Pair wine with Italian Food

If you are throwing a dinner at home this weekend and you are thinking Italian, you have a great chance to select some excellent wine pairing to impress your guest. You don’t need to cook up anything fancy. Stick with basic Italian home-cooking and spend a bit of time to select the right kind of wines to pair with the food.

Here is an example of a successful wine pairing for Italian dinner, with wines supplied by YATS Wine Cellars.

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1990 Ch. Olivier Blanc, Grand Cru Classe, Graves
starters - sauteed spinach with tangy cheese wrapped in parma ham and served with mango slices

Ch. Olivier was picked not only for its excellent quality but also for the slightly higher Semillon content in the cepage – 60-40 Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc. Most Semillon-based dry whites tend to be fairly dull on the nose when young. A bit of age is required for those blends that are long on this variety. Semillon adds richness and weight to the blend and this is something that I need to deal with the weight of the food. Aromatic features and savory flavors of the Sauvignon component are most welcome for the mango slices which balance out the salinity of the Parma ham but leaving little room for anything too dry and oaky on the wine side.


Soup - vongole (baby clams, bell peppers in thick creme)

I am not particular keen to pair wine with (hot) soup but those who like a sip of wine with every single course in their meals can opt to save some of the white Bordeaux to test it out with the soup. It is not always such a good idea to draw cool wine into a mouth just heated up by hot soup.


1994 Juliénas, Beaujolais Cru, De La Botterie, J. Perrachon
pasta - pesto (spicy chorizo with artichokes and goat cheese)

The berry fruit flavors of the Gamay variety can be too conspicuous for a lot of food but does pretty well with goat cheese. A full-bodied savory white might also do the trick but perhaps not when there is spicy chorizo in the equation. Artichoke is nearly impossible to pair with wine, so we’ll just turn a blind eye to that component for now. For this dish I look for a fruity red, light hearted in personality, ok to be slightly exotic in nature but not too flamboyant with berry tones. A Rosè comes to mind but a Beaujolais seems to be a better choice. The challenge now is the weight. Goat cheese and chorizo aren’t exactly flimsy snacks that melt in your mouth. I need two things to deal with these two guys, namely a little bit of acidity to cut through the fat of the cheese and some weight to avoid being reduced to total obscurity on the palate by the food. Result of the search – a Beaujolais. Not just a Beaujolais but a Cru which has far more body than a Village, and one with a bit of age so that the exotic Gamay flavors have subsided and a bit of acidity is coming across.


1998 Saint-Romain, Alain Gras
<act as a palate cleanser, so just a 50ml serving>

For this application – a palate cleanser, an alternative to a sorbet – I am looking for something a bit racy, light-to-medium weight, crisp and dry, don’t mind a bit of oak showing through, certainly not the buttery stuff and ok with not a particular long finish.

I picked this white Burgundy which came from the Hautes-Cotes-de-Beaune high-altitude district but the quality of wine has earned the right to enjoy its own AC. It is what I would call a “no-thrill” white Burgundy, vigorous, medium-body, well balanced, not glamorous, pure and with a bit of mineral undertone.


1995 Amarone della Valpolicella, Classico, Zardini
secondi diavola (grilled chicken breast with herbs served with slightly spicy Arrabiata sauce)

There isn’t a whole lot shyness in an Arrabiata sauce so this is not a good time talk about elegance, complexity and graceful balance in the wine to drink with this course. There are two ways to deal with heat in food – neutralize it or enhance it. I thought about neutralizing it with a light-weight, low-alcohol demi-sec but felt this change the personality of the dish. Instead I chose to go with the flow and go all the way, not exactly adding fuel to fire but close. With those wicked thoughts I chose a big wine – an Amarone, Veneto’s Manny Pacquiao if you will, because it packs quite a punch too. I suppose I could use a Zinfandel or a Nero d’Avola also but the Amarone is more classy.

As you all know, Amarone comprises primarily of Corvina grape supported by Rondinello and Molinara grapes. To change (enhance) the sugar-to-juice ratio in the must, grapes are left to dry out on racks before crushing. This raises the brix level that can lead to either a very potent wine or one with a bit more residual sugar for a rounder mouth-feel. This 95 Classico has reached maturity but it is still full-bodied and robust, slightly rough still around the edges, licorice and tobacco notes less obtrusive with age and sweetness creeping through.


Porto Douro, Conquistador, Jean Sanders
Blue cheese
dessert - concorde (our very own merengue and chocolate mousse)

The word Conquistador might have had some meanings once upon a time but it is not a technical wine term, to me at least. This port seems to be a Làgrima which is a sweet white port. The color of the port gives us a hint that this one has probably spent about 15 to 20 years in the bottle. Làgrima can come in various degree of sweetness but this one is near the top end of the scale.

Because of the distinct absence of tannins, I am not particularly confident that it would work brilliantly with the concorde even though this particular concorde is not excessively heavy. I therefore took the liberty to suggest to our host to throw in some blue cheese – Stilton, Gorgonzola, Roquefort even Cambozola and other blue cheese would do very nicely.

Similarity has been drawn by many to Sauternes but a Làgrima doesn’t need as much acidity to balance out the sweetness and avoid leaving a cloyed palate impression. I like to think of a Làgrima to be occupying a position somewhere between a (red) port and a Sauternes. I have yet to try one against a foie gras but I know it works wonders with Peking duck and a few other things along those lines. Best thing about a Làgrima in the context of a digestive is that it doesn’t linger on in the palate forever like Vintage Ports tend to do.


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