The Best Wines To Drink With Homemade Tomato Sauce

Pasta with tomato sauce is one of the culinary world's greatest partnerships. Starchy pasta clings to tart, sweet, slow-cooked tomato sauce as if giving it a hug, and the flavor they create together is something that nearly everyone — from babies getting their first taste of pasta to folks well into old age — can appreciate. Homemade tomato sauce is the epitome of summer taste; vine-ripened tomatoes are cooked with olive oil, onion, garlic, and maybe some basil. The last thing you want to do when selecting a wine to drink with it is mask or overpower the flavors of this classic sauce.

Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis of Bright Cellars tells Food Republic that the best place to look for a wine pairing for this inherently Italian sauce is Italy itself. In particular, she suggests pairing the neutrality of a bright, Italian Pinot Grigio with the acidity of a wonderful tomato sauce. 

"A bone dry, racy, lemony and tart Pinot Grigio not only wakes the palate," says Fallis, "it cleanses it beautifully, encouraging another bite."

Many might be surprised at Fallis' recommendation, as a popular belief is that tomato sauce will simply overpower a delicate white wine. However, with Italian wines tending to contain both acidity and a pleasant bitterness, the sweetness of the tomato sauce will come through beautifully.

If the sauce contains meat, try a red wine

When meat is incorporated into a tomato sauce, it's time to move into the territory of red wines. However, Catherine Fallis' choice isn't a big, bold red but rather something medium-bodied with a bit of spice — namely, a Zinfandel. Although not a specialty of Italy, there are several American Zinfandels that possess the lighter characteristics of an Italian red wine. As for Italian medium-bodied reds, Chianti, Barbera, and Montepulciano are great choices.

Super-rich and meaty sauces, like a slow-cooked bolognese or a wild boar ragù, can handle bigger wines like Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino, but these varietals can overpower a delicate meat-free tomato sauce. As for lighter Italian red wines, such as Dolcetto and Valpolicella, these can also be a tasty pairing with a simple tomato sauce, coming closer, body-wise, to a white wine. As with any wine, the best pairings are ultimately completely subjective and dependent on personal tastes.

Beyond meat and tomatoes

Where does this leave the plethora of other Italian pasta sauces, many of which don't contain either tomatoes or meat? Consider them opportunities to experiment with different wine pairings. Aglio e olio pasta (pasta with olive oil and garlic) would be delicious with either a medium red like Barbera, which would accentuate the garlic flavor, or a crisp white like Pinot Grigio. Fresh seafood pasta without tomatoes is delicate, light, and often tastes like the ocean itself. With such a gentle yet tasty dish, try a glass of bubbly Prosecco.

Silky pasta dishes coated with cream sauce pair excellently with light reds, crisp whites, and even Italian rose wines, which are sometimes called "rosas" or "rosatos." As for spicy pastas, like penne arrabiata or spaghetti puttanesca (both of which contain tomatoes), consider a fruity, medium red wine such as Valpolicella or Catherine Fallis' favored Pinot Grigio.

"It is absolutely one of the most neutral wines out there, which is why I love it," she says. "It is 100% drama free."