Does Bolognese Sauce Use Red or White Wine?

Bolognese sauce is one of the most iconic and beloved Italian dishes. This meaty, rich tomato sauce is traditionally paired with tagliatelle pasta and topped with parmesan cheese for a quintessential Italian comfort food. 

When it comes to making an authentic bolognese sauce, there are a few key ingredients that are non-negotiable. These include:

  • Ground beef and/or pork
  • Onions, carrots and celery
  • Tomato paste or canned tomatoes
  • White wine
  • Milk 
  • Parmesan cheese

The use of white wine in bolognese sauce is traditional, though red wine is sometimes substituted. The type of wine used impacts the flavor profile, so it’s important to understand the differences.

Bolognese sauce traditionally uses white wine in its preparation. The white wine’s acidity helps balance the rich flavor of the meat while its dryness complements the sweetness of the tomatoes. However, some variations of the recipe use red wine for a deeper and richer flavor, but the tannins in red wine require careful cooking to avoid a bitter taste.

Why White Wine is Traditional

Most traditional bolognese sauce recipes, including those by acclaimed chefs like Marcella Hazan, call for white wine specifically. There are a few reasons why:


White wines tend to be more acidic than reds. The acidity helps cut through and balance the richness of the meat sauce. Red wine varietals used for cooking tend to be less acidic.


White wines are often less sweet than reds. Bolognese sauce benefits from white wine’s crisp dryness rather than added sweetness.

Regional Authenticity

Bolognese sauce originated in Bologna, located in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. This region is known for white wine varietals like Pignoletto and Albana. White wines likely would have been used locally when the dish was invented.

Cooking Method

Bolognese sauce is simmered for hours to mingle flavors and tenderize meat. The lengthy simmering can make tannins in red wine bitter, while white wine maintains its bright flavor.

There are a few white wine options that work well for bolognese sauce:

  • Pinot Grigio – Dry and light-bodied with crisp acidity
  • Chardonnay – Fuller-bodied with subtle oakiness
  • Pignoletto – An Italian white with citrus and almond notes
  • Albana – An Italian white with peach and tropical fruit flavors

Ideally, choose a white that is dry rather than sweet. Stay away from oaky whites like Chardonnay that can impart a woody flavor. Pinot Grigio is a safe bet for an authentic, flavorful bolognese.

Red Wine in Bolognese Sauce

While white wine is traditional, some recipes do suggest red wine. Compared to white, red wine can provide:

  • Deeper, often fruitier flavor
  • Extra body and richness 
  • More complexity

However, the tannins require careful cooking to avoid a bitter taste. When using red, lean towards medium-bodied Italian varietals like Chianti or Montepulciano. More tannic reds like Barolo and Barbaresco are not ideal.

To Sum Up…

For a traditional bolognese sauce, white wine is the standard choice. The acidity and crisp flavor of a white nicely complements the richness of the meat sauce. However, a flavorful Italian red can also work when simmered properly to integrate the flavors.

No matter which wine you use, be sure to pour a hearty glass for the cook! A fruit-forward Pinot Noir or Sangiovese would pair deliciously with this meaty pasta dish.