Pairing wine with Roman food

The Eternal City’s best classic dishes are deceptively simple: they’re made with just a handful of ingredients. However, all are immaculate. It’s like any other regional Italian food: streamlined. When I first returned to New York from Rome, my first Italian editor told me that a dish that has more than four or five ingredients is not truly Italian. Those are words to live by.

Thankfully, Rome is quite an international city when it comes to wine. Most other Italian regions focus on their own bounty, making options more limited. Lazio, the region where Rome is located, is also not known for great wines, apart from some of the simple whites from the Castelli Romani, often favored by the Pope.

Immersion in Roman dishes

So many Roman dishes center on the hearty and elemental crossroads of pecorino, parmigiano, and fine lard: think guanciale — pork cheek — or streaky bacon. So the umami flavors are right, centered on the savory cheese and right dose of pork fat.

Think Cacio e Pepe, a pile of spaghetti dressed in a blizzard of pecorino and parmigiano and black pepper. Carbonara ups the ante with eggs – again Super Umami on the radar: no wonder the Japanese love these dishes – and pancetta.

These dishes are rich, savory fare that require a fresh wine to cut through the grease and tantalize your taste buds. Think of high-acid wines like sparkling wines like Prosecco and Franciacorta. There are also some acidic, elegantly made wines made from unusual grapes like Kerner, as produced by Abbazia di Novacella.

Some of Campania’s invigorating white wines, such as Fiano and Greco di Tufo, pair well with these dishes, as do Sicilian Grillo and Catarratto blends. Neither region probably indulges in cheese as much as the Romans, but their wines are up to the task.

The Big Red Sauce Challenge

Amatricana is a great Roman delicacy: it is made with pancetta and red sucase. Most tomato-based sauces deserve a red wine to complement the tomato’s astringency. So I would take Barbera from Piedmont – what doesn’t go together? – soft tannins, elegant style. If you wanted to take a similar line, maybe a little Chinon from the Loire Valley (don’t tell the Italians, they’ll hate me).

Two other main dishes in Roman vernacular are angello scottaditto – roasted lamb chops – and oxtail stew. Both are divine and need larger pairings. So here I would step it up to a potential SuperTuscan like Oreno by Tentuta Sette Ponti, or even a Douro Valley Red like Quinta do Crasto, or Niepoort’s affordable Twisted Label. The Portuguese know their way around a suckling pig, among other things, so these portly reds are up to the task.


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