Wine Pairing Advice: What to Drink With Italian-American Classics

Super-simple meatballs: get the recipe. Vicky Wasik

The Italian-American dishes we've been sharing all week—red sauce (quick or long-cooked), tender meatballs, crisp-crusted chicken parm, creamy Fettuccine Alfredo, gooey baked ziti, and garlicky shrimp scampi—are pretty darn delicious. But there's one more key to the dinner puzzle: the bottle of wine you choose to serve alongside the feast.

We didn't want to leave your glasses empty, so we turned to a few of our sommelier friends (who happen to work at restaurants like Franny's in Brooklyn and Babbo and Ai Fiori in Manhattan.) Here are their wine pairing tips for your next Italian-American dinner party.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Super-simple meatballs: get the recipe.. Vicky Wasik

"Dry, juicy Italian reds were what early Italian immigrants once drank with their meatballs and spaghetti. This is Italian jug wine, the kind you get for 3 or 4 Euros (per box, not bottle) at the market in Italy. If it's a little cheap and coarse, that's okay; spaghetti became an American staple during the Great Depression. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Chianti, and Nero d'Avola are my favorites. Piccini and Cecchi make delicious, widely available Chiantis for about 10 bucks a bottle."—Jackson Rohrbaugh (Canlis)

"I think it's totally criminal to drink anything other than Italian wine with Italian food. They vibe together so well, not just flavor-wise, but also aesthetically. If you drink otherwise, you're kind of blowing the romance. For spaghetti and meatballs (or really most dishes with tomato), it's generally better to look more to the Italian south than the north, like maybe Tuscany and below. And it's a good idea to go with something country but hearty, like a Sangiovese-based Rosso from Umbria (Cantine Adanti makes a great one from Montefalco that is beefed up with the Sagrantino grape), or maybe something from the lesser-known appellation of Biferno, in Molise, whose wines are made from Montepulciano and rustic Aglianico." —Steven Grubbs (Empire State South, Five & Ten)

"Chianti Classico. Don't go rich and full-bodied: choose one with a more elegant style that will allow the acidity of the tomatoes to shine. Try Montenidoli Chianti Colli Senesi Il Garrulo or Castello di Cacchiano Chianti Classico." —Francine Stephens (Marco's, Franny's)

"I tend to choose wines from Tuscany any time there's a light red sauce present. A favorite of mine at the moment is Montevertine Pian Delciampola. I also like wines from Southern Italy for this dish—anything that has bright acidity and some of those stewed tomato qualities—think Aglianico or Sagrantino."—Laura Maniec MS (Corkbuzz Chelsea Market)

"Tomato is a red fruit, so I am always looking for wines with red fruit flavors to complement tomato sauces. Sangiovese is probably the most classic pairing, but Barbera or a simpler Nebbiolo would be great as well. In Chianti there's been a surge of quality wine in the last few decades. One of my favorite Chianti producers is Caparsa—old school with gorgeous cranberry and cherry flavors and firm tannins to go with the fattiness of the meatballs. If you want to go a bit off the beaten path, look for AR.PE.PE's Rosso di Valtellina—delicate, perfumed Nebbiolo from the far north of Italy."—Raphael Ginsburg (Costata,Ai Fiori)

Shrimp Scampi

Shrimp scampi: get the recipe. Vicky Wasik

"This dish calls for a fresh and savory wine—something to cut through the richness of the butter and olive oil but that can also handle the strength of the garlic and match the sweetness of the shrimp. I like to go to Southern Italy with a Fiano di Avellino from Mastroberardino or Feudi di San Gregorio. Wines with texture, spicy and fennel notes that would match the dish perfectly. If going to California, Matthiasson's white blend consists of Sauvignon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Semillon, and Tocai Friulano; fruit, generosity, and complexity."—Michaël Engelmann MS (The Modern)

"Salty, crisp white wines are the key here—with all that fresh, briny shrimp just swimming around in your sauce, you want something clean, rather than an overblown wine that will compete with what is on the plate. The classic option is Vermentino from Liguria—Terre Bianche makes a great one. For something new and different, try the same grape from a New World producer: the Ryme 'Hers' Vermentino is beautifully transparent, and driven by salty, sea spray minerality.—Mia Van de Water (North End Grill)

"To me, pink foods [like shrimp] seem to go really well with pink wines. I might just like the color pink all over my table, but I'd go with a still rosé here. Something super mineral and screaming with acid so your palate gets swooshed clean after a big bite of garlic and butter. Right now, I'm obsessed with the Domaine Regina Gris de Toul rosé from the Lorraine region in France (way north, sandwiched sort of in between Champagne and Alsace). It's made from mostly Gamay (which surprised me, since Gamay is more commonly known as the grape in Beaujolais, way further south) in this super pale, super bright, and sharp style. Thinking about it makes me crave shrimp scampi. Yum." —Stevie Stacionis (Bay Grape)

"All that garlic and butter...bring on a dry, lively and crisp white wine! You'll want to lift the dish with the wine—brighten it up—and a white wine from Northern Italy is just the thing. Try a grape called Pigato which is indigenous to Liguria. Its briny lemon, herbs and bright acidity are fabulous with seafood. Colle dei Bardellini is a wonderful producer of Pigato and I LOVE Cascina Feipu Dei Massaretti too."—Susan Brink O'Flaherty (Dominick's, Little Dom's)

"Garlic can detract from a lot of wines but the combination of white wine and butter allows wines such as Austrian Grüner Veltliner to shine. The wines of Peter Veyder Malberg are clean, dry and powerful. Also Schloss Gobelsburg makes a wonderful value Grüner Veltliner called Gobelsburger that would complement scampi perfectly. The refreshing crisp texture of Sauvignon Blanc from the region of Sancerre would be a lovely combination as well. Alphonse Mellot and Edmund Vatan are some of the top producers in the region." —Michael Scaffidi (Union Square Cafe)

"Stick to white wine here, and with the garlic, butter and olive oil, it has to be big. Something too lean would be lost. I'd go with a Sicilian white in this case, as shrimp dishes are abundant in this region and the white grapes, Grillo, Cataratto and Carricante are a perfect match. Look for Tami Grillo or Graci Etna Bianco." —Francine Stephens (Marco's, Franny's)

"I really like Albarino from Rias Baixas, Spain. This coastal region on the Atlantic is known for their pristine seafood, including gambas. I like the salty brine from the Albarino with the garlic and white wine. Try Granbazan Albarino, it's a classic." —Laura Maniec MS (Corkbuzz Chelsea Market)

"I love the coastal whites of Campania with shrimp scampi. Wines like Fiano, Greco and blends of indigenous varieties from the Amalfi, specifically. The wines generally express subtle tropical fruit and are always balanced by a touch of salinity and minerality that works so well with this dish. A few of my favorites: 2012 San Salvatore Paestum Greco 'Calpazio'. San Salvatore is a biodynamic winery located within a national park in the seaside town of Paestum. 2012 Luigi Maffini Fiano 'Kratos': also from Paestum, Maffini's Fiano has an underlying smokiness that works well with shellfish. 2012 Marisa Cuomo Furore: Marisa Cuomo's winery is in the beautiful town of Ravello on the Amalfi Coast. This is a fresh, stainless steel-only blend of Falanghina and Biancolella." —Francesco Grosso (Marea)

"I like that lightly spicy style of Pinot Grigio that we find up in the Collio zone of Friuli, in Italy's northeast. They typically have just enough weight to match the richness of the butter component, but that savory/woodsy spice note helps deal with the protein in the shrimp. Marco Felluga's 'Mongris' is awesome, and so is the finer, pricier stuff made by Collio great Schiopetto." —Steven Grubbs (Empire State South, Five & Ten)

"With most shellfish and crustacean preparations, I look for wines from coastal areas like Liguria. Great, affordable whites that are crisp and herbal. The vineyards for white grapes in Liguria are close to the sea, and although I can't prove this influences the profile of the wines, these wines are distinctly marked with a briny characteristic that works well with the sweet and briny flavors found in shrimp. Try Poggio dei Gorleri 'Cycnus' Pigato. It's mineral and herbaceous, with a salty kick. Or pour Cantina Lunae 'Etichetta Grigia' Vermentino. A touch more fruit in the wine, but still displaying the essence of the sea."—Thomas Kim (Babbo)

Chicken Parm

Chicken Parmesan: get the recipe.. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

"Look to the red, bubbly classic from Emilia-Romagna: Lambrusco. I would choose one that's on the drier, less fruity side and with just enough tannin to play into the cheese, but not kill the sauce. Among my favorites is the 'Suoli Cataldi' Lambrusco Reggiano from Podere Giardino. Podere Giardino is an organic farm that provides raw milk to the area's Parmigiano producers. Their wine, by design, are greataccompaniments for Italian comfort food and has that classic hint of balsamico and dried berries."—Krista Voisin (Otto)

"I have to go with sparkling wine as a personal standby when you've got anything fried, since the bubbles and bright acidity slice right through the crispiness and oil. This is a no-holds-barred dish, so I like a no-holds-barred wine, too: rosé Champagne. Chartogne-Taillet's Brut Rosé Champagne will instantly elevate this meal to baller status." —Stevie Stacionis (Bay Grape)

"Chicken is a lighter meat but since it is breaded here, it is richer. The tomato sauce adds sweetness, acidity and intensity to the dish. I like to play with a Barbera, a lighter red that stands up to the acidity and richness of the dish. Look out for producers like Cavallotto or Vajra. If you are looking for something from California, Palmina makes a great Barbera in Santa Barbara County, a true honest expression of this lovely grape."—Michaël Engelmann MS (The Modern)

"I would want to go further south here to a few appellations making reds that are surprisingly light on their feet but can still handle tomato (an ingredient that gives many wines fits). Reds from Mount Etna in Sicily spring to mind (like the entry-level Etna Rosso by terrific high-altitude producer Terre Nere), as do the wines from Vittoria on the eastern side of the island (classic producer COS and the 100% Frappato by Centonze are both great options)." —Steven Grubbs (Empire State South, Five & Ten)

"There are two directions you could go here; either a full-bodied white, which will match the chicken but stand up to the tomato sauce, or a light bodied red, again, I wouldn't go too full bodied or serious with the chicken. For the white: choose Verdicchio from the Marche, perhaps the most age worthy of Italian grapes—the Bucci Verdicchio Classico is the perfect example. For a red, try a fun Dolcetto or Barbera from Piedmont—both will be perfect!" —Francine Stephens (Marco's, Franny's)

"Most people think that you must pair chicken with white wine. Not the case here, although an Italian white like a Soave made with the garganega grape would be lovely. I would recommend a medium bodied red. Sangiovese works beautifully, but why not try a fun wine from near Venice! I love the Corsa Sella Ronda Teroldego. Pronounced terr-all-di-goh, the wine has notes of violets, crushed berries, red plum, earth and a little spice. This wine will add another dimension without taking away from the awesomeness that chicken parm has just on its own! If you live in a small town and don't have access to boutique wine shops that carry a wine like this, try a medium bodied or light red like pinot noir."—Susan Brink O'Flaherty (Dominick's, Little Dom's)

"You can go one of two ways with chicken parm. You can stick with classic Italian wines like Brunello Di Montalcino—the tannin in the wine will cut through the fat and the cheese, while still keeping with the complementary flavors of the tomato. As an alternative, for a more 'out there' paring, you might consider trying rosé Champagne. Since the chicken is fried, you want something with bubbles to cut it—and you need a rich Champagne for tomato and cheese. A producer to try is Paul Bara; their rosé is delicious." —Laura Maniec MS (Corkbuzz Chelsea Market)

Fettuccine Alfredo

Fettuccine Alfredo: get the recipe.. J. Keni Lopez-Alt

"One of the major keys to successful food and wine pairing is the matching of weight and texture—you don't want the dish to overwhelm the wine, or vice versa! Once cream sauce is on the table, it needs to figure first in your considerations; you want a wine with equal richness and creaminess of texture (but balanced, of course!). Try a Chardonnay from the central coast of California—Sandhi's Santa Barbara bottling is terrific."—Mia Van de Water (North End Grill)

"Man, I love this dish. It became my comfort-food standby in college, right around the time I (and the rest of America) was obsessed with Pinot Grigio. I have to say, the pairing still works like a charm and still makes me feel really safe, comfy, and happy. I think the reason it works together is because neither of them are super bold but rather soft, easy, and subtly flavored. There's a really pretty peach and melon component to a good Pinot Grigio, along with this slightly bitter almond note that works beautifully with the sweet creaminess of the pasta—especially if you put just a dash of nutmeg in your sauce like I do. Right now, the Scarpetta Pinot Grigio is my favorite. It's made by Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey and his chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson from Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder. It has more complexity and prettiness than a lot of Pinot Grigios, and is so versatile with food." —Stevie Stacionis (Bay Grape)

"I look for a white wine with a gentle richness to match the rich creamy sauce. A Chardonnay that is not too oaky would be great; a Macon from Dominique Cornin or from Copain in Mendocino would match is very well. A chardonnay from the Jura, from Bornard or Tournelle would go well with the creamy, cheesy richness of the dish."—Michaël Engelmann MS (The Modern)

"Believe it or not, I think with rich sauces such as Alfredo, you need a big red with a lot of tannin. I know it doesn't seem right because of the lack of protein in the dish, but the richness of the sauce really cuts through the tannin in the dish. Northern Rhone Syrah from regions like Cote Rotie or Crozes Hermitage have a lot of savory pepper notes and richness to match the dish, but also cut through the fat." —Laura Maniec MS (Corkbuzz Chelsea Market)

"A light to medium bodied red would be great with the creaminess and richness of this dish. A Rosso di Montalcino from Tuscany or a Lagrein from the Alto Adige would be amazing!" —Francine Stephens (Marco's, Franny's)

"This creamy dish a crisp sparkling wine is a great match. Prosecco comes to mind. Look for Ruggeri Prosecco, it's delicious."—Dennis Perry (Peninsula Grill)

"The dish I grew fat on as a kid! I'd highlight the creamy nature of the dish and balance it with acidity (the key to all Italian whites). Going north to Alto Adige will ensure the wine has acidity and Terlano produces wines that are both rich and acidic. I love the Terlano 'Nova Domus' Sauvignon Blanc—the wine is rich without being over the top."—Jeffrey Porter (Del Posto)

"Decadent, rich, silky cream is a great excuse to break out some bubbles. The Il Mosnel Franciacorta Rosé is a brut sparkler that rises to the occasion. Made from mostly pinot nero and barrel-fermented chardonnay, you get hints of crisp strawberry, brioche, white pepper."—Krista Voisin (Otto)

"One option: Chardonnay from northern Italy. This would cut through the heaviness and richness of the cream sauce really nicely while complimenting the buttery creaminess at the same time. I love the producer Elio Grasso from the Langhe region of Piedmont, Italy (remember the Olympics at Torino? Same neck of the woods.) Otherwise, try an Italian red with serious tannin. If you can break the bank, try a Barolo or Barbaresco, which are styles of wine made from the Nebbiolo grape, named for the famous sub regions they come from in Piedmont. You can find a less expensive nebbiolo that is from outside of these sub regions and it would be easier on the wallet without compromising your palate. A hint with the grape nebbiolo: it needs to open up! If you are faced with a newer vintage, break out the decanter (or any pitcher you have on hand) and let some oxygen in."—Susan Brink O'Flaherty (Dominick's, Little Dom's)

"With Fettuccine Alfredo my favorite pairing is a white Burgundy, specifically, a Puligny Montrachet. Puligny-Montrachet is simply a wine made from Chardonnay that comes from the town of Puligny within Burgundy, France. When I ponder a pairing, I consider the major flavors and textures: in this case the creamy sauce will be the dominant characteristic. I find that White Burgundy works with these style of dish because its minerality and acidity will shine and cut some of the creaminess of the sauce allowing the palate to be refreshed after each sip (it's like eating a bit of ginger between bites of sushi). Chardonnay, traditionally, also goes through a proccess of malolactic fermentation. This is a process that changes the acid in the grapes from harsh malo acid to creamy lactic acid. The wonderful lactic acid will compliment the creamy texture of the alfredo sauce. A few of my favorite producers in the region are Roulot, Leflaive, and Pierre Yves Colin Morey." —Colin Thoreen (Ai Fiori)

Baked Ziti

Baked Ziti: get the recipe.. Vicky Wasik

"With a simple classic like baked ziti, you shouldn't overthink pairings. In northern Italy, just south of Switzerland, the Nebbiolo-based wines from Valtellina are made for richer dishes. With bright acidity, they clean the palate after each bite, match the sweet soaring acidity of the tomatoes, and cut through the heavier cheese elements of the dish. Producers such as Sandro Fay, Arpepe and Nino Negri make some excellent and affordable Valtellinas." —Victoria James (Marea)

"Oven-roasting boosts the sweetness in this dish, and endears it to a ripe red wine. An elegant, dark-fruited red from Valpolicella can boost the sweetness of the onion and tomato in this dish. Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella or Giuseppe Quintarelli's Primofiore blend would be great, and the robust ripeness of Perrin et Fils 'Les Christins' Vacqueyras would be great for a non-Italian pairing."—Jackson Rohrbaugh (Canlis)

"My gut pairing is to go straight to Sicily with this. This American-Ital classic leans on the concentrated sweetness of the tomato sauce and the fattiness of the cheeses. I would want a wine that shows ample fruit—on the red-fruit side of the spectrum (think strawberries, raspberries, tart cherries), some with some earthiness and no new oak. COS and Gulfi both make a Cerasuolo di Vittoria (a blend of Nero d'Avola and Frappato) that would rock with this dish."—Jeffrey Porter (Del Posto)

"A pinot noir from California would be wonderful: seek out Tyler, Hirsch, or Failla."—Michaël Engelmann MS (The Modern)

"Keep it classic with some Sangiovese-based wines. Tomato and Sangiovese are natural pals—the grape tends to make wines that even smell a little like tomato paste or tomato leaves—and their natural acidity helps deal with the potent acid of the tomato. Wines from one of the Chianti zones (Villa di Zano makes a terrific, open style of Chianti Classico) or something from one of the other Tuscan zones, like a Rosso di Montalcino (Vitanza's is terrific), should make a nice match." —Steven Grubbs (Empire State South, Five & Ten)

"To mix things up a little bit, try a Rioja from Spain. Make sure to stick with the lighter styles of Rioja: look for Crianza on the label. You could also go with Italian reds from Tuscany. Choose something that's light enough in body, but has some acidity and tannin." —Laura Maniec MS (Corkbuzz Chelsea Market)