The first step in choosing a wine to pair with food is to decide what you like. Everyone has different tastes, and there is no right or wrong. With that said, there are some wines whose undertones pair better with certain foods than others. Delicate whites get lost when paired with meat like steak and intense reds will overwhelm something simple like grilled shrimp. When serving wine with chicken pasta, the trick to a successful pairing is to forget about the chicken and focus on the sauce.
Lighter cream sauces pair well with a full bodied, fruity white like a Vouvray or Chardonnay. It can also be paired with a light pinot noir, a red wine known for its smooth taste of cherries and berries. The richness of Alfredo is nicely complemented by a light red like a Valpolicella Classico. The pancetta in Carbonara calls for a wine with a fuller body and some smokiness, like an Aglianico, a red wine known for being smooth and rich.
Oil Based Sauces
Oil based sauces, while not always heavy, have a feel that requires a more intense wine than many would expect. Try a classic, fruity red like Chianti; with its medium body and moderate to high acidity, it can stand up to, and cut through, the oil. Pesto needs a dry slightly spicy wine, which makes white Riesling a perfect complement.
Wine Based Sauces
Most wine based sauces in Italian cooking need the complement of a dry, lighter, yet fruity white wine like a sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio.
Tomato has a very strong rich flavor that is mildly acidic, yet sweet. Pair these sauces with a fruity red like chianti to play up the natural sweetness of the tomato. Sauces that contain additional flavors, such as peppers, onion or mushrooms, need something bold and rich; a red like zinfandel fits the bill perfectly, with its deep berry flavors and complex character.
Choosing a wine to pair with chicken pasta dishes should not be a stressful experience. You don’t need to be a wine connoisseur to make a good selection, nor do you have to spend a lot of money. There are many good wines out there for under $15 a bottle. Try a different wine with the same dish each time you serve it to find the blend of tastes you like best. Above all, enjoy yourself and have fun experimenting.
References and ResourcesNatalie MacLean