Thursday, December 31, 2009

Roasted Rack of Lamb w/Balsamic Demi-Glace

Sometimes making a really elegant dinner entrée is really pretty simple and easy. I first had this at a local restaurant and then perfected my imitation of it over time in my kitchen at home. This delicious rack of lamb recipe doesn’t take a lot of work and will really impress your guests. It also doesn’t hurt that it pairs really nicely with some great red wines! My favorite for this recipe is a nice Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but it would also go well with other Rhone reds, a Bordeaux, or a well balanced Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux style blend from California or Washington. Here’s what you will need:

· 4 racks of lamb Frenched (all fat cleaned off bones and fat trimmed from the meat itself). Your butcher will do this for you.
· 3 tbs. olive oil
· Sea or Kosher salt
· Fresh ground pepper
· 3 oz of demi-glace base (I’m a fan of Demi-Glace Gold but any good French style demi-glace base will do, or if you want to really work hard and be authentic you can make your own).
· 2 tbs. balsamic vinegar
· 1 tbs. honey
· 1 tsp. sugar
· 4 oz. of Chevre cheese crumbled

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large shallow saucepan add 3 oz of demi-glace base and 2 cups of water and stir together over medium heat until the demi-glace completely blends into the water. Once blended, add balsamic vinegar, honey, and sugar to your base and cook over medium heat for about 15 to 20 minutes until the sauce thickens. This step can be done up to a day ahead and you can cover and refrigerate it and reheat when necessary.

Put a light coating of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper on all the racks of lamb. Spread oil evenly throughout a large stove-top safe roasting pan and brown the lamb over medium high heat on two burners of your stovetop until its browned all around – about 3 to 4 minutes per side (if you don’t have a good roasting pan for browning, you can brown the lamb in a large skillet and transfer to a roasting pan). Once the lamb is browned, transfer the lamb in the roasting pan to the oven and cook for 10 to 12 minutes. Check with a meat thermometer that your internal temperature is between 120 and 125 degrees for medium rare. Transfer the meat to a platter and tent with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes. Slice the racks and top with Chevre crumbles and demi-glace and serve. Serves 8.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top Wines of 2009

After reading Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast Top 100 list (did Wine Enthusiast really pick Cambria Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 as wine of the year – I’m still thinking this is a misprint), I find that I sometimes agree with them but just as often wonder what the heck they are thinking. In the spirit of year end lists, here’s a stab at my top 10 wines of the year as well as my top 5 value wines.

The criteria for my list is pretty simple. For the top 10 wines, it is simply the 10 wines that I drank this year that I feel are the best values in any price category except for the $15 and under range. For the top 5 value wines, I am limiting it to wines that retail for $15 and under. In both cases, I am only including wines that I enjoyed at least a full glass of with food. I am excluding a number of outstanding wines that I only tried at various tasting events where I had small samples in rapid fire succession with many other wines. Although I’m confident some of these would have made my list, I need to draw the line somewhere on my criteria, and I’m a firm believer that wine is best enjoyed with food. So here goes...let me know if you agree or if you think I’m just plain crazy with any of these picks. All of these wines except for the Catena Alta Malbec also have full reviews on A Couple of Wines.

A Couple of Wines Top 10 Wines of the Year:

10. Domaine Michel & Joanna Ecard Savigny-Les-Beaune Premier Cru "Les Gravains" 2006

This is a bit of a sleeper pick, but I find this Burgundy to be delicious – one of my favorite Pinot Noirs.

9. Johnson Family Chardonnay 2008 Sonoma Coast

This very nice Chardonnay almost qualifies for my Top 5 Value wines since it retails for just a tiny bit over the $15 threshold.

8. Girard Artistry 2006 Napa Valley

Simply put this is an excellent Napa Cab/Bordeaux Style blend that retails for under $40. ‘Nuff said.

7. Vincent Dureuil-Janthial Rully “La Martelle” 2007

A great White Burgundy that retails in the low $20s, this wine’s long, outstanding finish sets it apart from any other Chardonnay I’ve tasted in this price range.

6. Castello del Terriccio Tassinaia 2005 IGT Toscana

I first tried this wine at a tasting where it was sandwiched between a Casanova di Neri Tenuta Nuova Brunello di Montalcino 2004 and a Sassicaia 2006, and it very much held its own. For a fifth of the price of the Sassicaia, it is a steal. When I opened a bottle with some lamb chops it was even better.

5. Chateau de St. Cosme Gigondas 2006

An absolutely delicious and powerful Southern Rhone that is just going to better in the coming years.

4. Catena Alta Malbec 2005

I never thought that Malbec could get this good. This wine is ripe and opulent without going over the edge into raisin territory. This is the only wine on my list that doesn’t have a full review associated with it, but I’ve got a bottle in my cellar that I’ll be pulling out sometime soon. Stay tuned.

3. Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino 2004

Wow – what a finish! This wine just keep giving. Everything before the incredibly long and delicious finish is also just about perfect. I have a few more bottles in the cellar, and it’s going to be hard to let this age as long as I should.

2. Domaine de Ferrand Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2007

If I could fast forward time, this would probably be #1 on my list, but it definitely needs at least a year in the cellar, preferably more. The Domaine de Ferrand 2007 is a stunning example of classic Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

1. Etude Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Napa Valley

Etude has got it all. Big Napa fruit, silky tannins, and perfect French oak treatment are all in wonderful balance. In a list that is dominated by imports, Etude is a reminder of just how great Napa Cabernets can be.

Top 5 Value Wines of the Year:

5. Catena Chardonnay 2007

It seems crazy that my standout value from Argentina is anything other than a Malbec, but there are so many good Malbec values out there, that it was hard to pick one out for inclusion on the list. This Chardonnay from Catena is well balanced and food friendly for a great price.

4. Camille Cayran Gemellus Rasteau 2006

My cellar is quickly filling up with great Southern Rhone wines, but this Rasteau really stand out in the $15 and under category from the Rhone Valley. Great berry flavors with nice balance.

3. Chateua d’Oupia Minervois 2007

France has so many famous wine regions that we tend to forget about all the other. This red from Minervois in the Langeudoc has a dark, brooding flavor profile and I love it.

2. Mas Donis Barrica Cellar de Capcanes Old Vines Montsant 2005

I am constantly amazed at the quality of Spanish Garnacha in this price range, and at $11.99 a bottle, you can’t beat the quality you get with the 2005 Mas Donis. An outstanding wine for the price!

1. Bodegas Real Sabor Toro 2006

Is this really under $10? I know it is, and I still keep asking myself if something this good can be this inexpensive. It needs a lot of time to decant, but when it starts to open up, nothing in the under $10 category even comes close to the quality and complexity you get in this great Spanish Toro.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Januik Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2006

A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit the Januik Winery in Woodinville, WA. This week my sister-in-law visited the winery and inspired me to open a bottle of Januik Cabernet. Januik is owned by winemaker Mike Januik, who's got a rather impressive resume. Mike, who is a UC Davis grad, was the head winemaker for 10 years at Chateau St. Michelle, which is literally right around the corner from Januik. In 1999 Mike left that rather enviable position to go out on his own and start Januik, and I for one am glad that he did it. He is making some very nice wines, which are quietly getting some critical acclaim. He has made more than a dozen wines that have made Wine Spectator's Top 100 list, and Wine Enthusiast has named him as one of the world's ten "Masters of Merlot." Today, however, my topic is his very good base level Cabernet.

The Januik Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2006 is sourced from some of the top vineyards in the Columbia Valley including Champoux, Klipsun, Ciel du Cheval, and Weinbau. It is made from 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc that is aged in primarily new French oak. In your glass you get a deep reddish-purple color. The bouquet brings aromas of blackberry and cassis with a hint of vanilla and cedar. In your mouth you get a very pure expression of what you just smelled on the bouquet. Blackberry and cassis are front and center with a little bit of vanilla in a supporting role. The wine is fruit driven without being over extracted. Smooth, pleasant tannins provide some backbone, and the finish on this wine is not overwhelming but very nice and sneaky long.

Overall this is a very nice Cabernet that is a great expression of Columbia Valley terroir and the Washington style. Retailing in the $25 t0 $30 range, I find this to be a very nice value that drinks just as well as a lot of $50 Napa Cabs. This would pair very well with any grilled red meats.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Domaine de Ferrand Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2007

There has been a lot of talk about the 2007 vintage in the Southern Rhone, and so often when that happens the talk is just that – talk. From what I have tasted so far of the 2007 Rhones, these wines are not just talking the talk. They are good. In fact, they are very good.

Although I have tasted quite a few other Southern Rhones, The Domaine de Ferrand 2007 Chateauneuf-du-Pape (CDP) is the first of the 2007 CDPs that I have tasted. Domaine de Ferrand is a small estate with just 5 ½ hectares (about 13 acres) planted primarily with Grenache, a lot of it old vines. Winemaker Philippe Bravy has quickly established a reputation as a rising star of the Rhone, who has a strong interest in preserving the traditional Chateauneuf-du-Pape style. He is a big believer in limiting yields in his organically farmed vineyard. His wines have big, ripe fruit, but they also a lot more to them.

The 2007 Domaine de Ferrand Chateauneuf-du-Pape has a deep red-purple color. The bouquet is absolutely wonderful. This is a wine I could smell for hours. Aromas of cassis and black plum fruit are joined by Herbes de Provence and a really pleasant scent of sautéed beef. In your mouth, you get more cassis and plum as well as some very dark black cherry. The mouthfeel is incredibly rich and opulent without being too heavy. Tasted after three hours in decanter, the tannins were silky and gorgeous. All of this led up to a finish that was mouthwatering, very long, and delicious.

This wine has it all. It’s got big fruit, classic Rhone garrigue, rich but elegant mouthfeel, and an incredible finish. This is one of the best wines I’ve had this year, and it should only get better with time in the cellar. Retailing for $50 and up, the Domaine de Ferrand Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2007 is worth every penny. If you can find it, buy some for now and definitely buy some to lay down for a few years.

I enjoyed this with grilled venison with a blackberry port demi-glace, and it was a perfect pairing. It would also work nicely with a rack of lamb.