Best Wines to Pair with Spaghetti and Meat Sauce
There are two basic ways a blogger can choose a topic for an article:
- Find something you really like and have a lot of experience with, and share your expertise with others
- Find something that you know nothing about, do some research on, and then share your discoveries with others
This article is definitely the second one.
A week ago, I knew almost nothing about wine. My husband regularly drink Pinot Noir, and sometimes I’ll pour a little for myself, but that’s about it. I knew that other wines were white, ha ha. I had no idea what made Pinot Noir different from any other wines (other than the fact that it was red and some other wines were white), and I had no ideas if there were other wines out there that I would like better — or worse.
But after following up my popular crockpot spaghetti recipe with an article about the best side dishes to serve with spaghetti, I thought it’d be fun to expand my horizons and learn a little something about the best wine to serve with spaghetti.
The goood news is that there’s no definitive answer, which means there are no wrong answers.
However, knowing a few basics about wine is not only interesting, but it’ll help you decide on the perfect wine for your latest pasta dish.
In this post you’ll learn about some wine terminology and general tips about pairings. After that, I’ll list different kinda of spaghetti dishes and sauces, which type of wine goes best with each, and why.
What does “bodied” mean?
One of the first things you’ll notice is that wines are described as being, for example, “full-bodied.”
I had no idea what that meant and found this definition from Hy-Vee:
The body of a wine refers to its mouthfeel, with light-bodied wines being less viscous that full-bodied wines. Remember, viscosity describes the thickness or texture of a liquid, with water being less viscous than syrup, for example.
Okay, so that helps a little. Let’s break it down some more.
Generally, any wine with an alcohol percentage under 12.5 percent is considered light-bodied. They’re described as “crisp” and “refreshing.”
Examples: Pinot Grigio, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc
Typically they have an alcohol content between 12.5% and 13.5%. They cover a broad spectrum of wines and go well with a lot of different foods.
Examples: Merlot, Rosé, and Pinot Grigio
Full-bodied wines have “a rich, complex, well-rounded flavor that lingers in the mouth.”
They’re high in tannin content (we’ll talk more about tannin in a moment), which usually leaves a dry taste in the mouth
Full-bodied reds pair best with strong-flavored foods like BBQ, Mexican, smoked meats, and steak. Full-bodied white wines pair amazingly with crab, lobster, creamy pasta sauces, chicken, white sauce pizza, and soft cheeses.
Examples: Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel (red), Chardonnay (white)
What are Tannins?
Tannins are naturally occurring compounds called polyphenols. They’re found in grape skins and give wines their dryness. Tannins act as a natural preservative that helps wine age and develop.
Red wines generally have more tannins than white wines. That’s because red wines go through a process called maceration, where the grape skins are steeped to extract color and tannins.
Generally, tannin tastes bitter and astringent, giving your mouth a ‘dry’ feeling. (Note to self: avoid high tannin wines.)
As a point of comparison, Cabernet Sauvignon is much higher in tannins than Pinot Noir.
You should avoid pairing wines with super high tannins along with spaghetti because they can make the pasta taste bitter.
Which Wine to Serve with Different Pasta Dishes
you I have a better understanding of wine in general, here’s a list of which wines go best with which pasta dish — and why.
Almost all the information below is summarized from various articles at DrinkandPair.
Spaghetti with Bolognese Sauce
Bolognese is a kind of ragù (that’s the Italian word for “meat sauce”) originally from Bologna, Italy.
It’s much thicker and creamier than your typical American meat and tomato sauce. It has milk as one of the ingredients, and just a touch of tomato.
Chianti Classico — a dry, red wine high is both tannin and acidity — is the best wine to pair up with a Bolognese sauce.
The tannin helps break down the meat flavors, making the sauce taste richer and more savory. Meanwhile, the acidity helps keep your palate cleansed.
Chianti Classico has the flavor of red and black cherries, plus hints of sun-dried tomato, plum and raspberry. It also has rustic flavors of black pepper, thyme, leather, and tobacco, which all go along well with the meat in the sauce.
Pasta with Pesto Sauce
Many kids (and some adults) immediately want to run screaming when they see a bowl of pesto, mostly because it’s green color reminds them of something from a Dr. Seuss book.
But it’s just crushed basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and cheese, all of which are awesome.
Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp white wine with a “grassy” flavor and hints of lemon, lime, and grapefruit, which all goes well together with pesto sauce.
The acidity of Sauvignon Blanc enhances the vibrancy of pesto sauce and makes them seem even fresher. Also, Sauvignon Blanc is rarely aged in oak. This is really important because the tannin in oaks makes pesto sauce taste extremely bitter and unappealing.
I used to make spaghetti carbonara all the time (despite the fact that one of my kids hated it), but haven’t made it in years, because I always end up eating way too much of it.
With spaghetti carbonara, you want to avoid a heavier red, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux, which can overwhelm the flavor of the bacon.
Chianti Classico is a dry, Italian red wine made only in a specific part of Tuscany in central Italy. It’s an excellent choice Spaghetti alla Carbonara because of its herbal and fruity flavor, plus it’s high acid level.
The acidity cuts through rich butter and cheese-based sauces, bringing out its full flavor. Meanwhile, the herbal, smoky and earthy quality complements the earthy bacon flavor.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo — an inexpensive Italian red wine — is another option. It’s described as “fleshy and rich with inky dark fruit flavors and earthy with notes of licorice, olives, violets, spice and black pepper.”
Spaghetti Alle Vongole
This is a fancy (Italian} way of saying “spaghetti with clams.”
Italians prepare Spaghetti Alle Vongole two different ways: with tomatoes (in rosso) and without (in bianco).
Since white wine is a main ingredient, avoid serving it with red wine — but if you do, choose one that’s low in tannin and high in acidity, like Pinot Noir.
Pinot Grigio is one of the best pairings with Spaghetti Alle Vongole.
Pinot Grigio is a dry, light and crisp white Italian wine with the flavors of apple, citrus, and even notes of pear. These fruity flavors go well with the briny clam and garlic flavors and the high acidity cuts through the heavy carbs of the pasta and the taste bud clogging fats of the olive oil.
If your Spaghetti alle Vongole has a ton of garlic in it, consider a Pinot Gris, from France, which has a slightly bolder fruit flavor.
Spaghetti with Sausage-Based Sauces
I always loved it when my mother made a homemade spaghetti sauce Italian sausage links. Yum! I actually liked that better than her meatballs (which were also amazing.)
However, none of us that we should have all been drinking an acidic red wine like such as Chianti, Pinot Noir, or Dolcetto with my mother’s spaghetti.
A wine that has a higher tannin and a lower acidity “fights” with tomato sauce and makes the red wine taste more like tin than berries.
Pasta with Seafood Sauce
Pinot Grigio is a great wine pairing with any seafood pasta.
It has a mellow flavor that won’t interfere with either the seafood or the sauce. Its minerality also complements the sea-breeze flavours of the seafood.
Pasta with Tomato-Based Sauces
If you’re having spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, chicken parmesan, baked ziti or other tomato-based pasta, Chianti Classico is a great choice.
It’s fresh and fruity, with flavors of black and red cherries, plums, and strawberries. It also has a bit of a rustic quality, with smoke, flavors of smoke, earth, herbs, and spices.
It’s acidity and tannin levels are balanced, making it perfect for both meat and tomato sauce. (Wines that are higher in tannin and lower in acidity clash with tomato sauce, making it taste flat and metallic.)
Pinot Noir — a dry, acidic, light-bodied wine — is a good match for any pasta with a mushroom sauce.
If it’s a creamy sauce, the high acidity of Pinot Noir cuts through the richness of the cream, butter and parmesan cheese, allowing the flavor of the mushrooms to come through.
If your mushroom sauce is a tomato based sauce, Pinot Noir’s high acidity and low tannin is perfect. (A red sauce can make a high tannin wine taste metallic and flat.)