With winter upon us, our thoughts naturally drift towards warm comfort food and for many of us that conjures up images of a plate of steaming pasta with hearty red meat or silky cream sauces. Classic Italian pasta dishes such as Linguine with pesto sauce, Orecchiette pasta with broccoli or Spaghetti al ‘Amatriciana continue to rest comfortably on many menus throughout Australia – if not the world. After all, these filling dishes are synonymous with casual dining and comfort food – especially during the colder months.
Matching wines with pasta was previously a relatively simple matter in the age of traditional sauces. Pasta gets all its flavour from its sauces – red meat sauces, creamy sauces, simple garlic and oil coupled with some tasty additions (grilled chicken, broiled fish, and steamed veggies, to name a few). It is this adaptability and divergence of flavour that makes pasta a universally recognised and loved dish, but it also makes pairing with the perfect glass of wine a challenge.
Given the significant diversity that typifies both sides of the pasta/wine equation, the rule of matching them is that there is no rule! Instead, there are some guiding principles. As many sommeliers remind us (even when we're not talking about pasta), think about the sauce.
Buttery sauces often require buttery wines, and lighter sauces call for lighter bodied wines – such as Pinot Grigio. Similarly, acidity also needs to line up between the dish and the wine as, generally speaking, foods with high acidity are inclined to overwhelm wines that don’t have a complementary level of acidity.
For example, the fresh acidity of Sangiovese wine makes it a good match for anything involving tomatoes, from a simple marinara sauce to sauces like puttanesca or amatriciana. The list goes on.
Fortunately, you don't have to be a sommelier to pick the perfect wine for your pasta feast - so if you're making the pasta at home have fun and use your imagination for the ingredients and don't be afraid to experiment with the wine.
Ultimately, it is the flavours and ingredients that you mix with your plate of pasta that will determine which wine should go in your glass so here are a few pairing tips:
Creamy sauce based dishes match well with delicious un-oaked Chardonnays
Cheese sauce dishes are perfect with Pinot Grigio and buttery Chardonnays
Tomato based sauces should be tried with a crisp rosé, a dry white or a light red. Sangiovese-based blends are also great with a tomato and garlic sauce
Pesto based dishes go well with dry, crisp whites like Sauvignon Blanc
Meat based sauces are well paired with medium-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon or a Shiraz/ Malbec blend
Pork dishes can be enjoyed with Chardonnay or Viognier
Seafood based dishes are well matched to Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Semillon or a Rosé.