Light it Up!


It’s July! Which means the 4th is upon us and, more importantly, summer grilling kicks into high gear.

Growing up, my family never missed a summer weekend of great Chicago weather to get together and fire up the grill. Besides the usual burgers and dogs, my family loved to barbecue chicken. They would cut up three or four chickens, pack the pieces in a pan with butter and store-bought barbecue sauce, cover it with foil, and allow it to “bake” on the grill for about 90 minutes—until the chicken was so tender from poaching in its own juices, butter, and the sauce, that it fell off the bone. Although my family still goes crazy for this concoction, I prefer my chicken grilled on a rack over the hot coals to absorb the smoky flavor before being finished in a sauce of my own creation. And since I now live in the Deep South, I like a zesty zip in my sauce.

As part of DaVinci Wine’s Chianti at Home recipe series (and their challenge to me to develop non-Italian recipes suited to their Chianti’s complex flavors and aromas), I thought I’d share with you my “Zesty Chianti Barbecue Chicken.”

“What? Chianti, a red wine, with chicken?” you might ask.

One of the things I learned from the staff at the Cantine Leonardo da Vinci (as part of my DaVinci Wine 2012 Storyteller Experience) is that wine doesn’t have to be an exactingly “snobby” or “stuffy” undertaking. [Yes, you can take classes and spend a fortune in order to learn the complex subtleties of wine science, tasting, and collecting. And I say, “Bravo!” to those that do.] I am here to “loosen the belt” on the rules, so to speak.

In Italy, wine is considered a “food,” so it is consumed everyday at lunch (no one will disapprovingly judge you for having a glass on your lunch break) and at dinner. It is as much of a dining staple as is the bread on your table. This also means that Italians are a little more relaxed about wine pairings. As the Cantine staff explained to me, “Drink what you like; eat what you like”—meaning that it is okay to pair a red wine with chicken or a white wine with beef.

I prefer red wine over white, so I took their relaxed rule to heart and ran it off the rails by pairing DaVinci’s red wines with almost everything I ate—including fish. I know, some of you purists may be having a fit, but hey, the Italians gave me the “thumbs up!” [I must confess that I drank red wine with spicy seafood dishes only; I stayed true to the rules if the seafood was prepared lightly—in a butter or white wine sauce.] There is also an added “taste buds bonus” when you cook with the same wine you are drinking. It really connects and heightens the flavor of the wine to the dish and vice versa.

Why are Americans so crazy about BBQ? I think it has to do with the sauce, and our suburban love of grilling. Barbecue sauce is a flavor combination of sweet, bite, and spice. All of which are rounded out and blended together by the smoke and char of the grill.

DaVinci’s Chianti is the prefect base to build a BBQ sauce—a dark and complex “sweet” with its aromas of ripe fruit and flavors of strawberry and plum. Strained tomatoes, brown sugar, and red onion round out the “sweet.” For the “bite”: red wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon. The “spice”: red pepper flakes and garlic. Plus, I added rosemary for its earthy flavor to accentuate the “smoke and char of the grill” and the darker fruit flavors of the wine.

DaVinci’s Chianti is the perfect base to build a BBQ sauce—a dark and complex “sweet” with its aromas of ripe fruit and flavors of strawberry and plum. Strained tomatoes, brown sugar, and red onion round out the “sweet.” For the “bite”: red wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon. The “spice”: red pepper flakes and garlic. Plus, I added rosemary for its earthy flavor to accentuate the “smoke and char of the grill” and the darker fruit flavors of the wine.

I hope you’ll give this recipe a try the next time you light up the grill and uncork the vino—whether you are celebrating our freedom from King George while listening to the 1812 Overture, getting together with family and friends for a shindig, or just thankful to be outside after one super long winter!

Buon Appetito ~


*Hurry, now is YOUR chance to vote for the DaVinci Wine’s 2014 Storytellers. Choose your favorite for DaVinci to send to Vinci, Italy, to share their creativity while exploring the wine, vineyards, and the Tuscan countryside alongside DaVinci’s welcoming staff—VOTE NOW!

*Like DaVinci Wine on Facebook to see how other DaVinci Storyteller Alumni use “Chianti at Home” or to share your favorite Chianti-paired recipe. Food is a communal event ~ let’s get social!

*For more of my Italian travels and recipes, check out my book Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family — available in hardcover, paperback, and e-reader editions.

Zesty Chianti Barbecue Chicken

"Mark Leslie" "DaVinci Chianti" "Beyond the Pasta"

1 1/2 cups DaVinci Chianti wine

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1 cup strained tomatoes (tomato puree may be substituted)

1 cup finely chopped red onion

2 large garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Zest and juice of 1 small lemon

2 packed tablespoons light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Kosher salt

1 sprig fresh rosemary, 4- to 6-inches-long

1 (4- to 5-pound) chicken, cut into serving pieces

Extra virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

"Beyond the Pasta" "DaVinci Chianti" "Beyond the Pasta"For the sauce: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine and whisk together the wine, vinegar, tomatoes, onion, garlic, Worcestershire, lemon zest and juice, red pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the rosemary sprig. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Turn the heat to low, partially cover, and simmer until the onion and garlic have softened, and the sauce has thickened and reduced to about 2 1/4 cups—about 30 minutes (*). Remove and discard the rosemary sprig, and use the sauce immediately. [Note: If not using the sauce right away, let cool completely, place in an airtight container, and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.] 

Rub all the surfaces of the chicken pieces with oil. Liberally season both sides (skin side and bone side) with salt and black pepper.

Prepare a grill, charcoal or gas, for medium-high heat.

Place the chicken pieces, bone side down, on the grill rack. Cover the grill, with the vents opened about halfway, and cook, turning once, until well browned—about 8 minutes per side. Move the pieces to the cooler outer edges of the grill, cover, and cook until the pieces are thoroughly cooked (pierce a thigh piece near the bone and the juices should run clear), turning occasionally. [Transfer 3/4-cup of the cooked sauce to a bowl to reserve for serving as a garnishment. Use the remaining sauce—the “basting sauce”—on the grilling chicken.]

"DaVinci Chianti" "Beyond the Pasta" "Mark Leslie" Using a pastry brush, coat the chicken pieces with some of the basting sauce. Cover and continue to grill, turning and basting with more sauce several times, every 2 to 3 minutes. Uncover the grill, move the pieces toward the hotter center of the rack, add the last of the basting sauce to crisp and achieve a slight crust, about 2 minutes each side.

To serve, transfer the chicken to a platter. Pass the sauce at the table.

Serves 6.

*Note: Boiling and reducing the sauce cooks off the alcohol in the wine—no “designated eaters” required!

"Mark Leslie" "DaVinci Chianti" "Zesty Chianti BBQ Chicken" "Beyond the Pasta"

*Additional Italian recipes, videos, and photos are available on my Beyond the Pasta app for iPad/iPhone at iTunes.

About the Author

Mark LeslieMark Leslie, seen cooking on NBC’s "The Today Show" and Hallmark Channel's "Home & Family," loves to cook for anyone with an appetite, vacations in Italy every year, and lives to eat his way through every plate of pasta and cone of gelato placed before him. His first book, “Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family,” tells of his life in Italy while cooking with an Italian grandmother. He shares his food experiences on his blog at and has taught cooking classes in California, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas, and across Alabama. While judging for high school culinary events, he was chosen by the US Department of Education to judge for their "National Education Startup Challenge." Mark can be regularly seen cooking on NBC-affiliate, WSFA-TV 12's "Alabama Live! each Friday, bringing easy, locally sourced recipes to central Alabama. His iTunes app “Beyond the Pasta” features helpful videos and more of Nonna’s family-style recipes that she shared with him, plus, upon its release, it was named “New & Noteworthy” by Apple. DaVinci Wines chose Mark as their "2012 Storyteller" in Language Arts—where they sent him to Vinci, Italy, to write about wine, food and life. Mark, his home and book have been featured in such national publications and blogs as House Beautiful, Paula Deen, Food Republic, The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy, Field & Stream, and The Daily Meal. A Chicago-area native and “Yankee” by birth, Mark has lived in Alabama for over 24 years, and celebrates the fact that he started life eating farina, progressed to grits, and finally arrived at polenta. Buonissimo!View all posts by Mark Leslie →

"Beyond the Pasta" is owned and operated by Mark Leslie. Unless otherwise specified all content, writing, recipes and photography is original and held in copyright through the Library of Congress. It may not be used without the express written consent of Mark Leslie.