Tips for pairing food and wine

Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico image on eatlivetravelwrite.comThis 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 winemaker image on eatlivetravelwrite.comCastello 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!).

Gabbiano vineyard image on eatlivetravelwrite.comBut 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.

Gabbiano winemaker lunch image on eatlivetravelwrite.comThe 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.

Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico image on eatlivetravelwrite.comThe 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…

Pouring Castello di Gabbiano wines image on eatlivetravelwrite.comTips for matching food and wine

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.

Yield: 2-3

Impruneta Beef Stew

Impuneta beef stew with Chianti Classico from Castello di Gabbiano image on

A rich beef stew adapted from a recipe by Francesco Berardinelli, Executive Chef, Il Cavaliere Castello di Gabbiano Estate.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 15 minutes


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 400g stewing beef, cut into cubes approx. 3cm (1 1/2 inches)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 125 mL Chianti Classico Gabbiano plus 125 mL to add during cooking
  • 250 mL diced, canned tomatoes
  • 1 sprig rosemary


  1. Pre heat the oven to 350˚F.
  2. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven or oven-ready pot and add garlic and celery and sauté for 4 minutes, until the celery just starts to soften.
  3. Add the beef , salt and pepper and cook a further 5 minute until beef is browned on all sides.
  4. Add wine and tomatoes, salt and simmer for further 5 minutes.
Add the rosemary, stir and cover.
  5. Cook for 1 1/2 - 2 hours until the beef is tender. Check the stew halfway through cooking, stir and add the extra wine.
  6. Remove from the oven, strain out the rosemary stalks and serve the beef with the sauce on buttered egg noodles, mashed potatoes or polenta.

did you make this recipe?

please leave a comment or review on the blog or share a photo and tag me on Instagram @eatlivtravwrite !

Impuneta beef stew with Chianti Classico from Castello di Gabbiano image on eatlivetravelwrite.comFor 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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12 thoughts on “Tips for pairing food and wine”

  1. Very useful post today, Mr Neil. I will forward a link to a number of, shall we say, hesitant dinner hosts who stress over wine/food matching. In particular, I liked the simplicity of your advice.
    BTW, I remember well (giving away my age) the straw-covered bottles. I once won such a bottle by being on the ‘lucky spot’ at a dance. Save a bottle of Chianti for us when we catch up later this year.

    • I may have to bring one – have some fine examples in the cellar. Though our local super wine shop, Plaisirs du Vin, has a not unreasonable small global selection. (Usually top stuff.)

  2. These are helpful tips! #1 resonated with me. I live in a wine-growing region that produces excellent whites. It’s also near the ocean. What could be better with fresh-caught wild salmon than a local white! We stayed very close to Castello di Gabbiano last year at this time. Would sure love to be back there!

  3. All I want is a glass of this wine in my hand right now…and to attend those Tuscan cooking classes you talked about. One day. In the meantime, I think I need to go out and grab a bottle. Loved the pairing notes, btw.


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