My Nan still makes the world’s best Spaghetti Bolognese. Despite only learning how to make it when she was well into her 50s, when Italian food finally began to enter the homes of everyday Australians as an ‘exotic’ alternative to the average meat-and-three-veg dinner, it is as though she was born knowing a secret recipe handed down through generations of Nonnas from long ago.
(I think it may actually have more to do with Paul Newman and his sauce empire. But she keeps that secret more well hidden than her sherry bottle.)
Regardless of my best attempts to replicate from scratch the hearty, slow cooked meat ragus of the Bologna area in Italy, hers is still better. She’s now in her 90s, still lives by herself in her own home, has never been to mainland Europe and still makes my own kids Spaghetti Bolognese when we visit her. And, like me, they think hers is the best.
One thing no-one ever did at family meal times at Nan’s place was drink wine with their spaghetti. (Wine was for the hoi-polloi!) But Italians everywhere would gasp at such a travesty. Medium-bodied red wines and Bolognese sauce are natural bedfellows, lifting what’s (for many of us) a mid-week meal to new heights of sophistication.
When matching a wine with pasta, it’s the sauce you need to match – not the pasta itself. So with Bolognese, you’ll want some lively freshness and acidity in the wine to cut through the richness of the sauce, allowing a burst of red, ripe juicy fruit to shine through. And a medium-bodied wine is best, so it doesn’t try to compete with the intensity of the sauce.
Add a salad, some freshly shaved parmesan and – if it wasn’t for the children opposite you slurping louder than a freight train and splattering red sauce all over your carpet (where did they come from?) – you could almost be dining in your own little Italian Trattoria.
There’s literally hundreds of medium-bodied, bouncy red wines out there you can choose from but here are three styles that I think pair wonderfully with Spaghetti Bolognese:
That most quintessential of Italian reds, chianti, is predominantly made from the sangiovese grape, so it’s no accident that this is going to be an excellent match for that most quintessential of Italian pasta sauces – Bolognese.
Sangiovese is high in acidity and high in tannins, but you’ll barely notice either when you take a big swig of it and follow it with that meaty, rich, tomato-y sauce. Instead, you’ll be left tasting all the savoury, earthy flavours and the juicy, berry goodness.
I’m really love this Sangiovese from Pizzini Wines (which is also named after a Nanna.)
Nebbiolo is another northern Italian varietal that’s now doing well in Australia. It is quite similar to pinot noir on the surface, but is much gutsier with more tannins, acidity and depth of flavour. Meaning it can stand up well to all the big flavours in a delicious meat ragu, while still retaining enough elegance to balance everything out on your palate.
It’s Spanish – not Italian. But it goes oh-so-well with a rich pasta sauce like Bolognese. To say it authentically you’ll have to put your tongue between your teeth and use your breathiest voice to utter “Grathiano” over the table to your loved one as you pour them a glass.