Wine Time

Odd Pair: Spaghetti and Meatballs and a High-Plains Greek Rosé

Who can resist classic, homemade spaghetti and meatballs? Even the most snooty Italophiles among us, those who turn their noses up at blasphemous Italian-American cuisine citing the god of Authenticity, are easily corrupted when it comes to this dish, which evokes a cinematically rich swath of our shared American cultural history.

My spaghetti con le polpette were inspired by a recent episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, in which the salty dog chef headed to Vesuvius in search of an answer to a now generations-old conundrum: In the light of the fact that Italians don't combine the two, where did the practice of eating noodles with meatballs originate? As Bourdain discovered, in Naples they cook meat in tomato sauce, serve the tomato sauce over long noodles or macaroni (short pasta), and reserve the slowly braised, melt-in-your-mouth tender meats -- braciole, meatballs, and/or various cuts of pork and beef -- to be served as a second course. (Tracie P, who lived in Naples for nearly five years, verified the authenticity of Bourdain's findings.)

But what to drink with this king of All American victuals? A straw-flasked Chianti, perhaps? A Valpolicella? After all, these were the wines that our parents paired with spaghetti and meatballs. Or, in the spirit of New York restaurateur Danny Meyer's motto -- if it grows with it, it goes with it -- would a classic Neapolitan red like Lacryma Christi or Gragnano be more appropriate? Instead, I looked to the high plains of the Greek Peloponnese and uncorked a jaw-droppingly beautiful bottle of Agiorgitiko rosé by Gaia.

Many erroneously think that viticulture in Greece is a strictly hot-weather affair, when in fact Greece is the most mountainous country in the Mediterranean. In the Peloponnese (I was there a month ago, by the way), the plateau where fine wine is grown and raised lies at 600 to 800 meters above sea level, some of the highest vineyards in Europe. The elevation, combined with the mountain chain that encloses the Peloponnese plateau, creates "continental" climatic conditions where warm days and cool nights allow the fruit to ripen more slowly and fully, all the while retaining the freshness so hard to obtain in warmer regions.

The Gaia (pronounced Y'EYE-yah) rosé is made from 100 percent Agiorgitiko (EYE-yohr-YEE-tee-koh) grapes that have been macerated with their skins for 14 to18 hours -- hence the name, "14-18 h[ours]." Agiorgitiko, a light-skinned red grape, grown primarily in the Nemea township where the Gaia winery is located, can make for a delightful, gentle rosé or red wine, with popping cherry flavor and bright acidity.

But my favorite thing about this wonderfully refreshing wine is its low alcohol: 12.5 percent, people, yes... 12.5 percent. Now, THAT's what I call a food-friendly wine that won't overpower my food with its punch.

In Italian there is a saying, una faccia, una razza, in other words, one face, one race. It alludes to the fact that the peoples of the Mediterranean share a common genetic and cultural bond. Students of history know that Naples -- the neo polis or new city in Greek -- was once a colony of Greece. So maybe it wasn't such a far-fetched pairing after all. At least not on a balmy, swampy night in the heart of the Texas summer.

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Jeremy Parzen writes about wine and modern civilization for the Houston Press. A wine trade marketing consultant by day, he is also an adjunct professor at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, Italy. He spends his free time writing and recording music with his daughters and wife in Houston.
Contact: Jeremy Parzen