Oenophiles may assure you that pairing food and wine is an arcane art that only knowledgeable people should try, but the truth is far simpler: let taste be your guide. No one knows better than you what you like, so you’re the best judge of which wines go with your dinner. However, some guidelines will help you narrow down the kinds of wines that make the happiest match with your meal.
Pick wines and foods that evolved together to increase the chances of a felicitous pairing. A great Chianti Classico naturally meshes well with the big, bold flavors of southern Italian cooking because the dish and the drink arose from the same sunny Mediterranean climate. The vintners who grew up enjoying rich, tangy marinara sauces later produced wines that complemented their favorite familiar foods, so choosing wines and foods from the same region is virtually a guarantee of a happy partnership.
Lighter dishes typically go with lighter wines. Full-bodied Super-Tuscan red wines accent a rich, meaty lasagna, but they could overwhelm a more delicate plate of clams Posillipo or lemony veal piccata. Italian dishes often combine big flavors with subtle ones, giving you more pairing options. Consider the peppers, onions and tomatoes in chicken cacciatore; you could choose a bold white wine to accent the tender chicken while standing up to the rich sauce, or you could pick a light-bodied traditional Italian red wine made with Sangiovese grapes to highlight the tangy tomatoes without overpowering the chicken.
Wine pairings generally follow one of two philosophies: creating balance or emphasizing an essential characteristic of the food. Which direction you take depends largely on your taste. A Chardonnay highlights the buttery flavor of chicken Francese; a light, astringent Sauvignon Blanc balances the rich buttery notes and offsets them with crispness. You might enjoy a sweet dessert wine at the end of your meal, or you might prefer a full-bodied, fruity wine that acts as a refreshing counterpoint to a sweet dish. Accentuate the flavor of your food with wines that have similar notes; balance them with wines that go in the opposite direction.
If you’re new to enjoying wine pairings, you may be reluctant to splurge on a whole bottle of an untested wine at dinner. That’s why Carlino’s offers wine by the glass. Sample our cellar’s selection before you make a decision or enjoy the variety that choosing wines by the glass gives you. Impress a business client or a special date by trying a few different wines a week or two before your special occasion, then order a bottle of your favorite for the table on the big night itself.
If you have any questions, Carlino’s knowledgeable staff can answer them. Your server knows every dish on the menu well and can also recommend wine pairings to get you started. Italian food and wines were meant to be together, so have a glass with your dinner and see how much a great wine can add to your enjoyment.Tweet read more
The Carlino’s Restaurant wine poll (please see results below) has revealed that our customers most prefer Cabernet Sauvignon and Chianti Classico. They’re in good company; Italian vintners have spent millennia perfecting Italian Cabernet Sauvignon and Chianti wines. But nowhere else will you find such a unique set of climatic and geological conditions combine to form perfection more pronounced than in Tuscany.
Although grapes grow well throughout the country, Tuscan wines have a well-deserved reputation for quality. The fine marble that comes from Tuscany gives a hint about what makes the wines from there so special. The limestone-rich soils, famous for the marble produced from this region, is also the key to imparting the grapes with the robust mellow flavor that rival the other great wines of the world.
The Tuscan Reds: Super-Tuscan Wines
If there was an Italian wine that resembled the incredible creative power and artisanal mastery of Michelangelo it would be the Super-Tuscans. While some Italian wines use only Sangiovese, many also integrate Cabernet Sauvignon which bestows Bordeaux wines with their characteristic full-bodied flavor. Here in the warm Mediterranean climate, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes lends a different spiciness to the character of wines typically grown in French fields. The Super-Tuscans combine Italian Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon to create a new elite class of Italian wines.
Super-Tuscan wines evolved almost by accident. Chianti winemakers served these blends on their own tables, but never sold them until recently. The organization that oversees Italian winemaking, the DOC, didn’t know what to make of these wines that didn’t quite fit the guidelines for Chianti, but were so clearly related. Rather than fight their way through the DOC’s regulations, growers began producing their delectable Tuscan red wines and selling them without DOC categorization.
Wine lovers around the world quickly embraced these wines even without the DOC’s stamp of approval. The maverick winemakers’ instincts were correct; everyone loves these Cabernet Sauvignon-based Tuscan reds.
The oldest of the Super-Tuscans, Tenuta san Guido’s Sassicaia relies exclusively on Cabernet Sauvignon for its bold and complex taste. Wine-makers are notoriously secretive about their art, but it’s highly rumored that Sassicaia’s Tuscan fields were first planted with vines taken from Château Lafite-Rothschild. Recently, many wine enthusiasts have come to realize that Sassicaia has been eclipsed by Ornellaia, a rival from a neighboring vineyard. Although Super-Tuscan wines share similar characteristics from the same micro-region, blending and aging does make the difference. If you get the chance, try them both.
These are richly tannic and full-bodied wines with enough acidity to pair beautifully with tomato-based Italian sauces and flavorful game.
Carlo, Wali and all your friends at Carlino’s
(Note: This is the first of a two part series on Tuscan Red Wines. Next we focus on The Original Tuscan Red Wine: Chianti Classico)
According to Carlino’s Restaurant’s latest poll, 1/3 of our customers prefer Cabernet Sauvignon, 1/4 Chianti Classico, followed by Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Brunello.Tweet read more
If any country’s cuisine is a natural for wine pairings, it’s Italian cuisine. Italian food and fine wines evolved together. Thanks to the Roman love of wine, Italians had centuries-old vineyards when French winemakers were just discovering the beauties of the grape. Whether you’re a neophyte to wine pairings or a longtime oenophile, whetting your palate on Italian flavor combinations lets you return to the roots of wine culture.
Chianti is the king of Italian wines. This rich red Tuscan wine has enough acidity and tannins to stand up to a hearty red sauce without disappearing or overwhelming it. Pair a robust Chianti Classico with a marinara or rich bolognese sauce. Chianti has a spicy component that also complements lighter game dishes like rabbit and wild boar.
Pinot Noir wines are also red wines, but they have a light fruity character that makes them the perfect companions for earthy dishes like spaghetti with mushroom sauce or a pizza topped with spinach and mushrooms. These wines also go beautifully with cheese-based dishes; our mozzarella and pepper panini plays nicely with a Pinot Noir.
Deep, complex and mellow, a Merlot makes a great marriage with red meats. A lasagna with meat sauce or our homemade sausage with peppers flatters a Merlot. It’s also a popular pairing with venison, something to keep in mind for our monthly game nights.
White wines have plenty to say when sharing a table with an Italian meal. With its overtones of butter and citrus, Chardonnay goes well with any seafood or chicken dish that has a creamy or buttery sauce. Shrimp scampi and chicken scarpariello are favorites with a Chardonnay.
Sauvignon Blanc’s bracing crispness makes it a great foil for tart or spicy foods. A salad with a vinaigrette dressing or shrimp fra diavolo matches up with a Sauvignon Blanc without overwhelming the wine. You might also enjoy it with spinach-based dishes; something about its light fruitiness complements a plate of chicken Fiorentino perfectly.
Wine pairings are ultimately a matter of personal taste, but having an idea of where to start can lead you to some exciting discoveries as you explore your palate. Our servers are happy to make recommendations too. Sample our wines and add another dimension to your dinner.
Carlo, Wali and all your friends at Carlino’s