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March Meatball Madness (and why I’m doing a major face-palm)

Recently, I was invited to participate in an event called March Meatball Madness (I’ll take alliteration for $500, Alex).  The Madness took place on Monday, March 9th — National Meatball Day (there’s a day for everything, isn’t there?).  I received two bottles of wine from Kaiken Wines in Mendoza, Argentina — to pair with the meatballs of my choice.

The background information from Kaiken surprised me a little:  “Up to 24 million Argentines have some degree of Italian descent (up to 60% of the total population), making it the largest ethnic group in the country.”  Huh.  I always thought German was the largest (European) ethnic group in Argentina.  But I can confirm the Euro influence — I’ve been to Buenos Aires, and it’s a very cosmopolitan, European-feeling city.

Uh-oh.  Now, I’ve got a meatball dilemma.  Am I supposed to make Italian meatballs? Fuggedaboutit.

I love Italian meatballs, but I’m a terrible Italian meatball maker — they always turn out dry and tasteless.  There must be some kind of secret to Italian meatballs.  That, or I need better recipes (hint, hint).  The only meatballs I can make are Swedish (it’s in the genes) and an old family recipe from what I call the Nebraska Farmwives collection.  I have no idea where this recipe came from, only that it’s on an old recipe card in my mom’s handwriting, and we’ve been making it for decades.  It’s très Midwestern.

Tangy Meatballs

2 lbs. ground beef
1 lb. bulk pork sausage
1 onion, chopped
1 can evaporated milk
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2-3 tsp. salt
2 eggs

Mix all ingredients together.  Shape into small, 1-inch diameter balls.  Place (in a single layer) in a 9×12 baking pan.  Combine sauce ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat until well incorporated.  Pour over meatballs.  Bake at 350 for 1 hour.

For the sauce:

2 cups ketchup
1-1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp. liquide smoke
1/2 tsp. garlic powder

And there you have my meatball entry for the madness!

In 2001, Chilean winemaker Aurelio Montes (you’ve probably had his Purple Angel or Montes Alpha labels before) founded Kaiken Wines in the Uco Valley of Mendoza, Argentina.  Yep, a Chilean winemaker in Argentina.  Today, Kaiken is run by his son, Aurelio Jr.  The name Kaiken comes from the Kaikenes (wild geese), indigenous to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.  They are the only birds that migrate (back and forth) from Chile, over the Andes Mountains, and into Argentina.  The Kaikenes symbolize the Montes family’s decision to cross the Andes Mountains, and start making wines in Argentina.  Clever!

Release the Caiquen! (Sorry, couldn’t help myself).

Photo Credit

On to the March Monday Meatball Malbec Madness!  I know, I know.  The alliteration is just getting silly now.

Kaiken Terroir Series Malbec 2012  
This wine is a blend of 80% Malbec, 12% Bonarda, 8% Petit Verdot.  Dark, inky color.  The nose is slightly vegetal (green), with a little funk.  Is that the Petit Verdot?  Flavors of blueberry and coconut (which I was not expecting), wet rocks, with a tobacco finish.  Great structure and mouthfeel.  A slight bite on the finish pulls my focus, but that mellows as the wine opens up. Retail = $17.

The Pairing 
Meh.  The wine competes with the sauce on the meatballs.  I scraped the sauce off of a meatball, and it was much better.  Oddly, it was a far better match to my green beans.  I’ll bet this would be killer with some steak and chimichurri sauce.

Kaiken Ultra Malbec 2012  ⭐⭐⭐⭐/90
100% Malbec.  Ruby to violet color.  The nose is blueberry and fire pit with a flash of black pepper.  There’s a passing whiff of Opium perfume in there, too (think sandalwood and cedar). Vibrant and powerful, this wine has a bit of the tango in it.  Dense and fairly tannic, but beautifully structured.  Black fruit flavors, with vanilla, and rosemary on the finish.  I suspect this wine get better and better as it ages.  Retail = $24.

The Pairing 
Another meh.  Again, the wine competes with the meatball sauce, making the astringency more pronounced.  It’s not awful, but this would have been much better with Italian meatballs. Or . . . a traditional Argentine asado (barbecue).  Oooh!  Or Empanadas!

Hindsight being 20/20, I’m doing a major face-palm right now (😐✋).  What was I thinking?!? Pairing Malbec with a glazed meatball?  A rookie mistake.  I violated one of the fundamental pairing rules — pair ethnic wine with ethnic food.  Oh well, you live and learn, right?

Anytime you taste a wine, there’s an opportunity to learn something.  And I’m always grateful for the opportunity to taste something new-to-me.  So what did I learn from this madness?

  1. There’s a National Meatball Day.
  2. Italians make up the largest European ethnic group in Argentina.
  3. Kaikenes are very handsome birds.  (Patagonia is on my bucket list, so hopefully I’ll get to see them in person one of these lifetimes).
  4. Petit Verdot and Bonarda are expressive blending partners for Malbec.
  5. Don’t pair anything remotely sweet or tangy with Malbec & Malbec partners.
  6. I need more meatball recipes (if you’ve got a good one, please pass it along).


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