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When Spanish Wine Pairs with Italian Tomato Sauce

So before you just say 'no,' let me explain. I've had to move my wine as of late, and in doing so came across a few things that made me think - did I let this go too long? Not the Bordeaux or Burgundy, Barolo or Brunello, but in particular some wines from the Loire, Mendoza and a particular 2011 Garnacha from the Spanish producer Alto Moncayo. I was also just about to make some sauce with meatballs and sausage, and needed some decent slightly acidic red wine for the mix. So my thoughts were - try the wine, as long as it's not faulty, it will be fine for the sauce and I'll see where it's at. Holy moly. Not only was it not in bad condition, it was actually pretty spectacular. Full bodied, gorgeous dark purple, amazingly fresh, smooth and balanced, with baked black-fruit flavors mingled with coffee, chocolate and vanilla. I couldn't remember what persuaded me to keep a stash so I looked up the ratings. Here is what the Wine Advocate had to say

95 points

"I tend to drink Alto Moncayo during its first 5-6 years of life. Although I was sure they had aging potential, I did not realize just how much longevity these wines possess. They are generally full-bodied, powerful (with at least 15.5% natural alcohol), concentrated, rich wines made from very old vines and tiny yields. If you are not into flavor concentration or care about artisanal wines from great terroirs that have been ignored for centuries, this may not be the wine for you. Not one of these ten vintages was close to full maturity. The two most recent vintages, 2010 and 2011, were both late, cooler years and both have turned out to be sexy wines. I suspect that in many ways, 2011 will behave like 2006, being precocious and delicious, but not as long-lived as some of its siblings. These wines appear to have 20-30 years of aging potential, although the sweet spot for drinking them appears to be between age 8 and 15. "

I loved the subtlety, "if you don't care about artisanal wines from great terroirs" - what an indictment! I know we all care about those. And I really loved that instead of screwing up, my laid back approach (also known as - my life has been too busy to concentrate on this!) to how long I should cellar a wine had paid off and some. Plus it really did add a layer of flavor and depth to the sauce. And the pairing was sublime, just the right amount of food friendly acidity to balance out the tomato sauce. Sweet spot for sure.

Of course a quality Chianti or Tuscan red blend would pair nicely as well.

Now for the recipe

This is how my Grandmom made her sauce, my apologies if our grandmothers disagree on any of this.

Tomato Sauce with Meatballs and Sausage

Make about 12 servings

For the Sauce

3 tbsps. extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

3 28 oz. cans peeled San Marzano tomatoes - remove lids when you are ready to cook

1 cup red wine

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. freshly ground pepper

4 fresh basil leaves

Start with the sauce. Heat the olive oil on medium in a large stockpan. Add the onions and cook until softened, stirring often, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for one minute. Add the tomatoes all at once and stir in the wine, salt and pepper, crushing the tomatoes with a wooden spoon (not necessary but satisfying). Continue stirring until mixture just starts bubbling. Lower the heat to a simmer, stir in the basil and place on the lid slightly ajar. This will cook for about 1 3/4 hours total. Now time to prepare the meat which should take about 15 minutes.

For the Meat

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups fresh coarse breadcrumbs

1 lb. ground veal

1 lb. ground pork

1/2 lb. ground beef

3 tbsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley

2 tsps. minced garlic (optional)

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Vegetable or olive oil for frying (meatballs can also be baked but I fry)

1 lb. fennel sausage cut into 2 inch pieces

(Grandmom said never put Basil or garlic in the meatballs, just the sauce. So this is how I do it.)

In a large bowl whisk the eggs and fold in the bread crumbs until all the liquid is absorbed. Add the veal, pork and beef and mix until combined (squishy but easiest to do by hand). Add the parsley, (garlic if you must), salt and pepper and mix until combined. Form the meat into 1 1/2 inch balls and pat each slightly all over to compress (this helps them not fall apart in the sauce).

Heat 1 inch oil in a large skillet or saucepan. Add the meatballs in batches, leaving 1-2 inch space between them. Cook, turning, until they are browned all over. Drain the cooked meatballs on paper towels and add to the sauce. Continue until all are complete.

Discard the oil and add a thin fresh 1/2 inch layer of oil to the skillet over medium high heat. Add the sausage and cook, turning until browned all over. Drain on paper towels and stir into the sauce.

Simmer the sauce with meat for about 1 1/2 hours longer on low heat, lid ajar and stirring often to prevent sticking. Allow the sauce to cool slightly and adjust seasoning to taste.

Alternate baking instructions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place formed meatballs on lightly oiled baking sheets, spacing evenly apart. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn the meatballs and then continue to bake until cooked through and browned, about 12-15 minutes longer (should be 165 degrees in the center). Heat in the sauce to serve.

Copyright 2021 Donna Leahy


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