The first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘Chianti’ is invariably the superb red wines that come from this much-loved Italian region. Famous throughout the world, the traditions and quality of their production have made them just as popular with aficionados of fine tipples as well as those who are just in it for the taste.
Here at Walkabout Florence you can probably tell we’re pretty passionate about wine – come on, we’re Italian after all! That’s why we’ve designed our group tours specifically to allow our clients to squeeze as much out of their Italian experience as possible – no matter what they want to see and do (and eat and drink!).
Our fabulous and ever-popular Chianti Wine and Food Safari does exactly that on a relaxed, fun-filled day trip out of Florence. We take you out into some of the most spectacular landscapes you’ll ever see, travelling along picturesque back roads and cross country in our specially adapted 4WD vehicle to visit some fantastic Tuscan vineyards. And a more delicious day you’ll be very hard pressed to find.
An Introduction to the Region
When it comes to Tuscany, vineyards are very much an everyday sight, but in the world famous Chianti Classico wine region, in particular, well, let’s just say you’re in for a real treat. It’s not hard to get enthusiastic about heading out into the countryside to visit the Tuscany vineyards dotted around this gorgeous part of the world, but our fabulous guides take it a step further with their confident and in-depth knowledge, which they’re only too happy to share.
If you’re currently sitting at home daydreaming about your next holiday, you’re definitely not alone. Here at Walkabout Florence we’re stuck at home like everybody else, but we’re busy planning our return so we can go on showing our wonderful clients those fabulous Tuscany vineyards and all the cultural and historical attractions that make this part of the world so wonderful. In the meantime, however, we want to help you get a bit of that Italian holiday feeling without even leaving your own home.
Below are some wonderful Chianti wine and food pairings that you can try at home and, by the time you work your way through a few of these, you’ll be drinking and eating like a local. Knowing what to put together before you head to Italy will make you look very impressive to your fellow travellers (and the locals) and, don’t worry, those Tuscany vineyards aren’t going anywhere. They’ll be waiting for you and your newfound knowledge just as soon as we’re allowed to travel again.
Before we start talking about some perfect pairings, it may help to understand a little bit more about the renowned wines of the region.
Of all Italian tipples, it is the Chianti that is best known and loved all over the world. Made from the Sangiovese grape, the content can also comprise up to 15% of another grape. But by law, in order for the local Tuscany vineyards to produce under the Chianti name, it must be at least 80% Sangiovese and made only in this region.
Its overall taste can be described variously as ‘earthy’, ‘rustic’ and ‘foresty’, with flavours in the mouth of cherry, tomato, strawberry and green olive. The grape itself is very thin skinned so the wines produced from it have a translucent finish.
Its tart, smoky finish, herbaceous flavours and high acidity and tannin content make it an ideal accompaniment to a diverse array of dishes, because it doesn’t compete with the often-used tomato base in Italian cuisine. In fact, it’s that definitive acidity that allows it to work so effortlessly with the traditional rustic dishes for which the Tuscan region is so renowned. If you close your eyes as you take a sip, its classic flavour really could be described as Italy in a bottle. It’s not as smooth as some other reds, but that tartness and slight roughness is part of its charm.
Almost all the local reds are based on the Sangiovese grape and there’s no wine the locals prefer more. A Chianti can be aged anything from six months to 2.5 years, but whether it’s a tart, playful young one, a bolder Classico Superiore (aged for at least a year), a higher quality Riserva (aged for at least two years), or the top shelf Gran Selezione (aged for 2.5 years), the depth and diversity of these wines is also legendary amongst global food and wine experts. It seems that perhaps you can be all things to all people…
Interesting fact: The Sangiovese grape has a long and distinguished history. It is believed to have been cultivated in the times of the Roman Empire and has been mentioned and recorded as far back as the sixteenth century.
What Food Goes Well With Chianti?
Chianti is to food like Puccini is to opera and, for these delicious and robust wines, their perfect match is no one single thing. We’ll go into specifics further on but, as a starting point, there are some clear tried and true matchings.
If you’re partaking in a young Chianti (the basic varieties) it goes fabulously well with:
- Tomato and meat-based pasta dishes
- Anything using salsa verde
- Pecorino cheese
- Tuscan olive oils
- Salami (salumi)
- Bean/chickpea soups
The aged Riservas go divinely well with:
- Game (including wild boar)
- Roast lamb
- T-bone and rib-eye steaks
- Tuscan sausages
- Braised or roast veal
Top tip: Our cooking class day tours to a Tuscan farmhouse are the perfect opportunity to learn some of the authentic recipes of the region so you can replicate them at home!
Try These at Home
Now you understand a little more about the local food and the wines of the Tuscany vineyards in this area, it’s time to get out your pots, pans and wine glasses to create a little bit of magic at home! None of the dishes we’ve chosen are hard to replicate and some versions of the wines are readily available in supermarkets and off-licences. Ready, steady, cook! (And open those bottles.)
Of course, the absolute classic pairing is with the iconic pasta dishes. But, as mentioned above, it is a particularly good complement to tomato-based sauces, so there are lots from which to choose.
Bolognese: Mama Mia, this joyous pairing will have you falling in love at first bite – or slurp if you use spaghetti! Because the meat-based Bolognese is made with wine as well, it couldn’t be a more ideal match. One word of advice though: don’t use a cheap red in your meat base no matter what your mother told you! Use the same wine that you’ll be drinking with your meal and you’ll be in Chianti heaven.
Lasagne: The rich red sauce of a traditional Tuscan lasagne marries perfectly with the acidic finishes of a Chianti and makes for magic in your mouth. Go for a meat or sausage version of the dish, but make sure whatever you use isn’t too fatty (you can pour off the fat once you’ve fried your meat if need be).
Ragu` di Cinghiale: This is another magnificent pairing with a Chianti and this slow-cooked sauce made with wild boar (available at your local Italian deli), wine, tomato, pancetta and carrots is traditionally served over pappardelle pasta. Magnifico!
Another perfect match is pizza – but not just any pizza! Anyone who’s visited Italy knows that a traditional Italian pizza bears little resemblance to the big brand fast-food ones you get in the UK. True Italian pizzas are light, rustic and bursting with flavour from their simple yet delicious toppings. The classic Margherita is the ideal complement for the wine, with its aromatic tomato base and simple delicate topping of basil and cheese.
Remember, if you want to learn how to make the perfect Italian pizza at home, our cooking classes are the way to do it!
The Meat Dishes
The high tannin content of the wine makes it a perfect pairing with dishes that use rich meats as their base.
Roast lamb: Well you already know how to do this one, right? Your good old traditional British roast lamb, studded with rosemary and garlic and served with a lovely Chianti will do more for international relations than the United Nations! The acidic nature of the wine coupled with the rich flavours of the lamb makes for perfection on a plate – and in a glass.
Veal: The traditional way the Tuscans eat their veal is very slowly braised (or sometimes roasted) with lots and lots of juicy mushrooms. Another firm favourite that’s very easy to make at home is the Tuscan Osso Bucco, made with veal shanks.
Does Chianti Go Well with Steak?
Bistecca alla Fiorentina: One absolute classic is the famous Florentine style steak. Don’t be afraid to try to recreate this flagship dish at home, because it’s basically just a beautifully cooked steak (in olive oil) seasoned with sage, rosemary, salt and pepper. While you won’t be using the traditional meat from the Chianina cattle, like the real thing, a good tender piece of porterhouse, T-bone or rib eye will do the job just as well. It’s traditionally served rare but, of course, you can grill it as you like.
Does Chianti Pair with Chicken?
Chicken Parmesan: You may already have this in your family dinner repertoire already, but you may not know that the herby parmesan sauce that you pour over breaded chicken pieces is an absolute classic pairing with the herbaceous notes of a Chianti. Now you know.
Bruschetta, Snacks and Platters
Bruschetta: There’s nothing better than bruschetta – unless it’s homemade bruschetta! An absolute winner when served with your antipasto platter and a fabulous Chianti (it’s those tomatoes again) it’s very easy to make at home. Toss your tomatoes with good quality Tuscan olive oil and loads of garlic then layer thickly on toasted ciabatta and you’ll think you’ve landed back in Italy in one of the gorgeous Tuscany vineyards!
Even if you don’t fancy cooking a full-on meal but you want that Tuscan feeling in your own home, the wine goes perfectly with pretty much all the typical traditional Italian snack foods.
Many regular supermarkets these days are well stocked with these treats – and pick up a feast of meats and cheeses to make yourself an antipasto platter to die for. Use the suggestions below to create your ultimate shopping list.
Tuscan Antipasti Basics
- Prosciutto (Cotto and Toscano)
- Olives (green and black)
- Artichoke hearts
What Cheese Goes Best with Chianti?
- Parmigiano Reggiano
- Asiago Fresco
Does Chianti Pair Well with Seafood?
Most people think of serving a white wine with seafood, but because of its unique characteristics, Chianti is also a perfect pairing with many of the fish-based pasta sauces and soups of the region. It even goes with grilled swordfish, tuna and salmon, which are all high in natural oils.
One seafood dish that’s absolutely packed with flavour is the traditional Tuscan fisherman’s seafood stew, Cacciucco. Never heard of it? Well, once you’ve tried it at home there’s no going back, and it’ll be one of the first things you seek out when you visit Italy for real.
To help you out, and round out this flavour-filled gastronomic armchair tour, here’s a fantastic recipe to make Cacciucco like a local. Pair it with your Chianti and you’ll probably start spontaneously speaking Italian!
Fresh seafood (octopus, squid, mussels, clams, langoustines and whatever is available)
- Olive oil
- Fennel seeds
- Minced garlic cloves
- Diced onion
- 250ml red wine (remember the rule…)
- Passata (400ml)
- Fish stock (I litre)
In a large pan, toss the chilli and fennel with a good glug of olive oil over a medium heat. Then add your chopped celery, garlic and onion. Season with salt and pepper and cook until all are soft. Remove from heat and set aside in a bowl.
In the same pan throw in some more olive oil (don’t be shy!) then toss your squid and octopus and cook until any liquid evaporates. Add all your vegetables back in and toss well before adding the wine and sprigs of sage. Simmer until about half the liquid has evaporated.
Add in 2/3 of the fish stock and the passata then let simmer for about an hour, making sure you stir it regularly. Then add in the rest of the stock and the fish and langoustines, cover and simmer for a further five minutes. Don’t stir it or let it go too much longer or the fish will break up.
Finally add in the clams and mussels and cook for just a few minutes until their shells have opened. (If they don’t open, take them out and discard them.)
Serve with some crusty bread and, of course, a few glasses of your new favourite wine. What a finale!
We Are Walkabout Florence
One of the most renowned independent tour operators in the business, Walkabout Florence is proud to specialise in fun-filled day tours that allow you to experience the best of Italy’s art, culture, history and cuisine in the most immersive way. We pride ourselves on our passion, local knowledge and commitment to our guests’ satisfaction. Whether it’s a food and wine safari through the Tuscany vineyards, a cultural day tour, or Vespa and Fiat 500 tours, our highly acclaimed tours are designed to provide the most fulfilling and enjoyable experience possible.