Our friend Sasha Smith, who has a great wine site of her own, Spin The Bottle, pairs wines with food52's recipes. We hope you'll have a chance to check out some of the wines she recommends. - A&M
Much as I love the nose-to-tail challenge, innards and the like are just too varied to come up with a good go-to wine choice that covers all the options. So this week I’m tackling the baked pasta match. (And doing so via the good old fashioned written word. I’ll be back next week with video, scout’s honor.)
Unlike offal, baked pasta is a little easier to stereotype. There’s always a creamy/cheesy element and tomatoes often play a part – as do earthy flavors, from prosciutto to olives to butternut squash. More often than not, the inflection is Italian. (No offense to the great mac & cheese, kugel, and pastitsio recipes many of you have submitted so far.)
Therefore, my first thought is a Sangiovese-based wine from Italy. The most planted grape in Italy, Sangiovese is the driving force behind Chianti and a number of other Tuscan wines. It’s known for its acidity and its earthiness. The former cuts through the creaminess of, say, ricotta and matches the tart fruitiness of tomatoes, while the latter echoes the robust quality of whatever meat or vegetable you’re featuring in the dish. It also doesn’t produce very alcoholic wines, which is a good thing when you’re serving such rib-sticking fare. Heavy food plus high-alcohol wine makes for a dreadful morning after.
This 2008 Santa Vincenza Morellino di Scansano ($17) would work well. A blend of 85% Sangiovese (known in the region as Morellino), 10% Ciliegiolo and 5% Alicante, the wine has tons of dried herb, olive, earth and dark cherry on the nose and palate. There’s ample acidity, but only moderate tannins and a slightly silky texture. It’s like a riper, softer version of Chianti. That’s because the wine comes from the Tuscan coast, which is warmer than the rolling hills of that iconic wine region to the northeast. (Warmer climate = riper grapes.) This wine splits the difference nicely between Old World elegance and New World user-friendliness. Like your favorite lasagna recipe, it’s a crowd pleaser, but won’t insult anyone’s intelligence.
My second thought, particularly if your tastes run more to white and you’re dishing up some macaroni and cheese, is to break out your favorite oaked chardonnay, either from California or Tuscany. The wine’s creamy, buttery character will amplify the richness of the food tenfold.
Finally, I’ll close with a warning. I realize this seems a bit alarmist given the laid-back nature of baked pasta, but it’s an important point: avoid pairing these dishes with very tannic wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon. Big tannins clash with soft, mild cheeses and tomatoes. Save it for the steak instead.
Sasha Smith writes about wine and food on her website, spinthebottleny. In her spare time, she is the Executive Director of a New York based media company.
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