Pairing White Wine with a Red Sauce Pasta

Think red sauce and you search almost automatically for a red wine. But wait! Maybe a white wine would be a better match.

But according to John Kelley, wine director at Tagliata, one of Baltimore’s top Italian restaurants, red wines don’t pair well with tomato sauce. Red wines can actually overpower a tomato sauce because of its tannins, alcohol levels and strong flavors. He claims that a better match is a red wine made like a white wine, with minimal or no skin contact and lower alcohol. He believes that the tang of tomato sauce pairs better with the natural acidity of most white wines.

Head Chef at Tagliata, Julian Marucci, created a pasta dish inspired by Sicilian heritage that combines fresh tomato sauce with anchovies and olives, cauliflower, chile and almonds. The restaurant suggests pairing dishes with wines from the same region and so Chef Marucci suggests a Grillo with high acidity and wonderful fruit aromas.

Here’s the pasta recipe, and thank to the Wine Spectator November 30 issue for inspiring this blog.

Spaghetti with Cauliflower, Chiles, Anchovy, Tomatoes & Almonds

Recipe courtesy of chef Julian Marucci and tested by Wine Spectator’s Julie Harans.


  • 1/4 cup salted Marcona almonds
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons diced shallot (from 1 small shallot)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 white anchovy fillets
  • 1 teaspoon Calabrian chile paste
  • Florets from 1 head cauliflower, cut into nickel-size pieces (about half the size of a cherry tomato)
  • Salt
  • One 28-ounce can pomodorini (canned cherry tomatoes)
  • 16 ounces spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup pitted Taggiasca olives
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives
  • 6 oregano leaves
  • 11 basil leaves
  • Freshly ground black pepper


1. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Spread out the almonds on a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil and transfer to the oven. Toast for 7 to 10 minutes, until fragrant but not browned. Let cool slightly, then roughly chop and set aside.

2. In a large, wide-bottomed pot big enough to fit the sauce as well as the pasta, heat the olive oil over medium-low. Add the shallot, garlic, anchovies and chile paste and cook until fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. If the ingredients begin to sizzle, reduce heat to low. Add cauliflower and season generously with salt. Pour the canned tomatoes and their juices over the cauliflower. Fill the empty tomato can halfway with water and add to the pot, stirring to combine. Cook, uncovered, over low heat until the cauliflower is tender (a paring knife should meet with a little resistance), 30 to 35 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt to taste. When the cauliflower is almost tender, add the spaghetti to the boiling water. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes less than the time indicated by the package instructions. Ladle about 1 cup of the pasta water into a bowl. Drain the pasta and add it to the pot with the sauce, tossing to coat. Raise heat to medium, so that the sauce begins to bubble, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. If the sauce gets too thick, add a splash of the reserved pasta water and toss to combine. If it is too thin, continue cooking, raising the heat as needed. When the sauce is cooked to your liking, stir in the olives, herbs and almonds, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serves 4.

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