The Best Wine for Bolognese

Have you ever wondered how to shake up a classic plate of spaghetti and meatballs? Bolognese adds a sumptuously tangy spin without giving you too much extra work.

Bolognese is a term for both a meat-based sauce and recipes made with said sauce. Slow-cooked to creamy, fatty perfection, bolognese is a mouthwatering recipe that’ll add a note of elegance to your casual dinner nights.

Finding the right drink pairing means respecting the recipe’s core ingredients of spices, wine, and fat.

We have recommendations on the best wine for bolognese below. We’ll include meat and vegetarian options so you’ll be able to craft an unforgettable dinner!

What’s the Difference Between Bolognese and Ragù?

difference bolognese and ragu
Image: Eric Gravengaard

Both of these recipes are extremely similar, with the primary difference rooted in the wine variations on the red meat sauce.

Bolognese heralds from the Italian city of Bologna, often using a white wine base to give it its signature tangy flavor. Ragù is sometimes used as a general term for a meat-based sauce with a red wine base. In fact, you’ll sometimes see the term bolognese ragù!

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll explore both of these recipes to help you pair your food: bolognese for white wine, ragù with red wine. We’ll also suggest alternatives to red meat such as chicken or vegetarian alternatives.

How Do I Pick the Best Wine for Bolognese?

wine should use for bolognese

The type of wine pairing you need will depend on your bolognese and/or ragù recipe. Bolognese has a primary foundation of onions, celery, and carrots alongside ground beef and a dash of white wine.

Red Wine Base

Bolognese with red wine is sometimes called ragù. This recipe variation is highly aromatic and savory, mixing already zesty tomatoes with fruit-forward red wine.

Very smoky or sweet red wines are usually too overpowering for the dish, so you’ll need lighter and more balanced fare. The red wines best suited to ragù are:

  • Sangiovese
  • Cabernet franc
  • Cabernet sauvignon
  • Pinot noir
  • Chianti Classico

White Wine Base

Your classic bolognese with white wine will have a higher level of acidity, greatly enhancing the juicy flavors of your red meat. Adding onions or garlic will boost these flavors to mouth-puckering perfection.

Steer clear of sugary white wines like riesling in favor of, you guessed it, more balanced grapes. The white wines best suited to bolognese are:

  • Sauvignon blanc
  • Pinot grigio
  • Chenin blanc

The Best Red Wine For Bolognese

Since wine is already a staple of bolognese and ragù, you need a bottle that gives your dish contrast in both flavor and aroma.

Nero d’Avola

nero d'avola

This crown jewel of Italian winemaking culture will make your ragù taste divine. Its unique blend of peppered-yet-sweet notes ensures your dish tastes complex, not clumsy.

The dominant flavors of nero d’avola are brambly blackberries and plums with hints of black pepper. Generally a dry wine, it boasts a subtle tobacco sweetness and full-bodied mouthfeel that will have your meat taste especially rich. Oaked varieties even have hints of coffee and chocolate.

We Recommend Nero d’Avola For: Bolognese With Beef or Ragù With Pork

Your beef’s savory flavors won’t drown out nero d’avola’s powerful personality. The smoky sweet tobacco finish and dark fruit flavors will make each new bite ooze with complexity.

If you could use a little more fat in your dish, swap out the beef with a red wine-based ragù with pork. Nero d’avola is well-suited to not just tomato-based dishes, but higher fat contents due to its slightly higher acidity.

Barbera

barbera wine

Barbera leans away from nero d’avola’s spicy, smoky flavors in favor of a bright, juicy character. Sometimes compared to pinot noir, barbera is quite balanced and therefore easy to pair with many pasta recipes.

Barbera is best known for flavor notes of dried red fruit, strawberries, and cherries, though you may have a few dark fruit notes such as plum and blueberry.

Oaked barbera has a delightful star anise and clove finish that’ll add a rustic character to your dish.

We Recommend Barbera For: Bolognese With Beef or Pork

The classic bolognese with a fattier cut of beef or pork is well-suited to barbera’s zestiness. Barbera’s high acidity will wash away fat, while the red fruit will balance out the salt and tang of the white wine sauce base.

Pinot Noir

pinot noir

Speaking of pinot noir, consider grabbing a bottle before slow cooking your bolognese. This versatile red wine can work as both the wine base and the wine pairing, so it’s a win-win!

Pinot noir’s primary flavor notes are a semi-sweet and fruit-forward blend of strawberries, cherries, and raspberries. When oaked, this wine takes on a little wood and vanilla.

Chill your wine for just ten or fifteen minutes beforehand to brighten its acidity.

We Recommend Pinot Noir For: Bolognese With Beef or Vegetarian Meat

Similar to barbera, we recommend the traditional bolognese with a beef recipe. A fresh pinot noir will have just enough earthiness and subtle red fruit to balance out the citrus of the white wine base.

Vegetarian bolognese should be made with hearty ingredients such as potatoes or mushrooms. Not only will the texture nicely match pinot noir’s earthy characteristics, but you’ll also still get some of that savory flavor the recipe is known for.

Nebbiolo

nebbiolo wine

Nebbiolo is a stunningly complex wine that shows almost contradictory character depending on where it’s grown and whether or not it’s aged. The high level of tannins makes it well-suited to aging or enjoying some extra depth after a bite of food.

Nebbiolo grown in cool climates such as Piedmont will have a mineral and earth character, while warmer climates such as Sicily will yield sharp red fruit flavors. After years of aging, your bottle may even show hints of truffles!

We Recommend Nebbiolo For: Bolognese With Beef or Ragù With Pork

The richer the dish, the better your nebbiolo will taste. Both traditional bolognese with beef and ragù with pork will give this noble grape variety the fat and spice it craves.

Red Blends

red blends

Red blends lean away from extreme flavor in favor of the ultimate balance. From a subtle sweetness to a slight bitterness, these wines rarely go hard in any one direction.

We Recommend Chianti Classico For: Bolognese With Beef or Vegetarian Meat

One of the most esteemed symbols of a finely balanced red wine is chianti classico, offering a mouthwatering variety of dried fruit, smoke, and vinegar flavors. The standard bolognese recipe will work well here, whether with beef or vegetarian meat.

Since Chianti Classico is fantastic with cheese, consider a vegetarian meat base with either a side of parmesan or a sprinkle of nutritional yeast.

We Recommend Chianti Rufina For: Bolognese With Pork or Grilled Vegetarian Meat

With a dark red fruit and slightly floral aroma, this wine calls for some fat to balance it out. Pork works well here, offering a characteristically tangy kick that exaggerates chianti rufina’s tannins.

If you choose a vegetable bolognese, consider grilling your vegetarian meat before slow cooking. A little bit of charr will lend a smoky character that pairs smartly with chianti rufina’s brambly black fruit.

The Best White Wine For Bolognese

white wine for bolognese

White wines arguably give you even more contrast than red wines due to their sharp acidity and shorter finishes. If you want more of the dish to linger on your tongue than the wine, look no further than below.

Pinot Gris

We’ve recommended pinot grigio on this site many times before, but what about pinot gris? This French spin is a touch more mellow than its Italian sibling thanks to the country’s temperate climate.

While both grapes have similar notes of sour lemon and yellow apple, pinot gris is similar to a fresh chardonnay with its lean toward pear and peach.

We Recommend Pinot Gris For: Bolognese With Chicken

Pinot gris pairs just as well with chicken as pinot grigio. Consider skipping the red meat in favor of a slowly simmered, melt-in-your-mouth chicken sauce with a white wine base.

Sauvignon Blanc

When you could use some tongue-curling acidity to slice through the fat and salt of your dish, sauvignon blanc is the way to go. Try this white wine slightly chilled to exaggerate its signature notes.

More specifically, notes of lemon, lime, and saline. You may get a touch of passionfruit and grassiness to add an almost tropical character to your dish.

We Recommend Sauvignon Blanc For: Bolognese With Chicken or Ragù With Pork

Sauvignon blanc is bright and refreshing enough to translate well across many dishes. Bolognese with chicken will give you a little salt with your citrus, while ragù with pork’s oily finish is easily broken down by the wine’s acidity.

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