Wine pairing with pesto

Published October 3rd, 2022

Pesto is an ancient and famous Italian sauce made with fresh basil, garlic, Parmigiano cheese (or Pecorino), pine nuts, and extra virgin olive oil.

Wine pairing with pesto.

The recipe originally dates back to the second half of the 19th century. The first to mention it was in fact Giovanni Battista Ratto, a well-known gastronome of the time, in his work 'La Cuciniera Genovese'.

This fragrant and vegetarian sauce, the perfect expression of Mediterranean cuisine, was born in the beautiful region of Liguria, where the use of aromatic herbs is an ancient tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages.

This classic recipe is a very simple preparation based on the quality and freshness of the various ingredients that create a delicious, aromatic, and vegetarian mix. To prepare it, all the ingredients must be placed in a mortar and reduced to a soft green cream with a wooden pestle, to retain the typical aromas and the perfect harmony of flavors.

And this is exactly what you should be looking at when choosing the perfect wine pairing with pesto: the fragrance of basil, the delicacy of pine nuts, the tender bitterness of garlic, the pungency of oil, and the richness of Parmesan cheese.

So, let’s have a look more specifically at what wine to pair with pesto depending on the recipe.

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Wine pairing with pesto sauce: the basics.

Wine pairing with pesto sauce: the basics

The most important thing to consider when thinking about a wine that goes with pesto is that it is not all about basil.

Pesto is also made of ingredients that give certain fatness and greasiness to the mouth: extra virgin olive oil, grated cheeses, without forgetting the pine nuts. And in addition to this, we must consider that, despite its important character, pesto is nothing more than a sauce, and therefore we must never forget what it is used with. With pasta, on pizza, in minestrone, or fish soup, or as a dressing for roast or grilled meats, Genoese pesto is eclectic and versatile.

To choose a wine that balances the aromas and taste of basil and pine nuts without overpowering them, it is essential to opt for a tasty and fragrant wine, which is, at the same time, light, delicate, and not aggressive.

The wine must also be able to cleanse the palate from the sensation of greasiness that the olive oil and Parmesan in the sauce leave on the palate and therefore must have a certain acidity.

Red is often not the best wine to go with pesto. The bitterness of the tannins could add astringency to the strong taste of raw basil and garlic and could give sensations that are not too pleasant in the mouth. Also, often pesto is served with pasta, which has a neutral flavor and causes an attenuation of the total flavor of the dish. So, red wine could be too much for a pesto pasta wine pairing as it could risk suffocating the aromas of the pesto, whose intensity has already been mitigated by the pasta.

Best white wine to pair with pesto

As mentioned, the best basil pesto wine pairing requires a white, with good freshness and great acidity. A possibly aromatic wine, decisive but harmonious and with delicate herbaceous notes. Its role must be to refresh the palate, cleaning it from the delicate greasiness of the pesto without overpowering its aromas.

Vermentino is certainly the most classic among pesto pairings and the regional choice par excellence. It is an eclectic grape, capable of producing simple and fresh wines with good sapidity and complex, structured bottles, capable of aging with style. From Tuscany, Liguria, or Sardinia, Vermentino is, without a doubt, the wine of the Tyrrhenian Sea, from which it draws energy and aromas of Mediterranean scrub, citrus scent, white flowers, and sea breezes.

But among Italian wines, there is plenty of alternatives for a perfect pesto and wine pairing. Starting from the Pigato of the Ligurian Riviera di Ponente for a regional pick, but also the Campania Fiano di Avellino or Falanghina, the Sauvignon from Collio Friulano, and the charming Erbaluce di Caluso from Piedmont. And among the foreign wines, the best options are a French Chablis or a Spanish Albariño.

All these wines have intense aromatic profiles that recall tropical and dried fruit, fresh herbs, and white flowers. Their taste, on the palate, is dry and with a fair acidity. They are flavorful white wines with good minerality, able to leave the much sought-after sense of freshness and enhance the pesto aromas and flavors with elegance.

Best red wine to pair with pesto

Red wines may be a difficult match for pesto because of their tannins and their tendency to be full-bodied and oaky, all of which can clash with pesto’s characteristics. But, not to worry...not all is lost for red wine lovers!!

Indeed, when pesto is used with meat a carefully chosen red can be the best match. Just choose a wine with soft tannins and a light body, such as a young Pinot Noir, or a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley.

And traditionally, the best red wine pairing with pesto pasta is with the Ligurian Rossese di Dolceacqua, a fine and quite light red wine with herbal aromas, that is not very aggressive towards this delicious green sauce.

Wine pairing with pesto.
Pesto pasta the Genoese way: boiled potatoes and green beans added to the mix

Best wine to pair with pesto pasta

A classic of Italian cuisine, pasta with pesto is delicate, fresh, and tasty at the same time: an excellent and healthy vegetarian first course. The paste adds a neutral base with a gentle, slightly sweet note to the pesto, creating a fine-flavored ensemble that calls for a wine of equal freshness and delicacy.

The best wine pairing with pesto pasta is definitely with Vermentino, especially if from the Colli di Luni, from the Tuscan Maremma, or from the Sardinia DOC. These wines possess the right aromatic profile to sublimate the flavors of the pasta!

A small note ... the Genoese often add boiled potatoes and green beans to the recipe. Thanks to their delicate flavors, the extra ingredients do not alter the balance and the choice of what wine goes with pesto pasta but make the dish a little more substantial.

Our suggestion: Colli di Luni Vermentino "Monte dei Frati", La Felce

Wine pairing with pesto gnocchi

Gnocchi with pesto is a traditional recipe and a cornerstone of Italian gastronomy. Potato gnocchi are a classic Sunday or festive first course, and pesto is the sauce that is the pride of the Genoese cuisine. The combination of this sauce and the soft delicacy of potato gnocchi is very tasty.

To balance the softness of the food flavors, the best choice is a wine that has a certain intensity of taste and smell, a certain persistence and a good structure, like an elegant Friulano.

Our suggestion: Collio Friulano DOC "Valeris", Muzic

Meat dishes with pesto

In addition to the classic combination with first courses, pesto is also an excellent condiment to accompany or marinate meat. With meatballs, strips of beef, but, above all, with chicken, pesto, with its fresh herbaceous notes and its delicate greasiness and richness, can enrich and flavor various recipes.

Wine pairing with pesto chicken.

Wine pairing with pesto chicken

Chicken with pesto is a tasty variant of roasted or grilled chicken. It is a dish that is easy to cook and where the delicacy of the meat is enhanced by the freshness of the sauce. In this case, the presence of meat, although white, allows a good combination with a fresh and light red wine with good aromas of Mediterranean scrub. And this is why our favorite pesto chicken wine pairing will be a Ligurian Rossese di Dolceacqua wine.

Our suggestion: Rossese di Dolceacqua Superiore DOC, Maixei

Fish and pesto

Fish can also be successfully paired with pesto, especially those fish with a strong flavor and slightly fatty meat, such as salmon or tuna. Both of these fish can be added to the sauce of pasta with pesto or roasted or grilled and then enriched with pesto and olive oil and served with potatoes. The fatness of the meat will be deliciously balanced by the freshness of the pesto, and the strong flavor of the fish will enhance the fragrance of the sauce.

This type of recipe needs a wine with herbaceous notes and intense aromas, with good acidity and marked minerality like an Erbaluce di Caluso.

Our suggestion: Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG "La Rustia", Orsolani


Choosing the wine that pairs with pesto is not a difficult task.

It all comes to the fresh aromas and delicate taste of the sauce. But it is essential to remember that, as delicious as it is, pesto is just a dressing and it is important to evaluate also the other ingredients.

So white and aromatic is preferable, but red can also be a good match on certain occasions.

Choose your favorite recipe, try our pesto pairing suggestions and enjoy!

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