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Classic red of Chianti pairs well with classic red sauce

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JC Schisler
wine for column 6/19/13

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

This past weekend, my family enjoyed a traditional favorite: spaghetti and meatballs with red sauce.

Mind you, this wasn't just any old pasta recipe.

We used the recipe handed down to my mother from my Neapolitan grandmother, Libra. Coming from northern European roots, my Mom knew little about Italian cooking when she married into my old man's southern Italian clan. But she learned well with my grandmother's ready guidance.

My mom served delicious spaghetti and meatballs with red sauce frequently on Sunday afternoons. Later, when I made the best decision of my life by marrying my lovely bride, my mom wrote out by hand Libra's recipe and passed it on to my wife. A handwritten red-sauce recipe may not be the key to 29 years of marriage, but it hasn't hurt!

This typically savory and rich red sauce — so favored by southern Italian immigrants — uses garlic, Italian herbs, tomato paste, plum tomatoes, ground beef and beef broth for the foundation. A dash of sugar and slow simmering melds the ingredients deliciously. Adding meatballs made from veal, pork and beef near the end of simmering creates the crowning touch.

Such richness cries out for unpretentious, fruit-laden red wines with plenty of zesty acidity. Just a sip should refresh the palate to make way for the next bite of hot pasta and rich, red sauce.

The following selections fit the bill perfectly:

The 2011 Bell'Agio Chianti, Italy (4632; on sale with $2 instant rebate coupon: $11.49 for 1 liter) comes in a fiasco, the charmingly squat bottle covered with a traditional straw basket. It uses a classic blend of Sangiovese, canaiolo and malvasia bianca rather than adding international varieties such as merlot.

Like Chiantis of old, the wine's light ruby color offers pleasant floral and cherry aromas uninhibited by ponderous oak notes. Fresh red fruit and light spicy flavors blend with fresh acidity and smooth tannins. With only 12 12 percent alcohol, the wine drinks easily, albeit with a short, but fruity finish.

After finishing the bottle, go “old school” romantic by sticking a lit candle in the top and letting the melting wax drip down the sides. Then, the next time you enjoy spaghetti and meatballs, pull out the bottle, light another candle, and listen to some jazz masters — say Thelonious Monk or Miles Davis. Recommended.

The 2011 Tormaresca “Neprica,” Puglia, Italy (Luxury 45615; $11.99) comes from vineyards in the heel of Italy's famous boot. Using equal parts native negroamaro and primitivo grapes, along with cabernet sauvignon, the wine's harmonious blend delivers plenty of fruity character and zest.

Fermentation and aging in stainless steel frames the fruit's lovely aromas and flavors. The dark-ruby color unfolds plum and blackberry aromas with smoky notes. Ripe-plum and dark-berry flavors layer with bright acidity and firm, yet smooth, tannins. Highly recommended.

The 2010 Colosi Rosso, Sicilia, Italy (Luxury 46254; $11.99) comes from Sicily, an area encompassing the Mediterranean's largest island whose winemaking roots date to the ancient Greeks. They colonized Sicily to capitalize on trading the island's famously robust wines.

Later, for centuries, producers exported Sicilian reds to fortify northern Italy's less robust reds. Quantity took precedence over quality until the latter part of the past century.

Then the island's producers invested heavily in an effort to realize Sicilian wines' true potential. Cantine Colosi, for example, covers 20 acres of vines on Salina, an island just north of Sicily. Infertile volcanic soils combine with warm, sunny weather tempered by sea breezes to create ideal terroir for red varieties such as nero d'Avola.

The wine's robust plum and spice aromas and flavors balance deftly with fine acidity. Recommended.

The 2011 Mastroberardino Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso, Italy (Luxury 32773; $14.99) comes from Piedirosso vines toiling in volcanic soils near the famous Mt. Vesuvius. The volcano lies near Naples, the spiritual home of spaghetti with red sauce.

Fermentation in stainless steel captured the grapes' innate juiciness without cumbersome oak traits. The dark-ruby color offers cherry, plum and raspberry aromas and flavors with spicy black-pepper hints. Refreshing acidity mixes with refined tannins to frame the wine's lovely fruit and dry finish. Highly recommended.

Dave DeSimone writes about wine for Trib Total Media.

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