Basil Pesto Wine Pairing of the Week ****SUMMARY ADDED ON TOP 9/24/20*****

We have been growing basil in our garden for many years and this year we have an especially big crop. We use it to make pesto and we expect to be eating a lot of it this summer, served simply over pasta or sometimes smeared on a lightly toasted baguette. We have tried a bunch of different recipes, but we really like this one and have been using it for a while. “Fresh Basil Pesto Recipe “ The key to success I believe is to pack the basil tightly when measuring it out. I recommend doing something like a one-arm handstand into the basil in the measuring cup to make sure it is well packed!

I enjoy drinking a glass of wine with most casual evening meals; I usually either drink what is already opened or may open an unpretentious bottle that I think might go with the meal. I am going to use this year’s basil bounty to more attentively check out some wine pairings with pesto. I have some ideas and have also received some suggestions from a separate thread that I recently posted. I’ll first taste the wine alone for initial impressions and then have some with my basil pesto meal. This thread will be an ongoing depository for my notes on the wine itself and whether it was hit or miss with the basil pesto. This approach might remind a few people (n>0?) of my semi-retired “Florida Fish of the Week” thread, so fair warning.
Stay tuned.

SUMMARY (9/24/20)
As we move on from summer into autumn, let’s wrap this up. We have enjoyed a lot of basil pesto over the past few months and we tried a bunch of wines with it. The pairing wines were picked based on suggestions here and elsewhere about what might work, in addition to my own “inspiration”. This was fun and at the same time also a learning experience for me.
In general, white wines with an acid, citrus, and herbal taste profile seemed to work best for me with the basil pesto. However, I found that wines that had this taste profile in a more “sophisticated” and subtle way, and were really nice wines by themselves, sometimes lost their finer qualities a bit with our fairly robust pesto. So, the more modest bottlings from good producers seemed to be a better choice for our basil pesto; they seemed to have more exuberance and less subtlety, which might also describe our basil pesto. For a more subtle basil pesto version that is less heavy on the basil and garlic than ours, I think that the finer versions of the wines might work very well. Below is a summary of my “verdicts” on the individual wine pairings. The judgement is not about the wine itself, but about the pairing of the wine with our basil pesto recipe and with our palates. Obviously, different recipes and different palates would likely produce different judgements. In other words, YMMV.

My recommended solid pairings would be good, but modest bottlings of Albarino, Vermentino, Assyrtiko, and Loire Sauvignon Blanc. To my palate, the standout pairing and my top recommendation is Fiano di Avellino (we had the basic Terredora which was also a very modest bottling). There are some extra dimensions to this wine such that almost everything about it clicked with the basil pesto for me.

Thanks for reading and following my summer self-indulgent postings. Cheers.

Neutral Pairing
2014 Gruner Veltliner, Atzberg Steilterrassen
2018 Patricia Green Dry Muscat Ottonel
2018 Inama Soave Classico
2013 Castello La Lecchia Chianti Classico (RED)

Good to Excellent Pairing
2018 Granbazan Etiqueta Verde Albarino Rias Baixas
2018 Cantine Lunae Bosoni Colli di Luni Vermentino Etichetta Nera
2017 Francois Villiard Viognier Les Contours de Deponcins
2018 Terredora di Paolo Greco di Tufo

Excellent Pairing
2018 Cantine Lunae Bosoni Colli di Luni Vermentino Etichetta Grigia
2016 Clos Canarelli Figari Blanc (mentioned in a separate TN post)
2018 Granbazan Etiqueta Ambar Albarino Rias Baixas.
2015 Thomas-Labaille Sancerre Chavignol Les Monts Damnes
2018 Estate Argyros Assyrtiko Santorini

Outstanding Pairing
2018 Terredora di Paolo Fiano di Avellino

A Vermentino or an Italian Chardonnay like Antinori’s Cervaro della Sala for me.

I love the idea, Jim. I’m looking forward to seeing your results. I love pesto and I love wine, but they’re not easy to put together for my taste.

I know some people aren’t wild about it, but we usually pair basil pesto with a Sauvignon, often Sancerre. (A recent bottle of Burlotto did very well too.) Just avoid the higher alcohol ones.

I find most whites to actually be too acidic for pesto the way I make it. I’ve had good success with Pinot Noir and light reds (e.g. I bet the Turley Cinsault would be great).

good luck! excited to see the results, pesto is a favorite of mine.

I like the suggestions in the other thread for Vermentino, Soave, and (even though it was a joke) Bordeaux (but white!). but I think most moderately acidic whites without a ton of oak would work well. curious to see if you’re gonna try anything with some skin contact and how that does.

2014 Gruner Veltliner, Atzberg Steilterrassen
I was a little surprised to see GV suggested as a wine pairing for basil pesto in a google search. A couple of Berserkers also nodded in agreement with the possibility. This was the last remaining bottle of an Austrian White Sampler from Balanced Wine that I picked up a couple of Berserker Days ago.
This is a pleasant wine, reminding me a bit of Chenin Blanc, but also of Riesling and just a touch of Sauvignon Blanc. My wife said it had an intriguing aroma that reminded her of Coteaux de Layon (?) I found the wine medium+ bodied, balanced with stone fruit and citrus, a minute trace of tingly effervescence, and a peppery like finish that may be the white pepper one hears about. But nothing really stood out and the overall impression was just OK. Reminded me of line from the Kinks song “He’s a well-respected man about town, Doing the best things so conservatively”.
I tasted the wine with my basil pesto which I would describe as heavy on the basil and garlic. The pesto was served in a St Marcellin cheese tub from which we made generous schmears onto slices of baguette. The good thing about the pairing was that both the wine and the pesto retained their individual personalities in the pairing. That’s also the bad thing. Actually, it is an acceptable thing, but I am looking for something more in a “good” pairing. I am looking for a duet!

Verdict: Neutral Pairing.

Basil plants in the background

This should be a fun exploration. Looking forward to reading all the results.

2018 Granbazan Etiqueta Verde Albarino Rias Baixas
I tasted this Albarino for the first time not long ago and it popped into my head immediately as one to try with pesto. This is the “green label” Albarino from Granbazan. It comes in a greenish bottle and even has a green synthetic cork. The bottle should pair nicely with the green basil pesto as part of a monochromatic color scheme. My wife empathically sensed the upcoming color scheme and served peas as a side dish.

The wine itself was a contrast to last week’s conservative GV, and it came out blazing with vibrant mineral acidity, then a crescendo of intense fruit (mostly lime and meyer lemon with maybe some stone fruit too) leading the way to a refreshing sustained finish. Its straightforward vivacity and fruit are very appealing during this time of year, especially today with the heat and humidity. Very nice drinking a glass by itself al fresco. I am new to Albarino and I am already a fan.

The basil pesto was served over Barilla spaghetti cooked al dente. This batch of pesto had the characteristic big notes of basil and garlic, but I sprinkled on a little freshly ground parmesan, black pepper and salt to adjust those seasonings to my taste this evening. Let’s eat! The pesto itself was delicious. Paired with the wine I found the garlic edginess was tamed, leaving a dish that was more subtle and complex. The wine lost some of its acidity, but remained very lively with a minerally fruit emphasis. Not subtle, but delicious. I think this is really a good pairing. My only hesitancy was that this particular Albarino was still a bit untamed even when matched with the pesto, which had become toned down but delicious and very interesting to tease out the flavors within it.

Verdict: Good to Excellent Pairing

green label albarino.jpg

2018 Cantine Lunae Bosoni Colli di Luni Vermentino Etichetta Grigia
OK, it is time to ask the most popular girl to dance! I was holding off on this popular suggestion, afraid that it might put an end to my summer of pesto wine dating just as I got started. Like many things, this pesto wine pairing trip is about the journey more than the destination and I didn’t want to arrive somewhere that seemed like the end destination too quickly. I am not familiar with Vermentino, though I’m sure that I have tasted it somewhere along the long and winding road. I specifically looked for a Ligurian producer as suggested by some since Liguria is the home region of Genoa (Pesto alla Genovese, aka Basil Pesto). This producer is from Liguria, but its DOC, Colli Di Luni, is in the far east of that region and actually includes adjacent parts of Tuscany as well. Florence is nearly as close as Genoa.

Last week’s Spanish Albarino was labelled Etiqueta Verde or “Green Label” and coincidentally this week’s Italian Vermentino is labelled Etichetta Grigia or “Grey Label”. Both of these wines have more “grown up” versions from the same producers under different colored labels- “Amber Label” for the Albarino and “Black Label” for the Vermentino. This wine initially reminded us a lot of Sauvignon Blanc, somewhere between a Touraine Blanc and a not too crazy Marlborough SB. Lemon and grapefruit, bright acid tingle at the inside of the cheeks, refreshing taste overall continuing into the finish. Also a Mediterranean note which I’ll describe as herbs and dry brush. This Vermentino is also a bit reminiscent of last week’s Albarino, though the fruit is not as intense and seems to be mostly citrusy in contrast to the Albarino’s brass band of both citrus and stone fruit. This wine was very enjoyable by itself. Definitely in our wheelhouse too.

Tonight, the basil pesto was served over Barilla Angel Hair pasta. The pesto was very fresh as the basil was picked early this afternoon and transformed into the pesto just a couple of hours before dinner. My wife likes to sprinkle extra parm on hers, but I like it straight to let all the flavors have a say. By the way, the basil variety that we grow in our garden is Genovese basil so that seems fitting for tonight’s wine pairing which was . . . Perfetto! Close our eyes and we are eating al fresco in Italy, maybe in a courtyard, perhaps on the sidewalk. Lovely pairing. Unpretentious. Just living the dolce vita, folks!
P.S. We had freshly made cannoli for dessert.

Verdict: Excellent Pairing

the wine
basil in our garden
genovese basil.jpg

Ha just saw this and was about to post that you should drink the Granbazan Albarino you posted about earlier [cheers.gif]

Ha! Yeah, Scott I like the wine and it was a very good pairing. That wine was Granbazan’s “green label”. The only quibble with the pairing was that the pesto became more subtle and interesting with the wine, but the wine itself maybe kept a bit too much fruit intensity. I was thinking I might revisit that pairing and tweak it a bit by going with Granbazan’s “amber label”. Have you had both?

I have the green label in my cellar and like it quite a bit, after your post I ordered a few of the Amber and can’t wait to try them. I have a good crop of pesto this year and am looking forward to trying this pairing too!

2018 Patricia Green Dry Muscat Ottonel
Here is a wine to make the Covid summer doldrums a little brighter. Jim Anderson made us Berserkers a “Godfather offer” on this a while back and I grabbed some. I have already enjoyed a few bottles and was in the mood for opening another this evening. I was also a little curious as to whether this wine might say a friendly hello to basil pesto, so I snuck in an impromptu pairing. We are actually going to have two types of pesto tonight (exciting!): our usual recipe over pasta as a leftover and an adventurous first try at a basil-mint pesto served spread on a toasted baguette slice lengthwise (these details might be important, folks).
This is a lightweight wine with character. Light in color and alcohol, flavorful softly stated fruity and flowery taste, a minerally mouthfeel, a sufficient jolt of acid to keep it refreshing. The flavor gives you an invitation to ponder ‘what is this?’ so it is not a simple wine, while, in fact, being a fairly simple wine. I like it.
Not fair of me to pair this wine on a whim with pesto. And with two types of pesto! But it did OK. Both types of pesto kept their character and were enjoyable with the wine. The wine itself also seemed to stay pretty much itself. The basil-mint pesto was not bad, it is 50/50 basil and mint and uses walnuts instead of pine nuts. The recipe did not call for cheese but I added a little parm. It is different, but not basil pesto which we love, and won’t be repeated.

Verdict: Neutral Pairing

2018 Inama Soave Classico
Back to Italy and Soave was suggested as a possibility by a few people. I know Soave mostly because Bolla made one that was a pretty big thing in the late 70’s early 80’s. Have to come up to speed with current Soave. I have heard some good things about Pieropan, but, while researching possible bottlings to try, I saw this unpretentious (aka inexpensive) one available. It had some decent reviews for it on CT, including a recommendation from our own Tim Heaton.
I am sometimes guilty of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Or maybe it is more not remembering lessons learned. I PNP’d this wine right out of the fridge and got right into drinking and eating. The wine did not show well at 40 degrees. It opened harsh and bitter. But as it moderated in temperature, it became a nice little wine. I found minerals, culinary herbs, and dryish fruit (more stone than citrus). Enough acid to make it “bright” but not really a big feature. It had a slightly bitter not unpleasant finish. I did not find the taste profile reminiscent at all of Sauvignon Blanc, which I did somewhat with the Albarino and Vermentino. No reason at all that it has to resemble SB, but the SB profile of noticeable but refreshing acidity, “grassiness”, and citrus fruit seemed to work well with (my) pesto and this was not that. Again, a decent little wine though.
The wine went OK to good with the pesto, but good might be generous. Neither the wine nor the pesto was transformed. I am greedy, folks. I am looking for something that really impresses as a pairing. This wine did not do that for me or for (my) basil pesto. At least not today.
Verdict: Neutral Pairing

2018 Granbazan Etiqueta Ambar Albarino Rias Baixas.
We has an unplanned pairing opportunity this evening with an ad-libbed meal which featured basil pesto served in a new way. The pairing a couple weeks back with the Granbazan Albarino “green label” was a pretty good one. The flavor profile of that wine seemed to put the pesto in an even more delicious place, but the wine itself maybe kept just a bit too much of its fruity intensity so that it stood out against the food slightly. I thought I would return to the Albarino, tweak the choice just a little, and so I grabbed the more grown up and reserved sibling of that earlier wine – this time the Granbazan “amber label”.

I have tasted this wine before, and put my impressions of it in a separate thread on Albarino. My impressions this time were essentially the same and I’ll just quote from my earlier post “This is a rounder version of its more exhuberant brother. Still intense fruit, still crisp but in a more reserved way. The taste notes are not as extreme and play together nicely. There is also some (leesy?) creaminess that adds a pleasant dimension overall.” This time out I also found a nice lingering herbal finish and aftertaste. I enjoyed a glass by itself before the meal.

We had some pesto over pasta left over from the other day, but not enough to make a meal for two people. I made it so by adding a can of Genoa Yellow Fin Tuna to it, along with some fresh(ly defrosted) pesto. Also added a bit of fresh lemon juice to the tuna and salted and peppered to (my) taste. As I presented the dish to my wife, she raised an eyebrow and then crinkled her nose a bit. I told her just to trust me on this. Turned out the addition of lemon juice was not a good idea for evaluation of a basil pesto wine pairing. The basil and garlic taste of the pesto were beaten down a bit by it. The meal itself was pretty good – “delicious” my wife said and the wine well with the dish, but I don’t think it’s a fair evaluation for the purposes of this thread.

Verdict: The food pairing was disqualified!

P.S. I realize that this thread is a little “out there”. blahblah

putting this followup pairing of the “amber label” Albarino in its own post . . .
Last nights pairing with that tuna-pesto-pasta concoction was unfair. I quickly scheduled a straight rematch for this evening with the basil pesto smeared on slices of baguette. The wine shined (shone?). The pesto and the wine engaged in a nice conversation and soon both had their arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders and were singing. Jacqueline and I joined in.
Final Verdict: Excellent Pairing

Also a couple of bonus results:

Bonus #1. This Albarino was fantastic with some fresh local oysters, (Hammer Island from Duxbury MA). The oysters were sightly briny, meaty, with a clean finish.
alb with pesto.jpg
Bonus #2. A dollop of basil pesto on a raw oyster should become a thing! Delicious.
pesto oyster.jpg

Inspired by this thread, we raided the garden and made pesto last night and paired it with a Once and Future 2014 Petit Syrah, whose brooding and deep dark fruit profile went well with the food.

Then went on to an Alden Alli 2017 Limerick Lane zin whose fruit is not over the top and it was also a good pairing.

Anton, interesting pairing basil pesto with the Petite Sirah and the Zin. You’ve inspired me to give Zinfandel a shot, along with a couple of other Italian reds that I want to try with it. No need for me to stick entirely to the high acid, herbaceous, citrusy whites I have been circling around.

P.S. Thanks for reading and for posting.

We tried ENRICO SERAFINO, GAVI DI GAVI 2014. The guy at the Wine and More tasting recommended it. It was excellent!