Wine of the Week: What pairs with pasta dishes

File photo of Penne and red wine. (Courtesy Thinkstock)

Over the last several years, our three children have migrated to the West Coast for education and careers, leaving dear old mom and dad home all alone, twiddling their thumbs while staring at each other across the kitchen table each night. Well, that’s not exactly true, but we don’t want to let the kids know that mom and dad are having a blast.

We have a very busy travel schedule these days. Between hockey games and wine dinners, it seems like we’re rarely home anymore. Except Sunday night. Sunday nights at home are sacrosanct.

It started about two years ago when our youngest went off to college in California. It started off innocently enough — we’d join friends whose children had also flown the parental coop for dinner every now-and-again. But it was always on Sunday night.

Over time, the every now-and-again became more routine, eventually evolving from a running joke (whose house do you want to have Sunday dinner at this week) to a standing dinner date that is only interrupted by travel schedules or family emergencies (of which the latter are rare).

We generally trade off cooking responsibilities from week to week, but I am always grateful when those duties fall to the other couple (“He” is an amazing cook, and I am always blown away with his mad culinary skills).

Of course, all of our mutually shared meals also include a mutually shared bottle of wine (or two). The current edict is whoever cooks is also responsible for pairing the wines with dinner.

Last Sunday, it was my turn to come up with a course and a pairing. Given the chill in the air, I elected to try my hand at making pasta carbonara. The problem last week was that I wasn’t quite sure what wine to pair with the pasta carbonara dish. But after a little bit of research, and some rummaging through the cellar, I hit upon the perfect pairing (to be disclosed shortly).

But then it occurred to me that as the weather continues to cool down, there will probably be more than a few pasta dishes in our Sunday Night Dinner future. In an effort to get out in front of my wine and pasta pairing dilemma, I am already mapping out several pasta recipes I plan on serving through the fall and winter seasons, then decode which wines will be the perfect accompaniment for both food and Sunday night friends.

The pasta dish that started the dough ball rolling for this article is pasta carbonara, a creamy egg-based sauce spiked with bits of bacon or pancetta. I like to enhance my version with a little caramelized onion to add in a little sweetness. Regardless of how you like this classic dish, I think the indigenous Cortese grape, used to produce the popular white wine Gavi, in the Piedmont region of Italy, will be a perfect match. The 2016 Broglia Gavi La Meirana offers up pretty scents of acacia, apricot and wet stone on the floral bouquet. Notes of nectarine, lime and minerals are buoyed by crisp acidity; and hints of peach on the finish really opens up the palate and pairs beautifully with the creamy texture of the pasta. And, it’s also a great way to start a meal. $26

Another favorite pasta dish in our household is the Roman classic cacio e pepe, which translates to “cheese and pepper” in several central Italian dialects. As the name suggests, the ingredients of the dish are very simple and include only black pepper, Pecorino Romano cheese and pasta. The lean, savory white wines of Sicily are a perfect match for this dish — since the bright acidity level can cut through the richness of the cheese, and the savory, herbaceous profile stands up to the pepper. The 2017 Umani Ronchi Verdicchio di Castelli di Jesi Casal di Serra has a deliciously fruity bouquet featuring scents of pineapple, nectarine and fresh cut hay. The flavors are persistent on the palate, showing notes of honey crisp apple, ripe nectarine and roasted almonds. It has a solid frame and silky texture on the well-balanced and elegant finish. $20

One of my all-time favorite cold weather pasta dishes is baked ziti with meat sauce. It’s hearty, warm, and filling. Villa Antinori is one of the largest estates in Tuscany, but their 2015 Antinori Il Bruciato Bolgheri Tenuta Guada Al Tasso from the famous Bolgheri appellation tastes as if it was crafted in small lots. The wine a blend of Sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and Syrah was fermented in temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks, then aged in small oak barrels for seven months. The smooth palate shows off flavors of black cherries and smoky plum. The mellow tannins offer up hints of vanilla on the easy, medium-bodied finish. $25

Of course, spaghetti marinara calls for wine that can complement the acidity of the tomato-based sauce without creating a conflict in the mouth, leading to a bitter or metallic aftertaste. Sangiovese is the perfect grape for the job and is also the traditional grape used in the production of Chianti. The 2012 Ruffino Chianti Riserva Ducale Gold has a vibrant bouquet featuring scents of dark red cherries and just a hint of licorice. In the mouth, it displays remarkable depth and richness with layers of black plum, cherry and spices. The persistent finish features just a touch of tobacco on the back end. A very special bottle at $30.


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