Addictively spicy and peppery, amatriciana is one of Rome’s most famous pasta dishes. Made with a bright tomato sauce, crispy guanciale, pepperoncini, and pecorino cheese, it’s a crowd-pleaser and the perfect dish for any occasion. While it is delicious on its own, this hearty primo piatto truly shines when it is paired with a wine that complements the complexity of the dish and emphasizes the nuances of its flavor.
With thousands of grape varieties to choose from, Italians live by one general rule: regionality is key when pairing food and wine. “What grows together, goes together” is a popular adage that will help you select the right accompaniment for your dish. It’s hard to go wrong with recipes and wine that come from the same region.
Since the food and wine that are grown in the same soil tend to complement each other well, most Roman trattorias will serve you a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo with amatriciana. Now a part of the Lazio region, the town of Amatrice (the birthplace of Italy’s most beloved pasta sauce) was an Abruzzese village until 1927 when Mussolini redefined the boundaries of several Italian regions.
With its medium-bodied structure and fresh character, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is the ideal companion for amatriciana pasta. The wine’s vibrant acidity cuts through the fattiness of guanciale and tempers the sweetness of the tomatoes, while the soft, velvet texture enhances the richness of the sauce. Each bite and sip promises to transport you back to your favorite Roman trattoria or give you your first taste of the Eternal City if you haven’t visited yet. To note: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo should not be confused with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a Sangiovese-based red from Tuscany.
Cesanese del Piglio
A nice alternative to Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is Cesanese del Piglio Superiore, a forgotten red wine from the Lazio region. Cesanese is one of the oldest grapes in the Mediterranean and is believed to have been the wine of ancient Rome. This well-balanced wine with soft tannins stands up nicely to the juicy amatriciana sauce. The wine’s herbaceous notes also complement the smokiness of the guanciale. Poggio Le Volpi, a winery near Rome, produces an excellent Roman blend that features Montepulciano, Cesanese, and Syrah. Marco Carpineti, another excellent winery in Lazio, produces the delicious Tufaliccio red made with Montepulciano and Cesanese.
Franciacorta Extra Brut
As a classicist, there are few things in life that make me happier than a good amatriciana and a glass of red. But if you want to get more adventurous with your wine pairing, you can also pair a glass of sparkling wine with this hearty dish. I recommend a Franciacorta Extra Brut, an elegant and refreshing wine that is produced in Lombardy using the same method as Champagne — the metodo classico.
Unlike prosecco which is aged in steel tanks, Franciacorta is aged in the bottle, allowing the wine to develop a fine perlage and a yeastier flavor. These soft bubbles are great for fatty dishes as they refresh the palate after each bite. The minerality of the wine enhances the saltiness present in the guanciale, while the creamy texture complements the silkiness of the tomato sauce.
Packed with flavor and easy to throw together, amatriciana is a great dish for a rainy day lunch or the start of a multi-course dinner party inspired by the city of Rome.
Gaia’s Amatriciana Recipe
The classic recipe calls for spaghetti or bucatini but I prefer to use rigatoni to prepare my amatriciana. After all, biting into a chewy rigatoni noodle that hides a thick piece of salty guanciale is one of life’s greatest gifts.
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 400 gr / 14 ounces gr rigatoni
- 400 gr / 14 ounces tomato purée
- 130 gr / 5 ounces guanciale (smoked pork jowl)
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- a splash of dry white wine
- 1 dried red hot chili pepper
- 80 gr / 1 cup pecorino romano (sheep’s milk cheese)
- salt and black pepper
Remove the cotenna (pork rind) from the guanciale, then cut it into strips.
In a large skillet, heat one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and add the chili pepper and the guanciale. Panfry for a few minutes, frequently stirring until the guanciale turns golden brown. Then add a splash of white wine and cook until it evaporates. Remove some guanciale from the skillet and set aside, as you’ll use it to top the rigatoni. Be sure to keep the guanciale fat in the pan for extra flavor.
Add the tomato purèe to the skillet and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat to a minimum and cook for 10 – 15 minutes, until the sauce is thick. Season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Transfer the rigatoni to the skillet with the amatriciana sauce and add a splash of the pasta’s cooking water. Add the freshly grated pecorino romano and stir well so that the sauce coats each piece of pasta. Plate the rigatoni and top with the guanciale, more pecorino romano, and black pepper. Enjoy!