If you had a hunch that Italian wine was a safe bet with pasta, you were right. Here is a white from Sardinia, as well as reds from Campania and Tuscany. Each offers a different way of pairing — from light and fresh, to smoky and earthy, to floral and herbal — focusing on various aspects of this complex dish.
PENNE PASTA WITH WILTED ESCAROLE
Cook 6 ounces pancetta, cut in 1/4-inch cubes, in a large skillet over medium-high heat until fat is rendered. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, if needed. Add 2 onions, thinly sliced in half-moons; season with salt. Cook, stirring, until completely soft, 12 minutes. Add 2 cloves minced garlic; cook, 1 minute. Sprinkle with crushed red pepper flakes to taste. Stir in leaves from 1 head leafy escarole, sliced into wide ribbons; cover. Allow to wilt briefly. Serve tossed with 1 pound cooked penne, sprinkled with grated Romano cheese. Makes: 4 servings
Recipe by Joe Gray
Pairings by sommelier Alan Beasey of The Purple Pig, as told to Michael Austin:
2016 Cantina Giogantinu Vermentino di Gallura, Sardinia, Italy: This light, fresh and complex white has aromas of white peach, grapefruit and lime zest, plus flavors of pear and peach. Its crisp minerality will enhance the escarole, and its almond finish will complement the cheese. Also, the wine’s body will stand up to the pasta and pancetta.
2013 La Sibilla Piedirosso, Campi Flegrei, Campania, Italy: This piedirosso grows in volcanic soil near Pompeii, imparting a smoky aroma and flinty minerality. The wine is also light and fruity, with notes of dried cherries, raspberries and sweet herbs. The smoky, earthiness of the wine will accentuate the pancetta and cheese, and the savory herbs will bring out the escarole.
2013 Corte alla Flora Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy: Soft and velvety, this wine has aromas of dried violets and herbs, plus flavors of ripe cherry and blackberry. The aromas will draw in the escarole, and the medium body and tannins will blend well with the pancetta. Also, the sweet mocha finish will pair well with the salty cheese.