Every bottle has a story

I am not a wine expert, but with each bottle I try and share with friends, I learn more. Wine is an exceptional social drink; it is the marijuana of alcoholic beverages because it must be shared. I seek to share with you my thoughts and experiences as I drink the wine in my closet, as well as my enthusiasm for the finds that come my way and the excellent values that I find. I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences too, so please share!

Monday, November 29, 2010


Ah, the Rhône, that region of France from whence my favorite wines come. And a locale in the Southern Rhône that I am finding intriguing is the appellation Côte du Rhône Villages.

One of the villages in this area is Sablet, which interestingly was lucky enough during the Plague to be spared, escaping the disease virtually untouched.

Among the producers there is Domaine de Piaugier, whose Sablet Rouge is a blend of just Grenache and Syrah. The wine has received erratic scores over the years, everywhere from the mid 70s to the mid 80s. Apparently, the producer is better known for its Gigondas, which is regularly of higher quality, according to Parker.

The 2007 was good, but unremarkable in my view. The nose was delicious, but when tasted, there just wasn’t any follow-through. It wasn’t awful at $15, but I probably won’t buy from this producer again.

I rate this with a 6.5 using my scale at the left.

A consistent Malbec

It’s always a delight to find a producer you can count on, and the Don Miguel Gascón Malbecs from the Mendoza region of Argentina is such a find. The 2009 vintage of this wine can be had for as little as $9, although $11 is more common. The wines of Bodegas Escorihuela have consistently scored with high 80s for the past decade. And all of them are inexpensive.

The 2009 vintage is rich with earthy flavors melding well with delicate fruit. It has enough heft that if you bought a case, it would keep well for at least a year. While I could not find a rating for the 2009 vintage, I rate it with an 8.5 using my scale at the left.

More fruit than I need

The 2007 vintage of The Wolftrap, a South African blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Viognier, I remember as being a delightful find for the price. It was hefty, with firm tannins and an almost chocolate smoothness. But the 2009 vintage is a fruit bomb. It’s more than jam. And there wasn’t any of the firmness I remember with the 2007. Alas, my experiences with South African wines have been spotty.

Wine Spectator rates it with an 85 (the 2007 got an 88). I’ll give it a 4.5 on my scale at the left.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Washington Cabernets bring it on

While there’s no doubt that there are outstanding California Cabernets out there, you will pay a premium for them. And sometimes that premium is not well deserved. On the other hand, Washington had made tremendous strides with both Cabernet and Pinot Noir, and one that is easily found right now is worth the couple extra bucks it will cost you.

The Dusted Valley Vintners 2007 vintage Boomtown Cabernet Sauvignon can be had for about $13 and is a delicious find for the price. It is smooth, velvety, with enough fruit to make it interesting, but with a firm finish that is delightful to quaff. I’ve had this one twice, once with a steak and the other with pasta, and both times it was delicious.

Wine Spectator scores it with an 88, while Wine Advocate is more generous with a 91. I peg it with a 9 using my scale at the left. Definitely worth picking up.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The secret of lamb stew

Do you know what the secret is for making delicious lamb stew? It’s the wine that you use to cook with.

Many years ago, I remember some chef on television talking about wine in a recipe. I can’t recall who the chef was, but the comment made an impact. He said that when cooking with wine, use a good wine, not some cheap “cooking wine” or other cheap swill. His comment was, “If you wouldn’t drink it by the glass, then why would you want to cook with it?”

Sage advice, indeed. And it holds up after repeated testing.

As you may recall, I wrote about a lamb stew that I went over the top with by cooking it with a 2004 Châteauneuf du Pape, and it was delicious! The second time I made lamb stew (sorry, I didn’t write about this one), I used a Sicilian red, the 2008 Cusumano Nero D’Avola. And that stew also was delicious! I’m talking really good folks, positively heavenly!

While the Châteauneuf du Pape I used was a $39 bottle of wine, the Sicilian was just $11 and still made an outstanding stew.

I recently made lamb stew again, and this time the wine I used was an inexpensive 2007 Bordeaux, Chateau du Pavillon. The stew was very good, but it wasn’t the same heavenly delight as the previous two batches had been. Your guests might never know the difference, unless they happen to eat a lot of lamb stew that you prepare. But this most recent experience will likely lead me to shy away from using a Bordeaux again. If there is anything I’ve learned so far, the closer to the Mediterranean you are with the wine, the better the lamb stew.

This latest serving was accompanied with the Saint Cosme 2009 Cotes du Rhone, a really splendid wine that isn’t going to cost you an arm and a leg. In fact, Saint Cosme is a very reliable producer of Cotes du Rhone, St. Joseph and Châteauneuf du Pape.

The Chateau du Pavillon I rate with an 8 using my scale at the left. The Saint Cosme I will rate with a 9.

But enough of that, here’s my recipe.

So far, I haven’t made a lamb stew using lamb stew meat. Rather, each time I’ve used the leftovers from a leg of lamb I prepared earlier. I’m usually left with at least a pound of meat, which I cut up into large cubes. Even all the other seasoning and preparations I retain (such as pine nuts, spinach, and goat cheese).

I brown this meat in a large kettle with a bit of olive oil. Next, I add about 32 ounces of beef broth and 2 cups of wine. That’s right, 2 bleeping cups of wine. To this I add 2 cloves of minced garlic, 1 teaspoon of dried marjoram, 1 bay leaf, and about a half teaspoon each of salt and pepper. After bringing this to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.

Next come the vegetables. After simmering long enough the meat is tender, add 2 cups of peeled potatoes cut into chunks, about 1.5 to 2 cups of sliced carrot, same amount of celery cut into half-inch slices and a half to three-quarters cup of chopped onion. Bring this back to a boil and then simmer again for another 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

Things are starting to smell really good about now.

When the vegetables are tender, remove the bay leaf. Take a half-cup of sour cream or plain yogurt and mix with 3 tablespoons of flour. Mix it well. Then take about a half-cup of the stew liquid and mix it with the flour and sour cream until smooth. Return that to the kettle and stir thoroughly, cooking for another minute or so. Your stew is ready now. Don’t faint when you taste it.