food.and.wine.pairing

(pairing wine with pasta)

Pasta opens a whole range of wine drinking options, mostly because nobody sits down to a bowl of plain boiled pasta with nothing on it. If this is your gig, you probably want to pass on the wine.

The key to an amazing pasta and wine pairing is matching with the additional ingredients in the dish. A little knowledge of Italy and its foods can come in handy, but it's not necessary. In general, the best wines are the ones that come from the same region as the food. Since Italy is responsible for hundreds of different wine grapes, there is a wine for every dish.

The two main types of pasta dishes you're going to come across are tomato-based and cream-based. We'll address these separately.

• Tomato sauces - The key to tomato sauce is the acidity. You're going to want a wine that has good acid in it as well, or else the wine will just seem flabby against the food. Fortunately, Italian red wines are known for their acidity. A classic wine pairing for this type of dish would be a bottle of Chianti (note that this is the region - the grape used is called Sangiovese, and it is used all over Italy).

If your tomato sauce has anything else in it like beef, pork, sausage or heavy cheeses, you'll want a wine with a little more body than a Chianti. Hitting a Barolo, Barbaresco, or Brunello di Montalcino would all be good moves. These can be somewhat prohibitively expensive though. You can get some more economical finds by going with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (made from a clone of Sangiovese), Rosso di Montalcino (a sort of baby-Brunello) or something from Morellino di Sansano (also mostly made from Sangiovese).

• Cream and cheese sauces - Just because your sauce has cream or cheese does not mean you have to go with a white wine. Some of the lighter reds mentioned above work well, as the acid and the tannins work to cut through the fat and keep your palate cleansed. If you decide to go white though, there are several great options. For a lighter dish, go with a crisp, light white like a Pinot Grigio (name of the grape), a Frascati (name of the region - usually a blend of Malvasia and Trebbiano among others) or a Verdicchio (name of the grape).

Remember, since pasta is mostly a vessel for other flavors, try to pair the main tastes with the wine. If the pasta has a light cream sauce but tons of spicy sausage, a Pinot Grigio isn't going to cut it. Work with the sausage instead (and don't worry, we've got you covered. More info on pairing with spice here and pairing with red meat here.