Great with pasta” is a common wine-matching suggestion on the back label of bottles these days, but I’m not altogether convinced how helpful it is. There’s a world of difference, after all, between crab linguine and lasagne, say, or carbonara and arrabbiata.
Given that I’ve already bookmarked practically every recipe in Rachel Roddy’s new book, An A-Z of Pasta, I was keen to find out her thoughts on the matter. It turns out she has totally absorbed the attitude of her adopted country, which is that you essentially don’t drink anything from outside your immediate area and that the house wine is just fine. “Pasta is a homely, trattoria-type dish that calls for easy drinking,” Roddy tells me.
In Rome, where she lives, that tends to mean trebbiano and malvasia. Elsewhere in Italy the choices would be entirely different, and possibly not even available in the UK, though there is a fair choice of similarly easy-drinking whites that rarely top 13%.
It’s the saucing of the pasta that is more important when it comes to choosing a wine to go with it. A dish such as the Umbrian umbricelli with courgettes, pancetta and pecorino is light and summery, so needs a fresh-tasting white. Orvieto (see today’s picks below) would be the local choice, or maybe a verdicchio dei castelli di Jesi from the Marche. Hearty rigatoni with oxtail, on the other hand, would be better suited to something along the lines of barbera or nero d’avola.
Local preferences, and availability, tend to trump that, however. Pizzocheri with potatoes, cabbage and cheese strikes me as a natural white wine dish, but up where it comes from in the north of Lombardy, they’d usually drink the local light red valtellina, which is made from a variant of nebbiolo.
Even Italian restaurants in the UK favour simple wines. “Pasta is quite filling, so you don’t want anything too overpowering,” says Dominic Borel, who owns Pasta Loco in Bristol. “We tend to go for wines of between 11.5% and 12.5%, and it needs to flow freely.”
What I personally don’t think works, and is not to Italian tastes, either, are high-alcohol reds and oaky whites. With the possible exception of wines such as brunello (which they tend to drink with red meat rather than pasta), Italians don’t like more flavour in their wine than in their food. Instead, they much prefer to sgargarozzare, which, according to Roddy, means to throw back with abandon and with no intention of stopping. And while I’m not sure either of us should be recommending that, I must say it does sound fun.
Five wines to drink with pasta
Castellore Italian Verdicchio 2020 £5.49 Aldi, 12.5%. Taste this on its own and you might dismiss it, but this classic white from the Marche is perfect with summery pasta dishes. (The citrussy pecorino in the same range is good, too).
Orvieto Classico Superiore Castagnolo 2019 £9.50 The Wine Society, 12%. Neutral, light, slightly nutty white that’s mouthwateringly refreshing
Piccozza Pinot Bianco 2020 £8.99 (on offer, down from £11.99) Waitrose, 13.5%. A little fuller than the other whites here, this seductively rounded, chardonnay-ish white from Alto Adige would be great with any pasta with a creamy sauce.
M&S Found Nerello Cappuccio 2019 £7 (as part of a case), Marks & Spencer, 13.5%. Despite the abv, this is a surprisingly light (for Sicily) red to drink with simple, tomato-based pasta sauces.
The Society’s Chianti Rufina 2018 £9.50 The Wine Society, 12.5%. Chianti is the traditional partner for a ragù and meat-based pasta sauce, but you rarely find it at this price. Light, juicy and easy-drinking.