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Great wines to drink with pasta dishes

Pasta dishes come in so many styles, with almost as many sauces, that they offer a wine pairing playground for those happy to experiment. Here are some classic styles to consider, with a focus on Italy.

There are loads of options when it comes to pairing wine with pasta dishes, and experimenting with new styles is a fun part of the process.

Below, we’ve put our focus on some Italian classics, intermingled with extra suggestions, to give you a few ideas for starters.

Read a guide to matching wine with more diverse pasta styles, including noodles and dumplings, in this brief guide written for Decanter by Le Cordon Bleu London in 2016.

Barbera d’Asti

Barbera’s high-acid character and its lovely kernel of red fruits can stand up well to the acidity of a pasta dish that goes big on the tomato sauce.

It can also be a winner with a beef lasagne, where the acidity of the wine helps to balance that creamy béchamel sauce, wrote master sommelier Matthieu Longuère MS, of Le Cordon Bleu London school.

The richness of a beef lasagne might lure you towards a bolder red, but Longuère said, ‘It is better to stay away from oakiness and instead pick a ripe, juicy, fresh style of wine like a Barbera, a Beaujolais [Gamay], or an Austrian Zwiegelt.’

For similar reasons, Barbera can also cut through the fat of a gloriously comforting macaroni cheese.

Nebbiolo

Combine two of Piedmont’s gifts to the world by whipping up a truffle pasta dish to match with a glass of Barolo that’s seen a few years of ageing in the bottle.

The Nebbiolo grape’s natural tannins should have softened and flavours like cherry and wild herbs intermingle with tertiary notes, such as mushroom or perhaps tobacco. Master sommelier Piotr Pietras MS told Decanter.com in 2017 that these sorts of aromas in an aged red wine would help ‘to reflect the savoury character of truffles’.

Younger Nebbiolo wines made in a lighter style can also have a delicious blend of zip, structure and fruit that can match with several pasta dishes, such as a ragú with a lighter meat.

You could try a wild mushroom concoction with a dash of cream in the sauce, served with egg-rich ‘tajarin’,  Piedmont’s own take on a thinner version of tagliatelle. Avoid big tannins, though.

Sangiovese

Sangiovese in its various guises can offer vibrant red fruit, herbs and a touch of spice, depending on the style. Its heartland is Tuscany, of course, but also look for non-Italian versions, such as in South Australia.

Sangiovese is pretty versatile on the dinner table, but – as above – watch out for younger wines with too much tannin or structure, because they might overpower your dish.

Try Tuscan wild boar ragú with pappardelle and a glass of good quality Chianti Classico, especially if you’ve thrown a splash or three into the dinner itself.

Alternatively, pair Rosso di Montalcino – the younger cousin of renowned Brunello –  with spaghetti and pork or beef meatballs, particularly if the meat is infused with herbs and a bit of black pepper.

Sausage and fennel, perhaps with fusilli, is another classic that often works well with Sangiovese’s red fruit and wild herb character. Cabernet Franc could also be a great partner here.

Emily O’Hare, formerly head sommelier at the River Café in London and who now runs WSET wine courses in Tuscany, told Decanter.com that isolation imposed by the country’s current lockdown due to coronavirus has led to some surprising discoveries.

‘I’m drinking Chianti with dishes I’d usually pair with a white and find they go really well,’ she said, suggesting ‘tagliatelle with rocket, lemon juice and zest, and a mixture of Greek yoghurt and cream cheese’.

She was using Philadelphia cheese, because of a lack of creme fraiche at local stores, she added.

Vermentino

Sticking with the Italian theme, Vermentino can be a surprisingly good partner for garlic.

There are many examples of skin-contact Vermentino wines being made in the variety’s heartland of Liguria, including some from vineyards on impossibly-steep slopes that rise up from the sea to form part of Italy’s famous Cinque Terre.

Open a bottle and pour yourself a glass as you prepare a classic pesto Genovese sauce – the green pesto originating from Ligurian capital Genoa. Make sure to save some wine for the meal.

Look out for Vermentino from further afield, too, such as the wines made by Ryme Cellars in Sonoma County, California, for example.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay is one of the ultimate chameleon wines, and chef Michel Roux Jr chose a slightly richer style to pair with his squid ink linguine, accompanied by pan-fried squid and salsa, in an article for Decanter.com in 2016.

‘This dish calls for a well-balanced and fruity Burgundian Chardonnay,’ he wrote. ‘Head to the Mâconnais [in southern Burgundy] for some great examples that won’t break the bank.’

Look out for the wines of Pouilly-Fuissé, in particular.

Chardonnay with a bit time on lees and a touch of oak – yet still with refreshing acidity in the mix – can also work well if your pasta dish involves a creamy sauce, perhaps with a lighter meat like chicken, or with a classic tarragon and mushroom combination.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano

Here is a white wine DOCG that flies a little under the radar, even in Italy.

If you thought some of the red wine pairings listed above were a little too ‘safe’, then sommelier Emily O’Hare has a suggestion to help you challenge conventional wisdom.

‘I grow more and more fond of this white wine,’ she said, explaining how she drank a bottle of Vernaccia di San Gimignano with a pasta Bolognese.

‘And I was thinking how delicious. Even more so, this white went with the dish [better] than a red.’

A few other styles to consider

Pumpkin ravioli has a touch of sweetness that could pair well with a Pinot Noir wine that offers a bit of sweet spice alongside the acidity and red fruit.

Or, grab a bottle of Pinot Gris from Alsace, where you’ll find refreshing acidity sitting alongside bolder fruit flavours and perhaps a hint of ginger.

Choosing a wine for seafood spaghetti will really depend on the ingredients. Richer versions, and those involving crustaceans with a meatier texture, like lobster, might work well with a slightly fuller-flavoured rosé, or even a rosé Champagne.

Michel Roux Jr also suggested a Bandol rosé for his squid linguini dish, cited above.

Lighter reds can pair with seafood pasta, such as Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir or Corvina (Valpolicella Classico), but steer clear of anything with big tannins.

Fresher versions, where the salinity of the seafood shines through alongside parsley and lemon, could work better with fresher, more mineral white wines like Greco di Tufo or Picpoul, as well as the Chardonnays of Chablis.


Find a wine to try by searching Decanter’s expert reviews


See also:

How to pair wine with pizza

The 10 rules of food and wine pairing


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