Pasta Bolognese Sauce Paired with Barbera

Confession: I am in love with Bolognese sauce. I don't really think that needs to be a confession, it is more of a proclamation. Of love. Yes its that bad. I'm not really even sure of the first time I had it, or the "aha!" moment I had when I decided I love it, but I just know that if I'm at a restaurant and its on the menu, no other dish stands a chance.

What makes bolognese sauce so good anyway? When I made this recipe that I'm about to share with you, it all came back. For me, its the ground beef. So simple and familiar, but in this sauce it is turned into a celebrity. And the tomatoes. I bought special Italian canned tomatoes, and it really made the dish. So flavorful, my mouth is watering while I write this.

Now, lets talk about Barbera...have you ever even heard of this grape varietal? Its not too popular with us Americans, but grows really well in Amador County, California. I recently went there on a trip (its about an hour south of gold rush area, very historic) and barbera was all the rage. Amador is known for its zins, but barbera was a refreshing alternative. My friend that went with me quickly decided this was her new favorite grape varietal, and I don't blame her!

The Wine

Barbera is a high-acid, relatively light bodied grape indigenous to Italy. It is from Piedmont, a region in northwest Italy that is more famous for its big Barolos and sweet moscato d’asti. Compared to these infinitely better known wines, Barbera is kind of looked over to us Americans, especially since we don’t see them available in the grocery stores or even in liquor stores. As I was looking for a bottle of this at Total Wine, I counted 3 from America and 5 from Piedmont…not too much of a selection in a sea of other Italian wines.

But barbera deserves some recognition—it’s a great little grape, it works hard to produce some incredible flavors, and it is relatively affordable to us consumers! When I said it was high-acid before, that means it makes you salivate after your first sip, making you immediately want more. This makes this wine incredibly good with food, which for purposes of this blog, makes it my friend.

The Pairing

Ohhhh Bolognese sauce. I must admit, before this first attempt, I had never made it before. I was so excited to try this recipe from a pretty legit Italian Cookbook I recently came across, and I cannot believe the outcome after my first try. YUMMMMMMY!

This is a no-brainer pairing. When I first tried the Bolognese sauce, I couldn’t believe how much acidity there was from the Italian tomatoes I used. Every bite I took, my mouth was just salivating for more. See a commonality? I had to match this high-acid dish to a high-acid wine. Mhm. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Beyond that, I can’t really explain much more, you are just going to have to buy a bottle of barbera, find 4 hours out of your day to make this sauce (its completely worth it, I promise), and see for yourself!

Pasta Bolognese Sauce 

Author: Dani (

Prep time: 15 mins

Cook time: 3 hours 30 mins

Total time: 3 hours 45 mins

Serves: 4


  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 Tbsp butter + 1 Tbsp for tossing with the pasta
  • 1/2 Cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 Cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 Cup chopped carrot
  • 3/4 ground beef chuck (make sure the meat is not too lean)
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Cup whole milk
  • whole nutmeg
  • 1 Cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 Cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juices
  • 1 1/2 pounds pasta (tagliatelle or rigatoni is best. do not use spaghetti as this isn't traditional!)
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese to serve


  1. Heat the oil, butter, and chopped onion in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Cook and stir the onion until translucent, then add the carrot and celery. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. Add the ground beef, a pinch of salt, and a dash of black pepper. Cook and stir until all of the raw redness in the meat is gone.
  3. Reduce the heat lower and add the milk; stir and let simmer until almost all of the milk has evaporated. Add about 1/8 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg; stir.
  4. Add the wine and let simmer until it too has evaporated. Then add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly. Turn the heat to the lowest setting possible so the sauce cooks at the "laziest" of simmers.
  5. Cook, uncovered, for at least 3 hours, stirring from time to time. Make sure the sauce is barely bubbling at any time. If the sauce begins to dry out while cooking, add 1/2 cup of water when necessary. The sauce is complete, however, when no water is left and the fat is separated from the sauce.
  6. Toss with cooked and drained pasta and add a tablespoon of butter. Serve with freshly grated parmesan.

Happy Pairing!