This MRE presents a panoply of flavors without any one specific note (or apparent use of seasoning) that commands an exacting pairing. In this instance, the sangiovese-based wines of Chianti in central Tuscany should stand beside it nicely. These wines come in a range from those marked Chianti, to a more geographically restricted Classico designation, and finally a parallel world of the “other” Super Tuscans. The latter are not the cuvées of Bordeaux varietals from the west coast. These came about in the days when the Chianti disciplinare did not allow for 100% sangiovese wines, and actually mandated the blending of white grapes. A few visionary producers believed in the potential of sangiovese in purezza as the basis for making world-class wines, combining careful management in the vineyards with exacting work in the cellars. These were initially labeled as Vino da Tavola (VdT), or table wines, and eventually they were allowed to use the newer designation of Indicazione Geographica Tipica (IGT). Although now Chianti can now legally be made entirely from sangiovese, many of these vanguard producers chose to retain the IGT designation and their chosen proprietary names. For the vegetable lasagna in particular, choose one of these wines with some wood treatment and bottle age, so that the acidity subsides and the sour cherry turns dark, with the addition of leather and tar elements.
For the contrasting pairing, let us turn to chardonnay, a white grape that is far more widely planted worldwide than the sangiovese above. The key is finding a chardonnay with sufficient structure to match the richness of the pasta dish. For that we can head to the Margaret River region of Western Australia. Located on a cape with the ocean on three sides, sea breezes moderate the temperature extremes of this area, and gravelly soils over clay enhance the potential for quality viticulture. There are many artisanal producers here, the best of which tend to be clustered around Wilyabrup and Wallcliffe.
Complementary Pairing: Sangiovese in purezza (Chianti Classico Riserva or IGT “Super Tuscan”), Toscana, Italy
Try: Isole e Olena Cepparello, Barberino Val d’Elsa
Paolo and Marta de Marchi were among the pioneers of producing pure sangiovese wines, and Cepparello is their flagship. The restrained use of new oak in the cellar supports the sangiovese instead of overwhelming it. This estate continues to set the benchmark for quality production in this region.
Contrasting Pairing: Chardonnay, Margaret River, Australia
Try: Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay
[www.vassefelix.com.au] Based in Wilyabrup, they select the finest chardonnay parcels which age in French barriques, about 2/3 of which are new. Fermentation is with natural yeast, and the wine rests on its lees for 9 months with no intention for malolactic fermentation. Look for notes of flint and white stone fruits.