Matches made in heaven: pairing Italian food and wine

Matches made in heaven: pairing Italian food and wine

by Great Italian Chefs 30 November 2015

Want to know which wines to drink with your carbonara or beef ragu? Look to Italy’s own vineyards for the ultimate marriage of flavour.

Great Italian Chefs is a team of passionate food-lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest news, views and reviews from the gastronomic mecca that is Italy.

Great Italian Chefs is a team of food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest news, views and reviews from the gastronomic mecca that is Italy. From Veneto and Lombardy in the north to Calabria and Sicily in the south, we celebrate the very best of this glorious cuisine and try to bring you a little bit of la dolce vita wherever you are.

Pairing wine with pasta

Matching wine with pasta is wholly dependent on the sauce, as that is what really drives the dish’s flavour. Here are wine matches for the three most popular pasta dishes, which can also be used for most other dishes made with either red meat, a white sauce or a tomato-based sauce.

White sauce

Carbonara does not traditionally include bacon or pancetta, though this later addition adds complexity to the dish. The wine will need to match, enhance and cut through the creamy egg and cheese sauce. A good quality Pinot Grigio can be a lovely accompaniment. You want light, crisp citrus fruits with a slightly honeyed character – look for Pinot Grigio from the Alto Adige or from Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s Collio regions in the north east of Italy. Other white wines from central and northern Italy to look out for are Gavi di Gavi from Piedmont or Soave from the Veneto.

Meat sauce

Bolognese or beef ragu are rich, comforting sauces with an outstanding depth of flavour when cooked over a long period of time. Because of the slow cooked meat and depth of flavour a ragu can achieve, this sauce can handle wines with more power and tannin. Brunello di Montalcino, made from Sangiovese, in Tuscany is a serious wine with complex flavours of cherry, earthy spices, leather and mellow oak, all of which can bring any ragu to life. Aglianico from Southern Italy, especially the top forms like Taurasi, can be big and boisterous when young, though with bottle age can mellow into another fantastic option. Outstanding Montepulciano d'Abruzzo from the Rosso Conero appellation is another wine worth finding to accompany this dish.

Red sauce

Arrabiata is a classic tomato-based sauce which can vary in depth and flavour. Lighter versions can match very well with crisp Italian whites such as Verdicchio, Vermentino, Pinot Grigio and Gavi. Once you add basil, garlic and other vegetables, then the light, red wines of Italy also become a wonderful match, including entry-level Chianti from Tuscany, Valpolicella from the Veneto and Dolcetto from Piedmont.

Pairing wine with risotto

Wine matching for risotto is similar to pasta. No one wine fits all; it depends on the recipe and accompaniment to this classic, creamy dish. Light risotto, typically from the north of Italy and made with vegetables or seafood calls out for northern Italian white wines. Pinot Grigio from the Alto Adige, Gavi di Gavi and Arneis from Piemont or Pigato from Liguria are all very good matches. Mushroom or red meat risottos can be rich and savoury. This allows a wine match with medium bodied red wines, such as Pinot Nero from the Alto-Adige, or Dolcetto and Barbera from Piedmont.

Pairing wine with pizza

Italian red wine is made for pizza. It’s a great example of the wine from a region matching the food of the region; red fruits, medium alcohol, moderate in body and a good acidity they are set up to compliment tomato sauce and cut through the melted mozzarella. Try wine made from the grape Sangiovese, which is used in Chianti and elsewhere in Italy. Light Valpolicella from the Veneto region, Barbera from Piedmont and Nero d’Avola from Sicily are other good options. Light, dry Italian whites will work should you decide to top your pizza with ingredients such as ricotta or fish.

Wine matching courtesy of international wine magazine, Decanter. Visit for more wine news, reviews and learning.