One of the great things about pasta is its versatility. Not only is it nutritious and tasty, but it goes with any wine you happen to favor. Still, you'll want to select a wine that goes with the whole dish.
You should start simple and work your way up as you experiment with a wider variety of dishes and wines.
That means for those simple tomato-based pasta recipes, you can't go wrong with a nice Chianti or other traditional red. For strongly flavored sauces, the Sangiovese will never clash. If you're planning a seafood dish, you have a wide variety of whites to choose from: Chardonnay, Sauvignon or Chenin Blanc, for example.
As an intermediate, you might be whipping up a fine tuna spaghetti with tomatoes and capers. Since you've got both seafood and tomatoes, what to do? Di Tufo to the rescue. This ancient golden grape grown in volcanic soil has a rich bouquet that will bring out the best of both.
For a slightly more complex recipe, such as a Spaghetti alla Carbonara or a Fettuccine all'Alfredo a fine Viognier is a perfect choice. The rare white is a great complement to those egg or butter based dishes. Or, test a fine Pinot Grigio and see which you prefer. It is, after all, all about personal taste.
When you're laboring over that fine halibut recipe you just can't wait to try, spend a few minutes to think about the wine. While you do, consider how pleasant is a Pinot Noir. Earthy but not overpowering, the hints of clove will add the perfect spicy touch to that delicate fish dish.
At the opposite end of the scale, when you have a plain pasta with just a bit of olive oil or tossed into a salad, you can go either way. A simple dry Gewürztraminer white will avoid overpowering the dish. Or you can pick out a slightly more robust Riesling to add flavor to a relatively bland dish.
If you're mixing up an appetizer, such as anchovies with pistachio nuts, a fine Verdicchio provides a pairing fit for a plutocrat. With its fruity overtones of apricot and tangy spice, it will complement the spicy tang of the fish and the sweet fruit will offset the salty nut.
For a robust roasted lamb dish, stuffed inside some jumbo conchiglie, you could do no better than a Tofanelli Charbono. The smoky hints of this fine varietal will pair nicely with the full flavor of the meat. For a bit more zing, go the full route and pick out a nice Petit Syrah.
Going whole hog, so to speak, and working on that lasagna Bolognese? Bring out that slightly chilled Shiraz and let it warm up a little bit. Spicy and full-bodied, it will stand up and hold its own next to a heavy dish.
But whatever you're preparing, and whichever wine you consider, remember that in the end what counts is whether you enjoy the results. Experiment!
The pasta and wine pairing mystery solved
Wine goes with pasta like the Leaning Tower of Pisa goes with Italy. Of course, there are about as many varieties of pasta dishes as there are wines to choose from. Matching them up might seem a little overwhelming at first, even like trying to solve a mystery.
But the clues are all there. All you need to do in order to put together a great pasta dish with a fantastic wine is to remove the idea from your mind of the entire pasta dish, and just think of the type of sauce on the pasta. The sauce, for the most part, will determine the profile of wine you choose. Let's take a look at a few different classifications of sauce you would typically find on pasta and which wines would pair well.
Tomato based sauce
Tomato sauces are acidic and generally have a bold flavor that commands attention. While no two tomato sauces are the same, there are a few basic ingredients in common that help us choose a wine that will pair well. With the strong flavor of a tomato based sauce, also called red-sauce, one thing to keep in mind is you want a wine to stand up under the intensity of the dish without fizzling out. In other words, you want to taste the wine as well as the dish.
With a bold tomato sauce, you want a wine that is lush and slightly thick on 'mouthfeel' but not overly acidic. These wines can include Chianti, Merlot, and Sangiovese. Cherry is a prominent flavor in each of these wines which helps to balance out the acid of the tomato sauce.
Where the heavy acidic tomato sauce requires a bold wine, alfredo style sauces, also called white-sauce, are lighter in flavor and more elegant and smooth. Some are very light, while others are rich with cheesy goodness and can stand up to a slightly bolder wine. But, for any white-sauce, you don't want a brash wine, but something light and refreshing. White wines are typically the best to pair with these sauces.
Wines like Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Riesling are great choices when it comes to alfredo sauce. These wines are crisp and usually have a citrus note to them to help cut through the richness of the alfredo sauce. If your pasta is on the lighter side, try a dry Riesling. But if you like your white-sauce richer or more cheesy, go with a Pinot Grigio.
Pesto is made mostly with basil and some type of nut, either pine nuts or walnuts, then blended in olive oil and sometimes with added garlic. It seems like that would be too much flavor to stand up to a white wine, but pesto actually is considered to have a rather delicate flavor palate. Basil has a very distinct flavor that is on the earthier side, yes, but it is also a very fragile flavor which can be overtaken with a heavy, dark wine. A good wine pairing is a crisp white wine with mineral notes, such as a Cinque Terre. This type of white wine will help cut through the earthy tones of the basil and nuts. Neither the pesto nor the wine will get drowned out with this pairing.
There are some types of pasta that don't quite fall under these three categories, but also deserve a great wine to go with them. For instance, a fantastic wine to pair with a strong cheesy pasta, such as cheese ravioli with butter and Parmesan, is a Viognier. This wine, with its honeysuckle and vanilla nose and peach and honey flavors goes great with seafood sauces, too. For the incredible gnocchi dishes, more like potato dumplings than pasta, a Nebbiolo with earthy truffle flavors makes a great combination.
We could go on and on, but really it's all about experimenting... of course with these few tips in the back of your mind. Picking a wine to go with your pasta dish is as easy as thinking about what sauce will go on the pasta. If you are still unsure or your head starts spinning when you're looking at all those bottles in the store, ask the person in charge. Most good wine shops only hire people who know their business. Get to know them and they will be more than happy to make a few suggestions. Then, before you know it, you'll be on your way home to enjoy the perfect wine with your delicious pasta dinner.