In Italy wine without pasta is practically a sin, so we dove into answering the age old question: what kind of wine goes with pasta and red sauce?
The main ingredient in any red pasta sauces like a classic marinara sauce, a bolognese sauce pasta, or other red meat sauces is tomato.
At its core, a red pasta sauce, also known as marinara sauce or tomato sauce, is a popular and versatile sauce used in Italian cuisine.
It serves as the base for many pasta dishes and is made primarily from tomatoes, along with other ingredients like onions, garlic, olive oil, and herbs to enhance its flavor.
Tomatoes are red fruit and are considered to have a good amount of acidity, so understanding this and having a wine that can compliment that acidity is important.
Beyond that tomato-based pasta sauces can have all different flavor profiles just like wine.
Follow our guide below, it’s packed with wines from Italy, but we’ve also snuck in some of our favorites that are made around the world.
From fruity flavors in your wine to higher acidity levels in your sauce, we’re here to help you find your perfect wine pairing.
Red Wine with Pasta and Red Sauce:
When it comes to pairing red pasta sauce with red wine, it’s important to consider the flavors and intensity of the sauce, as well as personal preferences.
Look for red wines with higher acidity to complement the acidity in the tomato sauce.
Otherwise, the flavors will be muted.
Also, avoid sweet wines when looking for a perfect pasta and red sauce pairing.
Here are some of our tips for red wine pairings with red pasta sauce:
- Barbera: Barbera, an Italian red wine known for its high acidity, pairs nicely with red pasta sauce. They typically have bright and fruity characters, with flavors of red berries and plum. This is an example where the acidity in the wine balances the acidity of the tomatoes.
- Malbec: Malbec is a grape that started in France, but thrives in Argentina and our home state of Texas. Malbec wines are medium in acidity, and have fruit notes like black cherry and plum. To get out of the traditional Italian wines with pasta we specifically opted for Pulenta Estate La Flor’s Malbec. Remember just because you’re eating Italian food it’s all about choosing the right wine, and it doesn’t have to be an Italian wine.
- Merlot: A medium-bodied red wine like Merlot can be a versatile pairing with red pasta sauce. Its soft tannins, moderate acidity, and flavors of ripe fruit and herbs can complement the sauce without overpowering it.
- Zinfandel: Zinfandel, particularly the ones with moderate to high acidity, can be a delightful match for red pasta sauce. Look for versions with red fruit flavors and spicy notes to enhance the overall dining experience.
- Primitivo: Primitivo, a close relative of Zinfandel, offers a similar flavor profile. It typically has ripe fruit flavors, moderate acidity, and a hint of spice, making it a good choice for pairing with red pasta sauce.
- Montepulciano d’Abruzzo: This Italian red wine from the Abruzzo region has a medium body, vibrant acidity, and flavors of dark berries. We personally love a good Montepulciano, and it’s really fun to say out loud.
- Chianti: A red wine from Tuscany, Italy, is a classic pairing with tomato-based sauces. Its medium-bodied profile, bright acidity, and notes of black cherry and herbs complement the flavors of the sauce.
White Wine with Pasta and Red Sauce?
While red pasta sauce is typically paired with red wines, if you prefer white wine or want to explore alternative options, there are a few white wines that are a great choice to complement a red pasta sauce.
Similar to our guidelines with red wine, avoid sweet white wines. A dry white wine with some good acidity is a smart choice.
Here are some white wine suggestions for pairing with red pasta sauce:
Pinot Grigio: Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris, are known for their crisp and refreshing character. This can provide a pleasant contrast to the rich flavors of red pasta sauce. Look for a light-bodied and unoaked version with acidic citrus notes to complement the sauce. We paired a simple basil marinara with the Terracotta Pinot Grigio from Spec’s, and it was delicious.
- Vermentino: Vermentino is a white wine with bright acidity and flavors of citrus, green apple, and herbs. Its vibrant character can cut through the richness of the sauce and provide a refreshing pairing.
- Greco di Tufo: Greco di Tufo, another Italian white wine, has a slightly fuller body, good acidity, and flavors of tropical fruits, pear, and mineral undertones. Its complexity can complement the flavors of the sauce.
- White blends: Look for white blends that incorporate grapes like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, or Viognier. These blends can offer a range of flavors and textures that can enhance the pairing with red pasta sauce.
- Rosé: Rosé wines can bridge the gap between red and white wines, making them a versatile choice for pairing with red pasta sauce. Opt for a dry rosé with good acidity to balance the acidity of the tomato sauce.
When pairing white wine (and rosé) with red pasta sauce, it’s essential to consider the overall intensity and flavors of the sauce.
Opt for white wines with good acidity and structure that can balance the acidity and richness of the sauce.
It’s always a good idea to experiment and find the combination that suits your taste preferences.
Sparkling Wine with Pasta and Red Sauce?
Pairing sparkling wine with red pasta sauce can add a delightful and refreshing contrast to the richness of the sauce.
Also, we live by the rules that you don’t need a celebration to pop some bubbles.
Here are some sparkling wine options that can complement a red pasta sauce:
- Prosecco: Prosecco, the most well known Italian sparkling wine, is known for its light and fruity character. Its crispness and effervescence can provide a refreshing counterpoint to the flavors of the sauce. Look for a dry or extra-dry Prosecco for a balanced pairing. Proseccos are also typically pretty affordable.
- Champagne: Like prosecco, is a good compliment if you prefer to go the French route. We love a good, but affordable, Champagne like Nicolas Feuillatte’s Brut. It’s made in the traditional Champagne method, and not overly sweet.
- Lambrusco: Lambrusco is a sparkling red wine from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Its slightly sweet and fruity profile can work well with the acidity and richness of the red pasta sauce. Opt for a dry selection with less sweetness than normal if they have one.
- Sparkling Rosé: A dry or semi-dry sparkling rosé can be a versatile choice for pairing with red pasta sauce. Its fruity and floral notes, along with the effervescence, can create a harmonious combination. Look for a rosé made from grapes like Pinot Noir or Grenache.
- Franciacorta: Franciacorta is an Italian sparkling wine produced in the Lombardy region. It undergoes the traditional method, similar to Champagne, and offers a wide range of styles from extra brut to demi-sec. Opt for a brut or extra brut Franciacorta for a drier profile that complements the sauce.
- Cava: Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine, is made using the traditional method. It tends to have a crisp and dry character with flavors of citrus and apple. A brut or extra brut Cava can provide a refreshing contrast to the flavors of the red pasta sauce.
When pairing sparkling wine with red pasta sauce, consider the acidity and sweetness levels of both the sauce and the wine.
Generally, drier styles of sparkling wines work better to balance the flavors of the sauce.
However, personal preference plays a significant role, so feel free to experiment and find the combination that suits your taste buds.
Is there a wrong kind of wine to use with red sauce?
Like all wine pairings you can definitely go in the wrong direction, even with some Italian reds. Avoid these wines when eating a pasta with red sauce:
- Sweet or Off-Dry Whites and Reds: Sweet or off-dry wines, like Moscato, Riesling, or a super sweet red Lambrusco, can clash with the acidity and savory flavors of red pasta sauce. The sweetness of these wines may compete with the acidity of the tomatoes and result in an unbalanced combination.
- Heavy, Tannic Reds: Very heavy, tannic red wines, such as full-bodied red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon or an Italian Barolo, might overwhelm the flavors of the red pasta sauce. These wines often have robust tannins and intense flavors that can clash with the acidity and delicate nuances of the sauce.
- Highly Aromatic Whites: Highly aromatic white wines, such as Gewürztraminer or Viognier, can have strong floral or spicy notes that may not harmonize well with the flavors of red pasta sauce. The aromatic intensity of these wines might overpower the subtle flavors of the sauce.
Beyond wine, is there a correct pasta pairings for your red sauce?
When it comes to pairing pasta shapes with red pasta sauce, the choice often depends on personal preference and the desired texture and sauce-to-pasta ratio.
Certain pasta shapes tend to work particularly well with red pasta sauce, as they can capture and hold the sauce effectively.
In Italy they can be very particular when it comes to the pasta shape and the specific type of pasta you’re making.
Here are some pasta shapes that are commonly enjoyed with red pasta sauce:
- Spaghetti: Spaghetti is an all-time classic choice for red pasta sauce. Its long, thin strands allow the sauce to coat the pasta evenly. The twirling action of the fork can help capture the sauce, creating a harmonious bite.
- Penne: Penne pasta features short, tube-shaped pieces with angled ends. The ridges on the surface of penne help hold the sauce, ensuring each bite is filled with flavor. The hollow center of the pasta can also catch bits of sauce.
- Rigatoni: Rigatoni is similar to penne but larger and wider (this is Gavin’s personal favorite pasta shape). Its ridged exterior and large diameter provide ample surface area for the sauce to cling to. The hollow center allows the sauce to seep inside, resulting in a satisfying combination of pasta and sauce in each bite.
- Farfalle (Bowtie): Farfalle pasta is shaped like a bowtie or butterfly, with a distinct, folded center and flared edges. Its unique shape allows the pasta to catch and hold chunky red sauce, ensuring a burst of flavor in every mouthful.
- Fusilli: Fusilli is a spiral-shaped pasta with grooves that effectively hold the sauce. The twists and turns of the pasta help to trap the sauce, creating a perfect marriage of pasta and flavor.
- Orecchiette: Orecchiette means “little ears” in Italian, and this pasta shape resembles small, round discs with a slight indentation. The concave shape of orecchiette helps it hold chunky or meaty red pasta sauce, making each bite flavorful and satisfying.
Remember, the choice of pasta shape ultimately comes down to personal preference and the specific dish you are preparing. Don’t hesitate to try different shapes and find the one that you enjoy the most.
Also, if this isn’t enough we personally also ask for wine recommendations at our local Spec’s based on our occasion and pairing needs.
Their team is knowledgeable, and they always have multiple options for your budget needs.
We turn to Spec’s for their large selection of wine, spirits, and everything for your party or pasta needs.
At the end of the day, we love trying different wines for all the different pasta dishes we cook up.
If you loved this guide, let us know if next time you want us to create a wine pairing guide for some of our other favorites like pesto sauce, wine sauces, cheesy sauces, and creamy sauces like cacio e pepe, spaghetti carbonara, spaghetti alle vongole, mushroom pastas, and cheese-based sauces.
Also, if we missed your favorite wine when pairing to a red sauce let us know in the comments or our DMs on social.
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