When you read or listen to reviews by famous wine critics, you’ll often hear a lot about pairings. However, those pairings often involve high-end cuisine, or simply the same sort of dish over and over again. We hear over and over again about pairing wines with fancy cheese plates, lobster, salmon, steak, or all kinds of wild game.
But what about regular, everyday dishes? In fact, one could say, that’s the magic of wine in everyday life: with the right pairing, wine can enhance the most humble of meals and bring it to a new level. And is there a better example of that than spaghetti, the iconic dish of Italy, the land of wine and pasta? We think not.
Italy And Its Wines…
What goes best with spaghetti? Well, naturally, Italian wine. It’s not like you couldn’t pair other wines with spaghetti too, but why not go Italian, when the country makes so many amazing wines for literally every taste and every budget. Plus, in Italy, wine has been paired with spaghetti for hundreds of years, so they must know what they are doing!
Moreover, Italy pretty much has the ideal climate for growing grapes, and an amazing number of varieties are grown in different regions of italy. While Italy is perhaps best known for Prosecco, there is actually quite a lot to find there when it comes to wine. Italy has multiple wine regions, including Piedmont, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, and Sicily, and each region offers at least one signature wine.
When it comes to red wine, some amazing options include Chianti, Amarone, Brunello, and Barbaresco. When it comes to whites, Pinot Grigio will go great with certain pasta dishes, but Saove and Arenis are options worth considering too.
Are There Different Types Of Spaghetti?
We all know what spaghetti is, right? But are all spaghetti the same? Well, not exactly. There is one thing we can say about spaghetti: it’s long, thin pasta, in a cylindrical shape.
However, as you might know, Italians are fairly peculiar about their pasta. Spaghetti can vary in thickness, as well as slightly in shape. However if they differ too much from the standard spaghetti shape, they might not even be called spaghetti anymore – although the difference is minor. Still, all these forms of pasta belong broadly to the spaghetti family:
- Spaghetti are the classic noodles we are used to eating. They are made only from semolina flour and water. You’ll often find numbers on spaghetti packs determining thickness: #5 is the standard spaghetti.
- Spaghettini are the more slim version of spaghetti. They are literally the same, only a bit thinner.
- Capellini are also identical to spaghetti, but they are even thinner than spaghettini. Capellini (literally meaning ‘hairs’) are considered the thinnest type of paste.
- Spaghettoni – as you might suspect, these are the fat cousins of spaghetti. Again, same, but a size thicker.
- Linguine might look the same as spaghetti at first sight, but there is a relatively big difference: they are flattened (not round). In effect, they do taste exactly the same as spaghetti.
- Bucatini – while technically not spaghetti, they do look quite like them. However, once you cook them, bucatini are quite thick. What makes them unique is the fact that they have a hile in the middle.
What Kind Of Sauce Can Be Served With Spaghetti?
While there has surely been more than one heated argument among pasta aficionados over which type of spaghetti-like pasta one must use for which dish, this will not really have such an effect on the taste of the final product as the sauce. While the shape of the pasta really can make a difference when you are trying to achieve perfection, pairing your wine right with the sauce is a must.
So what are the sauces that are usually served with spaghetti?
A marinara sauce is the classic spaghetti sauce. It’s the basic tomato sauce. However, this doesn’t mean it has to be bland. There are countless recipes for perfect marinara, but the key is using high-quality tomatoes. Liberal amounts of onions, garlic, oil, and herps can be added to the sauce to achieve a unique flavour.
Ragu basically refers to meat sauce. Any kind of meat sauce. It usually features ground or finely chopped meat cooked over a long period of time. Beef is the meat most commonly used for ragu, but other types of meat can be used too. The legendary spaghetti Bolognese actually originated as ragu. If you go to Bologna and ask for spaghetti Bolognese, the natives will tell you that what you actually want to eat is ‘tagliatelle al ragu’.
Pesto is usually made with raw chopped herbs – predominantly basil. The classic pesto recipe involves chopped basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan, and olive oil. However, many variations exist that incorporate different herbs, olives, or even tomatoes.
Alfredo is a thick, creamy, smooth sauce. While it’s more commonly served with something like tagliatelle, alfredo sauce works fairly well with spaghetti too. Alfredo dishes typically include large amounts of parmesan.
Browned butter sauce is basically what you’d expect – browned butter. However, if done right, browned butter can bring an exceptionally rich and comforting dimension to your spaghetti.
No sauce at all?
SImilar to brown butter sauce are various traditional spaghetti recipes that come from Italy that don’t really involve a sauce. One such option is ‘Cacio e Pepe’ – a dish that involves spaghetti mixed with lots of black pepper and parmesan. On a similar note, ‘Spaghetti Aglio e Olio’ involves spaghetti mixed with lightly minced garlic and quality olive oil.
What About Adding Protein?
While the ragu sauce is based on meat, other sauces we mentioned aren’t. Therefore, you might be wondering, can I add protein to my spaghetti dish? Well, of course, that’s completely up to you. Although it’s commonly served as a vegetarian dish, a marinara sauce can also be served alongside meatballs to create spaghetti and meatballs. On the other hand, a good pesto can pair beautifully with shrimp or chicken, and alfredo sauce is practically made for that.
Adding extra protein, of course, will add another factor to think about when choosing the wine to pair with your meal.
How Do I Find The Best Wine To Go With My Spaghetti Dish?
Now that we covered all the options that you can work with when it comes to spaghetti, it’s time to talk about the actual wine pairing. Below is a checklist of all the factors you need to consider in order to find the perfect spaghetti-wine couple.
1. First Things First: Red or White? (Or Something Else)
Before you go on to make any other choices, you need to decide on the type of wine you want. When it comes to choosing red or whie, there is not a lot of creativity involved. Especially if you are a beginner, we suggest you follow the classic rules of which wine goes with which sauce.
First, we have the tomato-based sauces. Although it’s technically possible to match a tomato sauce with white wine, making a good match is very difficult due to the acidity of the tomato which doesn’t pair well with whites at all. If you are serving marinara sauce or something similar, always go with red wine.
On the other hand, when you serve alfredo or pesto, white wine is usually the preferred choice. You could also choose a milder red for your pesto (and sometimes alfredo, depending on the flavour), but a bold, semi-sweet white is always the safest choice. Another option for gentle creamy sauces is pairing them with Prosecco for a really festive feel.
Of course, rules are there to be broken. Especially if you are making pasta dishes with contrasting bold flavours, such as tomato and seafood for example, you can go crazy with your choice of wine, of course. However, we always recommend trying out the classic combinations first in order to get the hang of it and avoid a dinner disaster.
2. Level Of Acidity
Thinking about acidity levels can actually be quite helpful when choosing wine to pair with your food. To find out what level of acidity you want from your wine, you first need to determine how acidic the dish you will be pairing with the wine is.
For example, marinara and other tomato-based sauces tend to be fairly acidic. Tomato is one of the most acidic vegetables on its own, so every sauce that contains tomato will inevitably have high levels of acidity, even if it’s subdued. On the other hand, cream-based sauces like alfredo tend to have fairly low acidity, although the levels can vary depending on what additions you made to your sauce.
Spaghetti on their own are fairly bland. That’s why they are a potential pair with literally any wine. But, what you really need to think about is the sauce.
Now, the basic rule of thumb when it comes to acidity is that your wine needs to at least match the level of acidity of your food. If the wine is less acidic than the food, it will taste very bland. That’s why you always want to choose acidic wines to go with your marinara sauce, for example. On the other hand, alfredo and pesto pair well with wines that have lower acidity levels and are semi-sweet, for example. You don’t want to go too acidic with your wine when combining with foods that are not so, because this can make the wine taste a bit off-putting.
In short, you want your wine to be slightly more acidic than your food, but not too much.
For the uninitiated, when we talk about the ‘body’ of the wine, what we are talking about is the mouthful, how the wine feels in your mouth as you drink it. Full-bodied wines feel very smooth and rich in a sense. They feel thicker than water, almost like milk or something similar – only in terms of texture, not taste. Light-bodied wines tend to feel lighter, almost like a breath of fresh air. We might be exaggerating on that one, but we’re just trying to paint the picture.
But how should you pair the body to the food? Well, you can think about your food in similar terms. When you are serving something rich and creamy (or full of melted cheese for example) you can see how the food will create a very powerful mouthful. You want a body that can match that, so go with a full-bodied wine.
On the other hand, medium-bodied wines go well with most pasta dishes, like spaghetti with marinara sauce or spaghetti with pesto. When you are adding meat or other protein to your paste, try not to go too light-bodied. However, many medium-bodied wines can work if all the other factors align.
4. Flavour Notes
Flavour notes is the area where you can really personalize your wine choice. This is the most creative part. There are some guidelines you can follow, but considering each wine has a unique flavour profile, this is where you’ll need to make real tough choices.
Here, again, we can distinguish between tomato-based sauces and cream-based sauces. When it comes to tomatoes (but also pesto, for example), you want wine with more fruity, brighter notes. Deep notes like vanilla or chocolate will simply not work in this case. Rather, choose wines with dominant notes like berries, citrus fruit, or plum.
On the other hand, cream-based sauces can do great with wines that offer sweeter and deeper notes. Notes like honey, vanilla, peach, and even pineapple can work quite well in this case.
5. Tannins and Aging
When it comes to tannins, there is not too much to think about. If you choose white wines, they are all low in tannins so this factor is not important. On the other hand, red wines can have varying levels of tannins. Tannins are what makes the wine feel dry. As a rule of thumb, you don’t want the wines that are extremely high in tannins with your spaghetti (these include Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon, for example). Something with moderate levels, like Pinot Noir, on the other hand, can work much better. One exception to this rule is ragu (and other sauces based on meat). In this case, you can go as high as you like when it comes to tannin content.
Aging is a process that actually subdues the sharp feel of tannins, so this adds an interesting twist to our story. However, not all wines grow better with age, but some do. Aging adds the warm, deep, wooden notes to the wine. This is why aged wines can pair well with cream-based spaghetti sauces as well as meats, but they are not the best pairing for marinara sauce.
Summary: The Basic Rules of Pairing Wine With Spaghetti
If you are a beginner, we have good news for you: spaghetti is one of the easiest foods to pair with wine. In fact, it’s the perfect dish to start your pairing experimentation and build your own personal taste.
That being said, there are some basic rules to follow for best results:
- The wine you chose needs to be equally or more acidic than your food (choose acidic wines for tomato-based sauces and less acidic for cream-based sauces)
- Tomato-based sauce does not usually go well with white wine
- Alfredo, on the other hand, goes perfect with white wine
- Aged wines with deep flavour notes go best with creamy sauce
- Bright, fruity notes go great with tomato sauces
- Full-bodied wines work better with meat or cream-based sauces
- Light sauces go better with light-bodied wines
Still, don’t let all the rules scare you. Go ahead and experiment with a couple of different wine and spaghetti pairings. We are sure you’ll get the hang of it. Soon, you’ll be able to impress the guests at any dinner party with a flavour explosion.
If all this sounds very abstract, we’ve also prepared some concrete suggestions for you to try out. These are our perfect wine and spaghetti couples:
1. Ragu and Montoya Zinfandel
Zinfandel is the star of Californian wine. It boasts beautiful fruity flavours which are bold but not too bright. You’ll feel the notes of berries but also deeper touches of jam or plum. This wine is fairly acidic, but the acidity is balanced out by the rich flavour notes. It’s a perfect match for beef ragu.
2. Joseph Drouhin Bourgogne Pinot Noir
Pinot noir is the perfect medium-bodied red wine. It’s really difficult to go wrong with it. It’s not too light, but not too heavy, and it goes perfectly well with any tomato-based spaghetti sauce.
3. Pesto and Chardonnay
We purposefully didn’t choose a Chardonnay for you. There are so many different options to choose from pretty much everywhere in the world, and it’s really hard to mess up this compo: pesto and Chardonnay are a match made in heaven.