When you taste Italian wines by themselves, away from food, you may be disappointed. If any theme is shared by such a diverse group of grapes and regions, it is leanness or austerity of style, like a beam of flavor focused, in this case, by acidity. Italian wines can be hard to handle alone. But an Italian doesn't make any wine without thinking of where it will sit at table; it's just not done. That's why the wines turn out the way that they do. They taste best when, as in this dish, they're there to pair with salt, fat and acidity themselves.
THE FOOD: Linguine with garlic marinara
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over high heat. Add 1 small onion, sliced; cook until soft. Lower heat to medium; add 4 cloves garlic, minced; 2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped; and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne. Cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add 1/4 cup dry white wine; cook 5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup water and 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes; heat to a boil. Reduce heat to low; cook, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cook 3/4 pound linguine in a large pot of well-salted boiling water until al dente. Drain. Toss the pasta with the sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Makes: 4 servings
- NV Mionetto Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco, Cartizze, Veneto: The Cartizze hills deliver the highest quality grapes for prosecco; aromas and flavors of white peach, with a scent of minerals; dry, fine mousse, lean. $30-$35
- 2012 Marco Felluga Sauvignon Russiz Superiore, Collio, Friuli-Venezia Giulia: A very stately version of sauvignon blanc, with more weight and texture than that of other regions; great acidity ties the citrus flavors together. $24
- 2008 Boroli Barolo, Piedmont: A fine price for the appellation, with nebbiolo's characteristic leanness, tannin and gorgeous perfume. $40