An Italian Sommelier’s Guide to Italian Wine Pairings
- Italian Wine Pairings from the North
- Italian Wine Pairings from Central Italy
- Italian Wine Pairings from the South
Italian Wine Pairings from the North
Italy is a country of diversity, and it’s hard to make generalizations. This is especially true when considering the food & wine pairings of the northern regions. From the borders of the Alps to the northern coastal areas on the Ligurian and Adriatic seas, elevation, climate, and landscapes can change radically and, therefore, determine a wide variety of different products.
By and large, we can identify four iconic kinds of wine from Northern Italy. From west to east, with some exciting deviations, they are:
- Full-bodied, long-living red wines
- Charmat-Martinotti method of sparkling wine
- Mineral and elegant white wines
Barolo is the name of a small hamlet in the small town of Alba in the (not so small, to the Italian parameters) province of Cuneo. Still, it is the symbol of excellent Italian red wines to wine lovers. As Italian wine pairings go, this is a classic.
It pairs fantastically with recipes of the same territory, namely braised and roasted meat – as in Piedmont; they raise Fassona, one of the most renowned Italian beef breeds for meat production – wild game and truffle-seasoned dishes.
Amarone della Valpolicella
There is another great red wine from Northern Italy, but it comes from Veneto. Amarone Della Valpolicella is from a small region to the west of Verona, where the land is also hilly and the climate is not too dry.
It also pairs very well with rich meat dishes and the local specialty: Risotto all’Amarone, a risotto prepared with the same Amarone wine, as its name says.
Yet, to almost everybody outside of Italy, Veneto is the region of Prosecco (and indeed it is).
Although they also produce more complex, quality wine, the success of this easy-drinking Charmat-Martinotti method of sparkling wine has overcome in popularity almost any other wine from Veneto.
Italians have it as an aperitivo; Prosecco is often a wine that doesn’t require meditation. Yet, it has been produced with increased care in recent years, and some winemakers do bottle in great Proseccos that can be enjoyed throughout the meal.
There isn’t an actual Italian wine pairing tradition for Prosecco, so let’s have it with sushi and sashimi: it seems they were waiting for one another.
Once upon a time, it was called Tocai, and nobody messed it up with Tokaj from Hungary. But, now that European Union decreed it must be called in another way, and the name Friulano has been chosen (indeed, it comes from Friuli), it seems that the world has lost its memory.
Yet, on the hills by the border to Slovenia, they produce this elegant and aromatic white wine, whose scents resemble the ones of Sauvignon – and indeed, this international variety is also successfully cultivated in the area as some other white ones.
Friulano matches perfectly with fish and seafood from the Adriatic Sea.
Italian Wine Pairings from Central Italy
In the region Rome lies in, Lazio has a long winemaking tradition and still produces some interesting, though less popular, wines.
Umbria, the sole region in Central and Southern Italy that doesn’t lie upon the sea and that indeed is the home of some excellent backcountry food products like sausages and truffles from Norcia, is the home of Sagrantino, a full-bodied red wine with vigorous tannins and a typical mulberry aroma, that can age for years and that pairs fantastically with rich wild game dishes from the local culinary tradition.
But the fact is that when you say wine from Central Italy, you say wine from Tuscany.
However, Tuscany doesn’t mean Super Tuscans only.
Bolgheri Rosso (red) and Bolgheri Vermentino (white) are two typical wines from the small town of Bolgheri, a few miles from the Tyrrhenian coast, in the province of Livorno, where more famous Sassicaia is produced. Bolgheri Rosso works well with roasted meat as it has a rich body and a distinctive sauvage scent.
The province of Siena is famous for producing Chianti, another beautiful and long-living great Italian red wine. Still, San Gimignano is the home of a white wine you don’t expect: Vernaccia. It is a white wine from the heart of Italy, and indeed it pairs better with earthy food than with coastal dishes: ribollita and other typical local soups are its natural companions.
In Lazio, they mainly produce white wines, among which Cannellino di Frascati and Frascati Superiore are the most famous and refined – they both are classified DOCG. They are produced with a local variety of Malvasia and other local white varieties; the former has distinctive fruity notes while the latter is more mineral.
Although artichokes are the most challenging food to be paired with wine, in Lazio, they found the key to doing it. These two white wines are traditionally consumed with Carciofi Alla Romana (Roman-style artichokes, pan-cooked in water and white wine with garlic, parsley, lesser calamint, salt, etc., and pepper) and Carciofi Alla Giudìa (Jewish-style artichokes, deep-fried).
The third DOCG wine from Lazio is a red one: Cesanese del Piglio, produced in the area of Frosinone.
Sagrantino di Montefalco
Most famous wine from Umbria is Sagrantino di Montefalco, from 100% Sagrantino grapes. It’s a full-flavored red wine high in tannin, which can easily age and still be vivid. It is traditionally consumed with gravy, wild game, and meat dishes or roasted lamb.
Only a few know that it is also produced “passito,” namely in a “straw” version, made from dried raisins, a DOCG wine of region Umbria, which is usually consumed with patisserie, but that matches remarkably with local aged cheeses.
Torgiano Rosso Riserva
The third DOCG wine from Umbria, on the other hand, is Torgiano Rosso riserva; it’s more similar to Chianti (it’s mainly made of Sangiovese) and is paired with traditional wild game and meat dishes as well.
Italian Wine Pairings from the South
When we think about Southern Italy, we think about sunny coastal areas and people tanning from March to October. It does happen, but Southern Italy is also a mostly hilly, when not mountainous, area where temperatures can be pretty low compared to others at the same latitudes. This makes a great place to make wine of it.
Wines from Southern Italy are often full-bodied because of the full ripeness the grapes reach. To be honest (not to say stern), on the other hand, they sometimes lack complexity because the soil is sometimes too fertile, and the climate can be too gentle to raise great grapes. Nonetheless, Southern Italy is also the home of unfairly forgotten great wines.
Due to the lower pricing than many other wines, they are often the best red wine for Italian cooking, as well.
The most exciting region of Southern Italy is Sicily. Not only this astonishing island has both the climate and the soil to produce intriguing wines, but an increasing number of winemakers are devoting themselves to high-quality production, too.
The most famous Sicilian wine is probably Marsala, a fortified wine produced by a small town with the same name on the western coast of Sicily. It is abundantly employed as an ingredient in cooking and is drunk with patisserie.
Instead, in the eastern part of the region, they produce interesting red wines that can compete in complexity with the ones made in Tuscany and Piedmont. Mount Etna is an active volcano (which sometimes erupts and destroys vineyards) whose soils grow rich in flavors. Etna Rosso is a red wine that matches perfectly with dishes prepared with pork meat from the local breed of pigs bred in the Nebrodi Mountains and local, tasty aged cheeses.
Another region that produces muscular red wines is Apulia, from where the three “Castel del Monte” DOGCs come (Castel del Monte Nero di Troia Riserva; Castel del Monte Rosso Riserva; Castel del Monte Bombino Nero). Again, stewed meat dishes, especially lamb, are the Italian wine pairing par excellence.
Yet, Apulia is also the home of two sweet wines (Primitivo di Manduria dolce naturale DOGC and Aleatico di Puglia dolce naturale DOC) that are lovely when tasted with local traditional patisserie.
Campania is the region where pizza was born, but it’s not the only local food, and it’s not the most representative of local products. The gastronomy of Campania employs abundant fish and seafood, and local wines go along: two out of four DOCG wines are white, fresh, and fragrant.
The wines are perfect to be enjoyed with spaghetti alle vongole (pasta dressed with clams) or allo scoglio (with clams, mussels, shrimps, and tomato sauce). We are talking about Fiano d’Avellino and Greco di Tufo.
Falanghina is a DOC white wine from Campania, representing local wine production, and is popular among locals when they gather at dinner.
Common Questions about Italian Wine Pairings
What goes well with Italian wine?
Italian wine is incredibly diverse, and so is its cuisine. For Italian wine and food pairings, it is recommended to keep to the same geographical region.
How do you pair Italian wine?
The first choice is a red or white wine with Italian food. WIth high-protein dishes, red wines will often be the best choice, while vegetarian or fish dishes are best suited for Italian wine whites.
What food goes with Tuscan wine?
Tuscan wine is a great wine to pair with Italian sausage. The fennel accent accentuated the complex barrel flavors of Chianti Classico and other Tuscan red wines.
What white wine goes best with Italian food?
One of the best white wines for Italian appetizers and wine pairings is Falanghina.
The one question we won’t answer is “what to drink with Italian food besides wine?” even if we get it at least once a week. Drink wine, people!