Wine pairings for Rigatoni allo Zafferano e Piselli e Radicchio
White: Vermentino or Sicilian whites
Red: Cannonau di Sardegna (Grenache), Nero d’Avola
Given that Rigatoni is a Southern pasta and saffron reminds me of the crossroads of the Mediterranean Sea, this dish seems to fit naturally with wines of the islands. This pasta is also a wholesome, filling pasta, despite its veggies, so a medium to full bodied wine would work quite well.
Sardinia is known for its whites made from the Vermentino grape. Vermentino flavors include nuts, lemons and faint smells of dried flowers. Vermentino di Gallura and Vermentino di Sardegna are the best known Sardinian whites made in a fresh and fruit-driven style. They may not be easy to find State-side, unless you are in a major city or on the coasts. Luckily, Vermentino is grown in other regions, specifically Tuscany and Liguria. Vermentino from Tuscany is probably the easiest to track down. Alternatively, any Sicilian white would work. Sicilian whites are typically made from native varieties Catarratto, Inzolia (also known as Ansonica) and Grillo. These grapes produce medium- to full-bodied and lightly floral wines that mimic many of Vermentino’s characteristics. Regardless of the white you choose, specify at the store that you would like a white wine note aged in new oak. The butter and vanilla flavors of new oak will compete aggressively with the delicate saffron of the dish – a struggle best to avoid!
Sardinia is also known for Cannonau, or Grenache in the local dialect. These hearty and juicy reds will stand up to this pasta without dominating it. Cannonau has an earthy, briary quality that will pair up very well with the pancetta and saffron. In case the Cannonau is elusive in your local stores, check for Nero d’Avola. Nero d’Avola is a generously fruity red, just like Cannonau. Both of these grape varieties are low in tannin and very moderate in acidity. Beware – if you like to sip wine while you cook, you might want to buy two bottles. These are perfect apéritif wines that go down faster than you might expect!
Check out our recipe for Rigatoni allo Zafferano e Piselli e Radicchio.
Christy Canterbury, Wine Editor