I was recently taken by a wine scene in a crime novel I am currently reading, A Conflict of Interest, by Adam Mitzner. In it, the night before his surrender to the FBI, a rich white collar criminal takes his lawyer to dinner at Peter Luger, a famous steakhouse in Brooklyn. When the waiter arrives with a wine list he rejects it. He already knows what he wants. He asks for Amarone, bring us your best he adds with a flair.

Amarone would not have been my top guess for a wine to impress guests in such a restaurant. More obvious choices would be high end Bordeaux, a cult  Cabernet  from Napa, or even the perennial favorite in steakhouses, Silver Oak Cabernet, although this particular character would find Silver Oak too pedestrian. I wasn’t even sure if Amarone would pair well with steak.

The flagship red of Northern Italy’s Veneto region, Amarone is a very ripe, raisiny, full bodied wine with little acid and super-high alcohol, usually over 15%. For those accustomed to New World or French reds it is an acquired taste. The winemaking techniques employed in its production, partially dried, low yield grapes, and no less than five years of barrel aging before release, make it quite expensive. Amarone currently fetches well over $50 per bottle, many in three digit sums.

My only experience with Amarone happened when I visited Veneto in 2012 and my curiosity was aroused by repeated mention of the wine. I ended up purchasing a bottle which I drank with my wife in Bellagio, paring it with a sharp, well aged cheese that was recommended by the wine shop owner. (For more details on this story check out my blog of 7/24/2014, Amarone In Bellagio.) It went well with aged cheese, but it was nonetheless an exotic wine, not an everyday drinker.

When I asked my friend Larry Johansen, owner of Wine Wizard’s if steak is proper for pairing with Amarone, he confirmed that it indeed is, especially with drier versions of the wine. Who knew? Mitzner, the author, had correctly assigned noticeable savoir vivre to his wealthy villain with a mention of Amarone.

My curiosity aroused, I did a bit of research on whether Amarone has received any other attention in fiction, especially movies. What I discovered was an even bigger surprise. It turns out that in one of the most famous wine lines uttered by a most memorable movie villain, Amarone features not by mention but by omission.

Hannibal Lechter is an evil, murderous madman with a refined taste in gourmet food that extends to humans. He is also an oenophile of the highest order.  His famous line in the Silence of The Lambs (1991), about a census taker who bored him, has left a chilling effect in moviegoers. “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

In the years since, I have accepted this statement without question. It stood to reason that a guy like Lechter would pair his shocking main course with wine. But Chianti?

The best known wine of Tuscany, Chianti is made of the Sangiovese grape and tends to be a light bodied, acidic wine unless fortified with heavier French red varietals in so called super-Tuscan blends. Chianti would not pair well with a heavy organ meat such as liver.
Is Hannibal Lechter not as knowledgeable as he lets on?

It turns out that he actually is. It was the movie makers who changed his choice of wine to Chianti. In the original novel by Thomas Harris (1988), Lechter’s choice was a good Amarone.Fearful that moviegoers would not recognize the wine – and most would indeed not – the line was changed to the better known Chianti.

Discovering this complicity made me wonder if Hollywood would also change the rich criminal’s choice at Peter Luger Steakhouse if A Conflict of Interest were to become a movie. I hope not.

All this has made me eager to try another bottle of Amarone, this time with red meat. I think I’ll emulate Mitzner’s character rather than Hannibal Lechter. Liver is not my thing, human or otherwise.