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Nov 22, 2011
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Wine With . . . Pasta Bianca

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

The idea of having an all-white dinner seemed strangely soothing, a last respite, perhaps, before the madness of holiday over-imbibing takes hold. We’d savor white food, on white plates, with white wine in our glasses, giving our senses one brief evening of calm before the assault on them by Christmas’ vibrant colors, exhausting aromas, infinite musical loops, and endless noshing and sipping.

As it turned out, our simple white meal was indeed comforting and peaceful, but it was also delicious. What a good idea an all-white dinner is! And think of the many other white foods that might be incorporated into the meal (chicken breasts, scallops or shrimp,for example). Any number of variations on the theme is possible: you could turn it into a black-and-white dinner, for example (a little black pepper ground over the lily-white pasta makes a bold statement), and for a truly festive evening guests might be instructed to dress in black and/or white. But that idea about drinking white wine only? Forget it. Red wine, we discovered, is an equally fine partner for this white pasta dish, so enjoy either, or both. A soothing meal can go only so far.

Pasta Bianca

Serves four as a first course, two as a main course.

One pound good quality fettuccine or tagliatelle

1 clove garlic, minced

3 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind

white pepper

1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, or a mix of Parmesan and Pecorino plus extra cheese to pass at the table

Drop the pasta into a generous amount of rapidly boiling salted water. Place the garlic in a large bowl and cover it with about 1 tablespoon of the pasta-cooking water.

When the pasta is done, drain it and add it to the bowl with the garlic. Add the butter and toss the pasta until all the butter has melted. Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Serve at once.

(Since we wanted a white salad to tie into the all-white theme, we chopped up raw fennel, radishes, apple, and cauliflower, mixed all the crisp veggies together, and drizzled them with olive oil plus a generous squeeze of lemon juice and some good finishing salt. Other possible salad additions might be turnips, endive, artichoke hearts, jicama, and so on.)

Reds and whites proved equally satisfying with this cheesy white pasta, so long as the reds weren’t too tannic or heavy and the whites had some heft. We tried a few whites that seemed overly delicate (an Orvieto, for example, and a Pinot Grigio), as well as a couple of reds that were excessively muscular (a California Merlot, for one). By contrast, the wines that worked best, regardless of color, all tasted substantial without being hot or muscular. They complemented and so never threatened to overwhelm the food.


Approx. Price


Buty, Columbia Valley (Washington) Semillon/ Sauvignon/ Muscadelle 2009


A Bordeaux-styled white, this wine’s waxy, almost fleshy texture enabled it to more than hold its own with the rich, buttery pasta. Beautifully integrated, its near perfect balance of fruit and acidity made for a very impressive match.

Cambria, Santa Maria Valley (California) Pinot Noir “Julia’s Vineyard” 2009


Tasting of sweet cherries with a hint of spice in its finish, this silky red echoed the smooth texture of the pasta and sauce. We had feared that it might seem too domineering, but it meshed with this dish very nicely.

Clayhouse Estate, Paso Robles (California), Estate Cuvée Blanc “Red Cedar Vineyard” 2010


A blend of equal parts Grenache Blanc and Viognier, this is a substantial white wine that contributed added depth and nuance to the pairing. It’s nutty secondary notes in particular made the dish seem earthier and more intensely flavored than otherwise.

Decoy, Sonoma County (California) Chardonnay 2010


Of the two Chardonnays we tried, this was by far our favorite, as the oak influence did not threaten to take over either the wine or the pairing. Instead, the sweet vanilla and butterscotch flavors that come from oak aging enhanced the rich flavors in the sauce, and the wine’s core of citrus-scented fruit echoed the lemon zest in the dish.

Marqués de Cáceres, Rioja (Spain) Crianza 2008

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)


An old-fashioned because soft and supple Rioja, with virtually no astringent tannins to disrupt the match, this red simply felt good to drink. Its dark red berry flavors provided a pleasant contrast to the rich ones in the dish, while its silky texture echoed the comforting pasta itself.