Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How to pair Chianti

Before we talk of how to pair Chianti, a few words of introduction. In a distant past wine was often consumed because it was cleaner than water, and for the peasants In Italy, it was just calories to put on the table. Often it was used as a flavoring for water to quench the thirst of the farm workers in summer. ( By the way I sometimes still do this; a third wine two thirds water is a very refreshing drink).

However with the passing of time, wine making evolved, and in particular it evolved around the food of every region. Then just like the theory of evolution, only those wines, or wine making methods that better adapted themselves to the situation (food and taste buds) survived. In some cases it may not have been a conscious process, while in others it was, but it’s undeniable that it was taking place.
Aged cheeses a perfect match for Chianti
The evolution of wine has been going on in Europe for hundreds of years, and it’s not a coincidence that the wines from Bordeaux or Reoja are perfect matches for lamb dishes which are part of the cuisine of those areas. In the New World wine making is a relatively new experience and not related to the cuisine in any way. Though it would be perhaps true to state, that wine making was introduced to South America mainly by the Spaniards who also introduced their food. That said, wine hasn't evolved with the cuisine as in Europe.

So let’s talk about how to pair Chianti. Chianti is light, dry and acidic, and if consumed on its own not particularly pleasant (this is true of many Italian wines). It’s difficult to appreciate at a wine tasting too, but don’t see this as a lack of quality. Local winemakers know perfectly well how to make a big easy wine,  but they don’t. In fact there is some controversy among producers about making Chianti easier to drink, as this would also make it easier to sell. However most of the top wineries (I say thankfully), refuse to do this.

Bear in mind that in Italy, maybe more than anywhere else in the world, wine has always been synonymous to the dinner table, and deeply part of every dining experience, even the most simple. So it stands to reason that Italy’s wines have been crafted to this end. Italian cuisine varies greatly from region to region, however it’s generally savory (salty), with animal fats in the north and healthier olive oil in central Italy and the south.

So here’s the reason for the dry acidic wines: tannins are perceived as velvety in combination with fats, and acidity is perceived as sweet with salt. If you don’t believe me, try an orange with salt sprinkled on it.

So in a nutshell you have an answer on how to pair Chianti…salty fatty foods. So meats in general, bacon and sausages are ideal, cheese and rich cheese dishes, red sauces (if with olive oil or other fat), pizza. These foods may not necessarily be Italian, just remember the salt and fat rule and you’re unlikely to go wrong. Even a hamburger will go down just fine.

What to avoid with Chianti? Perhaps it’s easier to say what not to eat with Chianti. Well the first thing that comes to mind is anything sweet, Chianti will taste horrible with cakes and pastries. Be careful that your main course doesn't contain anything sweet either, for example tomato ketchup.

Fish rarely goes well with Chianti because of its iodine content. The combination will make the fish taste even fishier, and the wine becomes unpleasantly metallic.

Some foods have bitter back tastes which in turn will increase your perception of bitterness in Chianti too. This last aspect is very important, as we’re not always aware of bitterness in our food. If ever you drink Chianti with a meal and it tastes bitter, before you throw it down the sink, try it with something else.

As a regular Chianti drinker, I think it’s one of the world’s best wines with a meal. It never overpowers food, becoming smoother as the meal progresses, spicy or fruity depending on it's age.

Sergio Ceccherini