Friends always ask me what wine to serve with dinner. Red? White? Pink? The world of wine and food pairings can be totally overwhelming, but there are a few standby, tried-and-true combinations you can count on. The go-to rule for most pairings is to look at the source of the dish – there’s a reason certain pairings go back hundreds of years (think of the French classics: oysters and Chablis; Roquefort cheese and Sauternes). So while Italian and French wines are the perfect match for the sauces listed below, I’ve also included some more offbeat picks for you to try. One final note: if you’re adding red wine to a sauce, drink the same wine to make a seamless pairing. And remember, never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink!
For more info on pairing wine with food, check out the excellent book Perfect Pairings: A Master Sommelier’s Practical Advice for Partnering Wine with Food by Evan Goldstein.
Evan walks you through the elements of matching food and wine, and his mother, chef Joyce Goldstein, proves some stellar recipes.
Alfredo and Cheese Sauces: The fat in cheese sauces can go with red or white wine. For reds, try a Dolcetto or a Barbera from Italy. For whites, try a medium-bodied white with some acidity like an Italian Vermentino, or try an Albariño or a Viognier. Sparkling wine and Champagne also pair well with cheese sauces – the bubbles cut through the fat, making a nice contrast.
Marinara: For acidic tomato sauces, choose a wine with moderate acidity and medium body such as an Italian Valpolicella, Chianti or any Sangiovese or Dolcetto, or a Zinfandel.
Pesto: The bite of garlic in a basil pesto sauce calls for a white wine and there are so many options: an Italian Arneis, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio/Gris, Prosecco (or any sparkling wine), or a Gruner Veltliner. A rosé would also be perfect. Or go really wild and try a Greek wine; their native varietal Moschofilero is sublime with herbs and garlic.
Puttanesca: This traditional Italian sauce that combines anchovies, black olives, and capers can be a tough match due to the bold and acidic ingredients, but the Italians (of course) have a wine that pairs perfectly: a Barbera. (Or try a rosé; served chilled, it pairs with almost anything – except desserts.)
Sauces with Fortified Wine (like Port and Sherry): Choose a nice, big red for these rich sauces, such as a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Syrah or Shiraz or a Barolo from Italy.
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