Chianti Classico pairs best with meaty Italian dishes featuring tomato sauce, such as Spaghetti and Meatballs, Lasagna, Chicken Parmesan, Baked Ziti,  Pizza, and Bruschetta.  Fresh and fruity, Chianti Classico is loaded with fresh flavours of black and red cherries, along with plum and strawberries.  Chianti Classico also has a rustic charm, displaying flavours of smoke, earth, herbs and spice.

Balanced with acidity and tannin, Chianti loves both meat and tomato sauce.  Normally, tannin doesn’t get along with tomato sauce, however, since the acidity of Chianti is high, it has enough acidity to not clash with anything tomato-based.  Wines that are higher in tannin than acidity will clash with tomato sauce and taste flat and metallic.

Chianti Classico isn’t strictly limited to Italian dishes.  The high acidity of Chianti Classico makes it a versatile wine to pair up with fried chicken, cottage pie, grilled steak, lamb chops, short ribs, and sausage.

Ruffino Chianti

What’s the Difference between Chianti and Chianti Classico?

Chianti Classico refers to the original zone where Chianti originated.  As Chianti grew in popularity, so did its growing and production borders.  By DOCG law, Chianti Classico must contain at least 80% Sangiovese, whereas Chianti must have at least 70%.  As Sangiovese gives Chianti its classic taste, I tend to recommend Chianti Classico over Chianti as you are guaranteed a higher probability of Sangiovese in your wine.

While there are exceptional bottles of Chianti on shelves that are close to 100% Sangiovese, with the rise in popularity of the Super Tuscan, there are bottles of Chianti that may be blended with grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.  When these grapes are blended in, Chianti loses its classic identity, and food-pairings might need to be reconsidered.  With Chianti Classico, there is less risk of this, as you know your bottle will always be 80% or more Sangiovese.

Chianti Classico can be identified by the black rooster on the neck of its label, which makes it easy to pick off shelves.  Finally, throughout this blog, I will use Chianti and Chianti Classico interchangeably and any time I mention Chianti, I will be referring to the classic Sangiovese-driven style.

Best Foods with Chianti Classico

Spaghetti and Meatballs & Chianti

Even if you haven’t seen the Disney classic – Lady and the Tramp, you are most likely familiar with that famous scene where the two dogs are enjoying a plate of Spaghetti and Meatballs.  In the background, there is a wicker-covered wine bottle that has a candle stuck in it.  That whickered covered bottle is an old-school Chianti bottle.  Way back then and through the 80s, Chianti was synonymous with Spaghetti restaurants due to its compatibility with Spaghetti Sauce and Meatballs.

High in acidity, Chianti won’t clash with the tomato sauce. Instead, the fresh fruity flavours of the wine complement the tartness of the tomato sauce.  Meanwhile, the herbal, earthy and smoky element of Chianti Classico complements any herbs in your tomato sauce or meatballs.

Chianti Classico also has medium to high tannin, and this tannin is softened by the meat in your meatballs.  The tannin also breaks down the proteins in the meatballs, making them taste more savoury and delicious.

As Chianti grew in popularity in America, the quality declined as Italian producers tried their hardest to keep up with demand.  By the late-70s, abominations of Chianti were being shipped our way, and consumers took notice.  Thus, by the early 80s, Chianti fell in popularity and remained unpopular for decades as people associated it with crap wine.  The stigma remains in North America to some degree, but fortunately, most Chianti shipped our way are excellent and are a a must with Spaghetti and Meatballs.

Lasagna & Chianti Classico Pairing

The best red wine to pair with Lasagna is Chianti Classico.  The high acidity of Chianti Classic cuts through the dense layers of protein, fat and carbohydrates, allowing each of the delicious flavours to taste fresh and vibrant.  That’s because acidity keeps our taste receptors clean of the fats and carbohydrates that can clog them up.

Have you ever noticed that you over-eat lasagna?  That’s often because those first two or three bites are spectacular, but after four or five bites, your taste buds are dulled.  Meanwhile, your brain is trying to recapture that initial hit of delicious flavour, so you keep shovelling food into your mouth.  This isn’t a problem when you pair Chianti Classico with Lasagna, as the wine’s acidity ensures every bite taste fresh.

The herbal and spicy flavours of Chianti also complement any of the herbs in your Lasagna, making the bond between food and wine even stronger.

Chicken Parmesan & Chianti Classico

Chianti Classico is excellent with Chicken Parmesan due to the wine’s acidity.  Not only does Chianti mesh perfectly with the layer of tomato sauce on your Chicken Parmesan, the wine’s acidity also cuts though the Chicken’s breading, so you can actually taste the chicken.

Chicken Parmesan is loaded with gooey cheese and deep fried breading that can clog your taste buds, and the electrifying nature of Chianti Classico’s acidity ensures your palate is cleansed with each bite.  Finally, the herbaceous and rustic flaovurs of the wine complement any herbs added to the Parmesan sauce smothering your breaded chicken.

Bruschetta & Chianti Classico Pairing

Chianti is the best wine pairing with Bruschetta made in the classic style, where you have garlic, herbs and tomatoes tossed in olive oil and spread across a warm and toasty slab of bread, Chianti Classico makes for a lovely pairing.  While Bruschetta is often seen as an appetizer or a starter, Bruschetta is often a main course in my home, best enjoyed in front of a warm fireplace on a chilly fall evening.

The high acidity of Chianti Classico ensures the wine works with the tomatoes rather than clashing with them.  Meanwhile, the herbal and smoky essence of Chianti complements the herbal and garlic elements in your olive oil spread.

If Bruschetta is just a starter to an epic meal involving meat and tomato sauce, even better, as your glass of food-friendly Chianti Classico will saddle up nicely for the future deliciousness ahead.

Pepperoni Pizza & Chianti Pairing

Chianti Classico isn’t the cheapest red wine to pair with Pepperoni Pizza, so if you are budget conscious, you might want to reach for a Chianti.  Just ensure the Chianti is primarily Sangiovese.

Chianti works well with Pepperoni Pizza as the wine’s herbal flavours complement the spices in the Pepperoni.  The high acidity of Chianti also cuts through the fats of the cheese and Pepperoni, which can clog your taste buds up.  This makes every bite of food taste fresh and stops you from over-eating as you are satisfied earlier.  Meanwhile, the tannin in Chianti will grip onto the cheese and pepperoni proteins, making their flavours taste even more delicious.

Chianti isn’t just limited to Pepperoni Pizza, as wine’s high acidity ensures it will pair nicely with a wide variety of toppings.  Sausage, ham, bacon, sun-dried tomatoes, onions, roasted red peppers, green peppers and mushrooms all get along with the smoky, tart and herbal appeal of Chianti.

Chianti Classico will also be wonderful with a Panzerotti, Deep Dish Pizza Pie, Pizza Rolls or a Calzone.

Bonus pairing: Another famous movie featuring Chianti is Silence of the Lamb, where Dr. Lecture promises to pair it up with some liver and fava beans.  This pairing will work nicely, but an even better pairing is Amarone, which was what was originally featured in the best-selling novel.  Movie producers changed the pairing from Amarone to Chianti as they felt  audiences would not know what Amarone was.