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!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ain’t got no bone

My friend Curt gave me a call a couple weeks ago to say that he purchased a boneless leg of lamb and he was sure I could do something with it. Stuffing it sounded like a good idea. So I used the rest of the week to think about how to stuff this bit of meat. I found a very simple recipe, although it did require a bit of work.

I took the lamb, spread it out on a cutting board, and trimmed all the excess fat and gristle from it. I then scored it with some half-inch cuts so that the meat would lay flat. I covered it with a plastic bag and then beat on it with a rubber mallet until it was more or less even in thickness. After seasoning it with a bit of salt and pepper, I took fresh spinach and layered the leaves over the lamb. This was then followed with a layer of goat cheese.

I rolled up the meat with the spinach and cheese, tied it, then seared the meat on all sides in a cast iron pan. The lamb was then oven roasted in that pan at 400 degrees until it was rare. I prepared some herb pan-roasted potatoes, but they were overcooked, sadly, and were disappointing. I also prepared a butternut squash and seasoned it with a bit of nutmeg.

The next time I try this recipe, I have some other things in mind. I found a recipe that would have you roll the meat after it is tied in some flour with fennel and thyme. I might add some pine nuts as well to the stuffing.

Anyway, I served the lamb with a Southern Rhone gem, a 2007 Gigondas from Domain Brusset, the Tradition le Grand Montmirail. It’s a deliciously powerful wine that paired stunningly with the lamb (but not like that Brunello, I must admit). This is a relatively inexpensive Gigondas – I picked it up for $21. Delicious blueberry and blackberry with just the right mineral quality.

Overall a very good meal; I just wished I hadn’t screwed up the potatoes.

I rate this wine with a 9 using my scale at the left.

One good leg deserves a stew

Needless to say, after that wonderful leg of lamb in mid-August I prepared with the Brunello di Montalcino, I had some left over. And what better meal to prepare with leftover leg of lamb than lamb stew?

Now, most lamb stew recipes, and the one I selected was no exception, call for some red wine in addition to the beef stock. When cooking with wine, I tend to take a rather extreme position. I can’t remember where I read this, but I recall reading someplace that if you wouldn’t drink a wine, why would you use it for cooking? Grocery stores have plenty of “cooking wine” on the shelves, and isn’t it curious that the “cooking wine” is generally never found in the wine aisle? That’s because these “cooking” wines are not for drinking. Well, if they’re not for drinking, why use them for cooking?

Hence, I always use a wine that I like to drink as a cooking ingredient when a recipe calls for wine.

So I was feeling a bit daring following that wonderful meal with the leg of lamb. I found a lamb stew recipe I wanted to use, and this wild hair of a notion consumed me as to what wine I should use. And what did I select? Yes my fellow oenophiles, I went all out and selected a 2004 Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Domaine Raymond Usseglio & Fils, the Girard. I poured two cups of that wine into my stew, and drank the rest while eating what was most definitely a heavenly meal.

I have no regrets over my decision. It was divine. I’ll post the recipe later, as I have another lamb stew post coming up.

I’ll rate this wine a 9.5 based on the scale at the left. The stew I rate with a 10.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A boot-heel of a wine

The Italian wine region of Apulia runs down the “heel” of  Italy along the Adriatic Coast. Interestingly, this region produces more wine for Italy than any other region, accounting for 17 percent of the country’s production.

The Cantele Primitivo 2007 comes from the area known as Solento, which is in the southern-most area of the heel of Apulia. The grape is Primitivo di Manduria, a red that a California researcher, Carole Meredith, proved to have the same DNA as American Zinfandel.

Wine Spectator rated the 2001 and 2004 vintages with a 78 and 80 respectively, not a very good showing. However, I thought this 2007 vintage to be a good wine, particularly at its price point of $10. It does come off as being simple and even one-dimensional after you first open it, but give it some time to breath and it develops a nice character with some decent tannin.

I served with is a pork tenderloin marinated in a Korean BBQ sauce, accompanied with potato salad, cole slaw and some sautéed zucchini and summer squash mixed with yellow and red bell pepper.

Using my wine rating scale at the left, I give this a 7.

When a famous name means nothing

A wine’s name – particularly when that name is a person’s or family’s – can carry great weight and be a moniker for consistency. But increasingly, a celebrity’s name attached to a wine is more of a marketing gimmick and less so a sign of quality. Case in point: the 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon by the Andretti Winery. Knowing a great deal about car racing hasn’t helped Mario Andretti much when it comes to wine.

It’s not that this wine was lousy. But at a retail price of $45, a wine ought to speak something special. This one did not. Thankfully, neither I nor my friend Curt bought this wine ourselves. Rather, it was a gift to Curt from someone else.

We both agreed that this was a perfectly acceptable wine with our bison strip steaks, had it cost about $10. But at $45, this would have been a rip-off.

Using my wine rating scale at the left, I give this a 5.