This is a guest post written by Neil Phillips sponsored by Castello di Gabbiano.
Two of the more magical aspects of wine revolve around history and food.
As with any product of the land, wine carries such weight of history from where it is produced. After all, wine comes from grapes – which are a farmed fruit. Agriculture weaves its way through any society’s culture and the gastronomy of a region is interwoven with its history. With wine, it’s always fascinating to discover all the stories and characters behind the labels you drink and I was reminded of the soulful mix of history, wine and food recently at a luncheon with Frederico Cerelli, winemaker from Castello di Gabbiano.
Castello di Gabbiano is a name well-known in Canada, as this Chianti producer exports 90% of their production to North America. Producing wine since 1124, the property lies within the picturesque hills of Tuscany. All winemaking and cellar ageing is done on site, and for the adventurous you can stay at the estate-run villa and enroll in their cooking school. (If that doesn’t sound like a trip designed specifically for Mr. Neil & Mardi, I don’t know what does!).
But while the property has centuries of winemaking experience, what’s exciting is how they’ve continued to evolve to suit today’s market. As a wine region, Chianti underwent a sea change in quality and image years ago, highlighted by the move from the old fiasco (those quaint candlestick, round straw-covered bottles) to the Bordeaux-style bottle. Appellation rules were both tightened (eliminating some of the white grape varietals that formerly “filled out” Chianti) and relaxed (permitting French varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend), with a focus on quality and versatility.
The result today is a much higher level of well-made, drinkable Chianti at the entry level of the market; and some wonderfully expressive examples as you move up the price scale. Castello di Gabbiano has taken full advantage, altering their winemaking to suit today’s changing diet. You’ll find more Merlot to soften the tannins for their base Chianti, and a little more residual sugar. This makes for a smoother red wine with less acid and stronger fruit flavours. At the top end, their Bellezza Gran Selezione is 100% Sangiovese, with wild yeast fermentation.
The great thing about Chianti – and really, most Italian wine – is that it is ideally suited to pairing with food. Pairing with food is always a search for that elusive “perfect match” and I find people often stress too much about finding that match. Here are some basic principles to help you choose that wine for your next dinner…
1. Consider regionality
A simple tip is to pair wines and cuisine that come from the same region. They’ve had centuries to marry those flavours, and they work for a reason! Admittedly, this works more with the classical old-world wine regions. No surprise that Chianti works well with tomato-based dishes.
2. Look at the colour
The old adage of matching your wine colour with that of your protein is a bit basic, but does have some merit. (White wine with white fish and meats, rosé with light meats like ham; red wine with red meats.) However sticking too closely to this limits your range. A Pinot Noir from Prince Edward County goes wonderfully with grilled salmon. But as a general guideline, it can help.
3. Consider the weight
Lighter wines pair better with lighter dishes. Conversely, a rich stew will overpower a lighter wine – even a red one. Those light sauces will generally want a lighter wine. While a nice Shiraz goes well with that burger, or a Baco Noir is perfect with grilled ribs…both will likely be heavy for sautéed chicken breasts. It’s all about balance. A weight progression throughout a meal (lighter to heavier) is ideal for the palate. This is actually the way a meal itself often progresses, so works logically.
4. Complement (or Contrast) Flavours
Don’t just think about the protein – think about the sauce and spices: what’s the dominant flavour? Think of the strongest flavour in your dish, and match the wine to that. That buttery sauce is a perfect match with that oak-aged Chardonnay. Conversely, sometimes contrasting works just as well. Experiment!
5. Remember: Fat & Acid in Food Loves Acid in Wine
Going back to that Chianti with a tomato sauce: the higher-acid in the Sangiovese grape complements the acid in tomatoes nicely. Together, the wine will appear softer and more of the fruit will come forward.
6. Protein Loves Tannin
Those big, bold reds with lots of tannin are ideal for rare red meats. The protein softens the tannins. The rarer the meat, the more tannins will work well. The more well-done you like your steak, the lighter red wine you could pair.
7. Sweet Tempers Heat
Sweets wines these days are unfairly maligned. If you prefer a glass of wine over a beer with your curry or Thai stir-fry, look for something with a bit of residual sugar. An off-dry Riesling is ideal; or Gewurztraminer with Indian, one of my favourite matches. A touch of sugar or a fruit-forward wine also works well with a salty dish.
8. Sweeter than the Dessert
As a general rule, your wine should always be sweeter than your dish. This is especially important with desserts, where a bold red might just get clobbered by that Black Forest cake. Beautiful dessert wines are made in many regions for just this reason.
9. The final expert is you!
Most important, never fear experimenting! You’ll find some surprises, and have fun along the way. Everyone’s palate is different, and has its own sensitivities. The final expert is you: there’s no point drinking a wine you don’t enjoy just because someone tells you it “matches” with a dish. Happy quaffing!
We’ve paired the Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico with the beef stew from the restaurant at the estate. It follows many of the principles above – and made for a lovely meal.
For more information about Castello di Gabbiano find them on Facebook, Instagram and check out their website for more recipes. For a look at Chianti’s changing image check out “Chianti’s Epic Comeback“.
Disclosure: This is post is sponsored by Castello di Gabbiano. Neil attended a winemaker’s luncheon in Toronto and we have been compensated for spreading the good word about the wines but our opinions are 100% our own. We’re always happy to share information about great wine and how to enjoy it with our readers. All images in this post except for the final one are courtesy Castello di Gabbiano.
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