The Best Wine Pairing With Italian Food
Italy is world-renowned for its delicious cuisine, from creamy risottos to decadent pasta platters. Nothing brings out the flavor of good Italian food like a fine wine pairing, but it’s not always easy to choose the best flavor to complement your dish. I’m going to help you navigate the sometimes complicated world of wine pairing so you can turn your next Italian meal into an experience to remember.
Italian Food and Wine Pairing
Wine pairing is something of a science, and it takes know-how and practice to get it right. Here are some basic tips on how to pick out the best wine for your next meal, whether you’re having a quiet pasta dinner at home or a five-course meal at your favorite Italian place.
Match Like With Like
The number one rule when pairing wines is to match flavors. That way, nothing contradicts or clashes in your meal. If you’re making a sweet dish, you should aim to pair it with a sweet dessert wine. Similarly, if you plan to opt for bold, robust flavors, you should choose a wine that can hold its own.
Look for Balance
The purpose of pairing a wine with your meal is to balance the flavors, hiding unwanted tastes and bringing out a richer profile. To do this, you need to pay careful attention to factors such as acidity, intensity, and flavors. For example, a rich, fatty dish pairs best with an acidic wine rich in tannins to lighten the palate, while a mild dish can be improved by adding a flavorful wine into the mix.
Don’t Underestimate the Sauce
Many people think that the most important consideration when pairing wine with a meal is the meat. There’s an unspoken rule that red meat pairs with red wine, while white wine is better for seafood and chicken.
While this is true, you shouldn’t fall into the trap of always pairing meat with a particular kind of wine. With Italian food, the sauce often adds the most flavor to a dish. It’s more important to consider what type of sauce you plan to use than what meat. In general, a red sauce pairs well with red wine, while white or oil-based sauces pair well with white varietals.
The Best Wine to Pair With Italian Food
Depending on the sauce you’re serving, the wine you choose will vary drastically. That being said, there’s a perfect wine for every food, and I’m sharing what you need to know!
Best Wine for Red Sauce: Zinfandel
When dealing with a rich, red sauce, you can’t go wrong with a good bottle of zinfandel. It’s the best red wine to enjoy with Italian food thanks to its strong, spicy flavor, often with fruity notes of berries. While the taste of zinfandel can overpower lighter dishes, including those with white sauces, it makes a good match for robust meals with a tomato-based sauce.
The best Italian dishes to pair with zinfandel include classics such as tomato-based pasta, red lasagna, chicken parmesan, and even pizza. Thanks to its strong flavor profile, you need to pair zinfandel with something that has enough of a kick to stand out during the meal.
Best Wine for White Sauce: Chardonnay
Just like red sauce goes best with red wine, you should pair white sauces with dry white wine. Chardonnay makes an ideal wine pairing for creamy or oil-based Italian food. While each variety tastes slightly different, most chardonnays have crisp notes of fruits such as apple, lemon, lime and melon that pair well with more mild sauces.
Chardonnay pairs well with Alfredo dishes or carbonara sauce, as it complements the acidity without overwhelming the taste buds. You can also pair a good chardonnay with most pesto dishes. It’s best to drink chardonnay with lean proteins such as fish or chicken, as steak, lamb and other red meats may be too rich.
Best Wine for Pesto Dishes: Vermentino
Pesto is an Italian classic, typically composed of basil, parmesan, olive oil, garlic and pine nuts. While pesto adds a flavorful kick to dishes such as pasta and bruschetta, it’s too mild to pair well with most robust red wines. Instead, a white vermentino is often the best choice to go with pesto dishes.
The herbal, aromatic taste of basil is brought out by the crisp, citrus finish of a fine vermentino. As a light wine, it won’t overpower the flavor profile of a pesto dish. Instead, it complements and enhances each ingredient so that you can taste pesto as the Italians intended.
Best Wine for Seafood Dishes: Pinot Gris
Of all dishes, seafood can be the most challenging to pair. The “fishy” taste of meals such as salmon or shrimp can be off-putting to some, but the right wine helps to tone down unwanted flavors while bringing out a more decadent profile.
Pinot gris tends to have a fresh, fruity taste, with notes of fruits such as apple and pear. It lends itself well to seafood dishes, especially those with a creamy base—many popular Italian seafood dishes such as calamari or baccalà mantecato pair well with both fish and shellfish.
Best Wine for Red Meat: Cabernet Sauvignon
As a bold red wine, cabernet sauvignon goes best with dishes that are similarly complex. If you plan on eating a cut of red meat, you might want to opt for a cabernet, thanks to its acidic profile. It complements savory flavors with notes of berry and mint.
Cabernet sauvignon goes well with most red meat dishes, particularly those with a red sauce such as bolognese or marinara. It’s renowned as a “people pleaser” thanks to its balanced flavor profile, making it an excellent choice for novices.
Best Wine for Antipasto: Chianti
In Italy, meals are traditionally divided into several courses, the first of which is the antipasto. Most often, this portion of the meal includes a variety of small, light dishes to tease the appetite, such as soups and salads, bread, charcuterie and more.
You don’t want to overwhelm your palate early on in your meal, and so it’s best to stick to a lightweight, dry wine for most antipasto dishes. Chianti is a popular choice thanks to its balanced taste, which typically includes hints of dried fruits, balsamic vinegar and country herbs. It goes especially well with cheese, though it’s versatile enough to pair with just about any dish.
Best Wine for Dessert: Riesling
The only thing more delicious than Italian food is the desserts, and many classic dishes are made to pair with fine wine. One of the best wines to complement your dessert is a riesling, thanks to its sweet flavor profile. Riesling tends to have a spicy, honeyed flavor, though some varieties are drier than others.
As a crisp white wine, Riesling pairs well with creamy dishes. Most Italian desserts, such as tiramisu, cannoli, and panna cotta, rely heavily on cream for flavor and texture, lending them to a riesling pairing. It also goes well with fruity desserts such as cassata or gelato.
With the right wine pairing, you can make your favorite Italian meal taste even better. Pairing your food with fine wine can turn any meal into a special occasion, especially when you have someone with which to share it. Take a look at some of the best wines to enjoy on your next date night.