July 2016 was the first-ever Meatball Street Brawl in Buffalo. The brainchild of Nick Pitillo, owner of Osteria 166 in Buffalo and Villaggio in Ellicottville, the event is essentially a “battle of the meatballs,” with many of Buffalo’s best restaurants competing for the title. Last year we paired our meatballs with a wine tasting, and it went so well we decided to do it again.
This year we invited 10 people for a tasting of six Italian wines, none of which cost more than $50. I left it to the wine store to choose the wines, then added a couple wines from my cellar, as well.
A few days before the big event, Nick Pitillo asked if I’d be willing to judge. How could I say no? While my votes will always remain confidential, I can share this: there were some mind-blowing meatballs served that day. It’s a great event that we all enjoyed. Here are the wines we tasted:
2011 Gagliole Toscana blend
Italy, $45 or less
This is an excellent wine for the money, featuring chocolate, coffee and dark fruit. I would let this wine open up for 30 minutes to maximize the flavors.
2011 Bolla Amarone blend
Italy, under $50
I enjoyed this complex wine, which featured dark fruit and hints of mocha, although it would have been even smoother had we decanted it. While it’s not the best Amarone I’ve ever had, it has plenty of flavor and it’s fairly priced.
2012 Adriano Barbaresco
Italy, less than $30
I thought this was a very nice wine for the money, and I would buy it again. Plenty of fruit.
2011 Villa Poggio Salvi Brunello di Montalcino
Italy, $40, give or take
I really love Brunello, especially the 2010s. This was also very enjoyable, with lots of great fruit and also a little chocolate. If you open a bottle, decant it or let it breathe for 45 minutes.
2010 Poggio Il Castellare Brunello di Montalcino
Italy, under $50
I have mentioned this wine before and it is delicious. Amazing fruit, texture and finish. My number one wine of the day.
Feudi Del Pisctto Merlot
Italy, under $30
This wine is a very good value and worth the money. I liked the fruit and the elegance of this wine. It was the favorite of several of our guests.
Many years ago my Aunt Pat taught me how to make sauce and meatballs, and from that foundation I have branched into making my own Bolognese. People love it so much they try to barter with me to get some. One neighbor offered his own maple syrup in exchange for sauce. My grandson offered to buy some!
My good friend Dominick, however, always liked to claim that his sauce and meatballs were the best – and recently, he invited us to his home to taste them. Could they be better than mine? His sauce was, indeed, terrific - but his meatballs may be the best I’ve ever had. Picking up on that barter idea, I bought him a bottle of old Zinfandel that he liked and got 15 meatballs to take home.
We also enjoyed several bottles of wine with our pasta that evening, including Northstar Premier Merlot (which everyone fell in love with), and a 2013 Quilceda Creek Cabernet that was simply awesome.
Bubbly for the New Year
When people tell me they don’t like red wine, I ask if they’ve ever had good red wine…or if they just order it randomly at the bar. Yes, some places have fine wine by the glass, but others will give you box wine (I call it headache wine). I have turned around many naysayers by introducing them to good red wine, and there are countless affordable bottles that are superior to wine from the bar. It’s also worth noting that how long the bottle’s been open, how it was stored (and at what temperature) will also affect how it tastes.
I had to remind myself of this when tasked with tasting champagnes for this column. How many times I have been served (not very good) champagne when I walk into an event or a wedding? I’ll politely take a sip and then just as quickly try to find a place to put it down. And I don’t drink it regularly otherwise. So when the magazine editor asked if I’d write about champagne for this New Year’s Eve issue, I knew I had to approach it with an open mind.
It dawned on me that I had quite a few bottles of champagne from years of birthdays, holidays and host gifts. So I chose some bottles from the cellar, including Veuve Clicquot, Dom Perignon and a bottle of Perrier that had a pretty label. I called some friends over for oysters and champagne, which reputedly go well together…and I also ordered some pizza and brought up some amazing Pinot Noir (just in case the champagne and oysters were a bust). Fortunately, they weren’t, and two of the champagnes really stood out.
2003 Dom Perignon
This tasted like it was still a baby – and the whole group was crazy about it. The combination of oysters and bubbles that perfectly captured the fruit exploded in my mouth. There was so much going on with citrus and fall New York apples. I hope I have more of this in my cellar; this is a great celebration wine.
Veuve Clicquot (orange label)
Everyone loved this, too, which is available in Buffalo – and a bit more affordable than the Dom. Another fabulous special occasion bottle, it’s worth every penny.
I need to go to school and learn more about champagne and sparkling wines, as I suspect there are plenty for $30 or less that are worthy. I’ll pass more along to you as I learn. In the meantime, break out your own bubbly and have a safe, happy new year!
Warren T. Colville is publisher and president of The Buffalo News.