Tag Archives: wine

Making it great again

17 Jan

This wine was not born in the best of times.

Soon after its grapes were harvested and crushed, in the Piedmont, Italy’s finest wine region, a United States Naval pilot had to parachute to safety when a missile took down his fighter jet over North Vietnam. The serviceman, John McCain, would remain imprisoned, frequently tortured, for the next five and a half long years.

Days after McCain’s capture Lyndon Johnson held a secret meeting with his top political advisers. The agenda: Devise a plan to mislead the American people into thinking more enthusiastically about the war in Southeast Asia. “The Wise Men,” as the group was known, concluded that the president should feed his constituents a steady diet of optimistic pablum aimed at advancing the falsehood that America was winning, not losing, an unpopular war in which hundreds of thousands had already died.

Earlier that year, as Italy’s rich vineyards lay dormant, three Apollo 1 astronauts were incinerated aboard their spacecraft as it idled on the launchpad at Cape Kennedy in Florida. Race riots—159 of them—erupted across the country in what came to be known as “The Long, Hot Summer.” Albert DeSalvo (aka the Boston Strangler) was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of 13 women, and a vile segregationist named Lester Maddox, who’d refused to serve blacks at his Atlanta restaurant, was sworn in as Georgia’s 75th governor.

Oh, and my poor father’s beloved New York Mets ended the 1967 season with a record of 61 wins and 101 losses, 40 1/2 games in the National League standings behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals.

Like I said, not the best of times.

Me, I was a 10-year-old street kid living in a poor corner of eastern Brooklyn, on the border of Queens. Crime and racial tensions ruled here. The only places to buy cheap wine were crappy liquor stores where the inventory and the shopkeepers hid behind thick bullet-proof glass. Blocks away from the apartment house where my family and I lived was the 75th Precinct House. The 75th was often the busiest and most violent police precinct in the entire country. It still is.

All I can remember being concerned about the year that Aldo Conterno produced this very fine Barolo from his family’s legendary nebbiolo vines was getting through the days without getting hurt or even killed.

All of us in the neighborhood fretted over the same thing, I reckon.

My fourth-grade teacher, a nun named Sister Janita, was a big help to me that tumultuous year. Only not for any of the reasons you might imagine.

Sister Janita had grown too old to be in a classroom educating impressionable young minds. She wasn’t a woman who dispensed advice or wisdom to her students, either, at least not at this time in her career. But she was sweet and kind and functional, and so her superiors allowed the nun to keep her position later in life than was probably prudent.

She was also—how to say this delicately?—a loon.

The good sister had a pet pigeon named Lulu that lived in her second-floor classroom. Lulu had full run of the place, flying freely as she pleased. Many times the bird would land on your desk and coo coo coo until you’d share a bit of sandwich bread or some other morsel with her. Once Lulu landed right on my head and cooed until her mistress came around to collect her.

Sister Janita conversed far more with Lulu than with any of her students. Always kindly, always lovingly, always enthusiastically. But most of all, always kookily.

Considering the state of the world outside her classroom in 1967 I count myself lucky to have spent a good chunk of the year well-protected inside the sister’s benign, good-natured little cocoon.

After all, for several long hours a day that entire school year the biggest fear I had wasn’t getting caught up in a riot or a gang fight; it was getting shit on by a crazy old nun’s pet pigeon as it flew by.

We should all have so little to be troubled about today.

My home now is a lovely little town on the coast of Maine. The free local paper’s “Police Blotter” lists items about dogs found wandering without tags or teenagers caught “borrowing” a stranger’s canoe to go out fishing. The town’s only fire truck is new and spiffy, but it doesn’t get out of the garage much.

And yet all of a sudden I live in a very dangerous place again. We all do.

Let’s face it, the year that this bottle of Aldo Conterno’s 1967 Barolo Riserva Speciale got opened wasn’t much better than the year he produced it. You could argue that it was a lot worse. From election night in November 2016 through, well, just through, it’s been one self-inflicted national disaster after another.

Cracking open a 50-year-old Barolo at this time wasn’t my doing. That would be the work of my dear friend Scott, who surprised a small group of friends with it at a dinner celebration just before Christmas. Scott is a sommelier by trade. He’s also a swell guy to have as a friend.

He knew full well that everybody who’d gathered that evening had suffered, often silently, the entire year. And so, in his small and yet extraordinarily generous way, Scott decided to temporarily wrap us all up in a warm blanket made of joy and friendship and, like Sister Janita’s classroom in 1967, even a bit of fantasy.

For a few moments my friends and I could put aside our fears about the next three or even seven long years and escape to a place where good people who love and respect and care for each other can still get to quietly share a common appreciation of something honest and beautiful…

And, yes, even GREAT!

Whining over Italian wine

12 Apr

I’m not a wine expert. Nobody has ever paid me to write about the stuff, not once, and I have been in this word game a long time. My friend Tom, who makes a living writing about adult beverages, complains about the lack of wine coverage on this blog, specifically Italian wines, which I’ll admit to spending many years studying.

“I don’t understand,” my friend will say. “Italian wines are really hard to get your arms around. There are so many different grapes and designations, and the labels are impossible to comprehend. People might actually be interested in learning the things that you know about these wines, you know.”

Okay Tommy, here’s some expert Italian wine advice for you. Read it carefully, because this might just be the only time I give advice like this in public.

Never pay $50 for a bottle of Italian wine when you can get it someplace else for $8 and change. Come to think of it, this probably goes for all wines, not just the Italian ones. But, as I said before, I’m no expert.

How’s that for advice?

I can rant all day about this but will simply lay out the facts and be on my way. My Associate and I were in Arizona recently, on a driving trip that spanned a little south of Tucson to a little north of Flagstaff. On two occasions we dined at places whose wine lists had been Wine Spectator-approved. They could not have been more different.

The first was the dining room at Hacienda del Sol in Tucson. The wine list, a book that required true commitment to plow through, included the requisite I-don’t-care-what-it-costs-just-bring-me-the-damn-bottle selections (the $4,500 Vosne-Romanée comes to mind). But it was in no way a list crafted to rip you off. I found a really nice Nebbiolo d’Alba for $54—and it was 15 years old! The same bottle in a wine shop (if you could even find it) would cost at least $30, maybe more. Another bottle we cracked open was a 2008 Sagrantino di Montefalco, a little-known Umbrian varietal that I like a whole lot. The retail price on this particular bottle is around $25. It’s on the wine list for $59. I’d call that very reasonable, especially given that the restaurant is in a resort.

Days later, at L’Auberge Restaurant on Oak Creek in Sedona, also the kind of place that prefers entire wine books over lists, I found the exact (if misspelled) vintage of Sagrantino di Montefalco, but for $75, not $59. This didn’t bother me so much. Okay, it bothered me a little. But what really got me going was this place’s entry-level Italian wine.


This is the least expensive bottle on L’Auberge’s paltry selection of Italian wines. It’s the 2009 Monte Antico, a Tuscan blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The price: $50.

Average retail price: around $10-12. Though I’ve seen it plenty of times (at the supermarket, for instance, as this is one very high-production label) for less than $9. This is a place where the least expensive dinner option is a three-course prix fixe job at $80. Serving Monte freaking Antico. Seriously.
I don’t begrudge a restaurant from getting its markup, even a hefty one. But if you’re going to pull a scam at least be smart about it and pick a $9 wine that I never heard of—and that I can’t pick up where I buy milk and laundry detergent. 

But what do I know?

Risotto with red wine

23 Feb

Were I a rich man, the headline above would read quite differently. “Risotto al Barolo” it would properly state, meaning that I (or maybe my private chef) had closely followed tradition by cracking open a bottle of perhaps Italy’s most prestigious wine, poured it into a hot pan, and then watched it all evaporate!

I appreciate traditional cooking methods as much, if not more, than the next guy. But sorry, not gonna happen.

For this more modest version of the classic dish of the Piedmont region, I did use the proper grape, however: a Nebbiolo, which is the grape that is used to make Barolo. The bottle still set me back better than $20, but I’m cool with that. Cooking a $125 Barolo? Not so much.

This risotto is one of my favorites, actually. If you haven’t yet tried it, I highly recommend giving it a go. With whatever decent red wine you’re comfortable with evaporating.

Melt 3 to 4 tablespoons of butter in a heavy-bottomed saute pan.

Add one very finely chopped large onion (or an equivalent amount of shallots) and saute under medium heat until softened but not browned.

Stir in 2.5 cups of Vialone Nano rice (or Carnaroli, Arborio, Baldo, or another risotto rice if you prefer) and allow the rice to warm all the way through. It’s all right to “toast” the rice as well, meaning allow it to brown just a bit.

Stir in 3/4 cups of a good-quality red wine. As I said before, I used a Nebbiolo, but any good dry red should be fine.

On days that I know I’ll be making risotto I always make sure to prepare plenty of homemade chicken stock (go with vegetable stock to keep this vegetarian). I keep a pot of simmering stock on the stovetop as I’m making the risotto; that way it’s already at a high temperature when it’s added to the rice. After the wine has evaporated, add a ladleful or two of your hot stock. In all, you’ll probably need around 8-10 cups of stock to make the risotto, so make sure to have more than that on hand. I never use a store-bought stock to make risotto, either. It’s better this way, and you can freeze whatever homemade stock that you don’t use. Besides, having a stock going makes the house smell good for hours and hours, so why deprive yourself of such pleasure?

Stir the mixture occasionally, and each time the stock has evaporated add another ladleful. At around the 12-minute mark start to pull back on how much stock you add, because you don’t want the risotto to be soupy. (If the risotto isn’t looking as colorful as you’d like, you can add more wine with the stock.) After around 15 minutes, check to see if the rice is nearly cooked; it ought to be. Stop adding more stock and allow whatever liquid that remains to gradually evaporate. The rice should be al dente, not soft.

This cooked for around 17 minutes total, from the time the first couple ladles of stock were added. As you can see, the risotto is moist but not dry.

Turn down the heat to low and add around 5 tablespoons of cold butter that’s been cut into small cubes. Stir the butter into the rice very quickly.

Once the butter has melted add around a cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the risotto immediately, topped with a little more grated cheese.

Oh, and if there does happen to be a nice bottle of Barolo in the vicinity, well, now might be a good time to crack it open. It’s gotta get drunk sometime, right?

Pasta, sausage, grapes & wine

4 Mar
I was a breath away from posting two vegetarian dishes in a row when out of nowhere appeared a bunch of really nice sweet Italian sausages. They came from a local butcher here in town, a gift from an acquaintance who on occasion swings by the house, well, unannounced.
This person’s timing is impeccable. Never does he/she arrive so close to dinner time that I cannot find a way to incorporate the item or items inside of the bag that arrives with them. Once it was an entire pork roast, another six different kinds of shellfish; on one particularly memorable occasion it was an 11-pound fresh turkey.
And so you could see why a mere couple pounds of sweet sausage didn’t rattle me. A day earlier I had decided to alter a recipe which (coincidentally) called for sausage as a main ingredient. The recipe, Strozzapreti with Sausage, Grapes and Red Wine, was from Carmellini’s “Urban Italian.” I didn’t have strozzapreti on hand but did have a really nice matriciani to use in its place. I was also about to substitute walnuts for the sausage (go ahead Kitty; you too Mavis and Little Glodes), but then of course my visitor showed up.
This recipe (reprinted in its entirety below) requires that you plan a day ahead, eight hours actually. The grapes need to be sliced and mixed with sugar, vinegar and wine.
Then they need to macerate overnight in the fridge.
Boil the mixture until the liquid reduces by around half. While this is happening you’re also sauteing the sausage meat in another pan, as well as boiling your pasta.
Add the grapes to the sausage.
And then add the pasta, mix thoroughly, and serve.
I still think the walnuts would be a nice substitution. Next time I won’t answer the doorbell. And hope my acquaintance just goes away.
Strozzapreti with Sausage, Grapes and Red Wine
Recipe
Adapted from “Urban Italian,” by Andrew Carmellini and Gwen Hyman
1 cup seedless red grapes, cut in half lengthwise
1 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 lb strozzapreti pasta (I used matriciani here)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 lbs Italian sausage (about 4 links)
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
10 sage leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese, plus more for serving
1/2 teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
1. Combine the grapes, wine, sugar, and vinegar in an airtight container and store in the fridge at least 8 hours.
2. Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta.
3. In a medium saucepot, bring the grape mixture to a boil over high heat. Cook until the liquid has reduced by half, about 10 minutes, then remove from heat.
4. Cook the pasta until al dente.
5. Remove sausage meat from casings, heat olive oil in a pan and add the meat; cook until browned, about 5 minutes.
6. Add the onion and continue cooking, stirring well, until sausage is well browned and onions have softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the sage leaves and stir to combine. 
7. Add the grape mixture and stir well.
8. Add the cooked pasta and mix thoroughly. Remove from heat, add the butter, cheese and black pepper, stirring well. Add the parsley and serve immediately, topped with additional cheese.

What to drink with the bird

15 Nov
Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water. —W.C. Fields
I know a couple of other wiseguys who like a good drink.
What’s more, if provided just the right amount of inebriant, these friends of mine can be talked into anything. It was only three days ago when I floated the idea that they drop everything and compile a list of Thanksgiving wines and beers we can all enjoy on our holiday. And here we are.
Handling the wine picks is Scott Tyree. A wine professional of some standing, you may recall Scott from the time he expertly paired a bunch of wines with my meatballs. TH Strenk, a very fine home brewer, understands more about beer than anybody I know; he will do the holiday beer pairings.
Me, I’ll shut up now. Have a wonderful holiday, everybody.
Cent’anni!
7 Great Thanksgiving Wines
by Scott Tyree
Lini 910 Lambrusco Rosé In Correggio 2010, Emilia-Romagna ($18) I know what you’re thinking: Riunite on ice — niiiiiiiice. But one taste of this high-quality dry Lambrusco happily obliterates any memories of the cloyingly sweet, soda pop-like fizzy wine your auntie enjoyed sipping during the holidays. This wine is lush and creamy with rich red fruit flavors, a mineral tang and razor-sharp acidity. Best of all, it’s blessedly bone dry. I wouldn’t hesitate to drink the Rosé In Correggio throughout the entire Thanksgiving dinner.
Rolly-Gassman Gewurztraminer, Alsace 2009 ($28) Dry Alsatian Gewurztraminer is the go-to white wine that successfully navigates all the big bold flavors of Thanksgiving dinner. Think about it. All those warm spices used in the stuffing, sweet potatoes and sides pretty much reflect the exotic spicy nature of the gewurz grape.
Tenuta delle Terre Nere, Etna Rosato 2010 ($18) It seems most rosé wines are often unfairly marginalized and described as being “rustic” or “simple.” The Terre Nere Rosato is neither. In fact, I’d say it’s downright elegant. The grape is nerello mascalese, grown in the high elevations of Sicily’s Mt. Etna. It’s citrusy, delicately spiced and wild berry inflected. A perfect foil for the cranberry sauce.
Moulin-à-Vent Clos du Tremblay, Paul Janin 2009 ($15) All Beaujolais is not of the grapey, purple-hued, tongue-staining variety known as Beaujolais Nouveau. In fact, much of the region produces elegant wines that are soft, supple and excellent with food. Gamay is the perfect grape variety to pair with both dark and white turkey meat, and it will cut through rich sauces and gravy. Janin is a great producer.
Evening Land Gamay Noir Celebration, Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon 2009 ($20) An American Gamay that is juicier, rounder and more fruit driven than its French counterpart from Moulin-à-Vent. Undeniably pleasurable to drink.  
Umathum Zweigelt, Burgenland, Austria 2009 ($25) In keeping with the medium-bodied red wine theme. In contrast to the Gamay-based wines, Zweigelt grapes produce wines with an overtly savory character — lots of dark fruit, black pepper and herbal notes. Think a toned down, lean, less alcoholic zinfandel. Both styles work with T-day dishes.
Madeira, New York Malmsey Special Reserve, The Rare Wine Co. ($48) The versatility of Malmsey Madeira (also known as Malvasia Madeira) is impressive. I can’t think of a wine that pairs so easily with pumpkin pie, pecan tarts, custard and chocolate. Tailor-made for Thanksgiving drinking.
How to Choose a Holiday Brew 
by TH Strenk
Matching beer to turkey is pretty straightforward. The trouble starts at the potatoes and pan gravy, chestnut stuffing, cranberry sauce, buttered parsnips, green bean casserole and grandma’s pineapple gelatin mold with cherries on top. No one beer could cover all those bases. This style-by-style guide should help you to keep things balanced.
AMERICAN IPA IPAs are floral and citrusy on the nose, and bitingly bitter in the mouth. The theory here is that bitterness will cut through the heaviness of the unctuous gravy, a refreshing contrast to the big meal. Be careful not to choose a tongue-numbing “extreme” IPA, but one that balances the bitter with some malt. My choice is Southern Tier IPA.
DOPPELBOCK The dark German lager is fairly high in alcohol (6-8%), which will help you keep laughing at Uncle Teddy’s bad jokes. It is less bitter than an IPA, but still refreshing. Doppelbocks will complement both the roast turkey and the marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes. There are plenty to choose from, including Ayinger Celebrator, Paulaner’s Salvator and the American Troegenator. I’ll go with Spaten Optimator.
PUMPKIN BEER This spicy amber ale isn’t apt to work with anything on the table, but some people have come to expect it. (Not Meatball; he hates the stuff.) My pick here is Southhampton Pumpkin Ale, which offers good gourd flavor, with balanced spices and a little vanilla.
HARVEST SEASONAL These malty brews tend to work well with dishes that traditionally show up on the Thanksgiving table. Medium-bodied, Marzen and Oktoberfest beers are great with roast turkey and can handle most accompaniments. Top German producers Paulaner and Spaten brew good Marzens. However, my pick is Sierra Nevada Octoberfest.
SAISON This Belgian’s dryness and acidity would be good foils for the fatty gravy, drumsticks and creamed onions. Its spice, usually coriander, complements the warm fall spices found in many harvest dishes, not to mention dessert. Saison Dupont is a solid choice, but I would pop for Brooklyn Brewery’s Sorachi Ace.
IRISH STOUT Most American stouts are so full of coffee and chocolate they don’t pair well with food. But the dry style of Irish stout is more delicate. It’s also generally low in alcohol, which means you can quaff it all night. I’d go with the old reliable: Guinness.
SOUR STYLES These ales, fermented with wild yeast and bacteria, have bright acidity that perk up flavors and cut through fat. Traditional sour styles include lambic, gueuze, Flemish red and brown ales and Berliner weisse. Of these, Rodenbach Grand Cru is the easiest to find.
PILSNERS Sure, there’s a craft beer revolution going on, but domestic and imported macrobrews still dominate. Not all Pilsners are pallid. The best are bitter, floral and dry with yeasty notes. My choice would be for the original, Pilsner Urquell, from the town of Pilsen in the Czech Republic.

Pairing wines with meatballs

21 Sep

I would much prefer to be boiled in hot oil or eaten by hungry lions than to disagree with my dear uncle Dominic, but I am forced to admit that Gallo Hearty Burgundy is not the only wine worth drinking alongside a good meatball.

Sorry, Unc.

Don’t get me wrong. I have enjoyed many a bottle of the Gallo with my uncle. Hearty Burgundy is the only wine that you will find in Dominic’s home. Like his son, John, I gave up bringing other bottles for my uncle to sample long ago.

“That’s crap,” I once heard Dominic say about a more-than-respectable Barolo that my cousin had cracked open for his father’s enjoyment. “What do you want to drink that for when this (the HB now in his hand) is so much better?”

I respect a man with strong opinions, don’t you?

I hope so. Because you are about to become acquainted with just such a man. He is a friend of mine. Goes by a number of aliases (that’s him on the left), but Scott Tyree is the name that would likely appear on an official document; a denied parole request, for instance, or perhaps a bench warrant.

Scott knows his wine. He’d better. The guy’s a sommelier ferchrissakes. A James Beard Award-nominated sommelier, thank you very much. He lives just a bottle’s roll away from me these days, but last he was seen as the wine dude-in-chief at such notable Chicago dining establishments as Tru and Sepia. (He claims not to have fled that town in a high-speed motorcycle chase involving a somewhat agitated band of dockworkers, and out of respect I will accept my friend’s story without further comment or review.)

The point here is that, a) the dude is a bona fide wine professional, and b) he likes my meatballs. So I decided to put the arm on him (people from Chicago are used to being manhandled) and get him to tell us all about matching the right wine with the right meatball.

Actually, he is matching the wine with my meatball. Therefore, it is possible that this exercise will only be of benefit to you personally should you prepare my meatball recipe and, for that matter, the Sunday Gravy that they were cooked in. Alternatively you could invite Mr. Tyree, if he still calls himself that, to pair wines with your own recipes, but that is entirely between you and the sommelier.

I ain’t running no social network here, you know.

Anyway, so here is how it all was designed to go down: Me and the sommelier would get together over (what turned out to be a liquid) lunch and map out a few reasonable parameters for a (first ever?) meatball-and-wine tasting. As we both pine for the bustle and noise of a big city we grabbed an outdoor table at a restaurant here in town where the traffic comes so close that you could share a pork bun with the passenger of any vehicle that goes by.

My own view of the task at hand was quite simple: I make the meatballs and supply the wines, he writes about the wines once we have completed our little experiment. I explained this formula to my friend while gulping down the first cold beer of the warm late-August afternoon, then motioned to our waitress that it would be splendid if she might please go ahead and collect me another.

The sommelier, who had barely touched his own frosty beverage, quickly displayed a far more complex understanding of our mission. I became hip to this when he brought out a crisp pad of paper, a pen and a pair of what I would describe as handsome yet rather stern-looking reading glasses. This must have rattled me more than I was aware because as our waitress delivered my newly opened beer I instructed her to please go ahead and bring me another at her earliest convenience.

For the next hour I sat and I drank, but mostly I answered my friend Scott’s many questions about what exact flavor profiles he was being asked to pair the wines with: “You use carrots in your sauce; that’s interesting, but why?” “How much anchovy did you say is in there?” “So, then, it’s mostly veal and a little beef; there’s no pork in the meatballs, none at all?” “Butter and pork fat, really?” “Can you taste the heat of the pepper?” “Are you sure there isn’t anything else in these recipes that you haven’t told me about; I’ve got all the ingredients, every one, listed here?”

I studied his copious notes and assured my friend that, yes, he had all the necessary information to move forward. “You should be all set, yeah,” I said grabbing the check before he could put his filthy paws on it. “Sure you’re not gonna finish that beer?”

The meatball-and-wine-pairing event was held two days later, at a lovely spot overlooking Casco Bay that Scott shares with his partner, the insane South African hot yoga practitioner (though otherwise quite level-headed chap) Giovani.

And an event it was. Look at this place setting, would you? My meatballs hadn’t been given this kind of high-class treatment since… okay, they’ve never gotten it. We’re talking white linens and fine china, freshly cut flowers and enough Riedel wine glasses to cater an event for 30-plus people (we were only four in our party). There were even printouts at each place setting, containing a numbered list of all the wines we would be sampling and ample white space to scribble our impressions. Hell, we even got our own Sharpie!

See?
Before I hand things over to Scott, just a couple of things. First, I want to thank him for taking the time to do this. I don’t know what I was expecting when I showed up at his door with a big pot of meatballs, loaves of bread, and the associate who had dreamed up the event in the first place (thanks, associate), but I got way more than I had bargained for. This was a professional-grade wine tasting, folks. And even though I was already familiar with many of the wines, I learned things from Scott that I had not known before. If you’re ever in the market for a wine consultant, trust me, this is your man.
Second, never trust a wine geek to do things the way you want. I had delivered fifteen wines to my friend the day before the tasting, plus offered several more, specifically a few Barolos I thought might be fun to try. And how many wound up on the sheet? Just eight. Oh, plus the gallon of Carlo Rossi Burgundy (no HB to be found here in Maine) that the crazy South African had picked up on his way home from the torture chamber he frequents, the chamber that he naively refers to as a yoga studio.

No wine event can ever top sipping the Gallo with my uncle Dominic while sitting beneath his grapevine on a late-summer afternoon.
Still, this Tyree fellow hosted one hell of a party, and so, without further ado, I give you the man himself. (He’s the one in the green t-shirt, but keep that to yourself, would you. Should a member of particular band of Chicago dockworkers happen upon this blog post, well, things could become rather ugly here in our little corner of paradise. And in a hurry.)

Scott Tyree:
On wine and balls
They were delivered to the house on a cool Sunday morning in spring by a courier riding a gleaming red and black Moto Guzzi. Plump, silky and perfectly golfball sized, the juicy veal and beef nuggets were accompanied by a generous portion of rich, tomatoey sauce (carrots in the sauce?!) and crusty country bread from a local bakery. G had the sauce, balls and pasta simmering on the stove faster than you can say spaghetti alla chitarra. After a few silent minutes at the table, we declared Mister Meatball’s personally delivered meatballs the most delicious we had ever tasted.  
So, when MM suggested that we do this meatball-and-wine-pairing experiment, I responded enthusiastically and without hesitation. “Screw the wine,” I secretly said to myself. “Any excuse to enjoy copious amounts of the succulent meatballs and flavorful sauce again is fine by me!”
We had rules for this wine tasting. All the wines must be of Italian origin (che sopresa!) covering the country from north to south, including Sicily. All colors and styles of wine should be included: white, pink, red, still and sparkling; dry, off-dry, youthful and mature. A rendezvous with MM to purchase the wines yielded, as he has mentioned, a great number of bottles. I am indeed guilty of editing this selection, and for this I make no apologies. Even a Meatball must succumb to reason occasionally. If we had tasted all fifteen wines, we surely would have ended up rolling on the floor covered in tomato sauce. (Besides, the event took place in my house, not his. Our friend Meatball may be highly opinionated, but he is also adept at social interaction and I was fairly certain he would not make too much of a scene upon spying my eight-wine final list.) 
On a beautiful Sunday afternoon we ladled up sauce, balls and pasta and commenced with the down and dirty work of finding the perfect wine for the perfect meatball. We found that there was consensus about most of the wines, which I find common in these settings; it is very much worth trying at home, especially with like-minded friends. Speaking of which, my impressions of our own group are as such: I found MM’s associate to be inquisitive, direct and focused. Giovani was somewhat poetic (though he does mutter naughty things when he is drunk). The Meatball was just a wiseass, as usual.
All in all, a successful tasting. Here is what we discovered.
1. Zardetto Spumante Rosé NV, Veneto
Pity the poor frizzante wines. So often, they are unjustly relegated to aperitif status and rarely taken seriously as worthy of pairing with food. Happily, this dry and fruity raboso veronese-based sparkler, so surprisingly rich and creamy, proved a worthy partner with the prized meatballs. This simple wine actually elevated the sumptuous meatballs to even dizzier heights. The most pleasant surprise of the tasting.
2. Falanghina dei Feudi di San Gregorio Sannio, Campania 2009
Many of my sommelier colleagues swear that a mythical wine pairing love affair exists between the falanghina grape and tomatoes. Lemming that I am, I chose this delicious savory wine with the fennel-y nose believing that, theoretically, it would provide an interesting herbal counterpoint while taming the acidity of the sauce. Unfortunately, the dish obliterated the wine. No love affair here. Myth busted.
3. Offida Pecorino Villa Angela Velenosi, Marche 2009
Despite the cheese-associated name, pecorino is actually an indigenous grape variety to the Marche region of southern Italy. This particular bottling showed aromas of wet stones, honey and citrus. The palate of bitter almond and ripe tropical fruit was worrisomely low in acid and blessedly oak free. On paper, this wine should have been outmatched by the assertive balls. But this was the most interesting and thought-provoking pairing of the day. With the balls, the mineral streak and aromatic qualities of the wine soared. I’ve developed a little school boy crush on this wine.
4. Soave Classico Inama, Veneto 2009
Yes, there are oceans of characterless plonk from the Soave wine zone. Thanks to Bolla (the Blue Nun of Soave), quality wines from the superior Soave Classico zone of the Veneto have been maligned by association for years. Here’s a really interesting version from an excellent producer called Inama, a winery which has been pushing the garganega grape to greater heights in recent years. Round, ripe and enriched with a little dollop of oaked chardonnay, we were concerned this wine might be too big for an already rich dish. Though perfectly pleasurable for sipping alone, the wine became a bit disjointed when paired with the meatballs. Alcohol burned the palate and all that ripe fruitiness disappeared. Ixnay the Inama.
5. Dolcetto d’Alba Paolo Scavino, Piemonte 2008
Paolo Scavino is a modernist who makes wines in an opulent, sexy style. While much of the Piemonte region often produces dolcetto that can be thin and diluted, this guy consistently gives us weighty, silky wines with great structure and layers of flavor. We all loved the vibrant acidity, rose petal and violet aromas and bright cherry and earth palate. In particular, this wine stood up to the acidic tomatoes better than any other wine in the tasting.
6. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Quattro Mani, Abruzzo 2009
Attilio Pagli’s montepulciano has a texture as sleek and smooth as Mister Meatball’s red Moto Guzzi. The nose is earthy, dusky and meaty. The palate is a spice rack of savory elements: think blackberries spiked with white pepper and oregano. For me, this pairing elicited the most visceral reaction of any of the others. This was complete wine/meatball symbiosis. These two should just move in with each other and live happily ever after.
7. Colosi Nero d’Avola IGT, Sicilia 2009
Sad. Overly extracted, high in alcohol, lacking in structure, cloying and sweet (no, I’m not talking about Mister Meatball himself). If you’re looking for a good wine to spread on your toast in the morning, this is it. I half expected that a nero d’avola might overwhelm the meatballs and clash with the sauce, but none of us were prepared for the train wreck of this pairing. Avoid.
8. Fèlsina Fontalloro, Toscana 1995
For those who find it unfair that we included a mature wine of class and elegance in a tasting of mostly value wines, I agree. But Mister Meatball insisted we open this bottle that he had been cellaring for quite some time. Who am I to argue? The Fontalloro was a classic example of mature sangiovese – all cherry, leather and cocoa powder with fine grained tannins and refreshing acidity. Not only was the wine a pleasure to drink, it elevated the humble meatballs to a thing of shimmering beauty and elegance. Unfair, yes. But at that point, nobody cared.
As for the Carlo Rossi Burgundy, well, let me put it this way: I would much prefer an opportunity to while away an afternoon with Meatball and his sweet uncle under that grapevine of his.
One day, perhaps.