Best Wines for Italian Food [2024 Pairing Guide]

Whether you are dining out at an Italian restaurant, planning a romantic picnic, or preparing a cozy meal at home, we’ve got you covered when choosing the best wines for your Italian food.

wine pairing for italian foods

While this article covers both white and red Italian and non-Italian wines, I want to also talk about the principles of wine pairing. This way, you don’t have to memorize a long list of wines just to know what wine goes with Italian food.   

So read on, you’re going to love this!

Choosing the best wines for Italian food

If you’re in the process of planning a nice Italian meal, you’ll want to make sure to choose the best wine for the food you’re serving.

I could certainly list some popular reds or white wines that go great with Italian dishes, but is it that simple? The answer is no.

That’s why I wrote this extensive article so you’ll never have to blindly pick a wine and hope for the best. Instead, I really want you to actually learn which type of wines go with different Italian food groups.

For instance, do you serve red wine or white wine with antipasto? And what do you serve for the main meal such as lasagna, chicken piccata or pizza? What if your pasta uses an alfredo vs tomato sauce?

Use my guide to navigate these questions so you are armed and equipped with the know-how of wine pairing basics!

Understanding wine terminology

Matching wines properly for Italian food pairing can be a daunting task when unfamiliar with the world of wines. It’s important to understand basic wine terminology and which wines typically pair well with certain types of foods.

Here are some tips, tricks, and a few basics to help you out. By the end, you’ll have the confidence to make the right pick each and every time!

The importance of body 

When it comes to wine, body is very important and plays a big part in determining which are the best wines for Italian food.

The body of a wine can be light, medium or full-bodied. The body refers to the richness and texture of a wine. Texture you ask? Yes, have you ever heard of a smooth wine? Well – that’s the texture.  

Matching the body to food pairings

Think of it like this, light body wines for light dishes, medium body wines for those in-betweeners, and heavy body hitters for your hearty meals.

  • Light Pairings: Keep it breezy with light wines for delicate fare like fish, salads, and antipastos.
  • Medium Pairings: Hit the sweet spot with wines that match the heartiness of dishes like pasta with veggies or chicken.
  • Heavy Pairings: When you’re diving into steak or rich pasta dishes, bring out the big guns with full-bodied wines.

Dry or sweet wine with your Italian food?

Let’s talk sweetness—some like it dry, some like it sweet. Knowing your preference will guide you to the perfect wine pairing to complement your meal. Here are three categories you’ll want to know.

  • Dry Wines: A dry wine means it is not sweet. These are your no-nonsense, not-too-sweet options that pair well with just about anything.

    Due to the fermentation process, the longer the natural sugars are fermented by the yeast to create the alcohol, the drier it becomes.  That means less natural sugars are left and that’s what makes a wine either dry or not dry!
  •  Sweet Wines: Got a sweet tooth? Opt for wines with a touch of sweetness to complement desserts, cheese boards, or other sweet dishes. These have more natural sugars and don’t taste dry.
  •  Semi-sweet wines: This is the perfect half-way mark. If you have no clue which type you want, then go with semi-sweet.

White or red with your Italian meal?

wine pouring into glasses

White or red? That’s the big question. Here’s the deal: white wines for lighter dishes, red wines for heartier fare. 

Both white and red wines can be produced to be light, medium or heavy. Here’s a general breakdown of which types of wine are best for different Italian food groups. I go into specifics further down.

  • White wines. Think seafood, poultry, or veggies—white wines are your go-to for these lighter options.
  • Red wines. When you’re digging into beef, red tomato-based sauce pastas, or anything with bold flavor, choose a red.

PRO TIP: Acidic wines often go with acidic foods. Tomatoes are high in acidity so choose a wine with at least a medium level of acidity. High acidic wines will have a more crisp and tart taste, while a low acid wine is more smooth and soft feeling.

Crafting Your Perfect Pairing Menu

lots of italian food on a table

Now that we’ve got the basics down, let’s break down the styles of wine one course at a time.

Appetizers

Most appetizers will be suitable with a light wine such as a Pino Grigio (white) or easy-drinking reds such as a Sangiovese or Cabernet Sauvingnon. These refer to the types of grapes used. For breads, choose a medium bodied wine, either white or red, to compliment the heavier weight of the bread.

Pasta and pizza

Rule of thumb is red for red tomatoes, and whites for white sauces.

Pasta with tomato sauces go great with medium or heavy dry red. Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon is perfect.

Pasta with oil-based or white sauces pair well with medium bodied whites, dry or sweet wines.

Pizzas with red sauces follow the same principles. Choose a red wine for the red tomatoes and a white wine for a white pizza.

Main course

Chicken dishes such as chicken piccata use a white wine. Beef recipes such as roast beef or meatloaf, choose a bolder dry red wine.

And for fish, go with a white wine. The firmer and heavier the fish, the more bodied you want the white to be. But you’ll generally order white wine for fish such as my shrimp and pasta recipe

An exception would be a Nero d’Avola, which is a Sicilian red wine that has a crisp flavor that can complement a hearty fish. 

Desserts

Finish on a high note with a sweet wine that’s as decadent as your dessert. A very common Italian sweet dessert wine is Moscato.

Personal wine preference counts

When I was younger, I loved sweet reds and enjoyed white wines. Then my tastes changed and I only enjoyed dry heavy reds. Today, I’m starting to enjoy whites again.

We all have our favorites. Whether you’re a red wine fan or a white wine fan, knowing what you like will help you navigate the wine list (or wine aisle) with greater ease.

You’ll find in time that you may develop a personal taste for one type of wine over another. This is fine and when it really comes down to it, you’re the one drinking the wine, no one else. Even if the dish isn’t officially paired with the wine you prefer, don’t worry about it.

In fact, at my previous job I used to organize virtual wine tasting events for VIP clients. The Napa Valley sommelier openly admitted that there is no point in choosing a wine that you don’t care for just to please the status quo.  Good advice!

Understanding wine labels

me in front of row of wine bottles

Have you ever stood in front of a wall of wine bottles and found yourself realizing you have no clue how to read the labels? I have and it’s not a great feeling. There are so many options! But that’s why it’s so important to understand the principles of wine pairing so you can easily choose the perfect wine for your meal.

Here are some helpful tips for understanding the naming conventions that will help you when looking at Italian wine labels. Keep in mind when trying to find the best wine for Italian foods, it often comes down to quality. And the labels can tell you a lot, or very little.

Labels usually consist of:

  • Name of the Company.
  • The region where the winery is located.
  • Type of wine (white, red, or grape variety).
  • Who produced and bottled the wine (winery name).
  • Origin (Not all Italian wines are from Italy believe it or not. So if you want an Italian wine from Italy, make sure the origin says Product of Italy).
  • Year it was bottled.
reading wine labels

Words on Italian wine bottle labels:

  • D’, Di, Della. This word means “from”.  The following word after this will be a region or location.  Example:   From – region is next.  Ie Sangiovese from Chianti Classico, Tuscany Italy
  • DOC. This is a a classification given when specific criteria are met. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata (designation of controlled origin). When wanting the best wine and impressions matter, look for labels with this mark as shown in the image above.
  • Rosso.  Red
  • Bianco. White
  • Spumante. Sparkling wine, also seen as Asti. It’s a sparkling white wine.
  • Reserve. This means it has been aged longer than normal, thus producing a better quality wine for the aficionado.
  • Estate. This means the grapes were grown where the wine is produced.

Best white Wines for Italian Food

Even at Italian restaurants, there are non-Italian wines on the menu. From a dry white wine to full-bodied reds, there are many regions outside of Italy that will have what you want. Here are some popular wines that are not of Italian origin. For Italian wines, see the section below where I break it out by food category.

French Chardonnay (Burgundy, France)

French Chardonnay from Burgundy is known for its elegant and complex flavors, often exhibiting notes of citrus, stone fruit, and subtle oak. It pairs beautifully with creamy pasta dishes like fettuccine Alfredo or seafood risotto.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand)

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough is known for its vibrant acidity and tropical fruit flavors. It complements seafood dishes like shrimp scampi or grilled fish, as well as fresh salads, delicious Italian pasta salads, or vegetarian pasta dishes.

German Riesling (Mosel, Germany)

German Riesling from the Mosel region is known for its vibrant acidity and fruity sweetness. It pairs well with spicy dishes like pasta arrabbiata or seafood curry, as well as light and fresh salads or vegetable stir-fries.

Best red wine for Italian food

Here is a list of the best red wines for Italian food choices. Remember, it’s ultimately your decision as to which wine is best, and fits your budget! Decide what type of wine will match what you’re serving and go from there.

Here are some red wines that are safe choices. See my list of Italian wines in the next section.

Spanish Tempranillo (Rioja, Spain)

Tempranillo from Rioja is a medium-bodied red wine with flavors of red fruit, vanilla, and spice. It pairs well with tomato-based pasta sauces like spaghetti Bolognese or lasagna, as well as grilled meats like steak or lamb chops.

Argentine Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina)

This is one of my favorites. Malbec from Mendoza is a full-bodied red wine with flavors of blackberry, plum, and chocolate. It pairs wonderfully with rich meat dishes like osso buco or beef ragu, as well as grilled meats like beef tenderloin.

Californian Zinfandel (California, USA)

Californian Zinfandel is a bold and fruit-forward red wine with flavors of blackberry, cherry, and spice. It pairs well with hearty pasta dishes like pasta carbonara or tomato-based sauces, as well as grilled meats or a hearty Italian sausage, peppers and onions recipe.

Australian Shiraz (Barossa Valley, Australia)

Australian Shiraz from the Barossa Valley is a full-bodied red wine with rich flavors of blackberry, plum, and pepper. It pairs nicely with rich meat dishes like beef stew or lamb shanks, as well as aged cheeses or charcuterie boards.

Best Italian white wines for seafood

pairing wine with seafood

Here are some light wines that are from Italy that go well with seafood recipes.

Pinot Grigio

Its light and refreshing nature complements seafood dishes like shrimp scampi or fresh salads.

Sauvignon Blanc

Crisp and aromatic, Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with seafood pasta or grilled fish.

Pinot Gris

With flavors of apple and pear, Pinot Gris is perfect for seafood pasta dishes or creamy risottos.

Trebbiano

 Its citrus and floral notes make Trebbiano a great match for linguine alle vongole or light seafood salads.

Soave

A light and floral white wine, Soave pairs beautifully with delicate seafood dishes like risotto or seafood pasta.

Best red Italian wines for pasta

Here’s some popular types of red Italian wines that always go with pasta. Decide if you want dry or semi-dry/sweet reds, full bodied or medium. Remember the terminology from above!

pairing wine with pasta

Cabernet Sauvignon

Bold and robust, Cabernet Sauvignon stands up to rich pasta dishes like pasta carbonara or hearty beef stews.

Chianti Classico

With cherry and spice notes, Chianti Classico is perfect for tomato-based pasta sauces like spaghetti Bolognese or a delicious meatless meatless lasagna.

Sangiovese grapes

Bright acidity and flavors of cherry and plum make Sangiovese wines ideal for traditional Tuscan pasta dishes like ribollita or pappa al pomodoro.

Corvina

Cherry and spice flavors in Corvina wines complement rich Italian pasta recipes or grilled meats.

Barbera

High acidity and cherry/blackberry flavors in Barbera wines make them a versatile pairing choice for pasta with tomato-based sauces or roasted pork tenderloin.

Nero d’Avola

Bold and spicy, Nero d’Avola pairs well with hearty Sicilian pasta dishes like pasta alla Norma or baked rigatoni.

Best Italian wines for meat dishes

For a balanced taste between your wine and various meats, check out these common red Italian wines. Some of these are are not specific brands but rather the type of grapes used.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Its bold flavors make Cabernet Sauvignon an excellent match for grilled meats like steak or lamb chops.

Brunello di Montalcino

Complex flavors of red fruit and leather in Brunello di Montalcino complement rich meat dishes like osso buco or beef ragu.

Sangiovese grapes

With bright acidity and cherry/plum flavors, Sangiovese wines are great for pairing with hearty meat dishes like ribollita or pappa al pomodoro.

Merlot

Plum and chocolate flavors in Merlot wines make them versatile enough to pair with a wide range of meat dishes, from grilled lamb chops to eggplant Parmesan.

Barbera

Cherry and blackberry flavors in Barbera wines make them a great match for roasted pork tenderloin or meat ragu.

Nero d’Avola

Bold and spicy, Nero d’Avola pairs well with grilled meats like beef or pork chops.

When in doubt, ask!

Don’t be shy. When all else fails, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Beyond these basic rules of light, medium and heavy, white vs. red, and dry vs. sweet, never be ashamed or embarrassed to ask what a particular Italian white or red’s level of dryness and acidity is.    

The reason for this is because different wineries have different methods of wine-making.  Some may allow longer fermentation, thus making a drier wine. Other wineries may choose to leave some of the natural sweetness from the grapes.  

In other words, same grape variety, but different production methods.

Keep in mind that sometimes wineries use a blend of grapes, where a Pinot Grigio for example could be 75%, but the remaining 25% is a blend to add a particular palette.  

This is normal and unless you know everything about that exact wine bottle, including year and method of wine-making, type of barrel, etc. from a producer, it’s totally acceptable to ask these questions.  

If you don’t trust the opinion of the waiter or waitress, ask them to ask the chef directly which wine he or she would recommend for your Italian meal.

Whether it’s the waiter, sommelier, or your foodie friend, a little guidance can go a long way in finding your perfect wine pairing.

7 Italian grape varieties

There are many different grape varieties throughout Italy from northern Italy to Sicily. Here is a list of some grape varieties. You’ll now understand where in the wine aisle you’ll need to go if looking for a specific type of wine for your Italian meal.

grape variety for wine

Sangiovese

Sangiovese is the most widely planted red grape variety in Italy, primarily grown in the central regions of Tuscany and Umbria. It is the key grape used in famous Italian wines such as Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Sangiovese wines are known for their bright acidity, cherry fruit flavors, and earthy undertones.

Nebbiolo

Nebbiolo is predominantly grown in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy, particularly in the subregions of Barolo and Barbaresco.

It is the grape variety used to produce these prestigious wines, known for their bold tannins, complex aromas of red fruit, roses, and tar, as well as their ability to age gracefully over many years.

Barbera

Barbera is widely cultivated throughout the Piedmont region, particularly in the subregions of Asti and Alba, as well as in Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna.

It is prized for its high acidity, making it a versatile grape used to produce both light, easy-drinking wines and more structured, age-worthy versions. Barbera wines typically exhibit flavors of cherry, blackberry, and spice.

Montepulciano

Montepulciano is primarily grown in the central and southern regions of Italy, particularly in Abruzzo, Marche, and Molise. It produces deeply colored wines with soft tannins and flavors of dark berries, plum, and a hint of earthiness.

Montepulciano wines are often enjoyed in their youth for their fruit-forward character and approachable style.

Trebbiano

Trebbiano is one of the most widely planted white grape varieties in Italy, found throughout various regions of the country, including Tuscany, Umbria, and Abruzzo.

It is known for its high yields and neutral flavor profile, often used in the production of crisp and refreshing white wines, as well as in the production of brandy and balsamic vinegar.

Garganega

Garganega is primarily grown in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy, particularly in the subregion of Soave. It is the principal grape variety used in the production of Soave wines, known for their floral aromatics, citrus flavors, and crisp acidity.

Garganega wines are typically unoaked and meant to be enjoyed in their youth.

Vermentino

Vermentino is primarily cultivated in the coastal regions of Liguria, Tuscany, and Sardinia, as well as in some areas of Corsica and southern France. It produces aromatic white wines with flavors of citrus, green apple, and herbs, often displaying a distinctive saline minerality from its proximity to the sea.

Vermentino wines are crisp, refreshing, and perfect for pairing with seafood dishes.

More great articles

Here are some additional posts you may be interested in.

italian picnic foods

Ready for an outing with your wine and Italian food but need help planning an Italian picnic food menu? We’ve got you covered!

antipasto platter

Want to really impress your friends and family when hosting a party? Check out our How to create an antipasto platter guide today!

Ciao Friend! I’d like to send you my FREE mini-digital cookbook featuring 5 Creative & Easy Italian Pasta Recipes. Plus, you’ll receive easy and delicious Italian recipes every week.

If you want in, just sign up using this form! I’d love to start sharing my recipes with you!

​Understanding the basics of wine pairing is like the old saying, “You can feed a man for a day by giving him a fish. Teach a man to fish and feed him for life.”  In the same way, you can now more confidently know which wines go with Italian foods, or any other cuisine. The rules you’ve learned for pairing are always the same.  

So raise a glass to life, love, and Italian cooking!

If you have your own favorite wines you enjoy with your Italian cooking, let me know in the comments below!

Welcome! This post may contain affiliate links which means I may earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you. You can read my disclosure for more details.


Best Wines for Italian Food [2024 Pairing Guide]Best Wines for Italian Food [2024 Pairing Guide]Best Wines for Italian Food [2024 Pairing Guide]Best Wines for Italian Food [2024 Pairing Guide]Best Wines for Italian Food [2024 Pairing Guide]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *