Note: No humans were harmed in the making of this article
One thing people have to understand about my older brother, my sister, and I (and my younger brother, who I used to watch horror movies with as a Christmas countdown) is that we share a strange, weird, occasionally sadistic sense of humour.
As I write this, I just came out of a conversation between our friends (my sister included) about how to properly shoot someone, which involves a “head” shot (on the “other” head, obviously), elbow shots, blowing out kneecaps, and ending it all with a shot to the torso… Never forgetting to double tap, of course. After all, as she put it, why give him the easy way out?
For the record, none of us has actually killed someone (not that I know of, at least… Although my sister’s intimate knowledge on the use of lye in disposing bodies can leave people wondering).
People reading this article must be wondering what on earth possessed me to start a drink article this way.
Let me explain.
One night over dinner, my sister and I were watching The Wine Show, a reality show on wine starring one of her many British crushes Matthew Goode, and respected fellow WSET/wine journalist Joe Fattorini. One episode tackled Chianti… And in a classic moment that only she could conjure, my sister said, “You know, Chianti always reminds me of fava beans… Do you really think Chianti goes with human flesh?”
This was, clearly, in reference to Sir Anthony Hopkins’ classic performance as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs (1991).
She got me thinking… Does Chianti really go with fava beans, and does it really go with humans?
I figured it’s best to define what Chianti is first before I find the answers. Chianti is actually a specific geographical area in Tuscany, Italy (between Sienna and Florence, which is why a lot of Florentine dishes tend to pair well with Chianti). It has seven sub-regions, and is generally less strict with its winemaking laws as opposed to wines labeled Chianti Classico (named as such because it was part of the original demarcation declared by Medici Grand Duke Cosimo III in 1716*). A classic (pun intended) example of these laws is, despite both predominantly using the grape Sangiovese in their blends, Classico is required a minimum of 80% in their wine, as opposed to the rest of Chianti, which only requires a minimum of 70%.
A better way to answer the questions, however, is to take a closer look at Sangiovese. To quote Grapes & Wines by Oz Clarke & Margaret Rand, “The most traditional styles emphasise the herb and bitter cherry flavours… The international styles stress plum and mulberry flavours, and use new oak barriques (small oak barrels, which give a more pronounced oak characteristics to wine) for extra richness and spice.” Add to that a hint of what my Italian wine colleague says about Italian wine: They generally have a “balsamic” tinge to it, which is an all-encompassing term to mean “Italian flavours” (such as tomato leaves and basil).
Clarke also notes that some of Chianti’s sub-regions will produce a distinctive style, such as the lighter, fresher style of Chianti Colli Fiorentini, and the more solid, rustic style of Chianti Colli Senesi.
Now, on the question of pairing fava beans and Chianti… I haven’t found anything in literature that supports Chianti pairing well with most beans, save for red beans, typically mixed with rice. I don’t think that’s what Lecter’s character was talking about.
In the case of human flesh… Much as my sense of humour seems to allude to the contrary, I refuse to conduct an experiment involving harming people (ew). I will rely on things I’ve heard about from old interviews with cannibals, where they said that humans taste like chicken.
Narrowing options further, I have to consider the full quote:
“A census-taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” – Hannibal Lecter, Silence of The Lambs
Having said that, the question could be rephrased to “Does Chianti pair well with chicken liver?” According to What to Drink with What You Eat by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, yes, especially when grilled.
Here are more ways to pair Chianti with chicken:
- Light-bodied Chianti (maybe a Chianti Colli Fiorentini?) will pair with fried chicken.
- Chianti pairs well with roast chicken, chicken sautéed with tomato sauce, or chicken liver (especially grilled).
- Chianti Classico (if Lecter decides to be a little fancier) goes well with chicken cacciatore, cooked with mushroom sauce, or roasted.
In conclusion, it’s likely a yes on the Chianti and human liver (again, assuming interviewed cannibals were truthful in saying people taste like chicken), and a no on the Chianti and fava beans.
Not that I’d ever try it. 😉
For Paulette, the sister I never asked for but got anyway, making my life so much more colourful and interesting. For Kuya, who taught me to always double tap.
*Source: The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson