At The Table: Food and White Wine Pairing

If we take the traditional approach of "white wine with starters, red wine with main course", then Italian white wines are absolutely made to go with salads, soups, and antipasti. They may not always be wines for sipping unaccompanied – because many of them do not have the obvious vibrant fruit flavours that white wines from other countries might have. But when it comes to pairing wine and food, their zippy acidity and crisp, clean taste often sets them apart from other wines.

Pairing Italian white wine and foodItalian white wines were often perfected over centuries to compliment and enhance specific local food recipes. To test and discover these unusual combinations is a wonderful adventure in taste. © iStockphoto/Thinkstock.

Soave, made from the Garganega grape, has racy acidity and a subtle citrus and almond taste that compliments the gently nutty taste of Italian pesto sauce, but also white fish and vegetable dishes. The zesty lime flavour of Gavi and Verdicchio also work well with similar recipes. What sets them apart from other wines is their balance and finesse. These are wines that are designed to be enjoyed with local food and to be pleasing to the palates of local people. They are not intended to compete with the heavily oaked Californian Chardonnays and fragrant New Zealand Sauvignons: the place of Italian whites is to compliment the food without competing with it for flavour.

Most Italian white wines will not see a lot of oak, and they are not the most full-bodied of wines. Despite this, their structure and acidity means that they can stand up to some rich foods – creamy, cheese-based sauces, pork based dishes and heavier fish dishes, like tuna and swordfish, can work well with carefully-chosen Italian whites. Modern, well-structured creamy-textured Chardonnays and zippy Pinot Grigios compliment the food in different ways. Local specialities like the elegant Tocai Friuliano and Greco di Tufo are also made with food in mind. Even spicier dishes can find a partner – zesty Rieslings and aromatic Gewurztraminers can stand up to the heat while complimenting the flavours.

Italy’s fine sparkling wines such as Prosecco and Franciacorta are delightful aperitif wines that also provide an excellent alternative to dry whites with shellfish. The sweet Moscato d’Asti is a natural partner for desserts and cakes.

The key to enjoying Italian white wines with food is to enjoy experimenting – a basic understanding of the well-balanced, dry, and often neutral style of wine that comes alive when it is paired with food will help you to uncover some of the simplest and best food and wine combinations. As Italy’s whites tend not to fetch the high prices of its finest reds, you can afford to splash out and find a pairing that really suits you. The more unusual the wine is, the more likely that its region’s people will have discovered a spectacular combination that really brings both the food and wine to life.

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