White: Orvieto or Vermentino
Red: Chianti Classico (a normale, not a riserva)
Cacio e Pepe is a singular dish yet, as with any meal, it needs a wine to accompany it. By “accompanying,” I want to convey the idea of complimenting a dish for the sake of refreshment and, of course, deliciousness, while playing the role of a supporting actor. The peppery spiciness of the dish brings to mind a subtle white or a juicy, youthful red that graces the table almost expressly for refreshment. To avoid a cacophony on the palate, I’m looking for wines that are clean and lean toward the simple side rather than complex. Lots of oak, extraction and/or alcohol are out of the question.
Thinking like an Italian and drawing from the local white wine resources near Rome (Cacio e Pepe’s hometown), I mentally taste that central Italian whites work well with this pasta. Umbria’s Orvieto (a blend of the local Grechetto with Procanico –aka Trebbiano Toscano- and other obscure local white varieties) has an underlying earthiness and soulful juiciness to cleanse the palate while Tuscany’s Vermentino possesses a lovely saline quality that speaks to the salt of the dish. Each wine has a whiff of florality to lend distinctiveness yet both highlight the pasta rather than their own attributes.
For a red combo, I’d pick a taste bud-cleansing, nearby red – without oak – like a Chianti Classico. Chianti Classico has a lightness (provided by its cool climate from its higher elevation) than many other Sangiovese expressions from Tuscany such as Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Rosso di Montalcino.
Youthful wines offering immediate pleasure fit best with this dish. Keep it simple and (fairly) local to Rome. The point of the pasta is simplicity and the wine should follow.
Christy Canterbury, Master of Wine (MW)
Click her for Spaghetti Cario, Pepe e Salsiccia.