Everybody enjoys a bowl of pasta every now and again. It’s comforting, warming, filling and tasty and you don’t need Italian ancestry to appreciate it. Dishes such as spaghetti bolognese and lasagne have become British staples, appearing regularly on pub food menus as well as in the kitchen at home.
However, pasta dishes can be tricky to match with red wine. The pasta itself is relatively neutral and acts as the base for the dish. The sauce is what really matters when it comes to matching with wine. Rich, meaty sauces can be partnered with many red wine styles but the more delicate sauces and, perhaps surprisingly, cheese-based sauces can be overpowered by red wine or can clash unpleasantly with the tannins in the wine.
A hearty steaming bowl of spaghetti bolognese is a great British favourite but the authentic Italian meat sauce, known as ragu, is quite different. The British version tends to be flavoured with more herbs and there is more tomato in the sauce, resulting in a sweeter flavour than traditional ragu. As it is more flavoursome, the British version can handle heartier red wine styles than the Italian ragu. Australian Shiraz makes a spectacular partner for spaghetti bolognese, complementing the rich flavours in the sauce. Other Syrahs make excellent partners too. Try a Californian Syrah or a Crozes-Hermitage if you want to turn mid-week spaghetti bolognese into something special. South African Shiraz or Syrah from the south of France are also very acceptable partners.
If you are not a Shiraz/Syrah fan or don’t have any available you could try a lighter Zinfandel. Alternatively a Merlot from Chile, California, South Africa or Romania works well with spaghetti bolognese or you could try an Italian Barbera or Ciro.
If you are cooking or eating a traditional Italian ragu sauce the much milder flavour influences the choice of red wine. No red wine is a perfect match but the best partners include Australian Shiraz and Crozes-Hermitage again but also Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, light red Bordeaux or a gentle fruity red from the south of France.
Beef lasagne is another pasta favourite and there are plenty of red wine options with this dish. The best matches are fruity reds which complement the white sauce and the Parmesan topping as well as the minced beef, red wine and vegetables in the sauce. The red which comes closest to a perfect match is an Italian Barbera d’Alba. Crozes-Hermitage is once again a good match, as are light and fruity Vin de Pays Merlots from southern France. Other acceptable red wine partners include gentle red Bordeaux, Australian Shiraz, red Cotes du Rhone and Valdepenas Reserva.
The herby and tomato flavours of a vegetable lasagne call for different red wine matches. Chianti, Spanish Valdepenas and Cabernet Sauvignon from New Zealand and Chile all make enjoyable partners or you could try a soft, young red Bordeaux.
Cannelloni pasta tubes can have many fillings but minced beef with a tomato, onions and cheddar sauce is one of the most popular. There is a wealth of red wine options with which to accompany beef cannelloni including many light to medium-bodied reds. Light Italian reds such as Sangiovese or Classico Valpolicella make excellent matches as does very light Pinot Noir. Californian Syrah and Merlots from Romania and Chile also make very good accompaniments. Other pleasant matches include light Zinfandels, oak-aged Spanish Tempranillos and reds from Languedoc-Roussillon. Other possibilities if you are searching through your wine rack include Crozes-Hermitage or Cabernet Sauvignon from New Zealand or Australia’s Coonawarra region.
If you like your pasta dressed simply with just a pesto sauce you may prefer to avoid red wine as there is no really good match. However, if you are keen to drink a red you could try an Italian Barbera or perhaps a soft, young Rioja or a red from the centre of Spain, Cencibel.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara is another pasta dish which does not lend itself to a red wine partner as the sauce tends to bring out the tannins in the wine. However, if you insist on a red you could try an Italian Valpolicella.
Finally, there are the filled pastas such as ravioli, tortellini and cappelletti. As these pasta parcels can be stuffed with a wide variety of fillings it is impossible to suggest a generic red wine partner. The best advice is to follow the suggestions above for the various sauces in the pasta dishes. Standard fillings such as spinach and ricotta, pork and beef, cheese and tomato or cheese and ham will tend to clash with red wine and so are best avoided unless you are happy to drink white wine. One filling which can work with a red is wild mushroom, garlic, Parmesan and Ricotta – try a gentle Sangiovese delle Marche.
Image by Guy Renard 25.