I doubt there is any other country in the world that has the regional diversity of flavours than Italy. Wine is important in Italy and depending on the region, the style of wine produced in the different regions has been modified over time to pair spectacularly with the food of that region. This article is written from a Canadian perspective to enjoy the Italian style of cooking in our wonderful land with wine. (Because if you’re visiting Italy, you don’t need to brush up on food and wine pairing: It’s so ingrained in their culture that it simply takes care of itself.) We’ll tackle the most common dishes found in restaurants or prepared at home and pair each up with an Italian wine and a locally produced Canadian wine. If you are looking for a specific dish, why not try our free food and wine pairing database?
The most well-known Italian Pinot Grigio out there in the LCBO is Santa Margherita. It’s a little pricey given the variety of pinot grigo's out there, but many people love it. There are hundreds of Italian wineries out there putting out great Pinot Grigio, as once again, like light beer, it sells and it’s delicious. In Ontario, most, if not all of the VQA wineries produce great Pinot Grigio. Our favourite so far would probably be Creekside Estate Winery.
Rosé is another great style of wine to pair with Antipasto. Rosé is not the most popular wine in North America when compared to France or Italy. I think the Canadian consumer expects them to be sweet, and fruity from the Strawberry Wine Coolers or White Zinfandels that they were exposed to when they first started experimenting with drinking. Rosé tends to be quite dry however, which makes them great with Antipasto. The dryness in the wine brings out all the flavourful components in the antipasto as the oils within the food that typically coat your mouth are scrubbed away. There’s still enough sweetness in a Rosé too, that gets you geared up for dinner.
While Rosé from both France and Italy are excellent, so are their VQA counterparts. Peller Estate Private Reserve Rosé is wonderful with Antipasto. It’s got a great cranberry red colour, and lots of tangy red berry flavours that seep through this wine. The wine is slightly sweet, but finishes a dry crab apple finish. It’s a great wine with Antipasto as the tart flavours in the wine waltz right past the salty and oily components of the Antipasto, bringing out the best in both the wine and the food.
If you’re a red wine drinker, you probably won’t settle for either Pinot Grigio or Rosé. For a true Itallian experience, we’d suggest a Dolcetto. Dolcetto is a lighter red wine that is both dry and fruity. You’ll find it also goes well with pasta and pizza, making this a great red wine to bring to any Italian themed party or for a family meal at home. For Red wine close to home, we can’t really recommend any VQA wines that would pair well with Antipasto, however we’d love to hear your recommendations! If you can't bear the thought of drinking a Rose or White Wine, why not try a well crafted Pilsner, like one produced by Steam Whistle.
Pizza and WinePizza and wine really deserves its own article, due to the variety of pizza out there but we’ll touch upon the basics.
For any Pizza in general, Barbera is a great wine to choose. Barbera is a type of grape that generally produces mid-bodied reds. You really don’t want a heavy red wine high in tannis, as it will overpower the pizza and make the tomato sauce seem bitter or metallic. Barbera has a higher acidity than those heavier reds which cuts through the fattiness of the cheese and embraces the high acidity of the tomato sauce, rather than clashing with it. You need to choose a Barbera that does not have a lot of oak, as the oaky nature will increase the tannins in the wine. Our favourite LCBO Barbera grab is Fontanafredda Briccotondo Barbera (V) LCBO CSPC 72348
For our Canadian Pick, I’d suggest you’d stay away from our Barbera from our experience, they do contain oak. Instead I would suggest a Cabernet Franc, with pizzas that have a lot of vegetable toppings. Cabernet Franc is the ultimate Vegetarian Lovers wine as it is not too heavy in tannin, and it has lots of pepper, olive and herbal notes. This makes it perfect with pizza prepared with bell peppers, grilled vegetables and mushrooms, or spruced up with rosemary, oregano and basil.
I tend to throw a lot of vegetables on my pizza, (you know, in order to justify the extra intake of carbs and fat) and my favourite wine to pair with pizza that’s heavy on the vegetables is Chateau Des Charmes Cabernet Franc.
Before we leave the topic of Pizza, I’d like to throw in my favourite wine and pizza combo which is Sauvignon Blanc and Hawaiian Pizza. Sauvignon Blanc is such a refreshing white wine that it conquers the salty nature of the cheese and ham on this delicious pizza really bringing out the flavours. Meanwhile, the tropical flavours of the wine are further enhanced by the pineapple on the pizza, making it a great marriage. Ontario produces some great Sauvignon Blanc but one Sauvignon Blanc we keep returning to with pizza is Strewn Premium label Sauvignon Blanc. This particular Sauvignon Blanc from Strewn further enhances the pizza as it is loaded with mouthwatering herbal notes.
Finally, (like I said, Pizza and Wine deserves its own article, one which I will definitely come further in the New Year) I know a lot of people who eat pizza do so while drinking beer. I’ve been hearing a lot of great things about Spearhead’s Hawaiian Style Pale Ale, but have yet to try it. It’s only available on tap at the moment, but I’d love to hear some feedback from anyone who’s tried this delicious sounding beer with Hawaiian Pizza.
Pasta and WineThe ultimate red sauce Pasta and wine pairing would have to be Chianti. Chianti is made with the Sangiovese grape which produces highly acidic wines. High acidity is something you want when acidic tomatoes are involved, or else the whole dish will come off as flat. Chianti also has enough tannin to dance well with the proteins in any meat that might be in the sauce. Much like pizza, stay away from oaked wines as they will not harmonize well with tomato sauce. One tried and true Chianti that we love is Ruffino Chianti and sells for around $15 at the LCBO.
For VQA versions of Chianti, British Columbia is well suited for the Sangiovese grape, and is producing some spectacular wine. Most notable is Sandhill Small Lot Sangiovese. This is a ruby coloured red with notes of sage, thyme and flavours of cherry and spice. It’s a hard to find red in Ontario, so as a readily available alternative, Pillitteri Estates Merlot is a great pick. This is a hearty red wine with lots of smoky and cracked blacked pepper aromas. It has been aged in oak, which makes it a great pair with red sauces that contain beef.
For Pasta in Alfredo sauce, the Italian Orveito is the wine to reach for. Orvieto is a crisp, dry white wine from Central Italy. Great Orveito has lemon, lime, and apricot and almond on the nose and palate. The fruit flavours are a great way to cut through the richness of the Alfredo sauce, while the almond brings out the nuttiness found in the pasta itself. At the moment, the LCBO only sells one Orveito, which is produced by Ruffino.
For a Canadian White Wine, we’d suggest for similar reasons, a Sauvignon Blanc. Again the wine cuts through the alfredo sauce, while the herbal notes of the wine add a spring of freshness to the dish.
Wine and TiramisuWe’ll end this article with one of the most famous Italian deserts out there, which is Tiramisu. Tiramisu is made of ladyfingers dipped in coffee, layered with a whipped mixture of egg yolks and mascarpone, and flavored with liquor and cocoa.
Moscato di’Asti is a great Italian wine that will go well with Tiramisu. Moscato d’Asti is a sweet sparkling wine that is often eaten with dessert as it is low in alcohol and complements the sweeter components of the dessert. Vin Santo is another great Italian dessert wine to try with Tiramisu. Ontario is known for their spectacular ice wines, and these would be a great albeit expensive choice to pair with Tiramisu. Perhaps a better alternative would be to try a late harvest wine from Ontario which aren’t as sweet, but sweet enough to compliment the dessert. Reif Estate makes some great dessert wines which are out of this world.
Personally, I find that a Stout style of beer is amazing with Tiramisu. Over the winter I tried Dieu du Ciel Péché Mortel (Mortal Sin) with Tiramisu and the combination was spectacular. The beer and Tiramisu complement one another and contrast each other at the same time. Tiramisu is light, while this beer is dense and dark. They both have coffee and mocha flavours, and the whipped mixture found in Tiramisu compliments the beer much like the milk froth found on a cappuccino. Péché Mortel (Mortal Sin) is not an everyday drinking beer, and it is meant to be savoured. The flavours in this wine reminded me of a rich espresso, and as such, you could probably split the bottle between four people to serve with dessert.
In conclusion, we've only covered the heel of the boot when it comes to Italian Food, Italian Wine and Italian Food and Wine pairings. Italy has lots of unqiue and styles of food and wine out there, and we look forward to reporting future findings about Italian food and wine pairings.
Written by: Joel Baxter