Spaghetti alla Carbonara – Recommended Wine Pairing

Les Crêtes, VdA Chardonnay Cuvée Bois DOCThis wine pairing post for Francesca’s mouth-watering Spaghetti alla Carbonara has been long overdue – apologies if it took me so long, but my Italian spumante series in view of the end-of-year festivities kind of got in the way 🙂

Without further ado, let’s now get to it: picking up where we left off in response to a prophetic question from Chiara (the gracious and posh image consultant who authors the “effortless style” blog Kiarastyle) in the comment section of Francesca’s recipe post, my suggestions are to either pair it with a structured Chardonnay with some oak-aging, good acidity and minerality or go for a red wine with good acidity, gentle tannins and ideally some minerality, such as a Pinot Noir from the North-Eastern region of Alto Adige.

St. Michael-Eppan, A.A. Chardonnay Sanct Valentin DOCThere is not much to say that is not already widely known about the two grape varieties that I picked, since they are both international varieties (as opposed to grapes indigenous to Italy). However, something worth mentioning is that in regards to Chardonnay you will notice that my recommendations span pretty much across the entire Italian territory, literally from Valle d’Aosta to Sicily, while my Pinot Noir choices focus on one specific region, Alto Adige. This is because, while Chardonnay has been very successfully grown in different terroirs in North, Central and even Southern Italy, the same is not true for Pinot Noir, whose best results are attained in the region of Alto Adige first and foremost, and then in Lombardia and Valle d’Aosta. This is hardly a surprise considering how finicky a grape variety Pinot Noir is compared to the great versatility and adaptability of Chardonnay grapes.

Elena Walch, A.A. Beyond the Clouds DOCWith that said, let’s get down to the recommendations, starting from our mini-tour of Italy showcasing some of my all-time favorite Italian Chardonnays:

  • Les Crêtes, Valle d’Aosta Chardonnay Cuvée Bois DOC from Valle d’Aosta (100% Chardonnay; in my view a phenomenal wine with a wonderful bouquet of wildflowers, jasmine, pineapple and butter – hats off to the producer who invested the energy and resources necessary to achieve a density of 7,500 vines/HA in the vineyard used to create this magnificent wine)
    *
  • St Michael-Eppan, Alto Adige Chardonnay Sanct Valentin DOC from Alto Adige (100% Chardonnay; with scents of Mirabelle plum, butter, vanilla and almond)
    *
    Castello della Sala, Bramito del Cervo Umbria IGT
  • Elena Walch, Alto Adige Beyond the Clouds DOC from Alto Adige (“predominantly” Chardonnay blended with other white grape varieties based on a proprietary recipe; with scents of peach, pineapple, almond, butter and vanilla)
    *
  • Jermann, W? Dreams Venezia Giulia IGT from Friuli Venezia Giulia (97% Chardonnay, 3% other grape varieties kept it a secret by the winery; with aromas of Mirabelle plum, citrus, vanilla and a smoky hint – a special note of merit to the producer who achieved a density of almost 8,000 vines/HA in the vineyards used to create this excellent wine)
    *
  • Tenute Folonari, La Pietra Tenute del Cabreo Toscana IGT from Toscana (100% Chardonnay; with scents of peach, butter, honey, hazelnut and flint)
    *
    Planeta, Chardonnay Sicilia IGT
  • Castello della Sala, Bramito del Cervo Umbria IGT from Umbria (100% Chardonnay; with fine aromas of wildflowers, pineapple, Mirabelle plum, butter, vanilla and hazelnut)
    *
  • Planeta, Chardonnay Sicilia IGT from Sicily (100% Chardonnay; with complex and elegant scents of wisteria, peach, apple, honey, butter, vanilla, hazelnut and chalk)

Finally, these are some of my favorite Italian Pinot Noirs for their quality to price ratio (note that all of the wines below are 100% Pinot Noir):

  • Elena Walch, Alto Adige Pinot Nero Ludwig DOC (with scents of rose, wild strawberry and plum)
    *
    Elena Walch, A.A. Pinot Noir Ludwig DOC
  • St Michael-Eppan, Alto Adige Pinot Nero Riserva DOC (with aromas of wild strawberry, raspberry and soil)
    *
  • Manincor, Alto Adige Pinot Nero Mason DOC (with scents of wild strawberry, raspberry and cranberry)
    *
  • Hofstätter, Alto Adige Pinot Nero Mazon Riserva DOC (with aromas of wild strawberry, cherry and cranberry)
    *
  • Muri-Gries, Alto Adige Blauburgunder Abtei Muri Riserva DOC (with scents of wild strawberry, cranberry and plum)

That’s all for now – enjoy some good wine and as always let me know if you get to try any of these wines!

Muri Gries, A.A. Blauburgunder Abtei Muri Riserva DOC

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0 thoughts on “Spaghetti alla Carbonara – Recommended Wine Pairing

  1. Pingback: Still Blowing Like a Candle in the Wind… One Year Later! | Flora's Table

  2. laurasmess

    I’ve never been a fan of white wines or Pinot Noir. Are there any nice full-bodied reds that you’d recommend, or is that type of wine just wrong for spaghetti alla carbonara? My favourites are spicy, warm rich Shiraz and fruity, full bodied Cabernet Sauvignon. Both common wines in Western Australia where I live. Your Chardonnay descriptions do sound delicious though. Almost makes me want to give them another try! Thanks for the information Stefano.

    1. Stefano Post author

      Dear Laura,
      Thank you for your comment and interesting question.
      In principle, let’s say going by the book, the main problem with what you are asking (i.e., can I pair carbonara with a full-bodied red) is that if you do so, you risk that your wine will overpower your dish and instead of complementing the dish flavors, it will cover them up with the wine’s. Staying on the red side, I would tend to pick a Pinot Noir (which I understand you are not very fond of) or a Merlot or even a not too structured Barbera or Chianti. Or, just to give you yet another completely different idea, you might go for a good classic method sparkling wine like (to stay in Italy) a Franciacorta or a Trento DOC, maybe in the Blanc de Noirs style.
      At the time I wrote this post, I had not published yet my write up about the ISA recommended wine pairing criteria, which (if you are interested) you can find here: http://florastable.com/2013/02/22/an-overview-of-the-isa-wine-pairing-criteria/
      That post should give you the main concepts and parameters that should stand behind a successful pairing, and you may find inspiration to come up with your own pairings, if you so wish!
      In essence, the main qualities of carbonara to be kept in mind for pairing purposes are latent sweetness, fatness, tastiness and a little greasiness – so ideally your wine should have the corresponding characteristics of good acidity, minerality (or effervescence), some smoothness and decent ABV or gentle tannins.
      But in the end, of course, regardless of all principles and guidelines, what matters most is what makes YOU happy, Laura! 🙂
      Hope this helps 🙂

      1. laurasmess

        Thanks for the fantastic reply Stefano!! You’ve taught me a lot! I do like Merlot, so maybe I’ll pick that one next time I have a Carbonara. I’ll also read up on the ISA wine pairing criteria, as I’ve only got basic knowledge of such things. To be honest, we’ve been drinking our favourite wines with everything (or switching completely to beer and cider, leaving the wine for later). I will try following the guidelines though and I’ll see whether I can train my palate to like other wines that really compliment the food. Thanks again, your information really helps! 🙂

  3. susartandfood

    One of the fun facets of owning our restaurant was the opportunity to taste some really unique wines, as well as several wine dinners which we hosted. Chardonnay is my poison of choice so you’ve given me some great new ideas. I thank you, my liver not so much 🙂

    1. Stefano Post author

      Thank you for your comment, Julian.
      I enjoyed reading your very interesting post on your blog about your “mini-vertical” of Cometa Chardonnays: I am sure that made for a very pleasant evening! 🙂
      Take care

  4. Jeanette

    Thanks for these suggestions! In fact, I paired the dish with an Alsatian Riesling, which worked well; but, I’d love to be more authentically Italian next time around. Will definitely be on the lookout for these recommended bottles:-)

    1. Stefano Post author

      Thank you, Jeff!
      I know you are a bit skeptical about Italian white wines, but I am hopeful that you will enjoy those mentioned above. Unfortunately, in the US for some of them the problem is price. To give you an example: I really love Les Cretes’ Chardonnay Cuvee Bois, which in Italy you can buy for ~35 euro (not cheap by any means, but not even super-expensive). Here in the US I found it online at a reputable wine store for $80 (needless to say, I did not buy it)! Even taking into account the unfavorable exchange rate, that’s a total rip off!
      Anyway, I look forward to your impressions if you manage to try any!

  5. Just Add Attitude

    Thanks Stefano for all the wine information and the recommendations. I am not sure how many of them are available here in Ireland but I think those from St Michael Eppan are, so I am going to look out for their Pinot Noir.

    1. Stefano Post author

      You are very welcome, B: thank you for your comment!
      Yes, give it a try: I think you will not be disappointed. Bear in mind they also make Pinot Noir in their Sanct Valentin flagship line, which is more structured, more expensive and is entirely aged en barrique, but I think overall the Riserva mentioned above is the best deal QPR-wise.
      If you get to try it out, let me know how you like it!

  6. frankkwine1982

    Hey Stefano!
    Great article and a real pleasure to read : )
    I have a question though: Isn’t Sicily too warm for white wines? When I think about Sicily then thoughts about hot weather and Passito di Pantelleria cross my mind but Chardonnay? I really have to try that although I have to say I’m a little bit unsure about this.

    1. Stefano Post author

      Hi Frank!
      Thank you so much for your nice comment and for the excellent question!
      While generally speaking you are certainly right, and Passito di Pantelleria (and don’t forget luscious Malvasia delle Lipari) are excellent Sicilian sweet wines, after the investments made by a few enlightened Sicilian winemakers in the last 10/15 years, nowadays Sicily is much more than just sweet wines, fortified wines or Nero d’Avola, there are some excellent “made in Sicily” white wines that you should definitely sample – and I promise you will not be disappointed, trust me on this.
      Planeta is a wonderful winery in Sicily and two of their white wines are nothing short of phenomenal: their Chardonnay and their Cometa (the latter, 100% Fiano grapes) are wonderful and their bouquets are broad and seducing: clearly they are wines with plenty of structure and robust ABV (13.5/14% VOL), but everything is balanced out by a fresh acidity and their smoothness. If you are into trying a white grape that is indigenous to Sicily, you may give Planeta’s Carricante (that’s both the name of the wine and the grape variety) a shot: it is not in the same league as the other two that I mentioned above (at least in my view), but still an interesting wine that is worth a try.
      Other Sicilian wineries that you should consider for their whites are Tasca d’Almerita (their Chardonnay is delicious!), Donnafugata (once again, a very good Chardonnay called Contessa Entellina Chiaranda’) and Benanti: this winery makes a wonderful 100% Carricante white wine (called Pietramarina) in the Etna DOC appellation, which encompasses a unique terroir on the slopes of the Etna volcano (where the vineyards are as high as 3,000 ft in elevation!) conferring the wines from that area incredible minerality, with hints of flint and graphite. If you come across one, try it because it is really something unique (Firriato also makes a good Etna DOC white wine, called Cavanera). There is some interesting information both about the wine and the terroir on Benanti’s web site which is worth checking out, if you are interested: http://www.vinicolabenanti.it/en/vini/etna_cru_01.php and http://www.vinicolabenanti.it/en/territorio/etna.php
      Frank, give at least one of these wines a try and then let me know how you like them. Choosing the right wineries, Sicily sure deserves a second look these days 🙂
      Thanks again for your really interesting question.
      Take care

      1. frankkwine1982

        Thank you for your lenghty explanation Stefano! I’ve had an extremly good Etna Rosso DOC last time visiting Italy. I should Try Etna Bianco maybe? 🙂
        I just red that guide from vinicolabeanati – very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

        Once again I know Donnafugata for their stunning red wines (shame on my that I was so ignorant towards Sicilian white wines). If you get a chance to try Milleeunanotte (hope I spelled it right) then give it a shot. It’s one of these wines for the special occasions or when you simply feel like you want to enjoy a glass of freaking good wine!

        1. Stefano Post author

          Thank you for your comments, Frank!
          First of all, I think wine is never a question of ignorance, but rather a journey of exploration of new territories – or should we say terroirs? 😉 and winemaking styles. Personally, I am impressed by how much you know about Italian wines and how many excellent ones you have tried!
          Yes, by all means you should try Etna Bianco wines if you have a chance: I am pretty sure you will not be disappointed.
          Donnafugata is a great winery and you are right on the money with their Mille e una Notte: it is an outstanding wine. I also very much like its “little brother” Tancredi, a very nice Nero d’Avola based blend. And on the sweet Passito di Pantelleria side, have you ever tried their Ben Rye’? Oh Man, it is just mind-blowing!
          Cheers, Frank!