On a rainy Saturday afternoon, it’s hard to beat sitting down for a leisurely lunch and a glass of wine or two. So when friends e-mailed us the other day to do just that, we quickly accepted. The centerpiece of the lunch would be that comfort food classic, spaghetti and meatballs. And not just any meatballs. They would be from Rao’s, or at least an online recipe from the famed New York City restaurant that, our friends disclosed, they found right here on TODAY’s Web site.
We were asked to bring a dessert (my wife’s forte), garlic bread (my 10-year-old son’s specialty) and a bottle of wine, which naturally fell to me. When you spend weekends in a rural area, as we do, wine choices are more limited than they are in a big city like New York. There may be a bounty of fresh produce available from the local farms, especially at this time of year, but finding interesting wines at modest prices can be hit or miss.
And so it was with limited expectations that I stopped by a local wine store, one that announces itself with a large neon sign that says “LIQUORS” and that seems to have an important side business selling New York State Lottery tickets. “Hey,” I said to myself, recalling the state’s lottery slogan, “you never know.”
The store’s Italian section was limited to about a dozen bottles. On the inexpensive side, which is where I wanted to be with spaghetti and meatballs, many of the wines were heavily advertised “standard brands” that I tend to avoid because so much of their revenue goes to promotion. And then there was a bottle I hadn’t seen before — Brunellesco’s 2008 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, priced at $8. “That’s very good for the money,” a store employee intoned. Ever the skeptic, I smiled and nodded politely.
More from TODAY.com
First photos of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's wedding emerge
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie surprised everyone last week with their secret France wedding on Aug. 23.
- Maroon 5 performs ‘Maps’ live on TODAY
- 'I am going home!' Watch cancer patient's touching reaction to going home
- Alleged photos of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton leak
- Are you One Direction's best fan ever? Show us why!
- First photos of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's wedding emerge
In fact, she was right. Montepulciano, the dominant grape of the mountainous Abruzzo region of central Italy, can be uneven, so I was delighted by the expressive fruit, balance and relative complexity of Brunellesco’s wine. I had chilled it for 20 minutes or so, which is something I do routinely with young reds like this one to bring out the fresh fruit tastes that make them so enjoyable.
I was struck by the wine’s ripe notes of blackberry and cranberry, its funky earthiness and a nice chewy quality that filled the mouth, all in the context of a young, fruity wine with an $8 price tag. It gave a refreshing lift to the spaghetti and meatballs, which were delicious and about as light as meatballs can be. (I think I’ll bookmark that recipe.) Add in some classic Italian tunes that our friends had selected and our lunch was complete. The only thing missing was a red-and-white checked tablecloth.
As for the wine, it felt like I had hit the jackpot of cheap Italian reds that afternoon. Brunellesco is imported by Monsieur Touton Selection, Ltd., New York, and is listed by several Internet retailers. If you have trouble finding it, there are plenty of other examples of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo out there, so don’t hesitate to try another bottle or two. After all, you never know.
Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints