Insider Tips on Pairing Wine and Pasta

Comfort food and fall temperatures go hand in hand, and nothing satisfies our craving for something warming like a hearty bowl of pasta – paired with a hefty pour of something delicious, of course. We take our food and wine marriages pretty seriously here at Verve Wine, so it goes without saying that not all wine and pasta pairings are created equal. The secret? It’s all in the sauce.

We always condone drinking what you love, but in the world of food and wine pairings, some overarching guidelines make sense. For example, grabbing a delicious bottle of Chianti may seem like the obvious choice for pasta night in, though if your plate is loaded with creamy alfredo or herb-laden pesto sauce, your go-to Sangiovese probably isn’t the best pick. We’ve rounded up a variety of tasty wine pairings for nine of our favorite pasta dishes that we know you’re going to love. Get the water boiling, grab your corkscrew, and get ready to dive in. 


TOMATO SAUCES

Marinara - Sangiovese

Sangiovese and tomato-based sauces are basically two peas in a pod. The bright acidity, medium tannins, and underlying tomato leaf flavors mesh gorgeously with the tangy notes found in the sauce. While Sangiovese is always a solid go-to pick for tomato-based sauces, we're keeping this one as our foundational pairing. As your sauces get more complex, the variety of wine pairings does, too. However, this staple will always have your back.

Today, Sangiovese is grown all over the world, though for pasta night, we like to stick to the classics. For us, this looks like Chianti Classico, Rosso di Montalcino, or a complex bottle of Brunello if you're feeling baller. Some of our long-standing favorites include Felsina and Pian dell’Orino, though we can't get enough of what newcomers like Matteo Vaccari and Maddalena Fucile are doing over at Cigliano di Sopra

Ragu / Bolognese - Nebbiolo

Meat-based red sauces scream for something a little heartier. While sticking with a bigger-boned Sangiovese (especially something from Vino Nobile or Montalcino) could totally work here, we can't help but salivate at the thought of Bolognese with Nebbiolo.

Similar to Sangiovese, Nebbiolo is loaded with tons of natural acidity, which perfectly complements the tanginess of the sauce. However, this northerly Piedmont-based grape is loaded with tannins, which stand up to the fat content found in red meat. Barolo and Barbaresco are always safe bets, though expressions from Langhe and Alto Piemonte (Bramaterra, Gattinara, Colline Novaresi) tend to be more approachable in their youth. 

Puttanesca - Grenache/Garnacha 

This is a bit of a ‘cultural collision’ pairing here, as Grenache/Garnacha tends to find its roots in France and Italy. However, the bright acid and red fruit flavors found in a glass of chilled Grenache/Garnacha perfectly complement the savory flavors of olives, capers, and garlic found in Puttanesca. Trust us on this one – leaving the Italian juice behind and venturing beyond its borders is a seriously good idea here. 

Alla Norma - Sicilian Reds

Sticking with the 'grows together goes together' theme, we can't think of a better pairing for this Sicilian red sauce than a bottle of smoky, earth-driven Etna Rosso. The ashy undertones found in these Nerello Mascalese/Nerello Cappuccio blends make the savory flavors of eggplant, ricotta salata, and basil in Alla Norma sauce come to life. Girolamo Russo and Benanti are some of our favorite game-changing producers in Etna at the moment.

For those looking for a less obvious pairing, we've also found that the peppery notes found in Loire Valley Cabernet Franc equally make this dish shine. As much as we love the glou-glou natural stuff coming out of the region, we recommend looking for fuller-bodied expressions to pair with this dish (Thierry Germain’s ‘Terres Chaudes’ is a great pick). 


CREAM SAUCES

Alfredo - Chardonnay

Fettuccine Alfredo often gets some criticism for not being 'authentically Italian,' but let's face it, a hearty bowl of this stuff certainly warms the soul. The trick with pairing wines with creamy pastas is that you want the wine to be rich and round enough to complement the sauce, yet maintain enough acidity to cut through the fat and keep the palate quenched.

Enter White Burgundy, the king of all white wines (and a solid go-to for countless food and wine pairings). There's a reason why these Burgundian greats land on so many food and wine pairing lists: they're rich, they're structured, and they're loaded with enough acidity to stand up to fats, salt, and more. For a decadent pairing like no other, prep this recipe at home and snag a bottle from the Cote d'Or. We know that White Burgundy can get pricey; for a list of producers who seriously overdeliver, click here.

Brown Butter & Sage - Chenin Blanc

Come early October, brown butter and sage are two of the flavors we most look forward to, especially when meshed together and poured over a bed of pillowy gnocchi. Because of the sauce’s many textures and flavors, a variety of wines could work here, though we always find ourselves going back to Chenin Blanc. This zesty grape is often associated with flavors of green apples and honey, which also scream all things fall. Similar to brown butter and sage sauce, Chenin Blanc based wines are generally rich in body, yet balanced by tons of zingy acidity. Both Old World expressions from the Loire or game-changing bottles from California will do the trick – simply pick your poison for the night and explore the other equally delicious route next time. 

Cacio e Pepe - Land of Opportunity 

This classic pasta dish is always a crowd pleaser, and when it comes choosing a wine to sip with it, the opportunities are endless. As long as there’s ample amounts of acidity in the juice to balance out the cheese-heavy base of the sauce, most wines are fair game. If you’re feeling red, a fruit-forward bottle of Cru Beaujolais will beautifully play off of the dish’s cracked pepper. For whites, Chardonnay from Burgundy will cut through the richness while also complementing the cheese. And for the nights where neither of those will do the trick, there’s always rosé, which we believe to be one of the most versatile and food-friendly styles of wine on the planet – especially high-quality expressions like those from Domaine Tempier or Domaine du Gros ‘Noré. 


HERB / PRIMAVERA SAUCES

Pesto - Northern Italian Whites

Herbaceous pesto yearns for something with zingy acidity, so looking to high-acid whites is always a good idea, yet making sure the wine remains fruit forward and has a bit of oomph to stand up to the pasta is key. After tasting and testing, we found that medium-bodied whites from Friulano made this dish shine the best. Vermentino, Ribolla Gialla, Pinot Grigio, and other Italian whites of similar structure could also work, though you really can’t go wrong with something juicy and thirst-quenching from Collio

Garlic & Oil - Crisp, Dry Whites

If Cacio e Pepe is the land of opportunity for creamy sauces, then Garlic and Oil is its herbaceous equivalent. This simple yet satisfying sauce is tasty, easy to make, and loaded with flavor. Similar to the previous sauce, staying in the realm of crisp, dry whites is key. For a cultural mash up, snag a bottle of Muscadet or Sauvignon Blanc from France’s Loire Valley. The salty, sea-influenced flavors of the former and the mineral-driven, flinty notes found in the latter both make for excellent palate refreshers when loading up on this garlic-heavy dish. 

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