Chianti is a fresh and youthful Italian wine from Tuscany with rustic charm and is made from the Sangiovese grape (with up to 15% content from other grapes). Rustic is a description often applied to Italian wines, and it often implies an earthiness or forest component to it. Expect flavours of rich mulch, violet and green olive. Meanwhile, in the mouth, you’ll find bright red flavours of strawberry, cherry and cherry tomato.
Chianti has great acidity, enough tannin for character, and a spicy/smoky finish that makes it a popular pairing with common Italian food dishes. Spaghetti or Pasta Bolognese, Chicken Cacciatore, Puttanesca sauce, Pizza, Filet Mignon, Petite Tender, Manhattan Clam Chowder, Veal Marsala, Lasagna, Eggplant/Veal & Chicken Parmesan are all enhanced by the herbal notes and smoky finish. Meanwhile, the tart acidity of the wine ensures that it never clashes with the tomato sauce used to build these Italian staples.
Here are our top 5 Chianti and Food Pairings
Spaghetti and Meatballs & Chianti
We’ve all seen the Disney Classic, Lady and the Tramp. Remember that wicker covered wine bottle on the makeshift table that has a candle stuck in it? That’s an old school Chianti bottle. Chianti was such a staple in American Spaghetti restaurants as it perfectly pairs with every component in a spaghetti and meatball dish.
High in acidity, this red never clashes with a tomato-based sauce. Tomatoes, which are highly acidic, needs a highly acidic wine to compete with it, or else the dish will come off as flat and metallic. Sangiovese also has plenty of tannin, which is tamed by the meat in the meatballs. This harmonizing of the food & wine combo ensures that you taste both the wine and the meatballs on the finish.
When selecting a Chianti, you want a style that is traditional, as more modern versions might be too oaky and soft to compete with the sharpness of the tomato sauce. Chianti isn’t all about the tomato sauce as you’ll find this luscious red is equally at home with pasta carbonara.
Lasagna & Chianti
Perhaps the best wine to pair with lasagna is a Chianti. Tart, spicy and herbaceous, Chianti tastes like you’d expect Italy to taste like. This Sangiovese based red wine has a rustic profile and acidity that it won’t taste metallic against the tomato sauce backdrop. The tannin in the wine has no issue dealing with any ground beef or meat layered into your baked lasagna.
Should you be serving up vegetarian lasagna, Chianti is no slump either. Acidity goes great with vegetables as it makes their unique flavours shine through the layers of cheese and pasta which typically hold them back.
Chicken Parmesan & Chianti
Chicken Parmesan is a dish that is always bound to cheer you up. It’s both filling and tasty, and adding a glass of Chianti to the side livens this dish up even further!
The herbaceous notes complement any herbs you may have added to the Parmesan sauce that you are smothering your breaded chicken with. Meanwhile, the spice and tartness liven up the somewhat neutral chicken within the sauce.
Pepperoni Pizza & Chianti
Chianti is a fabulous wine to pair with Pepperoni Pizza as they are both easy going foods. However, when paired together, they brighten each either up considerably. The acidity in Ruffino Chianti washes away the fattier component of the pizza, and the true pepperoni, cheese and tomato flavours will leap out. Meanwhile, the protein in both the pepperoni and cheese will have something for the tannin in the Chianti to cling on to, and thus the bright and fresh flavours of this wine will have a chance to strut its stuff across your palate.
Chianti’s acidity ensures that it will pair with all types of Pizza no matter what your topping might be. Green Pepper, Mushrooms, Ham, Bacon, and sun-dried tomato will all taste appealing under Chianti’s smoky and herbal umbrella.
Bruschetta & Chianti
Chianti hits a home run with this popular appetizer for wine pairing. Bruschetta recipes vary, but often it is garlic and tomatoes tossed in olive oil and spread across warm and toasty bread. It’s easy to prepare at home, and it’s delicious with Chianti.
Chianti is acidic enough to hold up against the tomatoes and has enough body to stand up to the strong flavours of the garlic and olive flavours. This winning combination is perfect for a starter, or to share on a chilly fall evening in front of the fireplace.
Classifications of Chianti
Chianti is not a complex wine, but the variety of options might be. What you need to know is that Chianti can be aged from 6 months to 2 and a half years or more. The longer the ageing, the deeper the flavours. Here is the breakdown.
- Chianti – Aged for 6 months, and is quite tart
- Chianti Superiore – Aged for a Year. Less tart, more bold and smoother acidity
- Chianti Reserva – Aged for Two Years. A smoother red with bolder flavours
- Chianti Gran Selezione – Aged for 2.5 years and sold as a top wine from the Chianti Classico sub region
Chianti Sub Regions
Chianti also has several sub regions which has different minimum ageing requirements
- Chianti Classico – Aged for 1 year (min) or more
- Chianti Colli Aretini – Aged for 6 months
- Chianti Colli Fiorentini Aged for at least 1 year
- Chianti Colline Pisane – Aged for 6 months
- Chianti Colli Senesi – Aged for 6 months
- Chianti Montalbano – Aged for 6 months
- Chianti Montespertoli – Aged for 9 months minimum
- Chianti Rufina – Aged for a least 1 year
What is Chianti Classico?
Still confused? Our advice is to pick up Chianti Classico Superiore or Reserva. They are the most common and graceful Chianti’s available on the market.
Why are there so many Chianti names, and what exactly is Chianti Classico? Here’s a brief history lesson. Before the 20th century, the name Chianti by itself used to focus on a very site-specific region in Tuscany. This region had been producing quality wines since the Middle Ages.
Then, during the 20th century, the original Chianti zone was expanded to cover a much larger area of Tuscany. We saw the Chianti region from 17,000 acres to 42,000 acres. The local government wanted to focus on branding the “Chianti” name, rather than focusing on a site-specific wine. During this period, winemakers were also allowed to add up to 30% of white wine grapes to their Chianti wines.
During the 1950s there was also a mass exodus of people moving out of the Tuscan countryside, and this spurred the government to plant a lot of Tuscan vineyards with the sole purpose of mass-producing Chianti wine. This is why from the ’50s to 80’s you saw cheap Chianti out of straw-covered bottles of wine sitting in every pizza restaurant. A lot of this wine was incredibly tart, and blended with cheap white wine grapes. The Sangiovese grapes used in it may have been from new vines that have not had centuries to develop. Thus, Italy was able to saturate the North American restaurant with cheap wine fro consumers who did not know any better.
The winemakers who were focused on quality were pissed off, and rightly so! In 1984 they established the Chianti Classico DOCG standard, which eventually eliminated any allowance of white grapes and limiting Non-Sangiovese grapes to 15%.
So when you buy Chianti Classico, you are ensuring that you are buying quality due to the higher standards and picking quality grapes from vines that have been planted for centuries.
That’s not to say the other Chianti regions are not of high quality. Many of them are, but that’s a conversation worth discussing from whomever you buy wine from.
Bonus pairing, as we all know from Dr. Lector and Silence of the Lambs, Chianti, Liver and Fava Beans are another ‘classic’ pairing. However, Amarone is the original pairing in the novel. Movie producers changed the pairing as they felt audiences would not know what Amarone was.