It’s tempting to insist that the wine you drink with pasta should be Italian. In fact, if you were being a purist, you could even argue that it should come from the exact same region as the pasta dish in question. But honestly, life’s too short (and stressed at the moment) to be that rigid.
I speak from experience, because I’ve been eating a lot of pasta during lockdown. Sure, sometimes it’s been an Italian wine that proved to be the winner (frappato is terrific with piquant, peppery cacio e pepe, for example, even though the wine hails from Sicily and the dish from Rome), but I discovered recently that English chardonnay (Tillingham’s, to be precise) hits the spot perfectly with a creamy carbonara. Choosing a wine for pasta is, of course, all about the sauce, rather than the pasta shape.
There are also wines that go less well with pasta, though there are always exceptions: full-bodied, barrel-fermented whites, say (although they are good with pumpkin-stuffed ravioli), and very alcoholic reds (though, come the autumn, I wouldn’t say no to an amarone with beef shin ragù). But, in general, Italians tend not to go for wines that are ultra-ripe or high in alcohol, and especially not with pasta, which is often a small, intermediate course, rather than the meal’s main event. Sweet-fruited new world pinot, for instance, which I love, jars for me with Italian food, but if it rocks your boat, just go for it.
Basically, the way wine pairing works – be that with pasta or anything else – is very similar to cooking. You read through a recipe, imagine what it’s going to taste like and what, if any, other ingredients it needs. With a lighter sauce that contains fresh tomatoes, for instance, I’ll probably go for a dry white or rosé, whereas with cooked-down, jammy tomatoes, I’m more likely to reach for a red. But what about sauces that feature both, such as Rachel Roddy’s doppio salsa? Aaah, tricky. Rachel says she’d drink a cerasuolo rosé with that – it’s not that easy to find in the UK, but a strong, dark, dry rosé from Spain or southern Italy would also do the job.
With non-traditional pasta sauce ingredients, such as tahini or coriander, meanwhile, you can afford to be bolder, hence my suggestion of an exotic Lebanese red for Yotam Ottolenghi’s burnt aubergine dish (red wine normally works better than white with aubergines anyway). And with his confit salmon pappardelle that includes lime, cardamom and coriander? No reason not to drink a riesling here.
Four wines (not all Italian) to drink with pasta
Animus Red 2017 £4.99 Aldi, 13%. Cheap, cheerful Portuguese red to knock back with classic, tomato-based sauces. (Portuguese reds are often a good stand-in for Italian ones, by the way.)
Domaine de Tourelles Vieilles Vignes Carignan 2018 £17.99 Flagship Wines, £18 Borough Wines or £14.79 if you buy by the six-bottle case from allaboutwine.co.uk, 14%. Exotic, dark, ripe Lebanese red that would be as great with Ottolenghi’s burnt aubergine as with meaty lasagne.
Terra Madre Catarratto 2019 £6.50 Co-op, 12%. This unfiltered, organic Sicilian white borders on a natural wine, but it’s not at all challenging. Ideal for fishy sauces.
Fulget Albariño 2019 Maior de Mendoza£13 Sommelier’s Choice, 12.5%. Versatile albariño may come from Spain but, being a natural go-to with seafood, it’s perfect for crab linguine. (This one’s from an outfit that normally supplies restaurants, so it’s a decent price for the quality.)