Wine and Pasta is a glorious combination...
Pairing Wine with Pasta
Nothing beats a delicious pasta dish with a glass of chilled wine. To enhance the experience, you should enjoy your pasta with a wine that complements the flavour of the sauce.
Between red tomato-based sauce, thick and creamy white sauce, and pesto, the wine you pair with it takes it to the next level.
Not a wine pairing connoisseur? No problem. Here, we break down everything you need to know about pairing wine and pasta.
This guide features six different Italian pasta dishes and wine types. While these suggestions best bring out the flavour in each dish, feel free to experiment and find a pairing you enjoy the most. Let’s get into some wine and pasta pairings, shall we?
Since pasta dishes with tomato sauce are acidic, it’s best to pair them with a medium-bodied red wine. A wine that doesn’t match the acidity of the sauce will make the wine taste bland. An example of the perfect red wine for a tomato-based sauce would be Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Grenache, Merlot, Sangiovese or a Rosso di Montalcino.
Pretty much any wine will pair well with cheese, so the pairings with pasta cheese dishes are endless. But to give you an idea of what would complement the cheese, a nice light-bodied white wine like Chardonnay or a Riesling would bring out the creaminess of the cheese. Also, lighter red wines like Pinot Noir, Sangiovese or Pinot Bianco would pair well with hard-cheeses pasta like Spaghetti Carbonara.
We’re talking Linguine with clams and spaghetti with prawns; medium-bodied white wines go well with these types of dishes. To not overpower the freshness and flavour of the seafood, you’d usually pair your dish with a crisp, dry white wine like Pinot Grigio, Grenache Blanc, a Rosé perhaps, Chardonnay Verdicchio, Muscadet or a Petit Chablis.
Light to medium-bodied white wines pairs well with most pesto dishes. The main element of these dishes is the herbs: parsley, cilantro, mint, basil. Therefore, dry wines like Verdicchio, Soave, or Gavi compliment the earthy and “greenness” of the pesto sauce. For red pesto, opt for a medium-bodied red like a Merlot or Sangiovese.
Who doesn’t love a pasta primavera dish with fresh veggies? To highlight the vegetables’ freshness and enhance their flavour, choose a dry and floral white wine like Soave or Sauvignon Blanc.
The wrong wine paired with spicy food can overpower the dish and throw off the flavour. That’s why pasta with zesty sauces like arrabbiata, Aglio Olio e Pepperoncino, and Puttanesca need to be paired with a crisp and sharp wine. You can either opt for a dry white like Riesling or a light red like a Pinot Noir or Gamay.
Go from a humble Pasta lover to a verified Pasta connoisseur.
Considerations for Pasta & Wine pairings
We all know what spaghetti is, right? But are all spaghetti the same? Well, not exactly. There is one thing we can say about spaghetti: it’s long, thin pasta, in a cylindrical shape.
However, as you might know, Italians are fairly peculiar about their pasta. Spaghetti can vary in thickness, as well as slightly in shape. However if they differ too much from the standard spaghetti shape, they might not even be called spaghetti anymore – although the difference is minor. Still, all these forms of pasta belong broadly to the spaghetti family:
- Spaghetti are the classic noodles we are used to eating. They are made only from semolina flour and water. You’ll often find numbers on spaghetti packs determining thickness: #5 is the standard spaghetti.
- Spaghettini are the more slim version of spaghetti. They are literally the same, only a bit thinner.
- Capellini are also identical to spaghetti, but they are even thinner than spaghettini. Capellini (literally meaning ‘hairs’) are considered the thinnest type of paste.
- Spaghettoni – as you might suspect, these are the fat cousins of spaghetti. Again, same, but a size thicker.
- Linguine might look the same as spaghetti at first sight, but there is a relatively big difference: they are flattened (not round). In effect, they do taste exactly the same as spaghetti.
- Bucatini – while technically not spaghetti, they do look quite like them. However, once you cook them, bucatini are quite thick. What makes them unique is the fact that they have a hile in the middle.
While the Ragu sauce is based on meat, other sauces we mentioned aren’t. Therefore, you might be wondering, can I add protein to my spaghetti dish? Well, of course, that’s completely up to you. Although it’s commonly served as a vegetarian dish, a Marinara sauce can also be served alongside meatballs to create spaghetti and meatballs. On the other hand, a good pesto can pair beautifully with shrimp or chicken, and Alfredo sauce is practically made for that.
Adding extra protein, of course, will add another factor to think about when choosing the wine to pair with your meal.
Grenache adds candied fruit, raspberry, and cinnamon flavours, while Syrah adds blueberry, plum and savoury black olive notes to the mix. Mourvèdre is similar in its flavour profile to Syrah but adds a hearty dose of tannin, and structure to the wine.
We’ve got a few tips to help you create your ideal food and wine pairing:
- Your sauce plays the biggest role. While you may have different proteins in your spaghetti dish, the sauce is the main component. With most spaghetti dishes, the sauce and the protein already complement one another, so the wine you choose based on the sauce will likely also complement the protein.
- Consider the sauce type. In most cases, red wines will go with red sauces. White wines, on the other hand, tend to pair best with olive oil or cream-based sauces.
- Account for acidity. Wines with medium to high levels of acidity often work best with tomato-based sauces. For creamy sauces, look for lighter acidity wines that won’t overpower milder flavours.
- Look at the wine’s body. Light-bodied wines feel light and refreshing with a tomato-based sauce. Fuller-bodied wines hold up to the heaviness of cream-based sauces.
Take it to the Next Level
Spaghetti may not be considered one of the most refined dishes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pair it with a delicious glass of wine. On the contrary, the perfect wine pairing with spaghetti can take your meal to a whole new level, giving you an experience unlike any other.
Agnolotti is a stuffed pasta dish from the Piemonte region in north west Italy. It is stuffed with minced veal and pork, or beef and rabbit, and topped with butter and parmesan cheese. Northern Italy has more butter based dishes than the olive oil based dishes of the south.
Barolo and Barbaresco might be too much for this dish so opt for a softer Barbera. Choose a juicy red with nice acidity or a white wine with structure and body.
Pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese is buckwheat pasta with cabbage, potatoes, and cheese from the Lombardy region by the Alps.
A dry sparkling wine like Franciacorta and Champagne would go well with this, so feel free to take that into consideration.
Spatzle Tirolesi is spinach gnocchi-like pasta with speck (or bacon) in a creamy butter sauce. It is a traditional German dish as well, not unsurprising considering the huge German influence of northern Italy. Residents of Alto-Adige speak German.
When considering the elements of Spatzle Tirolesi, a light red wine with enough acidity to cut through the butter and bacon is the best choice. Schiava is the lighter red wine of Alto-Adige.
Wide noodles with poppy seeds is a very traditional and rustic dish from Friuli.
Pinot Grigio is the king of Friuli wines and the aromatic quality of the grape is a lovely pairing with the sage aromas of the dish. Again, cream sauces need acidity or else they’ll feel flabby on the palate. For red, you’ve got to try a Schioppettino.
What wine goes with pasta from Emilia-Romagna? Tortelli di Zucca is pumpkin stuffed pasta dumpling tossed in sage butter. Emilia-Romagna is home to the famous Balsamic vinegar of Modena so the traditional dish clearly must have a drizzly of it.
The butter in this dish is begging for a crisp wine whether red or white. A wine with a little spice will also complement the nutmeg and sage of the dish.
Lasagne alla Bolognese, or Lasagna for us non-Italians! Bolognese is from Bologna. It is a thick meat ragu of pork and beef layered between sheets of pasta.
Is there anything more comforting and hearty than a big piece of Lasagna? I think not. The wine that goes with this pasta dish needs to be bold enough to not get overpowered. Barbera is a great choice or an equally juicy Zinfandel. For white, the white grape of a barrel aged Viognier will do nicely.
Bigoli in Salsa is one of the most common dishes in a Venetian home. It is a spaghetti, or thicker noodles, with a 3 ingredient sauce; anchovies, onion, and water.
An amazing rosé wine from the Rondinella grape (one of the grapes of Valpolicella) would go great with this dish.
Trenette al Pesto is a dish made of ribbon pasta and the famous basil from Liguria.
Liguria predominantly produces white wine. An herbaceous white wine is the best match with pesto sauce. Check out a Vermentino which is the dominant white grape of Liguria. Otherwise a Gruner Veltliner has a great peppery finish which will pair nicely. For reds, a high acidity red like Sangiovese or Grenache will do.
Papparedelle al Cinghiale is wide ribbon pasta with a wild boar ragu made famously in Tuscany. This is a thick tomato-based sauce that is very flavorful.
A wine with high acidity and weight is necessary to match with the acidity of the tomatoes and the heartiness of the wild boar. Choose a traditional wine from the region, thankfully Tuscany has a million Sangiovese based choices like Brunello di Montelcino. For white, Vernaccia if that seems too light for the dish opt for an orange wine that has some tannic structure.
In Le Marche, they take their pasta serious. So seriously that they protected the name of their 600 year old pasta, Maccheroncini di Campofilone.
Le Marche has 2 main grapes, Verdicchio for white wine production and Sangiovese for red wine. Not a coincidence that both go splendidly with this dish. Cabernet Franc is just the correct amount of acidity and body with this dish. A Semillon is a nice choice if you prefer white wine.
Umbria is famous for their sausages and cured meats especially from the town of Norcina. They also are one of the few areas in Central Italy that has black truffles. This pasta dish is sausages and truffles in a cream sauce.
The local grape Sagrantino was relatively obscure until it was discovered that it is the grape with the highest amount of tannins. Grechetto is an herbaceous grape with a rich texture. It can also stand up to the richness of the dish.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara is essentially spaghetti coated in a cream sauce with bacon, eggs, and cheese.
Cream sauces need some weight and acidity to balance them out. The saltiness of the cheese and bacon also benefit from acidity too. The local grapes in Lazio are Trebbiano and Malvasia, both white. Trebbiano is the better match especially in the Orvieto DOC when it’s blended with Grechetto. This would also be a good match with oaked Chardonnay. For red, a simple light red.
Cacio e Pepe is simply translated to cheese and pepper, yet this combination is timelessly delicious. Tonnarelli is the traditional pasta to use but bucatini and spaghetti will be easier to find.
The black pepper and cheese are great with the local wines of Lazio. You’ll find some Sangiovese based reds in the region. The acidity is a nice complement to the cheese. Malvasia, a white grape, creates a nice contrast with the pepper. Both Syrah and Gruner Veltliner have a nice peppery finish that will complement it.
Bucatini all’Amatriciana is a pasta dish with bacon or pancetta in a spicy tomato sauce. You’ll find variations of the dish throughout central Italy but the home of Bucatini all’Amatriciana is a small town in Abruzzo called Amatrice.
Both the local red grape Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and the white grape Pecorino are perfect with this dish.
Molise is a tiny region in Italy but one famous for their pork and olive oil. This Cavatelli dish is hearty and delicious. It’s a basic tomato-based ragu, meaning meat sauce, but in Molise, they cut the pieces of meat a bit larger instead of minced or ground up.
Like many meat based pasta sauces, this ragu pairs best with a wine with acidity and body. Tintilia del Molise is the regional red wine and Falaghina is the region white wine of Molise. Agiorgitiko is a Greek red wine with great acidity. A white from Bordeaux (Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc) would be lovely too if you insist on white.
Linguine with Seafood is a common dish in the southern Italian region of Campania where seafood is abundant from the Mediterranean. It is mussels, squid, shrimp, and tomatoes in a white wine sauce.
Usually red wine and seafood dishes don’t pair well together. The saving grace here is the tomato sauce that can take on a red wine. The better pairing is white wine especially Fiano or Greco di Tufo. If you must, the regional red of Campania is Aglianico but Piedirosso is starting to make a name for itself. Pinot Noir is light enough in body to not overpower the seafood as well.
Spaghetti alle Vongole is spaghetti with clams. Another delicious seafood pasta dish from Campania. It’s a simple dish that uses fresh clams, parsley, and white wine.
Here I really must insist you have a white or rosé, or rosato in Italian. A red wine would completely overpower the dish and the delicate clam flavours will be lost. Greco di Tufo is another white grape from Campania that pairs great with seafood. A dry rosé of Grenache or even of Aglianico would be as close to red as I would go with this.
Orecchiette alla cime di rapa is ear-shaped pasta with broccoli rabe in an garlic and olive oil sauce. Olive oil is much more dominant in the south versus the cream sauces of the north.
Puglia is known for 2 red grapes, Negroamaro and Primitivo. Neither is a great match with this dish. Primitivo is essentially the same grape as Zinfandel and Negroamaro is quite big and bold, too. However, Puglia makes amazing roses and this is what I would chose over a red. The whites Fiano and Verdeca are less common in Puglia but delicious, or maybe a Sauvignon Blanc.
Ciceri e tria translates to Tagliatelle and chickpeas in the Puglese dialect. It also has tomato, celery, and carrot. The pasta is quickly fried as well which gives it a nice texture.
This pasta dish has a bit more weight to it and can handle the reds of Puglia. Primitivo would be my choice. Switch up the white wine and try a Fiano. Since this dish doesn’t have a lot of acidity, it’s a great opportunity to pair it with a Spanish white from the Viura grape.
Strascinati con Mollica is a pasta dish with spicy peppers, plum tomatoes, a ton of garlic, and mollica or breadcrumbs.
Aglianico is the king of wine in Basilicata. There’s a bit of white wine, too, namely Greco, Malvasia, and Fiano. Carmenere has a lot of pepper flavors which can be a good substitute if you can’t find Aglianico.
Spaghetti e Alici is spaghetti tossed with anchovies and tomatoes in olive oil. It’s seasoned with crushed pepper and basil as well. A classic and delicious Calabrian pasta dish.
The whites are what we want here with this dish. Again, rosato is preferred over red if you don’t want white. Greco di Bianco would be a great choice or why not try an Assyrtiko and Liatiko from Greece.
Pasta alla Norma is simple ingredients that yield amazing results. Eggplant, basil, and tomato sauce is all that’s needed to make this Sicilian pasta dish.
Sicily has so many unique grape varieties. The most famous are Nero d’Avola and Nerollo Mascalese for red wine and Grillo and Carricante for white wine. Carricante is usually used in the field blend better known at Etna Bianco. A young Malbec goes beautifully with tomato sauce, as well.
Harmonious, but they are. This is a very different type of pasta dish that is worth trying, even for you anchovy and sardine haters.
You’ll have to go with Rosato or white. Malvasia is superb with these flavors especially highlighting the raisin notes. A Nerollo Mascalese would also be excellent with this dish. You may also find it as Etna Rosato.
Squid with the ink sac still attached is really flavorful and earthy.
Pairing wine with squid ink may seem challenging but it’s not. A great wine with this dish would be Pinot Nero, or as you likely know it better as Pinot Noir. It really brings out the earthy flavors of the dish. For white, the Sicilian grape Grillo is absolutely perfect with this dish or even a Chardonnay from Chablis would be delicious.
Culurgiones are essentially ravioli just made in a unique shape in Sardinia. They are stuffed with cheese or potato, garlic or onion, mint or basil, depending on where you are from on the island. Served with a simply marinara sauce and grated cheese.
Cannonau and Carinena are the Italian names for Grenache and Carignan. For this dish, grab a bottle of Cannonau for red or Vernaccia for white.
Fregola ai Fruitti di Mare is a seafood pasta dish from Sardinia. The fregola pasta are tiny almost like large cous cous. The fregola are toasted releasing a nutty aroma. Squid, clams, mussels, and prawns are used.
Vermentino white wines from Sardinia. There are quite a few appellations for it. Sancerre will complement the shell fish as well and may be easier to find. Carinena, or Carignan, is not a full bodied red so it won’t overpower the dish. There’s a ton of acidity in Carinena so it’s best in rosso versions when tomatoes are used.