Italian food is beloved everywhere. Because of that, you will see sommeliers pairing Italian dishes with wine from nearly every country in the world. A good Chilean Sauvignon Blanc will match beautifully with minestrone, and an Oregon Pinot Noir tastes amazing with agnolotti. The modern sommelier sources the best wines for each dish whether or not they come from the same place.
Having said that, local pairings often tap into a deep culinary tradition. It’s not a cliché to pair Italian wine with Italian food –or that what grows together, goes together– both evolved together to merge seamlessly on the table. However, keep in mind that Italian cuisine is very regional: your wine pairing should be, too.
There is not one type of Italian food, but many. Every region in Italy was brought together by historical, political and economic reasons. Each one has unique local gastronomic traditions, ingredients, and specialties. The following are just a few regional pairings for Italian food and wine. If you are interested in learning more –and happen to live near Philly– you should attend one of our food and wine pairing classes.
Northern Italy is home to Piedmont. Butter reigns and not olive oil. Starchy polenta and risottos are more common than pasta. Hearty dishes of beef and game are ubiquitous and often overpowering. Menus are dominated by earthy, rich dishes are both rustic and refined. And they don’t skimp on the local white truffle when it’s in season. Alba Truffles are the regions most cherished ingredient.
Piedmont is renowned for its wines too, especially the age-worthy Barolo and Barbaresco made from Nebbiolo grapes. Other grapes, like Barbera and Dolcetto, also make good but least expensive bottles.
A classic food and wine pairing is Brassato al Barolo and a Langhe Nebbiolo. Slow cooked in wine, Brassato al Barolo is tender and very beefy. The dish should be served with vegetables and polenta. The dusty tannins of the Nebbiolo hold their ground against this robust dish.
South of Piedmont, with incredible sights of the Mediterranean, is Liguria. A small, steep piece of land home to some of the most underrated Italian white wines. Pigato, known elsewhere as Vermentino is a noble grape that produces fresh, crisp, fragrant white wines that go well with seafood and light dishes.
In Liguria, Pigato is splendid with one of the region’s specialties: Pesto. A favorite pairing is Trennete al Pesto and the white wine Colli de Luni Vermentino: A linguini-like, long noodle is tossed with pesto alla Genovese. Add a sip of the grippy Vermentino and you have pure heaven.
Emilia Romagna is the heart of Italian cuisine. The collection of premium products of the region is stunning. Modena’s balsamic vinegar, prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano, what else do you need?
Vast vineyards planted with Lambrusco seem infinite. Winemakers make both the cheap, sweet fizz you love or hate, and higher quality, dry reds with an enviable palate. A classic pairing is Prosciutto di Parma and Lambrusco secco. A dry Lambrusco from a quality producer is insanely delicious with ham and cured meats. The soft palate compliments the salty, meaty, strong flavors in prosciutto.
Tuscany is identified for their rustic red wine and its amazing views of rolling hills dotted with pine trees. The cuisine is modest and intimate except for the over-the-top Bistecca Fiorentina, a large T-Bone steak that needs a robust wine by its side. The classic food and wine pairing in Tuscany is Bistecca Fiorentina and Sangiovese. Pair this beef steak with an age-worthy Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile, or Chianti Classico Reserva and you will be in heaven.
Abruzzo is a quiet region isolated by mountains. Its cuisine is divided, with seafood at the shores and meat on the hills.
Seafood dishes pair well with uncomplicated Trebbiano d’Abruzzo wine. Tomato based pasta like spaghetti alla chitarra is excellent with the reds of the region. The classic pairing is Arrosticini and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a wine that is slowly becoming fashionable amongst sommeliers.
Arrosticini are traditional lamb skewers, that are best enjoyed with a medium-bodied Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. The intense, juicy lamb skewers are lifted into elegance with the round, balanced fruit and coating tannins of the wine.
Italy’s capital is Rome, and Rome is all about eating. With an extensive gastronomic offer, the iconic Roman dish is spaghetti alla carbonara. Egg, cheese, pepper, and guanciale (cured pork cheeks) make the base of this creamy pasta dish. A fresh white wine of the locality, like dry Frascati, made with Trebbiano and Malvasia tastes fantastic with the recipe. The crisp acidity cuts through the fat and cleans the palate. When in Rome…
Classic Pairing: Spaghetti Carbonara and Frascati
Italy is mostly surrounded by water, which means seafood abounds. The Campania region, especially its capital city Napoli has some of the finest sea produce in the world. Of course, Napoli is mostly remembered for its pizza, which is locally paired with beer.
In Campania, a classic pairing is Risotto alla Pescatora and Falanghina. A creamy risotto with mixed seafood shines when combined with a light-bodied, high-acid white wine like Falanghina. You can pair any of the local seafood with one of the many dry white wines made here. The most important grapes are Greco, Falanghina, and Fiano.
Last but not least, comes dessert. Sicily has a varied cuisine crowned by their pastries and sweets. You can find cannoli, a sweet tube-shaped pastry filled with sweet ricotta cheese everywhere, but the best is enjoyed at the source. The classic Sicilian pairing is Cannoli and Marsala. A cannolo filled with sweet ricotta pairs well with a delightful, fortified sweet Marsala.
Final Thought on Italian Food and Wine Pairings
We can go on and on. Italian cuisine is as varied as it’s wine. Just remember that local food goes well with local wine, especially when you talk about Italy. A little research will help you find adequate regional pairings that will work every time.