Few things provide comfort and satisfy cravings as well as a hearty pasta dish paired with the right wine. Of course, wine connoisseurs take pairing wines with food very seriously. It is not always easy to know what goes with what, though, especially for pasta dishes.
Pasta is a blank canvas designed to support the other ingredients like sauces and cheeses. The wine that you would pair with a rustic tomato sauce, for example, is different from the one you would serve with a creamy alfredo. Consider some tips on pairing your favorite wine with your best pasta dish.
Start With the Sauce
The sauce is a practical place to start because it sets the acidity level of the dish. Tomato-based sauces are acidic and tangy. The wrong wine will either clash with that flavor or suppress it, keeping you from enjoying the sauce.
For a red sauce such as bolognese, look for a wine with a higher acidity level (lower pH) to create balance. If the acidity level is lower than that of the sauce, the wine will overpower it.
Typically, you would pair red wine with a red pasta sauce. Look for a red wine that is complex and contains high tannin.
The pH scale is used to evaluate acidity, with a lower pH indicating higher acid levels and a higher pH suggesting lesser acidity. A wine’s pH level typically runs from 3 to 4, with red wines having greater acidity levels. Because red wines with more acidity have a lower pH, they are more likely to be a vivid ruby color. Red wines with a higher pH and less acidity can develop a blue or purple tint.
Some wine options for red sauces include:
- Rhone blends
For Cheese or Herbal Sauces
Creamy, cheesy sauces like parmesan or alfredo require a different pairing. A creamy sauce will taste better paired with a dry white wine. A rich, dry Chardonnay, for example, will cut through the rich flavor of the sauce without it dulling the taste of the wine. The acidity of the white wine will also help wash the palate so that you can enjoy every bite of the pasta.
The majority of wines pair well with cream- or cheese-based sauces. Therefore, feel free to play around with different wines paired with your cream sauces — red or white. Some wines commonly paired with cream sauces include:
- Pinot Noir
- Pinot Grigio
White wine also pairs well with a herbal sauce like pesto. However, you might choose a Sauvignon Blanc to go with the pesto sauce instead of the Chardonnay. Sauvignon Blanc has a rich array of citrus, floral, and herbal flavors that pop when you drink it with an herbal pasta sauce. The herbal notes of the wine mirror those found in the pesto.
Some herbaceous wines that go well with pesto sauces include:
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Greco di Tufo
Brown Butter Sauces
Fall often brings brown butter and sage sauce poured over pillowy pasta like gnocchi as part of Thanksgiving dinner. This sauce has rich texture and flavor, so there are a number of wines that pair well with it. The ideal wine would have rich fruit flavors such as Chenin Blanc, known for its honey and green apple notes.
Spicy Pasta Dishes
One of the most challenging wine pairings is spicy foods. If paired wrong, the wine will change the flavor of the dish, throwing off the taste. If your idea of pasta heaven includes zesty sauces such as Aglio olio e pepperoncino, arrabbiata, or puttanesca, you want to pair them with crisp and sharp wines. You might choose a dry, white Reisling, for instance, or a light red Zinfandel.
What Is the Protein?
Not all pasta dishes contain protein such as beef or seafood, but it can change the wine pairing when they do. For a red sauce with meat, you would stick with the acidic wine to match the sauce. However, an acidic wine will interfere with the taste of the seafood.
Linguine with crab or clams and pasta with shrimp go well with a crisp, white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc. In part, this is because most pasta with seafood also has a cream sauce. A crisp, dry wine will cut through the richness of both the sauce and the seafood to cleanse the palate.
Pasta With Vegetables
For those who prefer to serve their pasta loaded with veggies, your best pick would also be a rich white wine such as Soave, Sauvignon Blanc, or Chardonnay. A dry, floral white wine will enhance the flavor of the vegetables.
Choose light-bodied white wines with lemony, herbal, or floral notes, as well as savory, full-bodied whites if you’re cooking with heartier veggies like eggplant.
It is essential to consider all the components of your pasta dish when choosing your wine but start with the sauce, as it gives the most flavor to the pasta. You want a wine that will accentuate that bold flavor, not suppress or change it. As a general rule, you can think of red wine for red sauce and white wine for white sauce. If you want to dig deeper, look at the flavor variations of the sauce and any added ingredients such as protein or veggies.
Find out more about pairing your favorite wines with your favorite foods by visiting our Sweet Oaks Wine website or trying Sweet Oaks wines in our shop.