A Taste of Italy: Discover the Secrets of Paining Italian Food and Wine

On November 18, Hilton Head Island celebrates the flavors of Italy at Meatball Madness, where local restaurants compete to perfect the tastiest meatballs on Hilton Head Island. This year’s festival will literally break records as the Italian American Club attempts to cook the world’s largest meatball! All proceeds will raise money to combat local hunger.

Since Meatball Madness is combining with the 8th Annual Italian Heritage Festival this month, I thought this would be the perfect time to discuss Italian cuisine, garlic and wine. When pairing wine with Italian food your first instinct may be to match red wine with red sauces. However, strong garlic flavors don’t mingle well with bold red wine because their dominant flavors are fruits like blackberries or plums, which are not something you would want to garnish with garlic. Similarly, the acidity in a quickly cooked tomato sauce will clash with the mild tannins in a red wine, particularly bold Italian reds.

Not all Italian foods are loaded with garlic. Most traditional Italian meat sauces use a clove or two of garlic that with slow cooking fades into the background. Additionally, the slow cooking of tomatoes softens the tart acidity of a raw tomato into a savory finish. The reason red wines pair well with red sauces is because they contain less garlic than you think.

The more garlic a dish contains, the better it pairs with lighter, fruitier wines. A slow-cooked Italian meat sauce atop your favorite pasta will be the perfect match for some of Italy’s boldest aged reds such as Rosso di Montalcino or a Primitivo.

A pasta served with a quick-cooked, fresh tomato-basil sauce needs a light-bodied, fruity, everyday drinking wine such as Barbaresco. A red wine will also fall flat if paired with the classic coastal Italian seafood dish, Frutti di Mare. This dish consists of a variety of shellfish in a red sauce over a bed of linguine. The combination of intense flavors requires a wine that holds up to the tomato and shellfish, but will not clash with the garlic and lemon. This dish pairs well with a white blend of Chardonnay and a crisper grape, such as Pinot Blanc. A dry rosé will pair well, too. However, if you really want to pair a red wine with a garlic rich dish, aim for younger, fruitier varietals.

Indeed, Italians have mastered the combination of garlic and lemon, which ideally pair with white wines. Chicken Piccata, Shrimp Scampi and the versatile Aioli sauce are some examples of this distinctive southern European cuisine. Therefore, it would seem to make perfect sense that wines with strong citrus flavors would be the perfect match. Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc and Italian Trebbiano fit the bill.

Island Winery’s bold Petite Sirah is the perfect match for a slow-cooked red sauce and pizza, while our Sea Island White with its notes of citrus, would be the perfect partner for Italy’s famous lemon and garlic dishes.

The perfect bottle of handcrafted artisan wine awaits at Island Winery on Cardinal Rd. Complimentary tastings, wine by the glass and cheese platters are available Monday-Saturday from 12:30-5:30 p.m. and Sunday from 12-4 p.m. (843) 842-3141 or islandwinery.com.

Article by Georgene Mortimer, Island Winery