In Chianti, tuna kebabs have met their match

The standard rule of white wine with fish, though not inviolate, works most of the time because the subtle flavors of fish generally will be overwhelmed by red wine. A common exception to this food and wine-matching dictum is a meaty, full-flavored fish such as tuna or salmon, which can easily support a red wine.

Chianti, Italy’s most well-known wine, is a perfect foil for these tuna kebobs because its inherent lively acidity cuts the fattiness of the fish. Named for the hilly region in Tuscany surrounding Florence and Siena, Chianti has a bad connotation among many in the over-50 crowd who remember insipid wine poured from pot-bellied, straw-covered bottles. Since the early 1980s, the quality of wines from this region has risen meteorically, and Chianti, especially those made from grapes grown in the smaller Classico subzone nestled between Florence and Siena, are counted among the world’s best.

Winemakers use a blend of grapes, chiefly sangiovese with up to 15 percent merlot or cabernet sauvignon, for Chianti. The best grapes are destined for the bigger, more powerful — and expensive — wines, labeled Riserva, which are best saved for when you are grilling meat or serving pasta with a hearty sauce. For a flavorful fish like tuna, look for those labeled simply Chianti Classico.

Vignamaggio, a wine estate located in the heart of Chianti Classico, just celebrated its 600th anniversary. Owned by Tuscan noble families for centuries, the estate was the birthplace of the woman who was the model for Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” An Italian lawyer, Gianni Nunziante, purchased the estate in 1988 and with the help of the current consulting wine maker, Giorgio Marone, is making wonderful wines. Vignamaggio’s Chianti Classico Riserva, called Castello di Monna Lisa [the Italians spell it with a double n), is sensational, but for these tuna kabobs, I would select their regular — and less expensive — 2000 Chianti Classico. Made entirely from sangiovese, it has the almost magical combination of intense flavor without heaviness. This is definitely not your father’s Chianti.

Vignamaggio, Chianti Classico, 2000. About $25. (Distributed by Ruby Wines, 508-588-7007). 

May 27, 2004.