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Pesto Sauce Wine Pairing: Vermentino

Updated: Nov 23, 2023


Best Pesto Sauce Wine pairings:

- Vermentino

- Rossese di Dolceacqua


From green to red, white to rosé, the connections that link wine to pesto are colorful! This timeless sauce regularly finds its place in pasta dishes like trofie, gnocchi, or trenette, but not only...

While numerous types of pasta are available, there's a connection between pesto and wine that forever ties the Mediterranean together: the Vermentino. This grape variety, whose origins are still somewhat unknown, thrives in Provence and Corsica, as well as in Tuscany, Sardinia, and of course, Liguria.

Let's take a moment to stop in this northern part of Italy, so rich in secrets and flavors!


Pesto

ORIGIN


Ma cos’è il pesto? When we talk about Italian cuisine, especially the original recipes, we're walking a fine line. For pesto, there's a basic, classic recipe, and a few variations. To my knowledge, these variations aren't considered declarations of war (unless someone daringly invents pineapple pesto, perhaps).

Green Pesto

Naturally, the origin of pesto has always been a point of contention. Tell a Genoese that pesto is an adaptation of Provencal pistou, and they'll probably tell you to go check at the San Basilio convent to see what’s up. For our food and wine pairing, let's use as our foundation the recipe from authentic Ligurian households:

• Genovese DOP basil (fromPrà)

• Vessalicco garlic • Pinenuts • Aged Parmigiano Reggiano • Sardinian pecorino • Coarse Trapani salt • Riviera Ligure DOP olive oil


basil

Eccoci qua! Arrange the ingredients in a mortar, crush, and enjoy. The etymology of the word "pesto" actually comes from the term "pestare," which means to press or crush. Although many Italians secretly admit to using an electric mixer, it's believed that the mortar and pestle technique preserves the texture, aromas, and doesn't oxidize the basil...

Variations

Since "pesto" essentially means "to crush," one could almost say that anything that's crushed is pesto. Not wanting to get too caught up in conflict with Italians, I prefer to limit myself to a few examples:

Red Pesto

Less common than green pesto, it's still popular in Italy, particularly in the south. In Catania, for example, they produce a red pesto made with dried tomatoes, fennel, and anchovies: pesto catanese. But the two most well-known versions of red pesto are probably pesto alla calabrese and pesto alla siciliana. Prepared with fresh tomatoes and ricotta, the former uses red peppers while the latter substitutes pine nuts with almonds.

Another Sicilian version, without ricotta, is associated with the delicious busiate, to create the famous pasta con il pesto alla trapanese.

Pistachio Pesto

Still in the Catania region, where DOP Bronte pistachios grow, there's a unique variation of green pesto: basil is complemented or even replaced by pistachios, simply crushed in a mortar with olive oil and salt. It's an interesting pesto because the proportions and ingredients can vary among producers. The most unusual version is probably pistachio and arugula pesto.

Modena Pesto

We're starting to venture off the beaten path. And for a good reason, Modena pesto doesn't contain basil, oil, cheese, or pine nuts – no, no, no – but instead, it has pork lard! Added to that are rosemary and garlic, creating an ideal condiment for meat lovers.

To conclude, generally speaking, if the mood strikes you, indulge in the mortar and pestle technique with whatever comes to hand: eggplants, zucchinis, radish greens, mint...


What wine with green pesto?


So, pesto is a quintessentially Italian sauce. Any clue?

Genoese, fragrant, and generous, green pesto pairs wonderfully with Italian white wines, especially those from Liguria, which combine freshness with the aromatic intensity of their iconic grape varieties. Other choices are possible, but Ligurian white wines, definitely.

White Wine


vermentino grapes

Regularly served as a starter, trofie, trofiette, and succulent gnocchi al pesto offer a great opportunity to start the meal by pairing them with a northern Italian white wine.

Vermentino

Present throughout much of the Mediterranean basin, Vermentino offers an enveloping character that is both pulpy and floral. Its fragrance of lime blossom and hawthorn is complemented by notes of grapefruit, ripe apricot, and pear. Its mineral freshness breaks the richness of the pesto, while its aromatic power complements the intense flavor of the sauce.

I particularly enjoy the Vermentino from the Riviera di Levante, especially those labeled Colli di Luni. But Vermentino isn't only found in Liguria: in Sardinia, the Vermentino di Gallura – which can sometimes boast a high alcohol content (14° or more) – shines with its pronounced saline minerality.


It's also widely cultivated in southern France, in Provence and Corsica.


Italian coast

Pigato

In Liguria, pigato is the king! Mainly cultivated in the western part of the region, this Vermentino clone matures after the latter. Its more intense and herbaceous aromas stand up well to our green pesto! The one from the Riviera Ligure di Ponente is recognized by the Italian sommelier community as the most typical pairing.

Its name originates from the small spots that appear on its skin before harvest, known as "pighe." Its jasmine and sweet almond notes bring depth and enhance the pleasant taste of pine nuts.


Other Examples in Italy

While better known for its red wines, Italy does offer exceptional white wines: in Friuli, for instance, a white Sauvignon Blanc is produced along the Isonzo river, known as Vie di Romans. This winery produces some of the best white wines I've tasted.

A bit further south, in Campania, the Avellino province has hosted for centuries a complex, nutty, and floral grape variety named Fiano, which pairs well with pesto. Cortese produced in Gavi or Trebbiano d'Abruzzo are also excellent food and wine pairing choices.

In France maybe?

Since pesto sauce is the second most consumed Italian sauce in the world after tomato sauce, everyone's local flavors should be embraced! Especially if your preference for french southern white wines leads you to choose a Rolle, another name for Vermentino. AOP Pierrevert blanc and its Provençal blends will also surprise you with their rarity and generosity.

In other regions, we find the tension and inimitable aromatic profile of sauvignon blanc in Entre-deux-Mers in Bordeaux or in Menetou-Salon in the Loire Valley. In Alsace, Riesling remains, in my opinion, this 'Swiss knife' grape for so many food and wine pairings that it can easily be added to this list.


italian wines

Other Wines

"I get cramps from white wine." Well, well, very well. Fortunately, the Genoese have prepared for this. These champions of heroic viticulture also excel in producing fresh, subtle, and aromatic red wines, like Rossese di Dolceacqua, which has had a DOP designation since 1972. In a more common category, pinot noir also thrives in the Cinque Terre and Trentino regions.

I'm not a big fan of rosés and sparkling wines with green pesto, so I don't recommend them for this pairing. If you're inclined, go for a Bardolino Chiaretto or a Provence gris rosé, a blanquette de Limoux, or a zero dosage prosecco for bubbles.

What wine with red pesto?

Enter the tomato! Sweet or acidic, fresh or dried, let's find a partner that will make it shine. While the diversity of ingredients won't guarantee a perfect wine match every time, the rule of regional pairing is generally well received.


Red Wine

Tomato and red wine, an intuitive and well-recognized pairing! If you don't choose a wine that's too tannic or heavy, you should be fine. With a ricotta sauce, you might even consider a red wine with a few grams of residual sugar, like Negroamaro from Puglia or a Valpolicella Ripasso from Veneto.

For pesto with peppers, go for freshness while maintaining spice with a Cesanese from Latium. I also like the Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio, a famous Neapolitan wine. Here, the Piedirosso grape establishes its roots in the volcanic soil of Mount Vesuvius, combining minerality and white pepper notes, as long as it's not overly dominated by Aglianico.

various pestos

For the pesto alla catanese, I like to choose a red wine, despite the presence of anchovies. So, I opt for a wine that's both powerful and mineral, while also being subtle and fruity. This scenario doesn't come up often, except on Mount Etna with Nerello Mascalese!

In France, how could you resist the "greddy-crispy" character of Chinon's cabernet franc? On Corsica - the Isle of Beauty -, many winemakers practicing natural viticulture produce a fine and spicy Patrimonio thanks to Nielluccio, the final boss of southern France.

Other Wines

For white wines, Sicily and Sardinia offer a wide range of characterful options. Like father, like wine? Rediscover the charm of these wines in Sicily with Carricante or Grillo. In Sardinia, the unstoppable return of Vermentino di Gallura.

In rosé, it's time to get serious with the noble Bandol rosé, with its aromatic presence and unique substance. For more simplicity while retaining structure, why not try a Clairet from Bordeaux?

With Pistachio Pesto, Arugula Pesto...

Lastly, how do we pair pesto when it's feeling creative? Keep in mind that it's often a rich sauce in terms of taste and fat content. So, pair the sauce with a wine that's sharp (with acidity) but also expressive and aromatic.

For arugula pesto, I find that Piemontese Arneis is perfect. It accompanies the bitterness and peppery aspect of the sauce without overpowering it.


With pistachio pesto, try a Friulian or even an Alsace Pinot blanc, possibly aged in oak barrels. This will provide a denser texture and enhance certain notes like acacia flower or yellow apple.

For Modena pesto, which is usually used to stuff tigelle (or crescentine), embrace the local flavors by pairing it with a brut Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro.

I hope this article guides you in choosing the right wine with pesto and, most importantly, makes your mouth water! 😋🌱

Video: The recipe for trofie al pesto con patate e fagiolini (pasta with basil pesto, potatoes, and green beans)


Links to buy:


Recipe

Trofie with pesto, green beans and potatoes :



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