When you hear about Chianti food pairings, it has the reputation of a standard Italian red wine that you drink casually with a meal at your favorite pizza parlor. As a medium-bodied red wine often popping with lip-smacking red fruits on your taste buds, it naturally does go great with nearly any type of Italian cuisine including ravioli, lasagne, various other pastas, smoked salmon, and of course pizza. But those aren’t the only foods that Chianti pairs well with. It’s such an easy to drink wine that it matches up excellently with a wide variety of foods.
First of all, what is Chianti exactly? One confusing aspect of many Italian and French wines for wine beginners is that they are named for the region of production, not the grape variety. In this case, Chianti is a wine-growing region located in the central area of Tuscany, Italy. By law, for any wine to be labelled “Chianti” it must not only be grown in the region but also must consist of at least 80% Sangiovese grapes.
Sangiovese is a grape with a long history. It is thought to have been cultivated during the days of the Roman Empire, and has been documented as far back as the sixteenth century. Wines made with Sangiovese tend to have medium tannins and high acidity, with a flavor profile dominated by red fruits such as cherries. Chianti and other Sangiovese-based wines are usually fruity, tart and zesty. It’s not an acquired taste for stuffy old men sipping leather-scented Bordeaux and nibbling moldy cheese. Rather, Chianti hits your tongue with an explosion of flavor from the first taste, goes down smooth, and before you know it you’ll be on your third glass.
I encourage you to not be so strict in wine-food pairing. Wine is meant to be enjoyed, and you should feel free to drink your favorite wines together with your favorite dishes, whatever they may be. If it tastes good to you nobody can say you’re wrong. That said, here are five unconventional food pairings for Chianti and other Sangiovese wines that I think you’ll enjoy.
1. Thai Food
I’m a huge fan of Thai food, having spent a lot of time in Thailand. For the record I can tell you that most of the Thai food served at Thai restaurants overseas is nowhere near as good as the genuine article they serve up in Thailand, but nevertheless, Thai cuisine has carved out a spot as one of the most famous and recognized national cuisines globally.
Thai food is famous for liberal use of hot chili peppers. It’s a toss up between Thai and South Indian for the spiciest national cooking style. So right off the bat you’re going to want a beverage that will go down easy and quench your thirst. Chianti has a low to moderate alcohol level, usually around 12% by volume. This is important when eating really spicy food because you’ll tend to drink a little more, and Chianti lets you do that without getting overly tipsy.
Thai food is not only spicy though. Properly cooked Thai dishes have a very nice balance of spicy, sour, sweet, and salty flavors. Chianti’s fruity pop adds into this mix of tastes quite well. Try it with stir-fried pork and basil, red curry, and Pad Thai.
2. Mexican Food
Mexican food has an overall flavor profile sitting somewhere in the middle of Italian and Thai cuisines. On the one hand, Mexican dishes contain lots of tomato, cheese, and starches just like Italian food. On the other hand, Mexicans also love their chili peppers to give food a little fire on your tongue, much like Thai cuisine.
Pop open a bottle of Chianti Classico next time you serve up sizzling grilled chicken fajitas, enchiladas, or belly-buster bean burritos.
3. Chocolate and Cherries
Here’s a pro-tip for a quiet, romantic, late-night get-together with your sweetheart. Wine goes great with various snack foods, and it doesn’t have to be stinky European cheeses either. I enjoy drinking a bottle of red wine late in the evening along with some sort of fruit and a few chocolates.
Cherries work particularly well with Chianti because it’s a flavor that comes out in the wine itself. So the two match up like heaven. Add some chocolate for a little extra sweetness on the tongue to balance the tangy acidity of the Sangiovese grapes. Dark or milk chocolate is up to your preference. My favorites are the moderately dark chocolates with around 70% cocoa.
4. North Indian Food
North Indian food is the style that is served most often in Indian restaurants overseas. Like some of the other cooking styles I’ve mentioned above, North Indian dishes use lots of spicy chilies and tomato-based sauces. So naturally, Chianti wine would be a good match.
Particularly good are any dishes made with paneer, which is a type of Indian cheese. It’s usually cut into cubes and mixed into a vegetarian curry in place of meat. I’d suggest a paneer masala curry if you’re new to it. Another great North Indian dish to go with Chianti wine is dal makhani, a rich bean-based curry that is cooked using lots of cream.
Yes, you can enjoy red wine with your sushi. There is no law that says you must only drink sake. Contemporary sushi matches up well because of the increased variety of flavors when ingredients like cream cheese are included. Fruity red wine also hits the spot right after setting your brain on fire from too much wasabi.
Three types of sushi that will go great with Chianti are tamago-sushi (sweet egg on a bed of rice), California rolls (with that creamy avocado goodness), and salmon sashimi (a little slice of heaven).
Last Bit of Chianti Advice
Remember to serve your Chianti wine at the proper temperature. Right around 59 degrees F (or 15 C) is ideal. Pick out a good value wine cooler to keep in your kitchen so you’ve always got your wines stored at the optimal coolness. It’s a subtle difference between a too-warm bottle of Chianti and one that is cooled down slightly, but it’s one that you’ll come to appreciate.