30 Second Wine Advisor: Red and green: Sangiovese and pesto

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Red and green: Sangiovese and pesto

Red wine with red meat ... white wine with white meat. What wine goes with a green treat?

I'm not talking about meat that has turned green in the back of the refrigerator here, and the correct answer is not the Portuguese Vinho Verde, although this Alvarinho-based quaffer that translates as "green wine" might just make the grade with a bowl of collards, kale or turnip greens.

For that summer favorite, basil pesto, though, the wine pretty much has to be Italian. And while the idea of a red wine may seem a little odd with the classic Genovese "paste" of fresh basil leaves, pine nuts and garlic pureed with olive oil, my extensive experiments with this family favorite keep bringing me back to Chianti and other Sangiovese-based Italian reds.

As I wrote in a Wine Advisor FoodLetter about pesto several years ago, "Maybe it's just a matter of mental association, but I find that simple pesto on pasta works fine with a crisp, fruity Italian red, a Chianti or Montepulciano for example. If you want a white, try it with a herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc."

I hope we'll have a couple more months before the inevitable first frost wipes out our basil plants, I thought it would be a good idea the other day to celebrate the remaining days of summer with a big batch of pesto. Soon a couple of steaming bowls of pesto-coated fettuccine graced the table, and I pulled the cork from a Tuscan red, Baracchi 2007 "Smeriglio," a 100 percent Sangiovese, aged in French oak, from the relatively new Cortona DOC in Eastern Tuscany.

As pesto almost always seem to do with Tuscan reds, the flavors worked. Something about the spicy, faintly licorice back note from the basil, the aromatic garlic and, not least, the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese made a natural match with the earthy, acidic black-cherry character of the Sangiovese.

White wine might seem more intuitive for a leafy dish like pesto, but I've tried it so many times with Chianti and other Tuscan reds that it's hard for me to make any other choice.

The wine, a recent selection from California Wine Club's International Selections, is reviewed below.

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Today's Tasting Report

Baracchi 2007 "Smeriglio" Cortona SangioveseBaracchi

This 100 percent Sangiovese comes from Cortona, a relatively new wine region on the eastern edge of Tuscany, adjoining Umbria near Lake Trasimeno. Although it contains no Cabernet or Merlot, it qualifies as a "Super Tuscan" on the basis of its barrel aging, which occurs in new French barriques. The flavors strike me as all-Italian, though: This dark-garnet wine offers up typical Sangiovese black cherries and dried fruit. Good cherry-berry flavors are well balanced with food-friendly acidity and soft but persistent tannic astringency that makes it a good candidate for cellaring, though it's fine now with food. U.S. importer: Siena Imports Inc., San Francisco, for California Wine Club's International Selections. (Sept. 17, 2009)

FOOD MATCH: In the food matching experiment featured this week, its black cherry and dried-fruit flavors went surprisingly well with garlicky fresh basil pesto. Of course it would also make a first-rate, and more traditional, match with steaks char-grilled rare in the Florentine style.

WEB LINK: The Baracchi winery publishes its Web page in Italian and English. Here's a link to the English home page. For more about Smeriglio, click "The wines" at lower left, then select "Smeriglio Sangiovese" or other wines of interest.

Wine-Searcher.com shows no current listings for Barrachi wines, but you'll find an informational listing at this link:

The winery Website offers international shipping, which may be attractive in Europe, but shipping costs and strict import regulations may make this problematical for U.S. buyers.

Best bet: Purchase it as a member of California Wine Club's International Selections, where it is currently available for $31, $10 off the $41 retail price. For more information see its listing at

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