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Jul 2, 2019
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WINE WITH...Pasta with Fresh Herbs
We love pasta with pesto (doesn’t everybody?) but we recently wanted to vary the traditional sauce a little.  For one thing, we thought a somewhat lighter dish might be more refreshing in the hot steamy weather we’ve been experiencing here in the mid-Atlantic, so we decided to forgo Pesto’s customary pine nuts and just let the fresh herbs star on their own--more like French Pistou than Italian Pesto.  For another, since we wanted to take advantage of the fact that our urban garden is teeming with a variety of herbs right now, we used five or six different types in our sauce.  We stayed away from the very assertive ones such as rosemary and sage, but perhaps they would be just fine too.  Because cilantro tends not to perform well in our region, we purchased some at a local market (and if you don’t like cilantro just substitute more basil).
We usually see this kind of dish made with spaghetti or fettuccine, but we like to use any type of pasta that has ridges or grooves to catch the sauce.  Pipe rigate, with its hollow shape, is excellent.  Penne, rigatoni or even shells such as conchiglie are also good choices.
Purists believe that a mortar and pestle should be used to make any pesto-type sauce, and they are probably right.  We used to do that too, and may do it again some day, but for now we rely on a blender.  It’s easier on a hot day, but you’re on your own with this decision.
Pasta With Fresh Herbs

Serves 4
2-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
About one cup each fresh cilantro, basil, and flat leaf parsley
About one cup mixed fresh herbs such as oregano, marjoram, thyme, mint, chives
1/2 to 1 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon crushed, dried red pepper (or more, to taste)
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more to pass at table
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, plus more to pass at table
1 pound dried pasta
Place the garlic in the bottom of a blender and add the lemon juice.  Let it sit for a couple of minutes, then add the herbs, salt and red pepper.  Pulse the ingredients together, and then, with the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil.  Blend in the Parmesan.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions.  Save about ½ cup of the cooking water; then drain the pasta and toss it with the herb mixture, adding some of the reserved water as needed.  Serve at once.
*          *          *
We tried mostly white and rosé wines with our pasta, but since one of the two reds we sampled made for an excellent match, we want to caution against preconceptions when making your choice.  The one thing we learned, though, is that fresh herbs simply hate any overt smell or taste of oak.   A heavily wooded Chardonnay was virtually undrinkable with the dish, as was an oaky Merlot.  Opt instead for a wine that itself tastes fresh and lively.  After all, that’s the sensation you want this whole meal to impart.

Connect  on Twitter:   @M_L_Thomas  and  @Wine_With_
More recipes and wine pairings:    Wine With...  



Approx. Price



Chateau St. Jean,


Brut Rosé







Bubbly makes even the simplest meal festive, and this pink rendition, with its exuberant citrus flavors and heady effervescence, will bring cheer to your supper table.  The bubbles even more than the flavors make it an attractive partner for the herbs and pasta.





Pewsey Vale,

Eden Valley


Dry Riesling


(Imported by Negociants USA)






This producer excels with Riesling, made very dry but overflowing with lime and other citrus flavors, all supported by crisp acidity and a steely edge. It made for probably the best match we tried.



Vin de France




(Imported by Prophecy Wines)








A simple, red berry-scented French rosé, this wine lacks the subtleties and nuances of the best Provencal renditions, but it comes at half the price.  And with the aggressively-flavored sauce on the pasta, simple works just fine.


Shooting Star,

Lake County


Sauvignon Blanc







This was the biggest surprise of our tastings.  We guessed that a more herbal Sauvignon would work better with the dish, but the one we tried (from New Zealand) turned bitter.  By contrast, this wine, which seemed a bit fleshy and sweet when tasted on its own, tightened and became deliciously expressive.  It provided more proof that wine can change radically when paired with food.








Pinot Noir

Sangiacomo Vineyard

“Green Acres”







The lone red we are recommending, this is something of an anomaly, considering both the producer and the source.  Jed Steele made his reputation by sweetening wines a bit, and Sonoma’s corner of Carneros tends to yield rich, ripe, unrestrained Pinots.  This wine, however, tastes elegant and refined, with nary a hint of sugar.  Tasted blind, you’d be hard pressed to identify it correctly.