The best wines to pair with Spaghetti & Meatballs are medium-bodied Italian red wines such as Chianti Classico, Barbera, Primitivo, Valpolicella and Montepulciano. Italian red wines have ample acidity to deal with the tomato sauce and plenty of tannin to bite into the meatballs, all along with some herbal notes that add an extra touch of pizzazz.
Bold and full-bodied red wines that are high in tannin and low in acidity are terrible with Spaghetti, as these wines will clash with the tomato sauce. Tomato sauce is high in acidity, so when paired with wines that are low in acidity, the wine can not stand on its own and will taste flabby and metallic.
Chianti Classico & Spaghetti with Meatballs Pairing
Back in the day, Chianti was king in Spaghetti houses in North America. Look no further than the movie – “The Lady and the Tramp,” where the famous pasta scene features a wine bottle used as a candle and covered in straw. These straw-covered bottles were known as Chianti, and while the straw was a gimmick, the wine itself was delicious with Spaghetti and Meatballs. Well, at least for the first bit, but you can read more of the history of Chianti in my Chianti Classico blog.
Modern Chianti is primarily made from the Sangiovese grape, and depending on the classification, you might find Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot blended in there as well. Sangiovese is indigenous to Tuscany and is high in acidity and medium in tannin, so it jives so well with the tomato sauce and meatballs. Tannin breaks down protein molecules, making your meatballs taste even more savoury. Meanwhile, the high acidity of Chianti ensures your wine will not clash with the tomato sauce used to liven up your pasta dish.
Chianti Classico is going to taste like Italy. Strong with refreshing cherry flavours, the wine complements the sweetness of the tomato sauce. You’ll also find spice, tobacco, smoke, herbs and bay leaf notes that complement the herbs in your tomato sauce.
Rich and smooth, Chianti Classico is ready to drink and is moderate enough in volume so it won’t overwhelm meatballs that may be pork, veal, chicken or lamb-based. Chianti Classico will shine no matter what animal or vegetable you stuff into your meatball.
When we think of Spaghetti and Meatballs, our mind automatically races to serving an Italian Red Wine. Heck, even the classic scene from Disney’s ‘The Lady and the Tramp’ features the two dogs eating Spaghetti with the ever-present straw-covered Chianti bottle as a candle holder that could be found in every Italian bistro in the ’60s.
There was a reason why Chianti was King way back then in every Italian restaurant, and that is the Sangiovese grape used to make it. Spaghetti and Meatballs often has a red sauce or tomato-based sauce. Tomatoes, which are highly acidic, needs a highly acidic wine to compete with it, or else the dish will come off as flat and metallic.
As you’ve guessed by now, Sangiovese grapes produce highly acidic wines. Sangiovese is also a tannic wine, and the tannin in wine will be tamed considerably from the meat in the meatballs, harmonizing the food and wine combination. When selecting a Chianti, you want a style that is traditional, as more modern versions might be too oaky and soft to compete with the sharpness of the tomato sauce.
Montepulciano and Spaghetti & Meatballs
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is another great pick with Spaghetti & Meatballs provided the Spaghetti isn’t drowning in tomato sauce and focuses on the Meatballs. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is rich, dark, intense and fat with an enormous mouthfeel, so you’re going to need a lot of beefy meatballs to tame this inky beast. Loaded with notes of earth, spice, licorice, black pepper and leather, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a classic old-world Italian red wine that will go great with any Spaghetti and Meatballs packed with herbs and spices.
On top of those earthy and spicy flavours, Montepulciano delivers blackberry, plum, cherry and cooked blueberry notes that will keep you refreshed throughout your meal. This wine may also be blended with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, or Merlot, which should add a hint of familiarity to the wine.
While not a wine for sissies, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is perfect for experimenting with at home and broadening your appreciation of wine. Finally, be warned that bottles labelled Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano are Sangiovese-based and have more in common with Chianti than a big and dark Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
Primitivo & Spaghetti with Meatballs Pairing
Primitivo is the Italian version of Zinfandel, except not as fruit-forward and Primitivo features more rustic flavours of earth, herbs, spices and smoke. High in acidity, Primitivo jives perfectly with the tomato sauce and complements the tangy tomato flavours with the wines notes of cherry, plum, and raspberry. Primitivo is low to medium in tannin, making it suitable for meatballs featuring a blend of lean meats or lighter meats like pork or turkey.
If you can’t find Primitivo at your wine shop or old-world wines confuse the heck out of you, Zinfandel makes for a wonderful substitute. Just pick up a mid-range price, Zinfandel. Anything too expensive will be too oaky, boozy and jammy for your Spaghetti (save this for dense BBQed meats!). Zinfandel will be more fruit-forward than Primitivo, so it has a kiss of perceived sweetness that marries well with the sweetness of the tomato sauce. Meanwhile, you’ll also find smoke and black pepper notes within the wine, which are delicious with the meatballs and sauce.
Valpolicella Classico & Spaghetti in a Tomato Sauce Pairing
Valpolicella Classico is a light Italian red wine bursting with cherry, herbs, leather, and smoke. The cherry flavours blend in perfectly with the tomato sauce, while the herbs, leather and smoke are delicious with the meatballs, garlic, onions, or herbs in the tomato sauce.
Light, inexpensive, and refreshing, Valpolicella is a laid-back red wine for casual Spaghetti dinners at home or even banquets. High in acidity, and incredibly food friendly, Valpolicella won’t knock your socks off with any sort of complexity, however, it will ensure each bit of Spaghetti tastes just as delicious as the first bite.
Barbera & Spaghetti Pairing
Barbera is another Italian red wine that can shift between light to medium-bodied versions depending on where it is produced. Barbera D’Alba tends to be medium bodied with lower acidity, so it will pair up best with Spaghetti and Meatballs. Meanwhile, Barbera d’Asti is lighter with higher acidity, so it’s excellent with Spaghetti in a simple tomato sauce.
No matter what region of Italy you buy your Barbera from, expect silky notes of cherry, plum, raspberry and chocolate. On top of that, you’ll find hints of herbs, spice, smoke, black pepper, meat, and earth that make it ideal with the tomato sauce and meatballs.
Does Pinot Grigio Pair With Spaghetti & Meatballs?
Pinot Grigio is an okay pairing with Spaghetti and Meatballs. Pinot Grigio is a dry and light wine with notes of peach, pear, minerals, smoke and apple. As it is very light, Pinot Grigio won’t make your Spaghetti taste any better or worse. Your Meatballs will most likely overpower the wine, meaning you won’t taste much of what Pinot Grigio has to offer.
Think of pairing Pinot Grigio with Spaghetti and Meatballs as equivalent to pairing a light beer with the dish.
Does Cabernet Sauvignon Pair Well with Spaghetti & Meatballs?
Cabernet Sauvignon is a poor pairing with Spaghetti & Meatballs tossed in a tomato-based sauce. The high acidity of the tomatoes will make Cabernet Sauvignon taste metallic and awful.
If your sauce contains a minimal amount of tomatoes and is very meaty, you could get away with Cabernet Sauvignon as a pairing. However, there are far better pairings, like Chianti Classico or Primitivo mentioned above.