You see, Sangiovese is a high acidity, light-bodied grape that shows hearty tannic structure in its youth. For Chianti, a wine that traditionally blends Sangiovese with Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo, Mammolo or Colorino, it is the blending partners that lend the wine its color and softer personality. When Sangiovese is made as a mono-varietal wine, it takes low yields, long macerations and severe wood aging regiments to achieve the color and depth that we all love. These practices may give us hearty wines, but they also magnify the structural components and can make them difficult to enjoy young or without food.
Sangiovese is worth that extra effort. Even if you’ve sworn off Chianti Classico for its wild and unpredictable nature, I assure you that there is ample reason to give it another chance.
Photo courtesy isante_magazine via Flickr/CC
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
I find that Vino Nobile di Montepulciano walks a fine line between Chianti and Brunello. Its flavors and textures are deeper and more layered than your average Chianti, yet it is not as firm and structured as Brunello. The nose shows a mix of wild berries and floral notes that truly set it apart from other Sangiovese-based wines. Its high acidity and lighter body allows it to pair well with poultry and game.
Rustic Pork Ragu
Sangiovese is almost always an excellent match with pork. In Tuscany, it would be wild boar, called cinghiale. You can easily adjust a pork ragu by using a wild bore roast for a more ethnic feel. With this pairing, the flavors of the wine and sauce pay compliments to each other and make for an excellent combination.
2007 Crociani Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva - The nose was intense yet finessed with crushed wild berries, plums and citrus rinds. On the palate, it was velvety smooth with mixed berries, inner floral notes and earth tones. The finish was long and clung to the palate with staying fruit and fine tannins.
Brunello di Montalcino
Brunello can be a big wine and I often see people pair it with steak. In my opinion, that’s a waste. This 100% Sangiovese may be aged for years in wood, but it is still a very friendly food wine and the perfect match for veal chops.
Veal Chops with Saffron Orzo and Tomato Sauce
This dish is the perfect match for Brunello as it provides a painter’s palette of flavors and textures to select from. Don’t be afraid of the Brunello overwhelming the delicately sweet veal meat, the key is to make sure it’s not overcooked. There’s also the saffron orzo and tomato to add an exciting burst of flavor.
Get the recipe!
2006 Tenuta Oliveto Brunello di Montalcino - The nose showed sweet, dark red fruits with spice, undergrowth and herbs. On the palate, it was balanced and smooth with red berries and notes of licorice. Its large structure took control into the woody, red berry finish. The ’06 is truly the yin to the ‘07’s yang, two consecutive vintages that are equally enjoyable for completely different reasons.
Carmignano tends to produce a more approachable Sangiovese, primarily due to the generous blending restrictions of no less than 50 percent Sangiovese and from 10-20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. In many cases, I’ve found these wines more international in style and obviously lacking Sangiovese character. One producer does continue to dazzle me, and that’s Piaggia.
Porterhouse Steaks with Arugula and Parmesan Cheese
The Il Sasso is made with an international flair and sheen of oak, but is done so beautifully and still shows an attractive Tuscan character. This is the perfect companion for a hearty steak. If you have the ability to use a Chianina steak (an ancient breed of cattle found in Tuscany), then you have a match made in heaven: Bistecca alla Fiorentina.
Get the recipe!
2007 Piaggia Carmignano Il Sasso (70% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot.) - The nose showed cherry and herbs with undergrowth and a hint of new oak. The palate showed a medium body but with silky elegance and flavors of cherry, pomegranate and dark chocolate with a slight austerity. The finish was long yet fresh with silky tannin. This bottle was feminine yet muscular and should drink even better after being in the cellar for a few more years.
There’s a reason why so many people drink Chianti with pizza and dishes like spaghetti and meatballs, it’s an excellent combination. For me, it’s all about the way the wine and the sauce play off of each other to create new flavors that wouldn’t exist without the other. I couldn’t help myself, so I decided to pair this with my very own Grandmother’s Meatball Recipe.
2007 Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva - The nose showed black cherries, mint, floral, a hint of barnyard and that lovely dusty note that Sangiovese sometimes shows. On the palate, it flowed effortlessly with juicy, ripe red fruits, some tobacco and cedar. The finish was long and fresh with just a hint of structure showing through. This is yet another great value wine from Monsanto. I repeatedly find the Monsanto Riserva to be everything I ever want from Chianti.
In Umbria, Sangiovese finds itself blended with the soft and juicy Montepulciano grape and the deep and hearty Sagrantino. This mix gives the wine a unique personality from its Tuscan cousins and an almost sensual and zesty profile. In the hands of the uber-organic producer Paolo Bea, they can be magical.
Pan-Roasted Chicken with Olives and Lemon
This combination works beautifully as the flavor of the olives (something that Umbria is especially known for) penetrates the chicken, mixing with the juice of the dark meat and herbs to form a rich, fragrant glaze. The lemon in the recipe scared me at first but integrated beautifully during the cooking process.
Get the recipe!
2006 Paolo Bea Vigna San Valentino Umbria IGT - The nose showed pure cranberry juice, dusty potpourri and herbs. On the palate, I found sour raspberry, minerals and Sour Patch candies. The finish showed a mouth-puckering red fruit. This bottle could use a little more time but, as always, is highly enjoyable to a lover of Italian wine.
As Sangiovese ages, the aromas turn to dried flowers and earthy aromas. On the palate, the once youthful high acidity continues to provide lift, yet since the tannins have softened, the wine’s plush red fruits now offset the acidity. In the end, you have a balanced and finessed red with lots of earthy aromas and flavors. With this in mind, your food pairings need to change as well.
Roasted Pork Loin with Garlic & Rosemary
A roasted pork loin is the perfect accompaniment. You won’t always know what you’re going to get from an aged bottle of wine, but it’s always a safe bet to plan a meal with subtle flavors. In this recipe, the pork with garlic and herbs, dressed with a rich gravy, provides everything you need to tame the wine’s acidity while allowing its flavors to shine.
1995 Stefano Farina Chianti Classico Le Bocce - The nose on this wine was immediately intriguing as it reminded me of the cooking process when making cranberry sauce. Aromas of red wild berries with a dark mulling spice quickly rose up from the glass. On the palate, I found lush red fruits with a gorgeous balance of acidity and richness, leading to a finish that was still slightly tannic and showed a hint of anise.
Want to Learn More?
Check out even more great pairing ideas with a different varietal in Pairing Syrah from Around the World