What food brings to mind the cooking of Italy more than the classic pasta? Its first mention in Italian cooking dates back to12th century Sicily, and it is by far one of the most popular and traditional of dishes. Versatile in so many ways, this humble food can be dressed up with the most creative of sauces or served as a simple and authentic dish with little more than, tomato sauce, or oil or butter with a sprinkling of Parmigiano cheese.
Pairing a dish of pasta with a wine opens a host of possibilities simply because it is such a versatile food. Pasta, with its many shapes and colors, is at it’s base a complex carbohydrate with a taste that tends to be slightly sweet, and if served plain, without any sort of condiment, would require a wine that is young, fresh, effervescent and with a higher level of acidity. Yet, most people rarely eat pasta without any type of topping or sauce. Consider all of the possible condiments one can use with pasta and that is where the choice of the best wine becomes much more complex, because the right wine has to match with all the organoleptic nuances added.
We’ll begin with the most simple of condiments used for pasta – olive oil or butter. Although both are lipids they are actually quite diverse in origin, calories and flavor, and when it comes to pairing with wine it is the differences in flavor and texture which are of greatest interest. Oil and butter are both ingredients which offer a high saturation level for taste buds, however the way they do so is different. Butter, just as its cousins margarine and heavy cream, leaves a slightly pasty sensation while olive oil leaves our mouths with a silky smooth feeling instead.
The first step in choosing the best wine is to consider exactly the different sensations these two condiments leave. The light pasty sensation of the butter calls for a wine that can contrast that feeling, usually a wine that is effervescent due to its ability to remove the fat particles from our taste buds creating a lighter sensation on the tongue. An ideal wine for pasta with butter is a young, fresh, flavorful white. A sparkling white, a spumanti or a prosecco, such as Conegliano Prosecco Superiore, would all work well alongside this humble dish.
When choosing a wine for a pasta with a filling, such as ravioli stuffed with ricotta and drizzled with butter and sage, a good option would be a wine like a Traminer Aromatico or a Vermentino di Sardegna with its slightly bitter fruity note and higher acidity.
Pasta dishes with an extra virgin oil based sauce, for example spaghetti with garlic, extra virgin olive oil and red pepper flakes, are ideally served with wines that are not sparkling and instead pair well with fresh flavorful wines like Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Collio Tocai Friuliano or Montescudaio white.
Of course the versatile Italian pasta has an array of variations when it comes to sauces, shapes and the ingredients used to make it. In the next article, Cucine d’Italia will explore pairing wines with several of these various types of pastas.