterness. Naturally, lean to middle-weight white wines are the way to go for most seafood based pastas unless there is tomato as well, and then you’ll want to look into a rosato (Italian rosé). Here are a few top picks:
While most of us are familiar with the “classic” pine nut and basil pesto, you can really make pesto with whatever greens and nut pairing you desire: basil-walnut, parsley-pistachio, peanut-cilantro, hazelnut-mint… you get the idea. The real trick to matching these different pestos with wine is by simply acknowledging the green is the centerpiece of the dish. As soon as you do, whatever wine you choose (be it red, white or bubbly) should in some way be a harmonious, congruent pairing with the green. For the most part, you’ll find that herbaceous wines (like Sauvignon Blanc) are best suited. Of course, there are many amazing savory, herb-driven wines out there, so don’t let this list hamper your creativity. Here are some examples to get you thinking:
- Orecchiette Kale Pesto and Fiano di Avellino
- Your kale has never tasted so deliciously aromatic as it does when it’s processed with fresh lemon, parmesan, almond and olive oil into an amazing pesto. With a focus on lemons and freshness that this dish highlights a perfect wine for this is a young, smokey Fiano di Avellino.
Primavera (Vegetable) Pasta
Spring onions, garlic ramps, artichoke and broccolini often create the backbone of a great primavera, although anything fresh and seasonal will do. The goal of this dish is to really highlight the springy freshness of all the veggies, which is why a light-bodied white wine with lemony and floral notes is a great choice. Of course, a well-prepared primavera and major vegetable intensity, so it will need an equally savory white wine. Of course, if you add tomatoes to your primavera, see the top of this article. Here are a few examples to get you started: