Speaking of lasagna ... Indeed, that was the delicious combination of pasta, spinach, cottage cheese and mozzarella with a delicate tomato-based meat sauce that graced the table at a recent weekly family gathering. I saw this as an opportunity to expand the Italian theme by comparing the compatibility of three of my favorite Italian reds — Chianti, Montepulciano and Barbera — to be sampled in this increasing order of extract and character.
The Chianti Poggio Vipere ("Vipers Ridge," gotta read the story on the back label, $12.95, 12.5percent alcohol) proved a bright, fresh, counterpoint that earned a definite thumbs-up; a pretty combo. Chianti comes from the Tuscany appellation and is vinified from the Sangiovese grape. I have put five Chiantis to the pairing test and can recommend it with pork and poultry as well as the traditional pasta. I recall a time, I believe back in the early 1990s, when wineries attempted to establish the grape and wine in California, but couldn't capture the necessary appeal and consistency.
Montepulciano is the signature ancient grape of the Abruzzi region. I find it a bit more richly textured and flavored than Chianti, and it's a personal favorite over five vintages. Capestrano Montepulciano D'Abruzzo ($11.95, 13percent alcohol) created a bit more sumptuous combo with a rather lovely finish. Beef, lamb, pork and even the enchilada contribute to the Capestrano resume. Of the three other labels I have investigated, QuatroMani
Unlike Sangiovese, the Barbera grape of Piedmonte has a long history of success in California, and I have more notes on the domestic versions than the Italian bottlings (four). On this occasion, the Marchesi di Barolo Barbera Monferrato Maraia ("little rascal") 2010 ($13.95, 13.5percent alcohol) came across a bit bold for this more delicate lasagna preparation and didn't quite mesh, but still generated enough sweet middle richness to earn a recommendation. One other Barbera label rocked with lasagna and barbecued chicken.
The food and wine story doesn't stop here, as the plate also sported Charm's irresistibly flavorful anchovy, garlic, crouton, olive oil, Parmesan-laced and romaine-based Caesar salad. This has been one of the greatest eye-openers of my wine-and-food journey. Caesar has to be too busy and flavor-ridden to pair with wine, right? Nope. Copious notes establish that just about every varietal and blend hangs with Caesar, including this evening's contenders as the salad intensified the flavors of the Chianti and Montepulciano while the Barbera achieved even greater boldness while meshing just fine.
But wait, there's more. You may recall that I always assess a wine over at least two evenings so that I can advise you that you don't have to empty the bottle the same night it is opened. Nor do you have to gas it or pump it, just set the red on the counter, the white in the refer and enjoy the following evening.
And so it was that on night two of the three Italian reds were put to the pork test via a Costco hot dog embellished with Dijon mustard and sweet pickle relish. The Montepulciano and dog were tasty-plus, while the Chianti and Barbera scored big time, the latter blossoming overnight. Kinda like Italy meets Coney Island, so to speak. This is why I urge you to keep an open mind and palate when it comes to enjoying food and wine to the fullest. If there are boundaries find 'em, don't imagine 'em.