The Wine You Should Never Pair With Vodka Sauce

Vodka sauce — a straightforward Italian-American mainstay — seems like it should be easy to pair with wine. Whether you start with store-bought marinara like Giada De Laurentiis or roast the tomatoes like Ina Garten, the rich, mildly acidic, complexly flavored pasta dish strikes the perfect balance between decadent cream and fruity tomatoes, with an alcohol hit to provide an irreplaceable sharpness.

Because of the simple ingredients list and tomato base, you may think that any old red wine will go with the dish, but that is not the case. Food Republic spoke to Nathan Grunow, the wine director at Jovanina's in Denver, Colorado, to get his take on which wines you should definitely steer clear of. "I tend to avoid anything overly acidic or tannic that you might find in a Tuscan red," explained Grunow. For example, something like Chianti — which is made from sangiovese grapes — would be off the table for its bracing acidity and abundant tannins. Montepulciano — though not quite as sharp and tannic — would also not pair well with vodka sauce.

Tannins and spicy food do not pair well together

Vodka sauce is typically seasoned with only salt and red pepper flakes, and the flavors really shine through because of the simple ingredients. Even though you're not loading it up with fresh peppers or Calabrian chili paste, the dish can still pack a punch. Plus, lots of versions favor a heavy hand on the red pepper flakes, like the viral spicy vodka sauce with shells, also known as the pasta alla Gigi Hadid recipe.

However, Nathan Grunow cautions that spice and tannic wines are far from a match made in heaven. "Tannins and peppery spice act to multiply each other ... it can get a little unpleasant," he explains. Tannins come from the seeds and skins of the grapes, and they impart a bitter and astringent quality to the wine. They lend that characteristic mouth-drying effect that intensifies the perception of spicy flavors, which would completely throw off the craveable balance of a vodka sauce.

For that reason, Grunow cautions that you should never pair something like a Barolo or a Super Tuscan with vodka sauce. Full-bodied Barolos are made from 100% nebbiolo grapes, and have bold acidity and high tannins. Super Tuscan wines are made in Italy, but feature non-indigenous grapes. Cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah are common, and all impart tannin and acid levels that would not make a great pairing. Instead, the best wine to pair with vodka sauce would be a refreshing white or fruity red.

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