The automatic pasta-Chianti pairing is long dead, and matching noodles and wine is trickier than it might seem. Pasta is dense and chewy and usually wants a silky-textured wine with a rich mouthfeel, but the sauce needs to be considered. Tomato sauce usually calls for a red wine with acidity to hold up to the tomatoes—but avoid the monster tannins of, say, a cab. Layer a casserole with white sauce, and it's white wine you want—one with flavors to match the other ingredients in the dish. Meanwhile, pungent cheeses can throw a curveball. We put four baked pastas to the test. From steals to splurges, try these.
A classic, creamy version calls for California chardonnay. The grape in general has the ideal rich texture for pasta, but the creamy apple, melon, and pear fruits in West Coast chards love chicken. Pick one with bright lemon and a mineral edge.
- Value: McManis 2009 Chardonnay (California, $10)
- Starmont 2008 Chardonnay by Merryvale (California, $20)
- Patz & Hall 2008 Chardonnay (California, $35)
Shrimp and scallops plus béchamel need a wine that's both delicate and rich: Northwest pinot gris. Each of these selections offers sweet apple, pear, and hints of stone fruit, all of which have an affinity for shellfish, and they're brightened with citrus and mineral flavors.
- Value: A to Z Wineworks 2009 Pinot Gris (Oregon, $13)
- Milbrandt 2008 "Traditions" Pinot Gris (Washington, $15)
- Anne Amie 2009 Pinot Gris (Oregon, $19)
With tomato sauce and white sauce, this pasta is a challenge for wine. But ground beef points to red. Tempranillo has dark, tangy fruit that's a perfect match for the tomatoey beef. And each of the picks also works with the creamy side of the dish.
- Value: 2005 Ramón Bilbao Crianza (Spain, $13)
- Truchard 2006 Tempranillo (California, $25)
- Longoria 2007 Clover Creek Vineyard Tempranillo (California, $36)
This vegetarian dish hits a lot of flavor notes, and pinot noir has an answer for all. Its red fruit—berry, cherry, pomegranate, and rhubarb—offers acidity (to handle the tomatoes). Medium-bodied, silky pinots also have spice, herbs, loam, and leather.