I am always looking for great wines for simple pastas, wines that don’t cost too much and that go with the kind of pasta sauces I like to make especially at this time of year. This is peak tomato season, and there are so many flavor-packed tomatoes around right now that it’s easy to pick up a big box of “seconds” for $4 of $5 at a farm stand, boil them down with some garlic and olive oil, then finish off your sauce with some chopped basil and parsley.
For me, this kind of sauce with its ample acidity always screams out for Italian wines, relatively young and inexpensive ones without too much oak, such as barberas from Piedmont, sangioveses from Tuscany, nero d’avolas from Sicily, or wines from Puglia in southern Italy’s “boot.”
Obviously there are other possibilities. I remember the reader who e-mailed me a few years ago or so and stated that as far as he was concerned, there was only one red wine to have on Sundays with his mother’s tomato sauce. It was Carlo Rossi’s Paisano, the California jug wine. I still haven’t tried it, but am reminded of his endorsement every time I see a bottle of Paisano standing upright in a wine store. Maybe some day.
But back to what I liked with my own sauce this time around. It was a wine from Puglia made by the well-known Castello Monaci. The first was the 2006 “Liante” Salice Salentino, which is named after the town of Salice Salentino. Thus, the wine is known as a “Salice Salentino” the same way “Chianti” from Tuscany or “Barbaresco” from Piedmont refer to the places where the grapes for those wines are grown. “Liante” is the name of a wind in Puglia and was adopted in the redesign of Monaci’s labels, I imagine, to give the wine a little more identity with consumers.
The grapes are two of the region’s native varieties — negroamaro, Puglia’s most important red grape, which accounts for 80 percent of the Monaci blend, and malvasia nera, which softens the more tannic negroamaro. As Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch point out in their guide “Vino Italiano,” negroamaro means “black and bitter” and the wines “often follow suit — but in a good, licorice-like way.”
There is, in fact, a touch of licorice in Monaci’s Salice Salentino, along with an interesting herb note that punctuates the plum and black cherry fruit. Bitter? Maybe a bit, but it all adds up to a wine of complexity and distinction, an excellent value at $12 and a nice counterpoint to my tomato sauce. Meat also comes to mind for this one, especially an old-fashioned pot roast or beef stew.
Southern Italy is a repository for good, inexpensive and versatile red wines that work well with pastas and other more informal foods. Castello Monaci’s Salice Salentino hits the mark.
Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at