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We all love a good Italian meal, from creamy risotto and smoky wood-fired pizza to delicious pasta dishes drenched in rich sauces. But the question on everyone’s lips is always: What is the best wine to pair with Italian foods?
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the world of Italian wines, learn about traditional Italian dishes, and give you expert tips on pairing them for a successful dining experience.
We’ll also answer some frequently asked questions about wine and Italian cuisine.
Italian Wines for Beginners
Italy is known for its diverse range of wines, but for those just starting their wine journey, it can be quite intimidating.
Before you can confidently pair wines with Italian foods, you need to familiarize yourself with some basic Italian wine types. If you’re new to wine altogether, check out this Wine Basics For Beginners guide.
Here’s a quick rundown of some popular Italian wines:
- Barolo and Barbaresco: These are two of Italy’s most famous red wines, made from the Nebbiolo grape. They pair well with red meat, game, and rich pasta dishes.
- Chianti: This classic Italian red wine is made primarily from Sangiovese grapes and pairs perfectly with tomato-based pasta dishes, pizza, and grilled meats.
- Pinot Grigio: A popular white wine, Pinot Grigio is crisp and refreshing, making it an excellent choice for seafood, chicken, and light pasta dishes.
- Prosecco: This sparkling wine is Italy’s answer to Champagne and is perfect for aperitifs or to accompany light appetizers.
Pairing Wine with Italian Food Dishes
Pizza is an iconic Italian dish that has conquered the hearts of food lovers all over the world. With a myriad of toppings and sauces to choose from, pairing wine with pizza can be quite an adventure. Here are some more specific pizza and wine pairings to consider:
- Pepperoni pizza: This classic pizza topping calls for a wine that can handle the spicy, salty flavors. A medium-bodied red like Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or a Nero d’Avola will complement the pepperoni beautifully.
- Vegetarian pizza: With an assortment of veggies on your pizza, a light and fruity wine like a Valpolicella or a Grenache would be a delightful choice.
- White pizza: For a pizza without tomato sauce, like a Bianca or a Quattro Formaggi, a crisp white wine like Verdicchio or a dry sparkling wine like Prosecco would make a refreshing and harmonious pairing.
Pasta is a staple of Italian cuisine, and the possibilities for pairing wines with pasta dishes are endless. Here are a few examples:
- Tomato-based pasta dishes: Pair with a Chianti, Sangiovese, or Primitivo for a delightful combination.
- Creamy pasta dishes: Opt for a Pinot Grigio or Verdicchio to cut through the richness.
- Pesto pasta: A crisp Vermentino or Soave will complement the fresh flavors of basil and garlic.
Risotto, a creamy Italian rice dish, can be prepared in various ways, with diverse ingredients that call for different wine pairings. Here are some examples of risotto dishes and their ideal wine partners:
- Mushroom risotto: This earthy and savory dish pairs well with a medium-bodied red wine like a Chianti Classico or a Nebbiolo. These wines can hold their own against the rich flavors of the mushrooms and provide a pleasant contrast to the creaminess of the risotto.
- Seafood risotto: For a seafood-based risotto, a crisp white wine is your best bet. Look for wines with good acidity and minerality, such as a Vermentino or a Gavi di Gavi, to enhance the delicate flavors of the seafood.
- Saffron risotto (Risotto alla Milanese): This classic Milanese dish, characterized by its golden hue and subtle saffron flavor, pairs well with a medium-bodied white wine like an Arneis or a Soave.
Italy is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, which provides an abundance of fresh seafood for Italian cuisine. Seafood dishes can range from delicate and light to rich and flavorful, so choosing the right wine is essential. Here are some more examples of Italian seafood dishes and their wine pairings:
- Shrimp scampi: This garlicky, buttery shrimp dish calls for a crisp, citrusy white wine to cut through the richness. A Verdicchio, Fiano, or a Falanghina would be a great choice.
- Clams or mussels in white wine sauce: The briny flavors of shellfish cooked in white wine sauce are best enhanced by a refreshing, high-acid white wine like a Vermentino or an Albariño.
- Grilled or roasted fish: Pairing wine with grilled or roasted fish depends on the type of fish and its preparation. For lighter, flakier fish like branzino or sea bass, a light and zesty white wine like Pinot Grigio or Soave would work well. For richer, oilier fish like salmon or swordfish, a medium-bodied white like a Vermentino or even a light red like a Valpolicella could be a good match.
Tips for a Successful Pairing
To make sure your wine pairing experience is a success, keep these tips in mind:
- Match the intensity: Ensure that the wine and the dish have similar flavor intensity, so one doesn’t overpower the other.
- Balance flavors: Look for wines that can either complement or contrast the flavors of the dish. For example, a crisp, acidic wine can help cut through the richness of a creamy pasta.
- Consider the sauce: When pairing wine with Italian food, always take the sauce into account. The sauce can often be the most dominant flavor in a dish and should be matched accordingly.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment: While there are classic pairings that always work well, don’t be afraid to try something new. You may find a unique combination that you absolutely love.
Pairing Wine with Traditional Italian Foods
Italy has a rich culinary heritage, and many traditional dishes have been passed down through generations. Let’s take a look at some of these classic Italian dishes and the best wines to pair with them:
This slow-cooked veal shank dish is rich, savory, and bursting with flavor. Pair it with a bold red wine like Barolo or Barbaresco to stand up to the robust flavors.
This hearty vegetarian dish features layers of eggplant, tomato sauce, and cheese. A Chianti or a medium-bodied Barbera will complement the flavors perfectly.
This classic Italian dessert calls for a sweet wine to match its rich, creamy texture. A Moscato d’Asti or Vin Santo will make the perfect pairing.
Polenta, a dish made from cornmeal, is a staple in Northern Italy. It can be served as a creamy porridge or cooled and cut into slices to be grilled or fried. Depending on the preparation and accompanying ingredients, polenta can pair well with various wines:
- Creamy polenta with mushrooms: A medium-bodied red wine like a Chianti Classico or a Langhe Nebbiolo will complement the earthy flavors of the mushrooms and the creamy texture of the polenta.
- Grilled polenta with tomato sauce: A fruity and acidic red wine like Barbera or Sangiovese will work well with the rich tomato sauce and the charred flavors of the grilled polenta.
Caponata is a Sicilian dish made from eggplant, tomatoes, olives, capers, and a sweet and sour sauce. The bold and tangy flavors of caponata call for a wine with good acidity and moderate tannins. A Sicilian red wine like Nero d’Avola or a medium-bodied Barbera would be a great match.
Saltimbocca, which translates to “jumps in the mouth,” is a Roman dish made from veal, prosciutto, and sage, cooked in a white wine and butter sauce. The savory flavors of this dish pair well with a crisp white wine like a Verdicchio or a Fiano. Alternatively, a light red like a young Sangiovese or a Valpolicella could also work well.
Minestrone is a hearty Italian vegetable soup that often includes pasta or rice. The dish’s abundance of flavors and textures requires a versatile wine that can handle a range of tastes. A light and fruity red wine like a Dolcetto or a Valpolicella would complement the vegetables and the broth, while a crisp white wine like a Vermentino or a Soave could provide a refreshing contrast.
Cannoli, a classic Sicilian dessert, features crispy pastry tubes filled with sweet ricotta cream. To pair wine with cannoli, look for a dessert wine with enough sweetness to balance the rich flavors of the dessert. A Moscato d’Asti, with its light fizz and fruity flavors, or a Passito di Pantelleria, a sweet Sicilian dessert wine, would make excellent choices.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Now that we’ve covered the basics of pairing wine with Italian foods, let’s answer some common questions people have about this topic:
A medium-bodied red wine like Chianti or Barbera is a versatile choice that will pair well with a wide range of Italian dishes, from tomato-based pasta to grilled meats.
While white wine is generally considered the go-to choice for seafood dishes, there are some exceptions. A light, fruity red wine like a Valpolicella or a young Sangiovese can pair well with certain seafood dishes, especially those with tomato-based sauces.
Antipasti are typically served with an aperitif wine, such as a sparkling Prosecco or a crisp, light white wine like Vermentino or Soave.
While Italian wines are a natural choice for pairing with Italian cuisine, there are plenty of non-Italian wines that can also work well. For example, a French Sauvignon Blanc can be a great match for seafood dishes, while a Spanish Tempranillo might pair nicely with a hearty pasta dish.
Spicy dishes can be tricky to pair with wine, as the heat can clash with the tannins in red wines or overwhelm delicate white wines. Look for a wine with low tannins and good acidity, such as a Vermentino, a Gewürztraminer, or a slightly off-dry Riesling.