There are A LOT of different pasta dishes out there. So, when it comes to searching out the best wines to pair with pasta, it's best to break it down into groups and think stylistically which wines vibe with which genre of pasta.
How to Pair Wine With Pasta
While the pasta shape is an important piece of the puzzle, when it comes to figuring out the best pasta wine pairings, it's really all about the sauce. The sauce dictates which way the flavors go and imparts texture, whether it's from a glossy cheesy emulsion or a ragù. You'll want to think of the sauce in terms of body, similar to wine. A rich creamy white sauce would be fuller bodied, while a basic marinara would be medium because it has less fat and more acidity. Fat, salt, and acid are key in the pasta sauce wine dynamic, and you are looking for a wine that helps to bring balance between all of those elements. So, here's the breakdown, from cacio e pepe to bolognese.
Lasagne Alla Bolognese
This savory meaty sauce layered between sheets of pasta is about as classic as it gets. Between the slow cook and the cheese, lasagne really develops a richness and decadence to it. The tomatoes add some much needed acidity to the mix. A medium-bodied red with good acidity is the perfect pairing for bolognese. Try a sangiovese, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, or negroamaro. These have enough acidity and body to create a balanced pairing without being too heavy.
Heavy cream, butter, Parmigiano-Reggiano...let's be real, this is a bomb. Each glossy noodle packs a rich punch and needs a zinger of a wine to balance it out. Fettuccine Alfredo is a great candidate for a high-acid white that will cut through the fat and cleanse the palate. Try a white Burgundy, pinot blanc, or Soave Classico. You can also go with dry bubbles for this pasta--that extra zippiness across the tongue will bring a real brightness to the pairing. If going this direction, try a glass of Franciacorta.
Salty, sweet, and savory all at the same time, carbonara is surprisingly simple and should be a staple week night go-to if you are a pasta lover. As for the pairing, the dish is relatively rich and flavorful and goes best with an acid driven wine, red, white, or orange. If going with a red, look for something lighter in body that brings the acid like pinot noir, cabernet franc, or gamay. With an orange wine pairing, you don't want something too skinsy that has overwhelming tannins, stick with a lighter skin-contact rendition from a racy white grape like an orange sauvignon blanc. Want that summer white with your carbonara? Try a thirst-quenching verdicchio.
Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli
Little packets of flavor, a.k.a ravioli, are such a joy. The classic combo of spinach and ricotta is a great balance of richness with an earthy green component. Ravioli makes for a fun play with white wines that have green herbaceous characteristics. Sauvingon blanc, grüner veltliner, or vermentino are all great pairings. They have bright acidity with those green notes of green bean, gooseberry, fresh cut grass, and kitchen herb garden that meld beautifully with the spinach filling and keep the whole pairing light.
Pasta Alla Norma
This may be a lesser known pasta to some, but it's well worth your time. A humble yet delicious Sicilian dish of fried eggplant, tomato, basil, and ricotta salata, this pasta has a light and summery vibe. With that said, an equally light-bodied wine is the best match. Try pairing it with a glass of nerello mascalese, another native to the island of Sicily. This light-bodied red is planted primarily around the base of Mt. Etna and has a unique profile of ripe strawberry alongside volcanic rock with a hint of cinnamon. The brightness of the wine with the hint of spice is a great match for the eggplant-forward pasta. Another great pairing is Montepulciano d'Abruzzo cerasuolo rosé. The red fruit flavors, good acidity, and a hint of salinity add another dimension to the dish.
Spaghetti Alle Vongole
A briny light pasta featuring clams, white wine, garlic, and parsley, spaghetti alle bongole is your go-to order if you're looking for a classic seafood pasta. Being a lighter bodied dish with seafood, it's a great candidate for a white wine. Pinot grigio, muscadet, verdicchio, or picpoul would be brilliant matches for this classic Italian pasta dish. They are all light in body, matching the weight of the dish well. Each offer a refreshing profile, perfect for those sweet little clams.
Cacio e Pepe
Adult mac & cheese (more or less), cacio e pepe has a gloriously glossy cheesy sauce with defining black pepper speckled throughout. You can go red or white here depending on your mood. With either option, you'll want a wine that with racy acidity to cut through some of that richness. Try Italian born and bred trebbiano or cortese (Gavi), or native Greek white, assyrtiko. Each is light with a hint of minerality that is a nice injection on the palate against the cheese.
Trofie al Pesto
A Ligurian classic from the northwest coast, trofie is the perfect shaped pasta to capture all that aromatic green pesto. With the airiness of the dish and the distinct green notes, it craves a white wine that reflects a similar profile. Go with a fiano, vermentino, grillo, vinho verde, or grüner veltliner for this one.
A tomato vodka sauce is the best of both worlds, brilliant acidity from the tomatoes and a creamy texture thanks to the vodka. It's best paired with a medium bodied red or a fuller bodied white. And you guessed it. One with good acidity. Think grenache or sangiovese for reds and white Rioja or cool-climate, unoaked chardonnay for whites. This pairing is equally great for a busy weeknight dinner as it is for an unfussed dinner party.
Originally hailing from Naples, Puttanesca is a delicious mix of tomatoes, olives, anchovies, and capers with punchy heat from ample garlic and red pepper flakes. Staying in the south of Italy with this pairing feels right. Try nero d'avola, negroamara, or primitivo. Each brings their own spiced component of chili pepper or black pepper that mimics the spice in the pasta. Look for lower alcohol expressions to avoid the heat from the pasta becoming unbalanced.
Look to the Sauce
No offense to the shape...but when it comes to pasta wine pairings, it's all about the sauce. Whether it's tomato based, cheesy, creamy, or a snapshot of your garden at high summer, those are the flavors and textures that dictate your wine pairing. Think about the sauce and wine in terms of body and match similar styles.