When talking about a nosy census taker, Dr Lecter delivers the iconic line:
“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti”
People might often wonder the significance of this wine, because it isn’t just Dr. Lecter having a bit of a trip down memory lane.
First of all, let’s make sure we all know what a Chianti is. Chianti is a red wine from the Chianti region (funnily enough) in Tuscany, Italy. It is normally made from Sangiovese, but you can add in a few international varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, making what we know as “Super Tuscans.” Sangiovese doesn’t have extremely high tannins (like a Cab Sauv for example) but it’s high acidity makes it a brilliant food wine! It’s also the most planted red grape in Italy - but has migrated to other parts of the world.
Chianti, as with all red wines, is high in an enzyme called Tyramine, which is broken down by monoamine oxidase, or MAOs. Tyramine is probably the reason that a lot of red wine apologists say that it’s good for you - it’s a component that helps to regulate your blood pressure.
Lecter, due to his psychiatric condition most likely takes a medicine called a Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitor, or MAOI. This branch of medicine is often used to treat depression or psychosis, and it does so by blocking the components that break down Tyramine. If you take an MAOI and you eat high-tyramine foods, tyramine can quickly reach dangerous levels. This can cause a serious spike in blood pressure and require emergency treatment.
By commenting on this weird meal which consists only of items high in Tyramine, Dr. Lecter is hinting that he is not taking his medication. If he was taking his medicine and had drunk his Chianti, he would be experiencing any of the following side effects:
- Severe headache
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sweating and severe anxiety
- Fast heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
So like… don't drink red wine if you’re taking MAOIs…
There's very limited evidence to suggest that Chianti sales were boosted as a result of this film. There's actually more evidence which suggests the sales of fava beans increased instead. I know which I'd rather have...
Sip back and enjoy this film with a glass of Sangiovese. It's what the good doctor would have wanted!