Wine and pasta are a match made in heaven, but which wine compliments which pasta sauce?
Pairing your pasta with wine can really tie the dish together, enhancing all the flavors of the dish without overpowering it.
Pasta comes in a range of different dishes, from heavy cream-based sauces to tangy tomato ones, and specific flavors and textures are best-suited to specific wines.
For example, a creamy Carbonara pairs well with a refreshing Chardonnay, while acidic wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir will match the acidity of tomato-based dishes.
In this article, we’ll be talking you through 7 different wines that work well with pasta dishes.
Best with: tomato-based dishes
The most sought-after wine in the world, Cabernet Sauvignon is known for its acidic savory flavor, and this medium-bodied wine works well with equally acidic pasta dishes, such as those with thick tomato bases.
A less acidic wine will taste bland in contrast to the acidic pasta dish, whereas if you’re adding meat to the sauce, you can go for a full-bodied wine to match the richness of the dish.
Cabernet Sauvignon is known for its high tannin and medium to full body flavor which has notes of black fruits like black cherry, as well as vegetal notes of green pepper, and spice notes of vanilla from oak aging.
The complexity of this wine is due to a myriad of overtones, with flavors such as mint, vanilla, tobacco, and even coffee, spice, cedar, and cassis detectable.
For the best-tasting Cabernet Sauvignon, look for those from Bordeaux, France, and Napa Valley, California.
Best with: tomato dishes, Lasagna, Bolognese
Merlot is a mild red wine that is similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, though it tends to be fruitier and softer with a smooth taste to it.
It’s actually the sibling of Cabernet Sauvignon though, as Merlot is the child of Cabernet Franc and the rare, Magdeleine Noire des Charentes.
It’s the most planted wine grape in Bordeaux, France, and grows in the same climates as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.
This medium, full-body wine has notes of dark fruits mixed with subtle chocolate, bay leaf, and vanilla flavors.
However, while it has a lower tannin content, it doesn’t lack complexity thanks to notes of fruity plum and spicy black cherry. It goes well with tomato-based pasta, and a full-bodied Merlot complements the rich, meaty favors of dishes such as lasagna and bolognese.
Dishes with added pancetta, bacon, or mushroom will be further complemented with a light-bodied Merlot.
Merlot also goes well with red pesto, as it works well with the tangy yet sweet sundried tomato flavors. However, it’s best to avoid pairing Merlot with cream-based dishes.
Best with: light tomato sauces; meats; basil; mushroom pasta
Pinot Noir is a pretty versatile wine for food-pairing thanks to its high acidity and low tannin. It pairs particularly well with meats such as duck, chicken, and pork.
However, because it has a lighter taste, it works well with light pasta sauces such as the tomato-based Marinara, which also benefits from the Pinot Noir’s high acidity, as well as mushroom pasta.
However, as we said, this wine is very diverse, and you’ll find that fruity versions of the wine work well with cream-based sauces and basil flavors such as basil pesto.
Pinot Noir often has flavors of strawberry and black cherry but more expensive - and often French - variations of the wine will include more earthy and floral notes.
While Pinot Noir is made in a scattering of places in France, the region of Burgundy is famous for its Pinot Noir production, and it’s thought that the old wine region was first tended to by Cistercian monks in the Middle Ages.
Many fine winemakers choose to ferment whole grape clusters to increase tannin content in their Pinot Noir wines, which often results in a bitter flavor early on, but a wine that gets better with age.
Best with: cream or cheese-based pasta and vegetarian pasta
Chardonnay is both the world’s and U.S’s favorite white wine variety. This wine is loved for its light flavors of yellow apple, pineapple, starfruit, vanilla, and butter.
Chardonnay is the major grape used in Champagne, as well as other sparkling wines, such as Crémant, Franciacorta, and Trento.
It’s best paired with cream-based pasta sauces and is the wine of choice for these types of dishes due to Chardonnay’s light crispness.
Italian favorites such as Spaghetti Carbonara pair perfectly with lightly oaked or oaked Chardonnay and this wine also compliments mushroom-based pasta and vegetable lasagnas.
To highlight the vegetables in a vegetarian pasta dish, opt for a young Chardonnay wine, as this will perfectly accentuate the flavors.
Light Chardonnay also balances out heavy, cheese-based sauces as well as green pesto sauces.
Best with: tomato dishes, meatballs, bolognese, lasagne, basil pesto
Italy is the biggest producer of Sangiovese, a versatile wine that can range in taste from being very earthy and rustic (as with Chianti Classico) – to more rounded and fruity, as tasted in wines such as Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona.
It’s also a good middle ground as it’s neither as strong as Cabernet Sauvignon nor as mild as Merlot, which is another reason why it pairs well with several types of pasta dishes.
The fruity flavors and high tannin content complements tomato-based sauces well, while the notes of cherry, red plum, strawberry, fig, and the soft floral notes nicely complement dishes such as Lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, and Bolognese.
However, Sangiovese also goes well with basil pesto, as its red berry flavors go nicely with basil and garlic.
Best with: Cream-based and mushroom pasta; spicy pasta dishes
Riesling is a zesty white wine that has notes of lime, green apple, peach, beeswax, and subtle floral notes, too. It’s a wine that’s loved for its versatility.
The light body and high acidity of Riesling mean it works well with cream-based sauces as well as mushroom-based dishes.
However, we said it was versatile, and this is proven by its subtle sweet and spicy flavors which make it ideal for pairing with spicier pasta dishes, too.
Riesling can range from being bone-dry to very sweet, which is why it’s able to be paired with a wide range of dishes, depending on the kind of Riesling.
The most significant producer of Riesling in the world is Germany.
Best with: tomato sauces for Zinfandel; spicy dishes work well with light Zinfandel; white Zinfandel works best with cream-based sauces or meat pasta dishes
Zinfandel is a red wine with a bold flavor packed full of jammy fruit and smoky, exotic spice notes. There’s also a rosé variation called White Zinfandel which has a sweeter flavor.
Zinfandel three varieties: light, medium, and full-bodied, and is known for its rich, dark color and high tannin and alcohol content. It’s available in light, medium, and full-bodied varieties, which all vary in their level of spice and tannin content.
Once again, the high tannin content of this wine makes it ideal for pairing with tomato-based pasta dishes, which are complemented by the Zinfandel’s spicy, peppery flavor.
The subtle notes of berries and cherries also work well with the acidity of the tomato sauce.
Light Zinfandel balances out spicy, punchy sauces like Arrabbiata, Aglio olio e peperoncino, and puttanesca.
Alternatively, cream-based pasta dishes can be paired with white Zinfandel, which also balances out meatballs, sausage-based sauces, and bolognese.
Tomato-based pasta: Zinfandel, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon
Cheese-based or cream-based pasta: Sicilian Chardonnay, white Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Riesling
Pesto/ herb pasta: Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc
Meaty pasta: Zinfandel, Merlot, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon
Spicy pasta: Light Zinfandel, Riesling
Vegetarian pasta: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc
While the wine and pasta pairings featured in this article are based on those recommended by established wine-tasting experts and foodies, they’re not the only combinations, and there are countless other wines out there that will nicely complement various pasta dishes, which we’ve left out of this article.
While wine pairing is something of a skill, as it requires a knowledge of different flavors in order to know which notes complement which dishes, it’s a matter of personal taste, too.
So while we recommend all of the combinations above, it can also be fun to experiment further and find which flavors you like or dislike.
When it comes to wine, we can sometimes stick to what we know. So if you tend to stick to US wines, try switching up the region, as one type of wine can taste different depending on where it’s made.
You can also try different bodied wines, which also complement different dishes.
Wine pairing is also about having fun, so enjoy experiencing new flavors and wines and finding out which ones you like, and dislike.