Find best wine to match with lasagna dish

By   2009-1-14 21:19:23

Putting the right wines on the table to match the meal has been a concern for dinner parties for ages. It is amazing just how vague people can be when they ask for pairing advice. I have people say to me, "We are having Italian for dinner tonight. What's the best wine for us?"

Italian food is very diverse. Mussels, clams, shrimp, pork, venison, chicken, veal, pasta, marinara, pesto, alfredo and many more items and sauces come quickly to mind. Needless to say, the wine choice for a classic Italian seafood soup will not be the same as wine choice for spaghetti with a marinara sauce.

Lasagna was the dish that was mentioned when I asked an enquirer what he was having for dinner. Being a guest for the meal, the gentleman did not know the ingredients from which the lasagna was to be created.

The noodles are like a blank canvas on which a number of wine stylings could make a favorable impression. Ricotta and mozzarella are also rather wine-neutral. Parmesan cheese has a bit more acid and matches better with wines that have noticeable acids. A spicy Italian sausage also needs a wine with some acid to bring out its best flavors.

The sauce is the key to matching lasagna and wine. Today, many people simply use cans or jars of prepared tomatoes instead of creating their own sauce. A jar of basil spaghetti sauce can be thickened with a small can of tomato paste to make a nice sauce for lasagna.

Lasagna can be a tricky dish to match with wine. Chianti is often thought about when lasagna is being served. This could be a big mistake. There are different stylings of lasagna and chianti. A reserva chianti needs a lot of food acid to bring out its best, and if the lasagna is created with a cream-based sauce or a light tomato sauce, this will make the wine taste very bitter and unpleasant. A lower level of chianti would match well with the lasagna made with lighter tomato-based sauce. (Don't fall into the trap of asking for a chianti classico. Classico is a geographic district of the Chianti region in Tuscany. Wines from Classico may or may not be of the reserva level.)

A good wine to try with lasagna is the Pasqua Montepulciano d'Abuzzo ($15-20). Moderate acids blend well with the bright cherry and berry flavors of this nice wine. It is soft with subdued tannins. It will allow the cheeses to be tasted individually but it is also big enough to bring out the acids in the tomatoes and spices in the sausage.

Wines with similar traits are created in California, France, Australia and Spain. The Carranc Tinto ($15-20) will also match well. Made from the grenache grape blended with tempranillo, this well-balanced wine is dominated by strawberry flavors. The mild tannins and acids will highlight every ingredient in the dish.

To create a lasagna that will marry well with these wines try this recipe:

Boil a box of lasagna noodles. Let cool while you lightly sauté mushrooms and onions. Add garlic, basil, oregano, marjoram and rosemary (to your taste) into the sauté pan with the mushrooms and onions. Squeeze little balls of Italian sausage out of its casings and fry till lightly browned.

Over low heat thicken a jar of basil-based spaghetti sauce with a small can of tomato paste.

Layer about a third of the noodles into a 13-by-9 inch baking dish that has been lightly oiled. Place a layer of ricotta cheese next followed by the mushroom sauté mix. Another layer of noodles is placed followed by the Italian sausage. Pour on the sauce and add a layer of mozzarella cheese. Cover with the rest of the noodles and top with grated parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes to an hour.

Matching food and wine is much easier when the ingredients of a dish are known. When asking for pairing advice, try to avoid generic terms like "Italian." Get as specific as you can to bring out the best pairing for both the food and the wine.


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