How to Pair Wines with Sauces

By Jessica Granatiero

As we begin a new year, we often put forth resolutions, vowing to make changes – eat and cook better, exercise more, try new things. I refer to these declarations as intentions, which to me seem more directed and mindful. One of my new year intentions is to learn how to make various sauces, not doctoring up store-bought ones.

During this last year of the pandemic, we have been forced to cook more at home, despite our great love for a restaurant experience. For me personally, this also meant jockeying for space in the kitchen with my now work-from-home husband. I, and he, baked and cooked more. I used new ingredients – maca powder, for example, totally unknown to me before the pandemic. I paired new wines with my new dishes. A self-taught cook, I incorporated learnings from my mother, and from my good friend an established chef in Providence, Rhode Island.

This year, I look forward to pairing and sipping wine with my newly developed sauces, which are the key components of dishes when considering with which wine to pair. So, whether you will be like me, trying your hand, too, at creating new sauces, or doing “take-out” from your favorite local restaurant, here is a cheat sheet of various sauces and the best wines to pair with them. Important sauce considerations include acid, spice, herbs, body and cheese. Keep in your recipe drawer or save to your computer for future reference! 

Primavera, Herb & Pesto Sauces
The acid in these sauces is best paired with crisp, stainless-steel fermented whites or unoaked red wines. Try Italian whites – La Spinetta Vermentino, vernaccia, falanghina, or arneis or a French Loire Valley sauvignon blanc. For reds, pair with higher acid Italian red options – this Luiano Chianti Classico Riserva, a dolcetto or nebbiolo – or lighter unoaked cabernet franc, like those from Rhode Island, upstate New York or France. Fun fact: the image you see here is from our visit to the beautiful Luiano Vineyard!

Creamy Sauces
Carbonara sauces pair with whites that have a medium body and are not oaky. Try a Pinot Grigio, like Fiorini, pinot blanc, unoaked chardonnay or the Santa Maria Lepgia Soave. For a richer, cream-based dish enjoy merlot or barbera.

Tomato-Based Sauces
For fresh, whole tomato sauces, try crisp, dry, no oak whites, like those from Switzerland, Slovenia and northern Italy’s Alto Adige. Un-oaked, vibrant, fresh reds with acid work great, like sangiovese, nebbiolo or our favorite, Ercole Barbera. If you are having a slightly heavier tomato sauce, try Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. 

Seafood Sauces – Tomato & Butter Based
Red sauce with shellfish or fish or Bouillabaisse are best with lighter, unoaked whites such as Portugal’s Vinho Verde (most are less than $10, including the Esporao), France’s Muscadet or Picpoul de Pinet and dry Italian or French rosés. Light butter sauce with lobster or crab pair with whites like Cuilleron Viognier, chardonnay and aligoté from France’s Burgundy and sauvignon blanc/semillon blends from France’s Bordeaux.

Meat Sauces
Bolognese, meatball and sausage-based sauces are great with primitivo or nero d’avola from Italy’s Sicily and Puglia, respectively, due to their higher acid levels and medium to full body. Likewise, red Bordeaux (like Chateau Fougere) from France, comprised of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc, work great.

Mushroom Sauces
Enjoy earthy or spicy style wines like riesling (local Newport Vineyards makes a great one), gewürztraminer and chenin blanc for whites, and cabernet franc, gamay noir or the Paolo Scavino Barolo for reds.

Spicy Sauces
A fruity wine is best for cooling down a spice’s heat, like Barnard Griffin Riesling and torrontes or reds like zinfandel and Valpolicella Ripasso. We love this Troublemaker Red Blend for a spicier dish. Stay away from high alcohol wines; they will make the sauce taste spicier.

Teriyaki Sauce
Teriyaki sauces can be salty, so try a low-tannin, fruity style pinot noir, zinfandel, or Domaine Bousquet Malbec. For whites, pair with a sweeter riesling or pinot gris. 

Brown Gravy
A classic brown gravy pairs well with light-medium bodied reds like pinot noir, Cotes du Rhone and even fruity zinfandel. We also love the Cleto Chiarli Organic Lambrusco. For whites, try chardonnay or even a medium, off-dry sparkling!

Shop all of the wine recommendations listed below: