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"A bottle of red, a bottle of white? It all depends upon your appetite. I'll meet you any time you want, in our Italian Restaurant." - Billy Joel
There are very few things that are as perfect together as Italian food and a nice bottle of wine. Songs talk about this match made in heaven all the time. This food and drink pairing is also regularly mentioned as an excellent choice for the ultimate date.
Truthfully, most Italian food will pair well with any bottle of wine. But, if you want to drink like a real Italian, you might want to scope out the best Italian food and wine pairings before you hit that romantic restaurant in town.
Pasta With Pomodoro, Bolognese, or Ragu and Merlot
When it comes to Italian food, we can't really avoid the elephant in the room: pasta. Pasta is incredible. If there's one thing that pasta pairs beautifully with, it's a rich and savory tomato-based sauce.
Most of us just call this sauce category "red sauce" because of the red hue it gets from the tomatoes. Because red sauce and pasta are so popular, we should probably discuss these Italian food and wine pairings first.
Red sauces are everywhere in the Italian culinary world. The three most common, Pomodoro, Bolognese, and Ragu, are typically used as a topping on pasta. These savory, hearty, and tangy sauces need to have a wine that can match their bold flavors.
That's why most Italian sommeliers typically will suggest sticking to a rich red wine when dining on pasta with red sauce in them. Merlots and Zinfandels tend to be aromatic enough to match the sauce's strong punch of tartness, which makes them a great choice.
Good options for pairing wines to red sauces include:
- Merlot (Best option)
- Zinfandel (Best option)
- Italian Chianti
Cheese Risottos and Sauvignon Blanc
Ah, the risotto — one of the best Italian side dishes ever made. With its creamy, melty, and often cheesy flavors, it's clear that this dish isn't always the easiest to pair with wine.
Thankfully, there's been a lot of people who have looked into Italian food and wine pairings, and they were able to figure out the best option. The creaminess and texture of a good risotto require a wine that has a strong (but gentle) finish.
A good Sauvignon Blanc is ideal for risottos, primarily because it can withstand the oils in risotto and also is able to match the tangy undertones that many risottos have. That being said, matching the sauce to the wine is often a great move here, too.
Good wine pairings for risottos include:
- Sauvignon Blanc (Best)
- White Zinfandel (Best)
Pasta Alfredo or Pasta Burro and Pinot Grigio
If you love creamy, buttery pasta sauces, we have some great news for you. Italian food and wine pairings involving these dishes get really varied compared to red sauce dishes.
The reason why buttery pasta sauces tend to work well with a wider range deals with the oils and lipids in the sauce. Red wines have a good amount of acidity that mesh well with the sauce's overall texture. So, a Sangiovese or Pinot Noir will work well with these dishes in a pinch.
Meanwhile, white wines actually can bolster the pasta's flavor profiles and help cleanse the palate. So, something along the lines of a Chardonnay, a Reisling, or a Pino Grigio pair well, too.
Excellent wine pairings for creamy sauces include:
- Pinot Grigio (Best)
- Pinot Noir (Best)
Pizza and Sparkling Wine
We can't really talk about Italian food and wine pairings without talking about pizza. Pizza is the most common Italian food item in America. There are pizza parlors on every single block in certain cities. So, it only makes sense to discuss wine pairings with pizza, too.
Believe it or not, most wine experts dislike the idea of pairing pizza with wine. Many actually suggest a light beer instead, primarily because beer tends to be better at cleansing the palate.
However, this is a wine pairing article, not a drink pairing article. So, we decided to look at good Italian food and wine pairings involving specific pizzas, and we noticed some patterns worth noting:
- Most critics agreed that sparkling wine is a universally good pairing. The bubbles clear your palate, and sparkling wine tends to pair well with pizza crusts, cheese, and pomodoro.
- The rule of matching the wine color to the pasta sauce color still seemed to be generally agreed upon. So, white pizza would do better with a Chardonnay or other white wine. Meanwhile, a tomato pie or Margherita pie might do better with a Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Toppings matter, too. Meat toppings tend to skew the pairing towards red. Veggie toppings tend to skew the wine pairing towards white wines.
- The more tomato-y the pizza is supposed to be, the redder the wine should be. This is why red wines tend to be very popular, especially when it comes to plain pizza.
Good choices for wine pairings with pizza include:
- Syrah (Best for Meat Toppings)
- Pinot Noir (Best for Tomato-Heavy Pies)
- Prosecco (Best Overall)
- Chardonnay (Best for White Pizza)
Eggplant (Or Chicken) Parmigiana and White Zinfandel
At home, almost every person has eaten Eggplant Parmigiana as comfort food, dinner, or lunch. If you love meat, you might also have tried out Chicken Parmigiana with equal adoration. It's as comforting as can be, and unsurprisingly, goes incredibly well with wine.
With their creamy taste and their white, meaty interiors, it's obvious that white wine is the best way to go. The key to picking a good white wine for Eggplant or Chicken Parmigiana is to find wine that's light, fruity, and just a little bit dry.
Surprisingly, there are many Italian food and wine pairings that don't always agree with the "matching principle." Eggplant Parmigiana also works well with certain red wines, such as Barbera and Pino Noir.
Good options for Eggplant Parmesan include:
- White Zinfandel (Best)
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Barbera (Best)
- Pinot Noir
Lasagna and Italian Chianti
Ziti, lasagna, and stuffed shells all tend to have very similar flavors. This is because they all have creamy cheese, rich tomato sauce, loads of Tuscan herbs, and a decent amount of pasta in them. Therefore, we're going to talk about them as a full category of Italian food and wine pairings.
These wine pairings can be a bit tricky, primarily because there's flavor elements that work very well with both red and white wines. However, this often leads to a pretty nice range of wine pairing options in both the red and white ranges.
Most people will tell you that the rich flavors of lasagna and lasagna-like dishes tend to blend beautifully with red wines. In this case, the darker and bolder the red, the better. That's why we're suggesting pairing lasagna with Italian Chiantis, merlots, and Sangiovese varietals.
White wine advocates, though, will tell you that a dry white really blends well with cheese. A robust white wine with a dry flavor is often the best option here. Pino Grigio tends to be a great pick, as does a drier Chardonnay.
Great options for lasagna wine pairings include:
- Italian Chianti (Best)
- Chardonnay (Best)
- Pino Grigio
Shrimp Scampi and Verdejo
Last on our list of Italian food and wine pairings is the ever-popular dish known as Shrimp Scampi. It's shrimp in a rich, buttery garlic sauce. Who can hate on that?
Shrimp Scampi, as well as almost every seafood dish, really works well with white wine. This shouldn't be a surprise. In fact, it's a no-brainer in the wine world.
A good rule of thumb is to choose a dry but full-bodied wine with Shrimp Scampi or other seafood dishes involving Italian flavors. Too much sweetness can overpower the flavor balance. So, something like a Muscadet or Chablis will work well.
Good options for seafood include:
- Chablis (Best)
- French Sauvignon