Film critics come in many varieties, some of them reasonable and some frankly hard to follow. To this day, I think the weirdest bit of film criticism I ever came across was someone lamenting that Silence Of The Lambs lacked realism, in that the character of Hannibal Lecter was presented as an extremely refined man and yet he was apparently unaware that you should never drink Chianti with liver and that Cabernet was obviously a better choice. Now, I doubt that any of the countless guidelines for matching wine to food give specific instructions for the kind of menu that Dr. Lecter might enjoy, but it is a fact that picking the wrong wine can ruin your meal. In Italy, you will always be spoilt for choice, when it comes to wine. Italy is among the countries that produce the largest number of different grapes and therefore boasts an extremely wide range of wines of all descriptions. This fact, coupled with its rich and celebrated culinary tradition, creates countless options for interesting matches and just as many options for disaster. There is no universal rule for matching wine to food: some recommend the two are matched to create harmony, others suggest that the matching should create contrast. Some rules are thought to be universal (white wines with fish, reds with meat, whites in hot weather, reds in winter), but even those have exceptions. If you are looking for serious, professional advice on how to tell your Primitivo from your Chianti, you should probably consult an expert. However, if you are looking for a quick, snappy and by no means complete guide to the most popular Italian wines and the food that goes best with them, you might find our tips useful.
Primitivo and Amarone: a hot match
The inky, almost purplish wine known as Primitivo comes from a dark-red grape most commonly found in the southern region of Apulia . It is tannic, sweet and robust. It is particularly suited for rich roasted or grilled meats, stews and spicy foods. If you are planning on serving a hot-spicy menu, Amarone is another excellent option. Slightly drier and made from partially dried grapes usually found in Valpollicella (in the north-eastern region of Veneto), Amarone is equally rich but not as sweet as Primitivo. Both wines have a sugary residue that is particularly suited to balance out spicy flavours. Amarone is also an excellent match for certain types of cheese.
Chianti: a timeless classic
Much like Primitivo, Chianti is a strongly tannic wine and it is best suited to accompany fat and greasy meat recipes, particularly game-based ones (though, according to at least one critic, not liver-based ones). It is also an excellent option for rich, complex recipes such as lasagna, bolognese and cannelloni. Chianti is probably the most popular of all Italian wines and it takes its name from a subregion of Tuscany. It is made from a limited number of different grapes, the main component being the tuscan variety of Sangiovese. This, incidentally is why Sangiovese wine is usually a viable alternative to Chianti.
Verdicchio: because eating fish does not mean that you are on a diet
White wine is your best bet when serving fish, right? Almost. If you are not an expert, it is certainly unadvisable to venture in the territory of those few and obscure reds that can be served with fish, but even whites are not interchangeable in that department. Verdicchio is a perfect example: produced in central Italy, particularly in the region of Marche, this golden wine with a greenish tinge (hence the name, which translates roughly as “greenish”) has a fruity smell and is fresh but strong to the palate. It does go well with fish, but it is not equally suited to all types of fish. Verdicchio goes best with fat fish such as codfish and turbot, but it is also an excellent match for shellfish and risotto or pasta with various types of seafood. Much the same can be said for Vermentino, a Sardinian wine from the subregion of Gallura, not unlike Verdicchio in smell and taste, but with a bitter finish.
Trentino Chradonnay: from the mountains to the seaside
Picture a mild summer evening, dining out on the patio because it’s too hot to stay inside and you want to catch the breeze coming in from the sea. You take out your trusted barbecue gear and set out to grill fresh white fish that you got from the local market (national favourites being sea-bass and bream). On such an occasion, a glass of cold Chardonnay from Trentino can be your best friend. There might be irony in the fact that one of the best wines you could possibly match with grilled or roasted fish actually comes from the mountains of Trentino-Alto-Adige (which, in truth, is as much a maritime region as it is a mountain one). This bright, golden wine is rich and dry to the palate and slightly fruity to the nose.
Passito di Pantelleria and Muscat wine: start sweet and go sweeter
Have you ever been at one of those dreadful parties where your slice of cream cake comes with a flute of brut champagne or a glass of dry wine? This lethal mix can glue your tongue to the roof of your mouth and prevent you from enjoying either your drink or your food. Even if you are not a wine connoisseur, the taste of a badly matched wine on a sweet morsel is so unmistakably unpleasant that you simply can’t fail to notice it. Dessert wines are in a league of their own and they should always be at least as sweet as the food they are complimenting, if not more. Among the most popular Italian varieties, you might want to try Passito di Pantelleria, which is made exclusively in the island by the same name, using only dried grapes of one specific variety (Zibibbo). Another excellent dessert choice are wines made from Muscat grapes, varieties of which are produced all over the country.