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Wine +/- Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti Pairing

I was having dinner one night with a married couple a few months ago in a Brazilian restaurant in Orange County, CA.  This couple looked at the menu and began to negotiate what specific items they wanted to order because the husband is a vegetarian while the wife can enjoy everything.  Throughout dinner, I began to wonder if I could help my friends by making at least one go-to meal they could have any time without the fussing or negotiating. Since my forte is creating dishes that lean towards Italian and Spanish cuisine, I decided to stick to my strengths while coming up with a dish that vegetarians and meat eaters can both enjoy. The catch is that both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions of the dish both have to pair with the same bottle of wine – not an easy task. After giving it some thought, I came up with a twist on a staple: spaghetti pairing with meatballs!


The Approach:

Make a tomato sauce and use it as a bridge between the two versions of the recipe so they both have similar flavor elements, making it easier to pair them with the same wine.  I used spaghetti noodles here but if you prefer a different pasta or have another noodle shape on hand, by all means go for it – in this recipe, the pasta is the secondary flavor and switching it up won’t affect the outcome of the pairing. The focus for now is on the tomato sauce, so let’s make it!

Recipe: Tomato Sauce

  • 1 28 oz. can San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 whole medium red onion
  • 2 large carrots, grated
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
  • 10 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper to season
  • Dash of dry dill

Assemble and prep all your ingredients first.  Add the extra virgin olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, and carrots to a large pot over medium heat and cook down for 6 minutes, or until softened. Add all remaining ingredients and cook for 15 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, then set the heat to low and let sit for 10 minutes. Time to prepare:  about 25 minutes. This is the perfect sauce for any style of pasta or spaghetti pairing

The Meatball for the Spaghetti Pairing

I had to decide what kind of meat to use that would make a delicious meatball but also complement that light, slightly sweet flavor of the tomato sauce. I considered ground beef, but there’s a problem with this option:  the high fat content in beef pairs with the pasta and tomato sauce, but that same fat requires a different wine than we would pick for the meatball-free pasta, threatening our pairing.  Heavier meats require heavier wines, but a heavier wine will clash with the acidity and saltiness of the tomato sauce.  So, ground beef is out. What about ground turkey? The lower fat content in turkey makes for a lighter product, but it still has enough body to hold up to the tomato sauce without obscuring it, and the flavor is unobtrusive enough to not affect the pairing whether we include the meatballs with the pasta or not.

The Answer:  Let’s make the turkey meatballs for the spaghetti pairing.

Recipe:  Turkey Meatballs

  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup parsley
  • ¼ cup shaved Parmesan
  • 1tsp salt and pepper
  • 1tsp pepper
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • ¼ cup tomato sauce from recipe above

Directions:  Set oven at 300 degrees FWhile the oven is preheating, combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Roll up 15-18 turkey meatballs, each one about the size of a golf ball, and place on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.  Bake in oven for 10-12 minutes. Time to Prepare:  25 minutes

Serving Size: ~ 15-18 meatballs

It is especially important for the tomato sauce to be added into the meatball mixture because it acts as the unifying ingredient between the pasta sauce, the meatballs, and the wine. Remember, in food and wine pairing, like qualities mesh together.

Now that the food portion of this pairing is finished, let’s pair it with a wine Let’s stay in Tuscany and try some Sangiovese!  The zestiness of the tomato sauce is perfect for the herbal, olive, and sage notes of Sangiovese.  Also, there isn’t as much salt in the sauce while the acidity and warmth is high enough to match with the Sangiovese.  Finally, the spaghetti pairing provides the body, matches perfectly with the medium-bodied feel of this Italian classic.

But what type of Sangiovese works best for this particular pairing?

  • Chianti: Lighter bodied wine with very tart light cherries, sage, and olive on the nose and a very soft yet tart and acidic finish: CHECK IT OUT!
  • Brunello di Montalcino: Velvety medium-bodied wines with a metallic, cherried nose and elegant finish: CHECK IT OUT!
  • Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: Rustic, dark and red Cherries and basil  on the nose with a medium body and smooth tannic finish: CHECK IT OUT!

My wine of choice:  Prugnolo Gentile!!  I found the Incanto Vino Nobile Montepulciano 2010 from Tuscany, Italy stocked at my local Trader Joe’s and it works beautifully with the spaghetti pairing – with and without the meatballs.


Mario Luna

Certified Sommelier

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