Cooking to the Wine: Fattoria del Cerro Vino Nobile and Spicy Salami Tomato Pasta

Sometimes you just want your wine and food to comfort and take care of you like a warm blanket. You want a meal you can just cozy up with on the couch, completely bypassing the table.

I was looking for that little extra TLC around the middle of November of last year (2016) . . . and many times since then, if I’m being honest. I wanted a good wine and a big bowl of pasta.


On this particular evening, I pulled a Fattoria del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2011 off the shelf. Since I knew I wanted pasta with some kind of tomato sauce, I figured a Sangiovese based wine would be a good bet as Sangio pairs particularly well with tomatoes.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is a classic Tuscan wine, although it’s perhaps less well known than its neighbors Chianti and the revered Brunello di Montalcino. The grapes are grown on the hillsides of Montepulciano, which is southeast of Siena in Tuscany. Wines have been made in the area since Etruscan times–the estate this particular wine came from was established in 1922.

The wine was on darker, spicier end of the Sangio spectrum, with dark brooding cherries and plums. It had notes of tobacco, licorice, and exotic spices. There were some savory umami notes, it was a touch sanguine, and had light herbal notes. This wine was already five years old, but the fruit still tasted pretty young and fresh. It was drinking beautifully and showing a good degree of complexity.

I didn’t want to give things too much thought on this particular evening, but since this Vino Nobile was on the richer side I decided to take my pasta sauce in a similar direction. If the wine had been lighter and brighter I might have kept the sauce very fresh and simple with lighter herbs like basil. In this case, I opted to bulk things up with some meatiness, deeper spices, and heartier herbs like thyme and oregano.

For the most part, I kept this sauce simple using things I had on hand. I happened to have tomatoes I’d diced and stewed lightly myself over the summer stored in the freezer. Another day, I’d be just as likely to grab a can of diced tomatoes or some boxed pureed tomatoes, or mix them both together. If you have a jarred tomato sauce you like, use that and gussy it up with some extra spices and herbs.

Boccalone makes some delicious salumi products. Lucky for me, they're usually at my local farmers market. If you're in the Bay Area, you can also find them in the Ferry Building.

Some delicious ‘ndjua salami was beckoning to be included. ‘Ndjua is soft, creamy salami and it blended right into the sauce like silk. You could certainly use another style and get a chunkier texture–I’m sure you’ll be just as happy. The spices in the sausage mirrored those in the wine beautifully. I’d always heard that cinnamon works wonders in tomato sauce–it seemed very fitting to add a pinch here. I also added a little fennel pollen to make my sauce just a little fancy, even if I was wearing sweat pants. (Fennel pollen is intensely flavored, but rather pricey. Swap in fennel seeds for a similar effect. Give them a light toasting beforehand if you feel up to it.)

I’d purchased fresh spinach pasta at the farmer’s market. Since it only requires a few minutes, I cooked the pasta right in the sauce and saved myself a pot. It all just needed a generous sprinkling of cheese and it was good to go. From cooking to bowl to couch, it all couldn’t have taken more than half an hour.

There is no need to stick to this recipe faithfully. Use up what’s in your fridge and pantry that suits your mood and your wine–because of course you should have a little chef’s juice to sip as you’re cooking


The Fattoria del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is composed of 90% Prugnolo Gentile (the local clone of Sangiovese) and 10%  Mammolo, a local Tuscan variety. It spent 12 months in 110 Hl Slavonian oak barrels, plus six more months in stainless steel tanks. It then spends another six months in bottle before release. (Find the complete tech sheet here.)


This wine originally retailed at around $24 (the average is less now on if you can find it), and the level of complexity it was showing was definitely above the price point. The wine is definitely an overachiever.


Tomatoes are actually a touch finicky when it comes to wine pairing. They’re high in acid and can make a wine taste less acidic, so the wrong wine can taste a bit flabby alongside them. By comparison, a high acid wine will taste fruitier. They also don’t do well with really oaky wines.

Unsurprisingly, quite a few Italian reds work with tomatoes–Barbera comes to mind. I’ve also had good luck with Tempranillo and tomatoes, particularly crianzas which spend little time in oak in comparison to Reservas and Grand Reservas. (It kind of makes sense that Tempranillo would work  since the Spanish also eat a lot of tomatoes.) I think a fizzy Lambrusco would also work quite well here, as would any number of white bubblies. You're likely to do well with white wines as well, although I think I’d favor one with a balance of body and freshness.

Let us know if you try a pairing you really love.

  Photo credit on both pasta pictures: Greg Hudson.

Pasta with Spicy Sausage Tomato Sauce

Makes 3 to 4 servings


Olive oil
1 Tbsp tomato paste
3 oz ‘ndjua salami (or substitute another salami or sausage)
2-3 cloves of garlic
Splash of wine
3 cups of diced, stewed tomatoes (or tomato sauce or purée)
1 Tbsp chopped oregano
1-2 sprigs of thyme
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of fennel pollen (or fennel seeds)
Bay leaf
8 oz fresh pasta (I used a spinach version)



1. Heat a little olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat and add the tomato paste. Allow the tomato paste to cook and brown for several minutes until the paste turns a dark red-orange, stirring often. Add the ‘ndjua and the garlic and continue to cook for another few minutes until the ‘ndjua is also lightly browned. Deglaze the pan with a splash of wine.

Note: If using dry salami or other sausage, I might start by lightly browning the salami chunks first and then adding the tomato paste to continue browning along with the meat.

2. Add the tomatoes along with all the spices and herbs. Add salt and pepper to taste. Allow the sauce to cook for about 10 minutes, reducing the sauce until you reach a consistency you like, then taste and adjust seasoning.

3. Add the pasta and cook in the sauce for another 4-5 minutes until the pasta is fully cooked through. Serve in bowls, top with lots of Parmesan and curl up on the couch and enjoy while watching a good show or a movie.



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