How to Pick the Right Wine for Italian Foods

Italian food is justifiably among the most popular in the world. Its riot of colours and flavours, while retaining a suitably homely feel, makes it a comfort food par excellence. It also has the singular advantage of being exceptionally wine-friendly, and most dishes work pretty well even if the wine match isn’t perfect.


It’s all about the sauce. For seafood-based pasta (vongole, for example), you can go with just about any white that doesn’t have lots of oak in it. Pinot Grigio will be fine, and so will Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis or a lightish unoaked Chardonnay.

For aromatic, fragrant pasta sauces like pesto, you need a wine that isn’t going to override the flavours. So gently flavoured Italian whites like Gavi or Soave can work, as can a Catarrato from Sicily. Outside Italy, Albarino, New World Riesling, a Californian Fume Blanc or mid-weight Chardonnays are fine.

For carbonara-type creamy sauces, you need a bit of structure to cut through the cream, but not too much fruit flavour, which may well clash. I’d recommend either the same sort of whites that match the pesto, or lighter reds like a Montepulciano, a cheap Bordeaux or a Cabernet Franc from the Loire.

For meatier sauces like Bolognese, try the more heavyweight Italian portfolio of reds. Chianti is a good match, but I’d tend not to go for the cheapest. Good Chianti is great, but bad Chianti is a miserable experience, and spending a bit extra can make a big difference. Primitivo, from the south, is a good (and cheaper) alternative. Otherwise, any good, gutsy wine will do: Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz/Grenache blends (for example, from the southern Rhone Valley), Zinfandel or Chilean Malbec. There’s plenty of scope to choose your favourite — so go to it!


With its massive mix of flavours, pizza is not an easy dish with which to get an absolutely perfect wine match. But then it’s not that kind of food, so don’t get hung up on it.

As a general rule, I’d tend to favour wines with gentle rather than in-your-face flavours and of no more than medium weight. Even pizzas with lots of toppings tend not to be heavy, and a big, gutsy red wine will just stamp all over them.

For whites, a fresh, gentle Italian like Soave or an unoaked (and not over-fruited) Chardonnay work with most; for reds, Barbera and Montepulciano (from Italy), a southern French Roussillon or Fitou, or young Rioja are safe bets.

Other classics

Meaty lasagne and ravioli follow the same rules as Bolognese. For vegetarian versions, take the middle-of-the-road carbonara route. For veal, Soave is the lighter match. If it’s served with a heavier sauce, try a Pinot Noir.

Filed Under: Food & Cooking


About the Author: Leona Kesler is a head-chef at a very popular food restaurant in New York. Also she is a blogger who shares her experiences, tips, and other informative details about food and cooking. Her recipes are featured on many magazines.

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