The endeavor to perfectly pair food and wine often leads to exploring uncharted territories of taste and texture, breaking the conventional norms that bind them. In the realm of such explorations, pairing a classic dish like Chicken Parmesan Pasta Bake with a robust Calistoga Petite Syrah from the heart of Napa Valley’s geologically uniform and thermally diverse Calistoga AVA is an ambitious task. Calistoga, known for its warm to hot climate, volcanic soils, and the capacity to produce dark, richly flavored red wines, sets a bold canvas for this pairing. The inherent challenge lies in balancing the rich, intense flavors of Petite Syrah with the hearty, comforting, and somewhat nuanced profile of Chicken Parmesan Pasta Bake.

The Calistoga Petite Syrah Profile

A bottle of 2020 T-Vine Frediani Petite Sirah was used as a reference in this exercise.

Calistoga’s Petite Syrah, with its deep color, full body, and layers of dark fruit flavors complemented by a spicy, peppery undertone, presents a vivid contrast to the traditionally tomato-based, cheesy, and herb-inflected character of Chicken Parmesan Pasta Bake. The wine's tannins and acidity, when paired with the wrong dish, can overshadow more delicate flavors or, conversely, find themselves at odds with overly rich or spicy components. However, within this challenge lies the opportunity to elevate the dish to new heights.

Culinary Modifications

Deconstructing Chicken Parmesan Pasta Bake

At its core, Chicken Parmesan Pasta Bake combines breaded and fried chicken with pasta, tomato sauce, and a blend of cheeses, baked until bubbly and golden. This dish, with its combination of umami, acid, and fat, sets a versatile stage for enhancement.

Enhancing for Harmony

  1. Tomato Sauce Modification: To stand up to the boldness of the Calistoga Petite Syrah, the tomato sauce can be enriched with a base of caramelized onions and deglazed with a splash of the wine itself. Incorporating roasted garlic and a hint of smoked paprika not only deepens the sauce’s complexity but also mirrors the smoky notes often found in Calistoga Petite Syrah.
  2. Cheese Selection: While mozzarella’s melty, mild character is non-negotiable, adding a layer of aged Gouda or smoked provolone can introduce a smoky, slightly nutty quality that resonates with the wine's profile.
  3. Herb Integration: Incorporating fresh basil and oregano in the sauce is typical, but the addition of thyme and a hint of rosemary can elevate the dish, aligning with the herbal undertones of the wine.
  4. Breading Innovation: Almond flour or a mix of breadcrumbs and finely ground walnuts can be used for the chicken breading, adding a nutty undertone that complements the wine’s complexity.
  5. Pasta Choice: Opting for a heartier pasta like rigatoni or penne not only provides a robust base but also ensures each pasta hollow fills with sauce, enhancing the flavor with each bite.

Serving Suggestions

To fully harmonize the dish with the Calistoga Petite Syrah, consider serving it slightly cooler than room temperature to accentuate the wine’s fruity notes while tempering its tannins. A side of charred broccolini or a crisp arugula salad dressed with a lemony vinaigrette can add a refreshing contrast to the richness of the meal.


Pairing Chicken Parmesan Pasta Bake with Calistoga Petite Syrah necessitates a thoughtful examination and subtle modification of the dish's foundational elements. By deepening the tomato sauce’s complexity, carefully selecting complementary cheeses, integrating resonant herbs, innovating the breading, and choosing a robust pasta form, the dish can be elevated to match the boldness and richness of the wine. This approach does not merely aim to pair food and wine but to create a symphony of flavors where each note, from the savory depths of the bake to the vibrant crescendo of the wine, is in harmonious alignment. Such a pairing exemplifies the art and science of culinary exploration, proving that with the right modifications, even the most traditional dishes can be reimagined to complement the complex profiles of Napa Valley's finest wines.