Sunday, December 16, 2012

Braised and Pulled Short Ribs in Red Wine Sauce

It seems that no longer how low and slow you cook short ribs, there are always some left over fatty pieces where the fat just won't render.  After trying numerous recipes, I finally came up with my own where after braising for a long time, I remove the ribs and pull them just like you would with pulled pork or brisket and then return them to the dutch oven.  It results in an absolutely delicious stew like dish that pairs beautifully with a hearty red like Cabernet Sauvignon or a meaty Syrah.  Here how to make it:

5 lbs short ribs
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 celery stalks chopped
3 medium onions chopped
5 medium carrots very coarsely chopped (these will be reserved in the ribs)
1 whole head garlic sliced in half so that each clove is divided in two
1 bottle of decent, dry red wine (if you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it!)
32 oz beef stock
sea salt
black pepper
8 sprigs fresh thyme
8 sprigs fresh parsley
4 sprigs fresh oregano
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
4 tablespoons flour
1.5 tablespoons tomato paste

Preheat oven to 350.  In a large dutch oven (preferably cast iron), heat the olive oil over medium high heat on the stovetop.  Once hot, add half of the short ribs and brown for about 2 to 3 minutes a side on all 6 sides, and salt and pepper each side as you go.  Once done set aside to a plate and repeat with the remaining ribs and then add those to the plate.  Add the celery, onions, and carrots to the dutch oven and cook for about 5 minutes until vegetables start to soften a bit.  Add the flour and tomato paste and stir in for a minute or two to coat all the vegetables.  Next, add the red wine, bring to a boil and scrape the pan bottom as you go to make sure to deglaze the pan.  Once the red wine is boiling, add all the herbs and the garlic and then add the beef broth and return to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes.  Cover the dutch oven and transfer to oven and cook for 2.5 hours.  Remove the short ribs from the dutch oven and set aside on a warm plate.  Strain all the liquid and reserve the carrots and return to the liquid and then discard any other solids and return the liquid to the dutch oven.  Use a fork to pull the short ribs and then return to the dutch oven.  Heat liquid and pulled ribs over medium heat on the stove top for an additional 30 to 45 minutes until the liquid thickens nicely and any remaining fat renders.  Remove from heat and let the pot rest for 5 to 10 minutes and then spoon off any fat that has settled at the top and its ready to serve.

This works very nicely over orzo, polenta or even mashed potatoes.  This is a fantastic meal for a cold winter day and all that time it spends cooking makes your whole house smell great.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

2009 Penalolen Cabernet Sauvignon

If there were an award for of unsung hero of the world of wine regions, I think I would have to give my vote to Chile.  They don't have the mass appeal that their neighbor Argentina has, nor do they have a signature varietal or blend that so many regions have.  At the bricks and mortar retail shops, they tend to get lumped in with either Argentina and/or Spain, and there is no good reason for that.  Aside from the fact that the grapes are grown in a Spanish speaking country, there is really no relation at all between Chilean and Spanish wines, and very little commonality between Chilean and Argentine wines.  Unfortunately, I think Chilean wine tends to be lost or forgotten  because of this.

Chile produces a number of varietals in varied regions and terroirs, but for me the most interesting is Cabernet Sauvignon.  Good Chilean Cab has distinct elements that just taste like Chile and are pretty consistent.  The key one being a fresh, earthy element that adds a level of interest that most California Cabs in lower price ranges don't have.  The earthy element is fresh and clean, which is different from the almost dirty, dusty earth that I get from Bordeaux.  The best thing about Chilean Cabs is that you get a lot of value for your dollar.  For me, most Bordeaux and California Cabernet in the high teens and low $20s is somewhere between bad and boring, and in the same price range, Chile is producing very good and very interesting Cabernets. 

Today's subject is a Cabernet from the Maipo Valley in Chile.  The 2009 Penalolen Cabernet Sauvignon is a deep red in color.  Cassis dominates the nose along with notes of black raspberry.  Underneath the fruit there is an herbal element that is mostly sage, and there is, of course, that classic Chilean fresh earth.  In your mouth, you get more black fruit along with a smoky and spicy element that reminded me a bit of smoked Spanish paprika.  The tannins are very nice, and the finish is subtle but rather long.  Overall, this is a very nice Cabernet that can be had for under $20. 

Pair this with traditional South American fare and you can't go wrong.  We had it with grilled skirt steak with a chimichurri sauce, and it paired beautifully.  So go to your local wine store and seek out some Chilean wines wherever they might be hiding them.  You won't be disappointed.   



Sunday, December 2, 2012

2008 Vinarija Dingac Postup

A few weeks ago I tasted an wrote about my first Croatian wine, the Frano Milos Plavac  I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of that wine and wondered if it was just one good wine, or if there was something to the relatively unknown wine regions of Croatia.  Since then, I tried a few more Croatian reds from producers like Bibich and Dingac, and I'm here to say that Croatia wine is the real deal.  The wines are unique and interesting with definite terroir, and there are some winemakers who know what they're doing.  If you want to try some Croatian wine, like the Vinarija Dingac Postup that is today's subject, you can order them online at

The 2008 Vinarija Dingac Postup is an almost brownish brick red in your glass.  The nose brings very nice red berry fruit that is dominated by the distinct smell of fresh, homemade strawberry jam.  Underneath the fruit, there is a really nice element of fresh herbs that is reminiscent of the garrigue that comes through in wines from the Rhone Valley.  Smelling the rosemary and thyme made me want to go the garden and cut some fresh herbs to cook with.  In your mouth, some really interesting things happen with this wine that is made from 100% Plavac Mali grapes.  The red berry fruit from the nose still comes through, but it is much more of a background player.  When first opened, the wine is almost overwhelmed by flavors of wet rocks.  There is also a nice spicy element on the mid palate and then the stony tannins and decent acidity give the wine a subtle but rather long finish.  Its also important to note that this wine changed quite a bit over the 90 minutes or so that we drank it.  The gravelly element that was so strong when first opened, really calmed down after about an hour and was replaced with some more spice and subtle notes of sour cherry. 

Overall, this was a really good and very interesting wine that retails in the mid $20s.  Its very food friendly and versatile.  It would be perfect with cured meats and cheese, or with slow cooked meats like braised short ribs.  I also think its medium body and flavors would go well with pork.  If you can find some, give a Croatian Plavac Mali a try.  You won't be disappointed.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tagliatelle with Venison Ragout

Here is a great healthy recipe made with very low fat ground venison.  I know that many people find venison to be dry and gamy, but I assure you that this recipe is moist, juicy, and not gamy tasting at all.  Give it a try with a nice bottle of red. 
1/3 cup olive oil
2 pounds ground venison
2 medium carrots

2 medium onions
2 stalks celery
1.5 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups dry red wine
2 14 oz cans canned cherry tomatoes - do not drain.  Use plum tomatoes and chop if you can’t get these.
3 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth or water

4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sprigs fresh rosemary

2 sprigs fresh oregano
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound tagliatelle
Fresh grated pecorino cheese to taste

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium high heat in a 5 to 7 quart saucepan or pot.   Add the venison and cook and continually break up any clumps until it is all browned – about 5 to 10 minutes. Chop the carrots, onions and celery together in a food processor and then stir in to the meat. Cook until the vegetables start to soften, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for another 2 minutes.

Add the red wine and stir in for a minute making sure to deglaze the bottom of the pan cleanly and then add the canned tomatoes, broth and all the herbs, spices, salt, and pepper.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer. Stir regularly (every 5 to 10 minutes) and continue to simmer uncovered for about 2 1/2 hours, or until most of the liquid evaporates and the ragout has a nice dark brown color. You can continue cooking or keep warm on the stove, but you will want to cover it if you do.

 Cook the Tagliatelle in lightly salted water and serve in pasta bowls with Ragout served over top. Add  fresh grated pecorino as desired.

We had this recently with a nice cool climate Syrah from Sonoma county and it paired perfectly. 


Saturday, November 10, 2012

2008 Frano Milos Plavac

I just read a great blog post on The Gray Report about the Prestige/Intrigue divide with wine buyers in the $15 and up price category.  The post suggests that there are two major types of wine buyers once you get out of the bargain basement.  The first group is all about big scores and fame - the Prestige group.  The second is drawn more to unique and interesting wines - the Intrigue group.  I find myself much more in the Intrigue group.  Although I have certain go to varietals and regions that I buy regularly, I am always looking for something new and interesting.  If its from an unknown or little known wine region - all the better.  I love discovering new regions to explore through wine.  Today's wine absolutely fits that bill.  It's a Plavac Mali from the Peljesac Peninsula in Croatia. 

The 2008 Frano Milos Plavac is made from grapes grown in a peninsula on the Adriatic coast of Croatia.  For those who are geographically challenged, imagine going a little south and then east from Tuscany in Italy to the Adriatic Sea and then go directly across the sea to Croatia.  You'll find yourself smack in the middle of Frano Milos' coastal vineyards, where his family has been making wine for 500 years.  The grapes themselves are indigenous to Croatia and resulted from the crossbreeding of Zinfandel (known as Crljenak Kaštelanski in Croatia) and Dobricic, another Croatian grape.  The wine is aged in Slavonian oak, none of which is new, and is unfined and unfiltered.

In your glass the wine is a deep garnet red in color.  The bouquet has a lot going on and is hard to define.  There is cherry fruit, but beyond that I get a lot of spice elements, especially a very pleasant cinnamon as well as some very interesting elements that I frankly struggled to define.  On the palate, you get much of the same along with fantastic acidity and mild tannins.  The finish is very nice and has some decent length.  Overall, this is a truly intriguing wine that is very multi-dimensional.  For a price in the mid $20's you get something very unique, interesting, and delicious. 

From a pairing standpoint, this wine could go so many ways, although with Thanksgiving approaching, its got me thinking that it could go very well with all the different elements that make up a traditional turkey dinner. 

If this wine in intriguing to you, you can find it online at  This is a great website with interesting wines from Croatia, Hungary, and Austria among other interesting wine regions.  Check it out and try something new and different. 


Friday, November 9, 2012

2010 K Vinters "The Deal" Syrah Sundance Vineyard Wahluke Slope

I have seen many offerings from Charles Smith/K Vintners on retail shelves at the past, but I never tried one before.  I guess it might have something to do with the labels, which often have "K Syrah" featured or go right to silly labels like their "Boom Boom" Syrah.  I've never been a fan of critter or funny labels, but as I took a closer look at "The Deal" I noticed something even more interesting on the label hidden in the fine print.  In an age were New World Syrah is often near 15% or sometimes even higher, "The Deal" weighs in at a scant 13.5% alcohol.  Upon noticing this, I felt that I had put aside my aversion to the label and give it a try, and I'm sure glad that I did.

In your glass, the wine is deep purple in color.  The bouquet is bright and complex with aromas of blueberry pie, violets, fresh earth, and just the right amount of funk.  If I were tasting this blind I would absolutely guess Northern Rhone as opposed to Northwest US based on the bouquet alone.  On the palate, the fruit leans more towards blackberry and black raspberry, and it is balanced out by nice acidity and fine tannins.  The finish is not overwhelming, but it has quite a bit of length to it.  Overall, this is a really nice Syrah that has a lot of really good fruit, but also a much lighter mouthfeel than you'd expect from a Washington Syrah.  For a price in the low $20's, its a very good wine.  I might even have to go try the "Boom Boom" after how good this was. 

Pair this with just about any grilled red meat or a nice stew.  Lamb shanks braised in red wine might just be perfect with it. 


Saturday, October 20, 2012

2009 Chateau Croix Figeac Saint Emilion Grand Cru

Bordeaux is wonderful and frustrating all at the same time for me.  The best wines of Bordeaux are incredible, but very often out of reach financially.  There are also many lower priced Bordeaux bottlings out there, but so many of them are overwhelmingly uninspiring.  What I've been finding over the last few years is that the sweet spot for values seems to be in my $16-30 price category and that the majority of the values are coming from the Right Bank.  One of these better values is the 2009 Chateau Croix Figeac Saint Emilion Grand Cru.

In your glass the wine is reddish purple and brings aromas of cassis, blackberry, and cherry fruit.  Underneath the fruit is a layer of very pleasant vanilla and fresh earth.  On the palate the fruit leans more towards black as well as red currants and their inherent sour notes.  The tannins are just a little bitter but well integrated.  Medium acidity provides some balance and gives this just enough structure to keep it from being flabby.  With a little bit of decanting, this is drinking pretty well in 2012, and it should keep getting better over the next couple of years.  At a price in the low to mid $20's, you're getting a very nice Right Bank Bordeaux that isn't necessarily everyday, but it wont break the bank either.

As far as pairing goes, I always love lamb with Merlot.  This would be a perfect pairing to my Roasted Rack of Lamb With Balsamic Demi-Glace


Saturday, September 15, 2012

2005 Novy Syrah Judge Family Vineyard

This is my second post on a single vineyard Syrah from Novy.  As noted in my review of their Christensen Family Vineyard , Novy is a really great small producer who focuses primarily on making single vineyard Syrah although they do work with a few other varietals.  Owners and winemakers Adam and Dianna Lee believe that the wine should be a pure expression of what's coming out of the vineyard and as they say on their website they "are determined not to let any overt winemaking components mute the personality of an individual site."  I believe this is an excellent philosophy overall, and I think its a particularly great approach for Syrah which can really change depending on where its grown and how it's treated.  I can't say that I love every Novy Syrah that I'm lucky enough to find, but they are certainly all unique and most of them are pretty darn good or even better.  The Novy Judge Family Vineyard is one of my favorites so far.

In your glass the wine is deep purple that bleeds to garnet at the edges.  Blackberry and black pepper dominate the bouquet but their are some other subtle elements lurking quietly including a bit of raw red meat.  On the palate I get sweet blackberry fruit up front that then transitions into less ripe blackberry, plum, and very dark cherry that leads to a nice, lengthy finish.  The tannins are very well integrated and the acid is just enough.  Overall, this is a really nice and well balanced wine.  There is nice up front fruit that dies quickly, but it's followed by a darker second wave of flavor, tannins, and acid that just keeps going. 

From a pairing standpoint, this wine makes me want lamb.  Rack of lamb, leg of lamb, lamb chops. lamb stew...I don't care which one, just give me some lamb!  This wine is made for it.  At about $35 a bottle its not for everyday, but it sure is a nice treat for the right occasion. 



Sunday, July 29, 2012

2009 Ferraton Pere et Fils "La Matiniere" Crozes-Hermitage

The Northern Rhone really has a lot to offer.  The finesse of Cote-Rotie and the power of a great Hermitage are well known and delicious, but they can often be out of the average wine lover's budget.  The good news is there are plenty of other regions in the Northern Rhone that are producing more budget friendly wines.  Cornas in the southern end of the Northern Rhone produces some rustic but very interesting Syrahs that aren't necessarily budget friendly, but they do provide a nice value relative to Hermitage.  Saint Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage on opposite sides of the Rhone are both larger regions that produce some average stuff as well as some really great values.  Today's subject is not in my $15 and under category, but it is a Crozes-Hermitage that provides great value in the low $20s. 

The 2009 "La Martiniere" is 100% Syrah that is grown in rocky soils and aged for 12 months in oak before bottling.  The wine is a deep reddish purple in your glass.  The bouquet brings pretty intense blackberry and raspberry fruit with some black pepper and a bit of vanilla.  In your mouth you get more mixed red and black berries, but the fruit is much more subdued on the palate than the nose.  Decent acidity and some mild tannins make this a very nicely balanced offering.  All of this is brought to a close by a very subtle but long finish.  The bottom line is that this wine has a little something for everyone.  Fruit lovers will fall for the bouquet, and those who like a little more finesse and balance will not be disappointed. 

This is not a hard wine to pair with food.  It could go with the usual Syrah suspects of lamb or other grilled red meats, but it could also work with braised chicken dishes like coq au vin or even pasta with a meat sauce.  It would also be a great red to serve with fine cheese and elegant hors-d'oeuvres.


Friday, July 6, 2012

Mako Shark with Lemon Tarragon Butter

If you're looking for something different to cook on the grill during this hot summer weather, here's a quick easy recipe that's simply delicious.  There is very little work involved, but you can easily impress your friends with this low maintenance meal that takes less than 20 minutes to make.  The hardest part of the whole thing is finding some great quality fresh fish.  If your local fishmonger doesn't have Mako shark, you can substitute fresh swordfish or even halibut steaks.  What's important for this is making sure whatever kind of fish you get is fresh caught and not frozen.  Here's the ingredients you will need to serve 6.

  • 6 fresh Mako shark steaks about 1.5" thick
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
Start by melting 4 tablespoons of butter and add lemon juice and tarragon to the butter and salt to taste.  I split the butter between two ramekins, but you could put it all in one small bowl.  Once the butter mixture is in the bowls, set it in the fridge so that the butter hardens.  Preheat your grill to medium high heat and make sure the grates are well brushed and oiled.  While the grill is heating coat the Mako shark steaks with the olive oil to prevent sticking.  Grill steaks for 3 minutes a side so that fish is just cooked through but still nice and moist. Serve the fish and then top with a bit of the lemon tarragon butter and enjoy. 

We've paired this with a few different white wines that all have nice acidity.  My personal favorite is a nice Spanish Albarino. 


Friday, June 22, 2012

2009 Josmeyer Pinot Blanc

Alsace is a region in northeast France that has been fought over by the French and the Germans for centuries.  Throughout all the time the rights to this land has been contested, there have been growers and winemakers planting and working wonderful vineyards in this tiny little corner of France.  The more Alsatian wine I drink, the more I believe that this is what all the fighting has been about.  Who wouldn't fight for the right to make wine from the fantastic vineyards of Alsace?  Their dry climate and wide variety of soil types makes for some outstanding terroir for a number of different varietals.  Although Alsace is best known for Riesling, they produce wonderful expressions of many different white varietals like Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Sylvaner, Muscat, and the subject of today's post,  Pinot Blanc. 

The 2009 Josmeyer Pinot Blanc is a golden straw color in your glass.  The bouquet has elements of  Meyer lemon and peach, and in your mouth you get much of the same with an added element of pineapple.  Very good acidity tickles the tongue up front, recedes and then returns on a very nice and rather long finish.  The wine is medium in body and is crisp and quite refreshing.  It would be nice on a hot summer day, but this is not just an ordinary summer sipper.  At a price of about $17 its a fairly good value and something that I will be buying many more bottles of.

From a pairing standpoint, this would go very well with seafood.  We drank it with a fresh caught Mako shark steak on the grill finished with a tarragon butter and it worked beautifully.


Saturday, June 2, 2012

2009 Andrew Murray Vineyards Tous Les Jours Syrah

There is nothing like finding a wine that fits in your everyday price range that you really enjoy.  Lets face it, finding good wine is not that hard with an unlimited budget, but not too many of us out there are in that situation.  The rest of us must be able to find wines that are delicious and interesting that we can actually afford.  So the big question is how to find these value wines that drink really well. 

For me, I have two main types of sources.    The first is finding great retailers which is a whole subject in itself that I've blogged about before  The other way I find great wines and great values is by reading other wine blogs.  If you can find a small group of bloggers who just plain make sense to you after reading a few of their posts, then you should be able to find some nice wines through their posts.  Today's subject is a wine that I learned about through a blog that primarily focuses on everyday value wines.  Written by Jon Thorsen, another plain old wine consumer/lover like me, its a great source for everyday wines.  I also love that Jon doesn't just taste wines and write about them, he actually drinks them.  It's a subtle distinction but I think its important to the everyday wine consumer.  You can find his blog here   

The 2009 Andrew Murray Vineyards Tous Les Jours Syrah is deep purple in color.  The nose brings really pure aromas of blackberry fruit with a nice black pepper element and just a slightest hint of game to it.  On the palate you get the same blackberry fruit up front, but the fun doesn't end there.  Decent acidity and very smooth tannins provide just enough structure to set this apart from many other Syrahs in this price range, and what really makes it shine is a very long, peppery finish that is very unusual for a bottle that I picked up for only $16.  Unfortunately the 2009 is sold out, but the 2010 vintage is now available on the Andrew Murray website for the same $16 price.  I'm hoping it will be just as good. 

From a pairing standpoint, this would go well with grilled red meats, BBQ, and definitely with venison or lamb.  For a price of only $16, though, it works really well if you just pair it with a nice red wine glass. 


Friday, May 25, 2012

2009 Donelan Family Wines Kobler Family Vineyard Syrah

"Wine is a journey not a destination."  That's what Joe Donelan of Donelan Family Wines has to say right on the front label of his wines.  I feel that part of that journey is taking all the really interesting turns you find along the way that your taste buds lead you on.  One of the most interesting and rewarding turns for me recently has been the one that has led me down the road of cool climate Syrah.  More and more, I'm finding that Syrah in a cool climate is the varietal that brings the most incredible balance of delicious fruit, great body and weight, ample acid, and just the right tannins when done well.  For me it is the perfect combination of power and restraint, and trying all the examples that lean to one side or the other of the power/restraint continuum is a journey I'd like to continue for quite some time. 

In your glass, the 2009 Donelan Family Wines Kobler Family Vineyard Syrah is deep purple in color.  The nose is a wonderful conglomeration of cherry, blackberry, pepper, and some meaty/gamy notes.  There is also a really unique element of pine nuts.  It sounds crazy and took me a while to identify it, but once I figured it out, this subtle smell was just like a pignoli nut cookie baking in your oven.  I cant wait to see what happens with the bouquet as this wine ages.  In your mouth, you get delicious blackberry fruit with really nice acidity and a medium body.  Smooth tannins lead you into a fantastic and long finish.  Overall, this is a wonderful and very food friendly Syrah that is clearly cool climate and very delicious.  It is an elegant example of Syrah that is Northern Rhone-like in its exceptional balance. 

From a pairing standpoint, the combination of acidity and smooth tannins found in this Kobler Family Vineyard Syrah makes this really versatile.  It could go with anything from a grilled pork tenderloin cooked medium to grilled steak or venison.  I think its sweet spot would be a seared duck breast or roasted rack of lamb, but I don't think you can go wrong with this great Syrah.  Available for a price of $45 at , its worth every penny if you're a fan of food friendly Syrah.



Sunday, April 29, 2012

2006 Chateau La Roque Coteaux du Languedoc Pic Saint Loup Rouge "Cuvee Les Vielles Vignes de Mourvedre"

Wow!  After that mouthful of a title do I really need to write anything else for a nice, lengthy blog post?  Well of course I do, because the Languedoc is not well known enough to most of the world and they are making some really good wines these days.  I'm here to help spread the word!  Coteaux du Languedoc, where this wine is made, is the 2nd largest AOC in the Languedoc, and rather than being one contiguous area, the classified growing areas are a number of separate areas scattered throughout a large portion of the Languedoc. Most of the wine produced in the Coteaux du Languedoc is made from red wine grapes, with the main varietals being Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, with Carignan and Cinsault also being allowed by the AOC. It is also important to note that Coteaux du Languedoc has only had AOC status for 25 years, and the area anticipates having many additional AOCs in the future as the growers and winemakers find out more about each of the many microclimates in the region.

You would think that this would be a relatively young region based on there short period as an AOC, but that is absolutely not the case.  Wine has been made in this are since Roman times, and the De La Roque brothers planted new vines in the Chateau La Roque estate vineyards in the 13th century!  The history in the Languedoc region is long and storied, but it is in recent times that the attention to quality vs. quantity has really improved turning the Languedoc into a great up an coming wine region.  It is these types of regions where great wine values can be found, and this offering from Chateua La Roque is no exception. 

Made from 90% old vine Mourvedre and 10% Grenache, the wine is a very deep, garnet red in your glass.  The nose brings aromas of black cherry, blueberry, game, and just a hint of barnyard that is quite pleasant.  On the palate I get cherry, blackberry, and blueberry fruit with a spicy element on the finish.  Decent acidity and solid tannins bring some structure, and an enjoyable finish.  Overall this is a good and interesting wine that can be found for about $20.  I found it in a cool shop I just discovered not too far from my Long Island home called Lake Side Emotions in Stony Brook, NY.  

I happened to sip this all by itself last night and it paired really well with my glass, but this is a pretty food friendly Mourvedre.  Its not just a big ball of muscle and power.  This would be great with just about anything on the grill.

As a final side note, this wine is imported by Kermit Lynch who has even more interesting info about the Chateau on his website at  


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Pan Roasted Free Range Chicken With Lemon & Sage

4 free range chicken breast halves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1.5 tablespoon butter
Sea salt
Black pepper

Serves 4 to 6

This recipe is about as simple as it gets, and it's the rare recipe that I made up on the fly that didn't need any tweaking the second time around. They key is having good quality free range chicken and fresh herbs. I prefer to buy whole free range chickens and quarter them myself. When I quarter them, I debone the breast, but I leave a small portion of wing bone attached to it. This gives you the benefit of still being able to effectively brown both sides of the breast while getting some added flavor to the dish from the bone, but you could certainly make it with a fully boneless breast.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle sea salt and pepper on the chicken breasts while you heat the olive oil over medium high heat on a oven safe skillet, preferably cast iron. Once the oil is heated, place the breasts in the pan skin side down. Let the breasts cook until they easily release from the pan - about 6 minutes. If they don't release, they are not ready to turn. Once they release, flip the breasts in the pan and sauté for 3 minutes. Drain all but about 1 tbs of liquid from the pan and then roast in oven until chicken is cooked through - about 8 minutes. Return the skillet to the stove top over low heat. Squeeze lemon juice evenly throughout the pan and sprinkle sage throughout the pan. Add butter and melt and then spoon the liquid all over the breasts.

Remove the chicken to a cutting board and slice crosswise. Plate the slices and spoon a little bit of the sauce over the slices and serve. I served this with roasted asparagus and a Parmesan couscous and it was delicious. This dish will pair well with many whites and especially well with something with medium body and nice but not overwhelming acidity.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Home on the Range...My Free Range Chicken Rant

I must confess that I was not originally drawn to the natural and organic food movement. Free range chicken? I figured a chicken that ran around a lot would be skinny and that a fat, lazy chicken might taste a little better. Well after years of frustration randomly getting bad chicken in the grocery store, I'm here to say that I'm a believer in organic, natural, free range chicken. I'm done with pre cut up breasts, thighs, and drumsticks from a factory farm. I'm done with chicken that has seen more steroids than an NFL linebacker and more antibiotics than the Center for Disease Control.

I'd love to say my motivation was pure and for the betterment of the world and fair treatment of chickens everywhere, but the fact is that the natural, organic, free range chicken just tastes better. Regular chicken is sometimes OK and sometimes as rubbery as an old set of Goodyears. The problem is there is no telling what you'll get on the table when you look at the chicken in the store. With free range chicken I've found very consistent results. After trying numerous free range chickens I've discovered that they're always moist, juicy, delicious and never tough or rubbery.

So get to your local store and do something good for the treatment of chickens out there and try some free range chicken. Your taste buds will thank you. Free range chickens can be found at many stores, farmers markets, and most definitely at Whole Foods where I buy them.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

2009 I Campi Campo Vulcano Soave Classico

Soave. Easy enough to say compared to some other Italian wines, but it kind of sounds funny doesn't it? Just saying the word makes me think of that awful Gerardo hit from the early 90's - "Rico Suave." Up until now, Soave also hasn't conjure up the greatest wine memories for me. When I think of Soave, I think back to its original heyday when my parents served it out of jugs and it was so bad that as an underage drinker, I had no desire to steal it out of their fridge. Its safe to say that these thoughts of Soave don't exactly take me to my wine happy place, but that all changed for me a couple nights ago when my new friend Melissa at 67 Wine on Manhattan's Upper West Side recommended a great Soave for me to try.

Before I get to the wine, lets talk a little about Soave in general. Soave is a wine that has suffered abuse at the hands of some larger producers as well as governing bodies, but recently a core of producers are working to produce better quality wines and increase the reputation of this region in the Veneto. There are DOC and DOCG zones in the region and both require the use of at least 70% of the Garganega grape, with many other white varietals allowed to complete the blend. The additional varietals are dependent on whether its a DOC or DOCG. There is also a "Classico" designation for wines made from grapes that are grown in the oldest parts of Soave in the hillsides.

The 2009 I Campi Campo Vulcano Soave Classico is a light straw color that moves towards clear at the edge. The nose is somewhat closed, but there are some nice citrus elements of lemon and grapefruit. On the palate you get more of the same citrus with pineapple and some other tropical fruits but without any sweetness. There is also some very interesting minerality. For me, the most enjoyable part of this wonderful Soave was the crazy cool finish. I got a really unique, refreshing, and mineral drying sensation on the top of my tongue with long lasting waves of mouthwatering acidity on the sides of my tongue on the very back of my palate. It was fascinating and like nothing else I have ever tasted. I tried this wine amongst many others in a quest to find some new white varietals that my wife and I can both enjoy. Mission accomplished with the I Campi Campo Vulcano Soave!

Pair this with a glass and some sunshine. At a price of just under $20, I'll be buying much more of this to enjoy by the pool this summer with cheese and crackers or other pre-dinner fare. It could also pair nicely with lighter chicken and fish dishes. No more thoughts of jug wine and bad 90's songs for me anymore. Thoughts of Soave can now take me to some very good places.


Friday, April 6, 2012

2007 Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District

Sometimes a glass of wine can just take you to another place and time. When that place is in the Stag's Leap District looking out across the vineyards to the Stag's Leap Palisades to the east, then I'm a pretty damn happy man. I've had the good fortune to visit Napa Valley many times, but for me there is no place that has memories quite like my visits to the Stag's Leap District. The landscape around the Silverado Trail is just beautiful, and I love that it still feels a little bit like you're off the beaten path. There are many fine wineries there, and one my favorites for the wines and the tasting room is Chimney Rock. Every time I have a glass, my mind takes me back to that beautiful place.

In your glass this outstanding Stag's Leap District Cab is a deep purple-red in color. You get aromas of black cherry, blackberry and just a hint of vanilla. In your mouth you get some fantastic fruit and just enough acid, but its really the tannins that make this wine stand out. They are somehow big and soft all at the same time, and they help frame a really nice and sneaky long finish. For me, I think this is what makes wines from the Stag's Leap District so special. When done right, they have a mouthfeel that is just wonderful and absolutely unique to this tiny little slice of Napa Valley. In 2007, Chimney Rock has clearly done it right!

From a pairing standpoint, this wine was made for grilled red meat. It would be perfect with steak, lamb, or venison. At a price of around $60, its not an everyday red, but it's well worth it for special occasions.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

2005 Paraiso Vineyards Wedding Hill Syrah

Lest we forget, I'm here to remind everyone that there is a lot more to California wine than just Napa and Sonoma. Although those areas get the bulk of the attention and retail shelf space, there are amazing winegrowing areas scattered throughout California, including one of my favorite little AVAs, the Santa Lucia Highlands. The Santa Lucia Highlands have been a home for vineyards since the Spanish missions, but they got their real commercial start in the 1970's when a few growers put down roots there. AVA status was achieved in 1991. Many of the vineyards are planted on the edge of the Santa Lucia mountain range, and they get plenty of sun but also get cool maritime breezes that make for a nice, long growing season that is not overly hot. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the stars here, but they now have almost 500 acres of Riesling and about 200 acres of Syrah as well as many other varietals. One of the pioneers in the Santa Lucia Highlands was the Smith family of Paraiso, who were the first to plant Syrah in the AVA in their Wedding Hill vineyard. I'm sure glad that they made that decision.

The 2005 Paraiso Vineyards Wedding Hill Syrah is opaque garnet red in your glass with a wonderful mix of blackberry, black pepper, game and a little smoke on the nose. In your mouth, the wine has surprisingly nice weight that is not too over the top for a wine that's 14.8% alcohol. There is nice fruit up front, but the fantastic acidity and soft tannins that go with it provide structure and a nice long finish. I picked this up on a clearance deal, and I don't think there is much left out there to be had, but I will definitely be looking into some more vintages and other Syrahs from Paraiso.

Pair this with grilled red meats. A venison steak or lamp chops would be perfect. It would also work really well with some slow cooked, smoky BBQ.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

2007 San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Syrah Los Quillayes Vineyard

So I must admit that for quite some time I was guilty of the crime that I see wine retailers and consumers committing all the time. Simply put, that crime is not paying enough attention to the wonderful and unique wines being made in Chile this days. It seems that in the press, on retail shelves, and in the hearts and minds of consumers, Argentina gets all the attention in South America. Don't get me wrong, I think Argentina is great, but I also think Chile is fantastic and quite a bit different from its neighbor to the east. Where Argentina is really good at one thing, Malbec (and arguably Torrontes too), Chile has an amazing diversity of microclimates in its little vertical slice of South America. Depending on where you are in Chile, you can find great wines that are really good values made from Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, and even a little bit of Pinot Noir. Our recent wine rut (I say that in a good way) has been with Syrah, so I have been exploring some Chilean Syrahs to see how they hold up against the rest of the world, and the results have been pretty darn good.

The 2007 San Pedro 1865 Los Quillayes Vineyard Syrah is a deep, garnet red in your glass. When first opened, this bottle smelled a little bit like a hickory smoke bomb went off, but after about 30 minutes in decanter that settles down and you get very pleasant smoke and game along with some blackberry and just a little bit of bell pepper. On your palate, you get enjoyable but subdued blackberry fruit upfront and some smoky bacon on the finish, and the tannins are already pretty mellow. Although the alcohol is pretty high at 14.5%, the profile of this wine leans more towards the Rhone than it does Australia. It is also has some unique qualities, like that very subtle bell pepper, that just taste of Chile, and that's one of the things I really like about Chilean wine - they exude terroir.

From a pairing standpoint, this wine makes me want cheese, but it is pretty versatile. It could also go with grilled red meats or even some smoky BBQ. At a price of only $15, its a pretty strong value.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Chicken Saltimbocca

Chicken Saltimbocca loosely translated means chicken that jumps in your mouth. It took me trying a lot of different recipes and then trying a few variations of my own before perfecting what works for me, which is a wonderful combination of salty, sour, and earthy flavors that do jumping jacks in my mouth. The key for me is lots of fresh sage. Here's the recipe:

6 boneless chicken breasts – flattened
Approx. 30 fresh sage leaves (depends on size ) - 20 to 24 whole and the remainder finely chopped.
6 large slices of Prosciutto di Parma
6 to 12 slices Fontina Cheese – enough to cover the 6 chicken breasts
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
Juice of one fresh lemon
1 tsp Sea Salt
1 tsp Black Pepper
½ cup Flour

Mix Flour Sea Salt and Pepper together on a plate and dredge chicken in flour mixture. Heat the oil over medium high heat and brown the chicken on both sides, remove and set aside. The chicken should be almost but not quite fully cooked through at this point. Add wine and deglaze pan. Add chicken stock and simmer for approximately 10 minutes to thicken the sauce, and once thick add 1 tbs butter. While the sauce is simmering, place 3 to 4 sage leaves and a slice of prosciutto on each chicken breast, and then cover with Fontina cheese – use enough slices to almost fully cover the chicken. Once the sauce is thickened, return the chicken to the pan and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes until the cheese is melted. Add the chopped sage and lemon juice and then serve the chicken with the pan juices spooned over it. I like to serve this with some linguine with garlic and olive oil on the side.

This dish can go a lot of different ways with the wine pairing. The sauce and the chicken tend to pair well with whites that have some nice acid to them, but for me the prosciutto combined with this just begs for a nice light to medium bodied acidic red like a Barbera d’Alba. As long as you don’t choose something too heavy, I don’t think you can go wrong here.


Girard Petite Sirah 2009 Napa Valley

Over the last month or two we have been drinking a whole lot of Syrah, so I figured why not open and write about a bottle of Petite Sirah. Petite Sirah or Durif, as it was called in France, is the offspring of Syrah and Peloursin, that was developed in the Rhone valley but never really had much success there. When brought to California, however, the grape thrived. Petite Sirah typically has very small berries, which result is a lot of color, flavor, and tannins. These are wines that can pack a whole lot of punch due to all that dark skin.

One of my very favorite examples of Petite Sirah year in and year out is the Napa Valley Petite Sirah from Girard. The 2009 vintage is intense, opaque purple in your glass. The bouquet brings black raspberry fruit along with some cherry pie, but it also has notes of vanilla, lavender, and spice. In your mouth you get a big blast of up front fruit that is dominated by black raspberry. On the mid-palate you get a little bit of very pleasant spice. Then a wave of mouthwatering acidity and some bold tannins take you for a hedonistic ride to the finish. There is nothing subtle about this wine at all, but with all the fruit, acid, and tannins working together, there is a nice balance and structure to this somewhat complex Petite Sirah. For a price tag in the mid $20's, this is a real crowd pleaser that has something for everyone.

As far as food goes, this big, bold Petite Sirah wants some big and bold food. Get me something that has the fat and flavor to stand up to all those tannins and fruit. This would be fantastic with some slow smoked baby back ribs or a juicy cheeseburger. Its early in the AM as I write this, but I'm already thinking about firing up the grill and popping the cork on another bottle this afternoon. Sitting outside on this ridiculously warm spring day with a big ol' cheeseburger and a glass of Girard Petite Sirah sounds just a little bit like paradise.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Domaine Louis Cheze Caroline Cuvée Prestige Saint-Joseph 2009

Here I am writing about Syrah again We've been trying a whole bunch from all over the world, and one of the best places in the world for Syrah is the Northern Rhone. The wines of Hermitage and Cote Rotie get a whole lot more press, but there are also some very good wines and values to be found in Saint-Joseph. Geographically, Saint-Joseph is the largest AOC in the Northern Rhone, and it stretches 30 plus miles from Cornas in the south, where it is right across the river from Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage, all the way up to Condrieu in the North. It's boundaries have changed a few times, but recently they have reduced the size of the AOC and eliminated some areas that are not as desirable as the sloping vineyards near the Rhone river. The red wines of Saint-Joseph are all Syrah, and the expression varies depending upon what part of the region the grape are grown in. Safe to say, though, that as a rule, these are cool climate, food friendly Syrah's that are much more subdued than your typical Australian Shiraz.

The Domaine Louis Cheze Caroline is a fantastic example of what a great Saint-Joseph can be. Deep, reddish purple in your glass, the wine brings aromas of blackberry and plum with some floral notes and leather as well as some mild spice. There is quite a bit wrapped up into that bouquet so take your time and enjoy it. In your mouth you get fantastic blackberry fruit that is backed up with great acidity and mild, well integrated tannins. It's also important to note that the weight is pretty light for Syrah. That lighter weight and the structure provided by the acid and the tannins make this a really food friendly Syrah, that will pair nicely with a wide variety of meals.

Suggested pairings for the Louis Cheze Caroline are varied. This could work with the traditional grilled red meats or aged cheeses, but it's delicate and balanced enough to work with some lighter fare. I found myself wanting a seared tuna steak or even some grilled salmon to go with this. It could also work well with some pork dishes.

It's not an easy wine to find, but I got a nice clearance deal and picked these up for $29 a bottle, which was an absolute steal for this delicious wine. If you can find it, definitely give it a try. You won't be disappointed.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Hughes Family Vineyards Savannah Vineyard Syrah 2007

Que Syrah Syrah. We are becoming Syrah addicts, and we're OK with that. Recently, Wine Enthusiast wrote an interesting article about Syrah being the red skinned stepchild of California grapes. The writer argues that with so much attention and money showered on Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Merlot, it is a tough decision for any person or company to decide to plant a vineyard with Syrah. The article stated that Syrah just can't command the price in the market that Cabernet and Pinot can, and therefore not that many vintners are growing and bottling it. Furthermore, those who are, are having trouble selling it. This is all bad news for the wineries, but it has been good news for consumers who are scouring their local wine shops or the internet for values. It is also interesting to note that although California Syrah can't command the same price as other California reds, it can produce some really wonderful wines, and these wines often walk a fine line somewhere between the subdued Syrahs of the Northern Rhone and the Aussie fruit bombs.

Today's subject is a real world example of the Wine Enthusiast story. The Hughes Family Vineyards Savannah Vineyard Syrah 2007 retails for $40, but I got it in a clearance sale for half that price. Deep purple in color, the wine brings aromas of cherry and blackberry fruit, black pepper, and the gamy, meaty quality that is so uniquely Syrah. In your mouth you get delicious cherry fruit with great acidity and very well integrated tannins. It is definitely a full bodied wine, but I'm pleased to say it doesn't have any of that heavy, syrupy feel that is so typical of Aussie Shiraz. The up front fruit, the acidity, and the tannins all slowly combine and linger on the palate in what is a fantastic finish. Overall, this is a very nice Syrah, and to me it embodies what California Syrah should be. Its a more easily approachable than Northern Rhone Syrahs (which I do love by the way) with a little more up front fruit, but it is much more than just a fruit explosion on the front end. There is some structure and balance that make this a really nice wine.

From a food standpoint, this would be a great wine to pair with grilled red meats - especially game. It would work beautifully with a rack of lamb or some grilled venison. It would also pair nicely with some good old fashioned BBQ. The Hughes Family Vineyards Savannah Vineyard Syrah is a decent value at $40 and a phenomenal value at $20. I'm kicking myself for not buying a lot more than the 4 bottles that I bought at that limited time only price.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Girard Artistry Napa Valley 2008

Recently a friend of ours asked what California wines we can recommend for someone who likes Bordeaux blends much more than typical California Cabs. As it turns out I just recently tasted the 2008 vintage of Girard Winery's Artistry blend, which is year in and year out a great Bordeaux style blend. It is a wine that gives plenty of fruit for those who like California Cabernets, but it is very clearly a Bordeaux style blend that strives to bring some balance and finesse.

The 2008 Artistry is purple red in your glass. Made from 59% Cabernet Sauvigonon, 19% Cabernet Franc, 11% Malbec, 6% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot that is aged in 50% new and 50% once used French oak, the wine brings plenty of the classic Napa Cab blackberry and cassis aromas. Underneath that, though, there are layers of plum, cedar, and some mild earthy and spicy nuances. On the palate, you get more of the same blackberry and cassis with an added element of black cherry to go along with it. Very well integrated tannins and decent acidity bring some structure to the blend, and the finish has some nice length to it. This is a wine that you can enjoy as you smell it, sip it, and as the complex flavors linger on your palate.

Overall, this is a really nice wine for the price, which ranges in the low to high $30s depending on where you are. The up front fruit is outstanding, and it has plenty of structure and complexity to back that up. It would pair well with a nice steak or any grilled red meats.

Finally, I can't write about Girard without mentioning that it is one of my absolute favorite stops in Napa Valley. Their tasting room is right in the heart of Yountville and is one of the most enjoyable, relaxing tasting rooms you will find in Napa Valley. If you're out that way, definitely stop in to see them.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Vinosio Taurasi 2005

Italy gets so much acclaim and deservedly so for its Brunellos, Barolos, and Super Tuscans, but there are so many other good wines and regions throughout this relatively small country. One of my favorites that I'm enjoying more and more these days is Aglianico, which is a very late ripening grape that is only grown effectively in the southernmost parts of Italy. The grape itself is Greek in origin - Aglianico is thought to be a corruption of the word Ellenico which is Italian for Hellenic. It is a very dark skinned grape that makes powerful wines that when grown properly also exhibit great finesse.

Perhaps the greatest expressions of the Aglianico grape come in the DOCG of Taurasi. Located east of Napoli in Campania, Taurasi was granted DOC status in 1970 and DOCG status in 1993. The Aglianico grapes for Taurasi wines are typically grown on the hillsides of the region in volcanic soils at elevation of 1300 feet or higher. The wines ripen so late in the region that they are sometime picked in the snow, and the combination of high summer temperatures, cool nights, and long growing season makes for wines that are bold and powerful but with great acidity, finesse, and aging potential.

The Vinosia Taurasi 2005 is very dark purple in your glass. The nose brings a wild assortment of earthy aromas. I get some cedar, cola, and fresh earth along with caramel and blackberry in the bouquet, and there is probably more there that I'm missing, which is part of what makes this wine so interesting. On the palate, the fruit is a slightly sour blackberry. This is not the sweet blackberry jam that comes through on so many wines. This is the taste of imperfect fresh blackberries that are OK but not overly sweet. I don't love this on my fresh blackberries, but it is absolutely fantastic in this wine. This Taurasi, like most that are done well, also has great acidity. This acidity makes for a subtle but long finish and I believe this gives it the potential to age for many more years. At a price of $23, this is a relative steal compared to most Taurasis of this quality.

I had this with a venison ragout over homemade pappardelle, and it was absolutely perfect. This is a powerful but food friendly wine that will pair beautifully with just about any red meats.