Basics: Your Official Guide to Cheesy Pasta Wine Pairings | Wine Enthusiast
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Your Official Guide to Cheesy Pasta Wine Pairings

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There’s something deeply soul-satisfying about digging into a bowl of creamy mac and cheese or peppery cacio e pepe. Let’s face it—cheese and pasta are just better together. The only way to make this combo better? The perfect glass of wine, which has the power to elevate the dish’s flavors, counter its richness (or lightness) and deepens the diner’s overall satisfaction manyfold.

As in all food and drink pairings, balance is key. Some cheeses are hit-you-over-the-head rich and salty (hey, Parmigianino Reggiano) while others boast more demure, mild flavors (think fluffy ricotta). Different wines are called for accordingly.

When considering what bottle to reach for when you plate your pasta, Hanna Kyle—most recently the sommelier at New York City’s Il Buco—says, “Think about region first. What grows together goes together.”

And when in doubt, cheesy pasta often shines alongside wines with high acidity. “[They] cut through the richness,” Kyle says. “It helps cleanse your palate without being overtaken by the intensity,”

Need more specific intel? These expert picks make iconic pasta and cheese dishes even more delicious.

Cacio e pepe, italian cheese and pepper pasta top view
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The Best Wine for Cacio e Pepe: Mosnel NV Pas Dosè Sparkling Blend (Franciacorta)

94 Points Wine Enthusiast

Italian for “cheese and pepper,” cacio e pepe is a Roman classic of long noodles (usually spaghetti) with Pecorino Romano and a generous amount of black pepper. When it comes to saltiness, Pecorino Romano is not shy. It packs a double punch of richness and salinity because it’s made from sheep’s milk, which is higher in fat than its cow and goat cousins.

Plus, “the more aged a cheese is, the fuller and sharper its flavor profile is, the more unctuous it tastes in your mouth,” says Katie Quinn, author of Cheese, Wine, and Bread: Discovering the Magic of Fermentation in England, Italy, and France. “You want something that is going to balance that out, and cut the full fattiness.”

“Effervescent wine is ideal, like Franciacorta,” she continues. The sparkling wine from Lombardy has a dry crispness that can stand up to cacio e pepe’s creamy zing. Pét Nat is another excellent option, she adds.

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Creamy Mushroom Fettuccine Alfredo
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The Best Wine for Fettuccine Alfredo: Giesen 2017 Clayvin Fuder Chardonnay (Marlborough)

94 Points Wine Enthusiast

Many assume fettuccine Alfredo is an Italian-American creation. But, it turns out the dish was conceived by its namesake, Alfredo di Lelio, in his restaurant on the Via Della Scrofa in Rome. “Give me all the cheesy Alfredo,” says Kyle. She pairs it with “a creamy, buttery wine with high acidity, like an oaked Chardonnay.”

The wine’s acidity is essential for standing up to all the fat in the butter, heavy cream and Parmesan that goes into making Alfredo sauce, she explains. The Chardonnay’s boldness and structure play well with the dish’s richness. But if you prefer a red, Kyle suggests something light and fresh, like a Sangiovese from Lungarotti or Umbria.

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Mac and cheese. traditional american dish macaroni pasta and a cheese sauce
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The Best Wine for Macaroni and Cheese: Trimbach 2020 Réserve Riesling (Alsace)

94 Points Wine Enthusiast

Mac and cheese is like a blank slate for culinary creativity. It can be silky smooth or crunchy with breadcrumbs. It may be made with any and all kinds of cheeses, from nutty Gruyere and piquant Roquefort to sharp cheddar. Regardless of the vast possibilities, Quinn says, “the high acidity in a dry Riesling would make it a go-to for mac and cheese.” Salty cheeses across the board balance the aromatic wine, and Riesling’s brightness refreshes the palate so that you’re ready for another spoonful of mac.

Spaghetti alla norma - traditional italian pasta with eggplants and tomato on a plate over dark slate, stone or concrete background. Top view.
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The Best Wine for Pasta alla Norma: Carpineto 2018 Riserva Red Blend (Chianti Classico)

92 Points Wine Enthusiast

This Sicilian classic dish includes pasta with eggplant tossed in tomato sauce and topped with fresh basil and ricotta salata (pressed and aged ricotta), which lends a salty, pleasantly mouth-puckering bite. Quinn thinks a Chianti is a winner here. “It’s not too fruity, not too dry and an all-around people pleaser that compliments the pasta’s tomatoey-ness,” she explains. Chianti’s subtle notes of smoke bring out ricotta salata’s deep brininess and the earthy depth of the eggplant, as well as the basil’s fragrant freshness.

$19.99 Vivino
Homemade italian gnocchi with spinach and ricotta on a ceramic plate.Top view
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The Best Wine for Ricotta Gnocchi: Vietti 2020 Tre Vigne Barbera (Barbera d’Asti)

93 Points Wine Enthusiast

Light, fluffy ricotta gnocchi have a delicateness that sets them apart from many of the other cheese-bomb pasta dishes. “Ricotta has a distinct sweetness that is great with a lighter red that is not super tannic, like a Barbera from Piedmont,” Kyle suggests.

Barbera is the everyday red of Piedmont, which is nestled in the foothills of the Italian Alps. Its friendly red berry notes and mouth-watering acidity make it a welcome match to these joy-inducing, melt-in-your-mouth dumplings.

Baked stuffed shell pasta with meat and tomato sauce in baking dish, wooden background, top view
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The Best Wine for Stuffed Shells: Altesino 2017 Montosoli Sangiovese (Brunello di Montalcino)

92 Points Wine Enthusiast

Filled with creamy ricotta cheese, topped with milky mozzarella and baked in marinara sauce, Italian-American stuffed shells are comfort food at its best. “Something more powerful is perfect for this dish,” says Kyle. She opts for a Brunello di Montalcino, “because of its high acid, high tannins and tomato leaf quality.” The Tuscan superstar’s profound complexity and robust body—and all its acidity and tannins—can stand up to the festival of pasta, tomato and rich, melty cheese this dish offers.

lasagna on a white plate
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The Best Wine for Classic Meat Lasagna: D’Angelo 2016 Caselle (Aglianico del Vulture)

90 Points Wine Enthusiast

Meat lasagna is one of the bigger, bolder cheesy pasta dishes, made with layers of unctuous flavor. With meat lasagna, opt for a fuller-bodied red wine. Its puckery, high tannins are softened by the meat’s fat and salt.

“I’d drink an Aglianico from [Southern Italy],” Kyle says. “It’s vegetal and earthy, a big wine for all those melty cheeses.” The powerful Aglianico grape has been used to make wine since Ancient Roman times and usually contains a surprising balance and freshness—an ideal foil for a heavy dish.

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Spaghetti pasta with gorgonzola cheese and nuts
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The Best Wine for Pasta with Creamy Gorgonzola: Matané 2020 Primitivo (Puglia)

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When it comes to pasta with peppery, luxurious blue cheese, Quinn gravitates toward “the kind of wine that hits your tongue and you think: ‘Ooh! Jammy!’” Just like berry jam is a superb choice for serving with blue cheese, Quinn recommends a “full, fruity, bold wine like Primitivo from Puglia.” Primitivo is high in both alcohol and tannins, intensely flavored and beautifully inky. From the boot of Italy, it has ripe red berry flavors and the right amount of structure to match the rich dish.

American creamy macaroni and cheese pasta
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The Best Wine for your Orange Pasta from the Box: Bonny Doon 2021 Le Cigare Orange Skin-Contact Wine of the Earth Grenache Blanc (Central Coast)

92 Points Wine Enthusiast

No shade, there’s a time and a place for silky smooth pasta made possible by a packet of fluorescent orange powder. When pairing, Kyle reaches for a drink with similarly quirky flavors. “Orange wine has tannins because it sits on skins longer, and its textural component makes it perfect for the punch of processed cheese,” she says. With a citrus zing and an inviting versatility, this wine also shines with a retro, delicious cheese snack: Velveeta on Ritz crackers.

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