The Top Wine and Pesto Pairings

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Spaghetti with pesto and glass of white wine

Traditional basil, or Genoan, pesto is created from just a few main ingredients: garlic, basil, pine nuts, Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, and olive oil. Today, diners enjoy countless variations on this basic recipe, from sun-dried tomato pesto to Mexican-influenced varieties featuring cilantro and pepito peppers.

No matter the variety, when it comes to quality pesto, freshness matters. Top-tier Italian chefs seek out ingredients that have been picked at the peak of ripeness to create the bright, flavorful pestos used in many classic and nouveau dishes.

Such a carefully crafted dish deserves the ideal wine pairing. It is important to consider not only the pesto's primary ingredients, but also how it is applied within a recipe. Many popular pesto dishes feature simple, elegant meat and pasta preparations topped with fresh pesto. Others, however, present more complicated, layered flavors that are more challenging to pair.

The good news is that pesto is such a classic Italian flavor that chefs have been pairing it with great wine for centuries. Applying a few standard rules of thumb can help you discover which wines will complement—and even enhance—your favorite pesto recipes.

Pairing Wine and Pesto

Basil pesto presents a bit of a wine-pairing challenge. Because pesto is so herbaceous, it may seem appropriate to pair pesto-based dishes with Chardonnay, which typically complements fresh, herby flavors. However, the oakiness inherent to most Chardonnay varietals tends to not play well with the complex mix of flavors that come through in a quality pesto.

A good rule of thumb is to focus on the “green” flavor of pesto. A good basil pesto might be the ideal partner for a grassy Sauvignon Blanc or even a savory, herb-driven Grüner Veltliner.

Pesto is used in so many dishes, however, that it is important to look beyond general rules of thumb and carefully consider the whole plate. In summer, light pesto dishes lend themselves to wine pairings that are quite different from the appropriate pairings for heavier dishes.

Pesto Pairings by Category

Pesto is a versatile ingredient that is served alongside rich seafood and handmade pasta dishes as well as blended into fragrant sauces or even used to baste meats. Clearly, we can't turn to the same wine pairing for every basil pesto creation.

Seafood Dishes

Salmon, in particular, is frequently enhanced by fresh, herby basil pesto. Simple broiled salmon topped with rich, green pesto is a favorite among home chefs, who can experiment with nearly endless variations on salmon-pesto recipes.

A hearty Sauvignon Blanc can complement salmon with pesto, but also consider branching out into a fuller-bodied white Rhone if your salmon is accompanied by fresh pasta.

Seafood, of course, represents a huge swath of options. Light seafood dishes featuring shrimp or white fishes will pair with different wines versus heartier, salmon or tuna-based dishes. Pesto is such an ideal addition to so many recipes that the possibilities are almost endless.

Meat Dishes

The versatility of pesto allows chefs to infuse it into almost any meat in nearly any preparation. It can complement grilled, roasted, baked, or even fried meats. It is equally welcome alongside simple roast chicken, bold beef dishes, and even gamy lamb or goat recipes. Ideal wine selections vary accordingly.

A nice pesto baked chicken featuring bone-in, simply prepared fresh chicken topped with fresh basil pesto might lend itself to an energetic, fruity Malbec.

Consider branching out into a lingering, bolder Sangiovese for beef and game dishes infused with pesto.

Vegetarian Pesto Dishes

It should come as no surprise that the fresh, seasonal flavors of basil pesto are ideal for lighter vegetarian recipes. A frequent feature on upscale restaurant menus and a common homemade creation, roasted vegetables tossed in a rich pesto sauce, are a savory, memorable treat.

Look to an equally special treat in a dry, white Cortese di Gavi, which will provide adequate undertones to enhance the relatively mild flavor of most root vegetables, in particular. This Italian variety is often served alongside both complex and simple vegetarian dishes.

Mixed Pesto Sauce Dishes

Recipes that include pesto blended into creamy, rich sauces play well with several wine categories. Depending on the prominent notes, anything from a sturdy Sauvignon Blanc to a fruity Malbec can work well.

This category requires a deeper look at the recipe's underpinnings. Brighter flavors pair better with subdued wines, while deep, rich, creamy flavors call for something lighter. This is a great chance for some experimentation, as it's hard to really go wrong when pairing a succulent, creamy pasta dish with a quality wine.

Sourcing the Best Wines to Complement Pesto Dishes

No matter which pesto dish you decide to serve your lucky guests, JJ Buckley can help you select the ideal pairing. We are proud to offer personalized consulting services that will elevate your wine knowledge and ensure a perfect pairing every time.

JJ Buckley Fine Wines has been offering an outstanding variety of wines to the online marketplace since the early days of online wine retail. Our 43,000 square foot retail operation houses a remarkably vast, curated wine collection that can accommodate even the most discerning wine connoisseurs across the United States, and even around the world.

Our clients keep coming back thanks to our breadth of wine knowledge and the outstanding value we bring to the market. Find out why so many wine lovers trust JJ Buckley for all their wine needs.