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Matching wine to Italian food, how to pick the perfect match.

Italy has a great and long established wine and food culture. In fact it is hard to think of Italian food without also thinking about Italian wine. As I learnt in my Wine and Spirits Diploma.

Food and wine from the same region often develop together.

This often means that over many years the locals grow grape varieties and make styles of wine to match the local produce and dishes. So it is no surprise that Italian grape varieties go well with Italian food.

Firstly, a reminder about some basics of wine and food pairing:

  • Acid and tannin cut through fat;
  • Wine can compare or contrast with food. That is you can have wines with the similar aromas and flavours to the food or different but complementary flavours and aromas;
  • Always consider the sauce that is being used with the dish. For example a chicken dish with a white sauce would pair very differently than a chicken dish with a tomato based sauce.

So now that we have that out of the way let’s dive into Italian food and wine pairings.

Pasta is a mainstay of Italian food and often comes with an olive oil, cream or white wine sauce. Who hasn’t enjoyed a pasta carbonara or a pasta seafood dish with olive oil. These pair beautifully with white wine, of which Italy has many varieties, especially Pinot Grigio or wine from the region of Soave made from a grape called Garganega. These are high acid wines which are great for cutting through the fat and oil in the sauces as well as citrus and floral aromas and flavours which go very well with seafood.

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There are a number of other Italian grapes that have been introduced to Australia that also go well with these type of pasta dishes including Fiano and VermentinoSaltram in the Barossa Valley make an authentic Finao and Fox Creek Wines from the McLaren Vale make a good Vermentino.

Tomato is a major ingredient in Italian cooking, including pasta source and the base for pizza’s.

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The challenge for matching wine to tomato based sauces is that tannin in wine clashes with tomato sometimes giving it a metallic taste. This means that a lot of Australian wines that are high in tannin just don’t go well with tomato based sauces. Although a notable exception is Grenache which is usually made in a fruity low tannin style. Hemera Estate in the Barossa Valley makes an excellent old vine Grenache.

Fortunately Italy has a number of grape varieties and wine styles that are low tannin and go well with tomato based dishes.

The most wide available in Australia include Sangiovese and Montepulciano. Now you often won’t see Sangiovese on the label of Italian wines but rather the region the wine is from as is common with Old World wines.

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The Chianti region in Tuscany makes wines that are usually 100% Sangiovese with the original or classic Chianti region, between Florence and Siena, referred to as the Chianti Classico region but either way they would normally be 100% Sangiovese. A good very reasonably priced example is Badia Di Morrona Caligiano Chianti DOCG.

The other Italian grape variety that is becoming more common in Australia is Montepulciano and just to confuse things the Town of Montepulciano is in southern Tuscany and makes wines from Sangiovese. So to differentiate the area from the grape variety wines made from Montepulciano normally have the name of the region that are made appended to the grape variety i.e. Montepulciano d’abruzzo, which is Montepulciano from the Abruzzo region of Italy.

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Good examples are fruity with lots of cherry, red berries and are low in tannin such as Cantina Tollo Villa Diana Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOP.

Now there are some Italian foods that go well with high tannin wines. Think of fatty meat dishes such as Osso Buco, meat ragu or a big juicy steak or bistecca as the Italians call it. These dishes need tannin to cut through the fat and wines such Nebbiolo which are high in tannin go very well.

Once again, you won’t often see Nebbiolo on the label but rather the regions of Barolo and Barbaresco in Piedmont in north west Italy. These regions make high tannin wines which are long lived but due to their popularity are quite expensive now i.e. over $100.

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Wines from the broader region of Langhe can contain Nebbiolo amongst other grapes, are often labeled as Rosso (red) and are very affordable. Good lighter examples include Maretti Langhe Rosso.

So whatever Italian food you are eating there is an Italian grape variety to match.

If you would like a complimentary wine and food pairing guide feel free to reach out to me here. I’ll be running wine education events once we are able to, so join our mailing list or like our Facebook page to be notified as soon as tickets are released.



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