While we at VinepPair respect Dry January, we much prefer a dry red. Which is why last month we teamed up with Consorzio Vino Chianti — one of Italy’s first associations of winemakers, founded in 1927 on behalf of the Chianti D.O.C.G. — to highlight the quality, variety, and true versatility of the region’s brilliant ruby-hued wines.
Consorzio comes from the Latin consortium, derived from consors-ortis — “those who share the same destiny” — and the Consorzio Vino Chianti is dedicated to “engaging in activities for the protection and promotion of the appellation.” In this case, the promotional activities took the form of two fabulous evenings in two U.S. cities, where enthusiastic oenophiles and fully vaccinated foodies gathered to sample some of Italy’s finest Chiantis and indulge in a carefully curated menu of local cuisine.
First, let’s travel to NYC
Whether you’re in fourth grade or in your 40s, everyone loves a pizza party, but there is one deciding factor that differentiates — and elevates — the adults-only affair from the elementary-school activity: good wine. In this case, a killer Chianti.
While much like the wine’s exact age, the meaning of Chianti is debatable. Some say it translates to the “clamor and sounds of horns,” which makes it the perfect wine to sip in the hustle and bustle of Midtown Manhattan. In this neighborhood, event venue SECOND Floor NYC was the backdrop where lucky guests gathered on Jan. 11 to enjoy New York’s most famous food group (15 styles of slice from five authentic, acclaimed NYC pizzerias) paired with more than 30 bottles of Chianti from 25 wineries, including an Annata, Riserva and Superiore.
Let’s start with the Riserva. This wine, which aims to be an “intense and remarkable expression of Sangiovese,” is all about delayed gratification, with a focus on in-bottle aging and evolution that results in a complex bouquet with warmth and substance — exactly what one’s mouth and mind are craving on a cold winter night in the Northeast. This evening, the Chianti Riserva was paired with six different slices: the Deluxe, Margherita, and Bad Paulie from Emmy Squared, which specializes in Detroit-style pizza, a variation characterized by its crispy coating and chewy, airy square crust; and the Boom Pie, the Veggie Special and the Sasso from family-owned and -operated John’s of Bleeker Street, which has been an NYC purveyor of brick-oven pies for nearly a century.
Attendees were also able to sample the Annata. The youngest expression of Chianti is a best-seller — a straightforward, universal, and naturally fresh and fragrant wine that can be served alongside any dish. In this case: the Margherita, the Speckenwolf, and the Rosso from hip Williamsburg restaurant Roberta’s; and the White Pie, Pepperoni Pie and Sicilian from popular Downtown Brooklyn slice shop Norm’s.
Last but certainly not least, was the Chianti Superiore, which is less frequently produced and perhaps lesser known than the other two styles. Compared to the previously mentioned Chianti Annata wines, the Superiore is a more complex and robust wine that plays particularly well with contemporary, ethnic, and experimental dishes. While in most cases, the evening’s featured food probably wouldn’t be put in the “experimental” category, our final participating pizzeria did think a bit outside the (pizza) box, serving selections featuring some slightly less conventional toppings. On the menu were both the Truffles! and Brussels Sprouts thin-crust pies as well as a Broccoli Balboa calzone, all from Manhattan restaurant Marta, whose chef takes inspiration from the “rustic cooking of Rome” and cooks his pizzas over an open fire alongside seafood and seasonal vegetables.
After they wined and dined, we then had guests vote on their favorite Chianti accompaniment from each restaurant. The winners were the Bad Paulie (caramelized onions, sausage, smoked Gouda, Calabrian chiles, and banana peppers) from Emmy Squared; the simple Sasso (tomato sauce and aged mozz) from John’s; the Speckenwolf (mozzarella, speck, mushrooms, red onions, and oregano) from Roberta’s; the Pepperoni, a classic enhanced with Sicilian oregano, from Norm’s; and finally, Marta’s calzone, a golden pizza pocket stuffed with a decadent mixture of broccoli rabe, pork sausage, and provolone.
Now let’s head to Houston
It’s not just pizza that matches well with this wine. While Chianti might be Italian in heritage, it also pairs perfectly with culinary offerings from south of our border, which is why we chose the Lone Star State for our second location and threw another tasting event in the heart of Tex-Mex country.
On Jan. 13, VinePair and Consorzio Vino Chianti joined forces with the team at Hugo’s, one of four Houston restaurants helmed by award-winning chef Hugo Ortega, a master of authentic Mexican cuisine. At this evening’s event, which also featured almost three dozen bottles of wine, guests had the opportunity to visit five pairing stations, where three Chiantis were matched with five different takes on carnitas, or Mexican pulled pork. There were also delicious vegetarian options on hand including the Empanada de Platano and a variety of salsas and guacamole served with totopos, or rustic corn tortilla chips.
The Riserva accompanied the sous vide and the roasted carnitas; the Annata enhanced both the confit and braised; and the Superiore was served alongside the cured. In similar fashion to the New York event, attendees didn’t just taste the different combinations; they were also tasked with choosing their favorites. Of the five creative combinations on offer, guests determined that the best was the Birria Style, which featured mini soft quesadillas with braised pork, homemade cheese, and small cup of broth. Second place was awarded to the Cochinita Pibil, a mini heirloom corn tortilla stuffed with juicy pulled pork, topped with pickled red onions, and served with spicy habanero sauce on the side. And third place went to the Taquito de Pulled Pork Carnitas, for which the meat was rolled into a crispy mini taquito and topped with avocado-tomatillo salsa and crema.
Along with protecting and promoting its D.O.C.G., the consortium claims that its mission “is not simply to ensure that the world drinks Chianti, but that more and more people ‘feel’ Chianti,” and by serving up enticing experiences carefully designed to appeal to all the senses, the teams behind each of these events succeeded in doing just that. In both New York and Houston, we were wowed by the creativity of the participating chefs and the enthusiasm of the attendees, groups of people thrilled by the opportunity to gather safely to eat, drink, and be merry. However, beyond offering you a mouthwatering recap of these evenings and a ringing endorsement of one of the world’s most approachable and appreciated wines, our real intention is to inspire. Along with sparking some food-forward FOMO, the diverse pairings presented at these events collectively illustrate the true drinkability of Chianti and the different ways in which the wine can be utilized across cuisines and easily incorporated into one’s day-to-day dining.
Of course, it would take far more than two evenings to truly grasp the greatness of Chianti. The territory presided over by the consortium, which consists of six provinces, is home to 3,000 wineries spread across approximately 15,500 hectares of vineyards and producing an annual average of 100 million bottles.
Which, to be honest, sounds like the best kind of tasting challenge. We better get started.
This article is sponsored by Consorzio Vino Chianti, thanks to