Winter this year seemed never to end. And while pasta is often considered a cold weather comfort food, in this spring of up and down temperatures, there are some interesting food and wine combinations to help us get through until summer fully arrives.
The composition of pasta itself is pretty basic: flour, salt and some kind of liquid — olive oil, eggs or water — are combined to make dough, which is then cut into noodles, dried, eventually to be cooked in some form. However, great thing about pasta is the variety of its shapes and sizes that come from the initial simple ingredients that tend to match well with a wide range of wine styles.
We wind thin pastas, such as spaghetti, angel hair, vermicelli and linguini around our forks with bits of spring vegetables, seafood and red meat in the sauce. Then there are the penne, cannelloni, rigatoni, manicotti, bowties and elbow macaroni that are stuffed, tossed, boiled and baked. Rotini is a staple in both salads and in more traditional baked casserole dishes.
Beyond the Italian heritage varieties, Germans, Chinese, Japanese and Thai cooks all use their own versions of the flour/salt/liquid foodstuffs. And one of the joys of food and wine pairing is to find those wines that perfectly complement each of those unique cuisine styles.
So some pairing suggestions for this season:
• If your entrée is light, and the sauce is white, perhaps with some fresh, first of the season peas, consider a crisp wine such as Pinot Grigio. If you serve a simple pasta tossed simply with olive oil, perhaps a blush made from Cabernet Franc should be the choice. If your pasta contains mushroom and or cheese sauces, the queen of classic whites, i.e. Chardonnay, or even a slightly off-dry Riesling might be a couple of varieties to consider.
• Chinese and Thai foods are often regarded as the most difficult to pair with wine. The amazing, fruity Vidal Blancs, so easy to grow in our climate, solve the dilemma. Their slightly sweet finish, rich fruit flavors and intense aromas work wonderfully with most Chinese dishes as well as the spicy and sometimes fiery Thai offerings.
• For the pocket pastas like ravioli or Asian wontons, filled with various white meats or veggies, those richer flavors would go well with chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet franc. By contrast, unfilled dumplings like Italian gnocchi, Polish pirogues and German spaetzle are more neutral in flavor and respond will on the palate with our Germanic style Rieslings. If the fillings are red meats, or the pasta is tossed with chucks of steak or ground meat and grape tomatoes, light reds like merlot, chambourcin and some proprietary red blends might be a good choice.
• The ever popular earthy flavors of rigatoni, complemented with broccoli, spring home grown asparagus, white cannellini beans, garlic and virgin olive oils, work well with both traditional vinifera reds, and for those who enjoy their grapey characteristics, the native American reds and blushes like concords and catawbas.
• Holiday picnics often feature rotini pasta salads with green and red peppers, grape tomatoes, onion, cucumber, mushroom, black olives and broccoli, all lightly tossed with a simple Italian salad dressing. A glass of semi-sweet Riesling with a strong acid backbone will stand up to the dressing and make the picnic more jovial.
Regardless of your initial preferences in wine or pasta, consider exploring options beyond those pairings — the journey will be an interesting and rewarding one.
DONNIELLA WINCHELL is the executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association. She can be reached at dwinchell@OhioWines.org.