One of my favorite things about the winter months is enjoying all the cozy, comforting food and wine that warms you up from the inside out. These hearty, flavorful pairings just aren’t the same when enjoyed any other time of year. Our latest Wine Pairing of the Week was inspired by a delightful Italian wine, the 2006 Masciarelli Villa Gemma Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva. Crafted from 100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes harvested from 25 year old vines, the wine was also aged for 18-24 months in French oak barriques resulting in a stunning wine with a sultry purplish-red color and rich notes of blackberry compote, spiced plum, cassis, sweet herbs and polished tannins. This wine just begged for a hearty dish to pair with it and Lamb Ragu and Tagliatelle was the perfect accompaniment.
Gianni Masciarelli, the late founder of Masciarelli Tenute Agricole, established his eponymous winery in 1981 and was a champion of modern winemaking in the region and widely considered an Abruzzese pioneer. He strove to elevate the reputation of Abruzzo’s wines and, among other things, is credited with introducing the Guyot training system as well as the use of French oak barrels for the ageing of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo.
Shortly after founding the winery, Masciarelli married Belgrade-born Marina Cvetic who grew up in the vineyards of her grandfather’s estate in Croatia. Following Gianni’s untimely passing in 2008, Cvetic assumed the helm of the estate which includes over 300 acres of vineyards and olive groves in all 4 provinces of Abruzzo. She knew that continued modernization of the estate, its vineyards and winery was needed to produce the best wines and continue her husband’s legacy. While honoring tradition, Cvetic has elevated the level of the estate’s wines and Masciarelli’s Villa Gemma line, a line of premium wines which includes the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva ($90), a Cerasuolo rosé ($18) and Bianco Colline Teatine ($20), represents the flagship of the estate and best embodies the style and taste of its beloved founder.
The Abruzzo region has very diverse terrain ranging from mountainous inland areas as well as a low lying coastal zone resulting in a rich and varied food culture. Due to the region’s long history of shepherding, lamb and mutton dishes are very common, although moreso in the mountainous regions than by the coast, which favors seafood-inspired cuisine such as fish-based broths (brodetti) and marinades. Cheeses made from sheep and goat milk are also plentiful including ricotta, pecorino and scamorza among others. As a huge fan of the pairing principle “if it grows together it goes together,” I had to select a dish inspired by the wine’s place of origin.
To make the Lamb Ragu and Tagliatelle, I paid our local Italian market a visit and purchased beautiful yellow, eggy tagliatelle pasta, ground lamb, prepared marinara sauce and the freshest ricotta I could find. Also, using a good quality sauce and cheese makes a big difference, and the Liuzzi Angeloni hand dipped ricotta was beyond delicious! This artisanal cheese was even packed in the traditional metal tin, the way they’ve been making it for the past 80 years. The deliciously meaty sauce clung to the eggy tagliatelle and the bright flavor of the mint was the perfect foil for the dish’s richness. The lamb ragu also harmonized beautifully with the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, eliciting flavors not readily apparent when sampling the two individually – a deliciously satisfying pairing to be sure!
I hope you enjoy our latest Wine Pairing of the Week and for previous installments, please click here. What’s your personal favorite Italian food and wine pairing(s)? I’d love to hear about it so please let me know in the comments section below.
“Lamb Ragu with Tagliatelle”
1 lb. tagliatelle pasta
2 Tablespoons good olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 lbs. ground lamb
1 cup red wine
4 cups good marinara sauce, store bought or homemade (I used Rao’s)
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup good, fresh ricotta cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1.) Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. When water is boiling, add a generous pinch of Kosher salt and then the uncooked pasta. Cook pasta until tender but still al dente, or firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes. Drain pasta, retaining 1 cup of the starchy cooking liquid.
2.) Meanwhile, in a large skillet warm the olive oil over med-high heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook until tender, being careful not to burn the garlic, about 2-3 minutes.
3.) Add the ground lamb and cook until it is nicely browned. Add the wine, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan using a spatula or wooden spoon. Simmer until the wine is reduced by half.
4.) Add the marinara sauce, stir well to combine and simmer over low heat until the flavors have melded, about 10 minutes. Add the mint and ricotta and stir well. Season to taste with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
5.) Add the pasta to the pan and stir to coat. Serve pasta immediately, garnished with fresh mint leaves.