Monday, February 25, 2008

Why Not?

It is a shame that most everyone regards sparkling wine as something to drink only when there is a celebration or something to drink before a meal. Made correctly it has a great nose, wonderful acidity and that great carbonation to clear the mouth between bites of food. Matched correctly it's a great food wine and opening a bottle makes the meal a celebration in itself.

While Sunday's chicken (see below) was roasting I raided the cellar and we opened a Vicomte de Castellane brut Champagne. We poured a couple of glasses and then re-stoppered the bottle. There was nothing fancy about the chicken other than it was free range and produced locally (within 15 miles). It was seasoned with some herbs de Provence and salt, air dried for an hour and the roasted breast side down for half an hour. When I flipped the bird to breast side up for it's last 40 minutes I opened the Champagne.

Great toasty nose with a hint of lime. There was a lot of fruit mixed with some buttered bread in the palette and it finished tart and clean. For a brut I thought it was just a touch on the sweet side, but the tart finish was still there. Not a great wine, but for $28 a decent bargain. There is one more hiding in the cellar.

When the chicken was done we poured more of the wine and drank it through the meal. It matched well with the juicy chicken and actually seemed to accentuate the lavender in the herb mix. A better wine with the chicken than it was by itself - and that's good from my perspective.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


After all the excessive snow and ice this week it was time for some summer food, just to remind myself that it really is coming. The local market helped out by having a great sale on Chilean blueberries. It must have been a bumper crop in Chile because the prices were good enough to afford the amount needed to make a blueberry cobbler.

Lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, cinnamon and cornstarch in the fruit and a sweetened, buttermilk biscuit dough on top dusted with cinnamon sugar proved just the thing to throw in the oven while I sat in the front window watching things begin to melt.

The Gordons both had long, separate walks today. I went about two miles with Ellie and about three with Scott so that worked off enough calories that I won't feel too guilty about putting a scoop of ice cream on top of the rewarmed cobbler tonight. Scott managed to nearly snag an unsuspecting squirrel who was preoccupied with eating his cracked corn to the point where he got dog saliva on his tail before getting up a tree. He 'marked' the tree for future reference.

There's a locally produced chicken ready to go on the grill so that helps alleviate some of the carbon footprint of having blueberries flown in from Chile.

Interesting interview on the radio while I was driving to the river for Scott's walk, even though I still don't know who it was with. It was out of New York and the gentleman was suggesting that it is more carbon neutral for New Yorkers to drink French wine than California wine because the ships that bring in the wine from Europe are much "greener" than the trucks that bring in the wine from California. His equation works out even just west of Columbus, Ohio meaning that I have the best of both possible worlds here where the two sources reach the evening point. Another guilt trip I don't have to worry about!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Good Stuff

An interesting wine and an equally interesting recipe met up together on Sunday, and was finished this evening.

The wine is a blend of 80% nebbiolo, 10% Barbera, and 10% cabernet franc from a producer in the Barbaresco area of the Piedmonte. Initially all I could taste was the Barbera and its sharp acidity, but as the wine breathed the silkiness of the Nebbiolo came through. There was just a bit of a darker cherry fruit that had to have been the Cabernet Franc. The Nebbiolo tannin was there at first, but settled down after some breathing.

One cup used for cooking, a small glass tasted immediately and then two glasses consumed six hours later. The bottle was vacuum closed after the initial opening, then decanted about an hour before dinner. It was a much different wine with the meal than it was earlier, and a much better wine. At $15 it was money well spent.

The recipe was braised short ribs from an article (and video) by Mark Bittman in the New York Times. The short ribs were browned thoroughly and then braised in a cup of red wine and a cup of black coffee, with one chipotle pepper and one dried ancho pepper thrown in with some onions and garlic. It's not a combination I had ever seen before and since all the ingredients were on hand and the weather was cold it made for a great Sunday experiment.

With some buttered tagliatelle it also made for a great Sunday evening meal. It's a recipe worth keeping. I put some of the pepper seeds in with the braising liquid so there was just a small amount of "kick" in the finishing taste of the ribs. It wasn't enough spice to make the mouth burn, but it was enough for a warm finish. The remainder was finished this evening and like most braises, it was equally as good two later, if not even better.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Old Friend

The planets must have been aligned perfectly today for both wine and food.

A friend alerted me to an out-of-the-way small wine store that he claimed was loaded with off the wall "goodies." I made the trip late this morning and found what appeared to be just a run of the mill carry-out store. Still, I went inside since I was there and was taken aback by the selections and the good prices.

When I saw this wine on the shelf the "way-back" machine quickly took me back to 1979 or 1980 where I was sitting on a patio of a restaurant / wine shop in Cincinnati (Terwilligers) on a warm September afternoon. I was working for a re-insurance operation at the time. There was a colleague from our Bermuda office who had spent the summer in our Cincinnati office and he was preparing to go back to Bermuda. Three of us took him out to lunch and we sat there drinking more than several bottles of Trefethen chardonnay while eating and talking. We started a little after noon and before we realized it was close to 3:30 PM. This was way before cell phones so I borrowed the house phone and my boss laughed and said, "just make a day of it." No one was in condition to drive by that point in the day so we booked rooms at a hotel two blocks down the street,made the appropriate phone calls and took two more bottles of the wine with us to the hotel.

Trefethen was an early entry in the Napa surge that soon followed. The wines were well balanced, tart and refreshing. I drank them for several years before they basically disappeared from the local market. That was why it was such a surprise to find the wine sitting on the shelf . I occasionally see their Cabernet, but it has been fifteen years since I saw a bottle of their chardonnay in Ohio. Two bottles left the store with me, along with a very well priced 2001 Barolo.

I stopped at the market on the way home and the second old friend was sitting in the seafood case. Alaskan king crab legs were on a tremendous sale today. With a Trefethen chardonnay in the car the crab legs were singing to me to take them home as well.

A small salad and a Potato Anna cut into wedges and there were some happy faces in the house this evening.

As with a number of things the wine proved that sometimes memories are better than reality. I still have a label of a 1981 Trefethen chardonnay and it was listed as 12.5 percent alcohol. the current model goes at 14.1 percent and was a little too rich and over-oaked for my current taste. It was still a good wine for what it was trying to be, but it just isn't my style of white wine today.

Now if I could find a bottle of Trefethen's riesling that might have been the perfect match with the crab. From what I read they still make one of the best rieslings in California.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


With the possible exception of a rose' champagne is there anything more worthy of Valentine's Day than a Burgundy?

This 2005 wine was just perfect for a quick skillet Beef Stroganoff served over some egg noodles.

Medium body with strawberries and cherries up front, good acidity, and some wonderful earthiness and some herbs in the middle, then finishing with some some tannin and a return of the fruit. The whole package just went together perfectly. Given another year of aging and this wine will make me happy there are three more $14 bottles waiting.

I purchased a mixed case of mid to high level 2005 red Burgundies to put away and then purchased a mixed case of some entry level wines to tease me until the big guys are ready. This was the first one to be opened.

The best part of the evening may have been the third glass that was drunk with a warm crusty roll used to mop up the sauce from the stroganoff. A very pleasant way to end a day.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Summer Gin and Tonic

Monday evening and the prediction is for 5 to 9 inches of snow tonight, followed by sleet and freezing rain tomorrow. Memories of the summer past.

Saturday, February 9, 2008


"Man cannot live by bread alone." He must also have the occasional steak! As a matter of fact he must have a dry aged, prime, rib steak like the one pictured above dusted with a little black pepper before going on the grill.

It was a bright, sunny, but windy day here with temperatures falling for most of the day. We started in the mid 40's and by the time the fire was ready in the very late afternoon it was down to the upper 20's. It's going to continue to drop to down near 10 tonight and tomorrow will be cold all day. That said, if something was going to be grilled it would have to be today. An early morning run to the market found a special today on rib steaks so a large one came home.

The dogs both got their heads and necks trimmed since it was still nice outside and since they were getting extremely shaggy. It's always a battle to see which one can get on the grooming table first for my undivided attention. Ellie was first today because she was the shaggiest.
There was a baked sweet potato and a small salad to go with the steak and the results are pictured here. A pan of mushrooms finished off the steak, and the whole thing made for quite an enjoyable meal.

The dogs love the rib steaks because they got most of the fat visible in the top picture.

We hit the cellar for a big wine and found a near perfect one in a 2005 West End Estate 96 Point Durif. (Australia, New South Wales, Big Rivers, Riverina). The wine was a screw-cap and was decanted for about 45 minutes. It had a huge nose of dark cherries and plums with some vegetables going on as well. All that followed through on the taste, along with some good acid and tannin to cut the fat on the steak. Lengthy finish and for $13 a very impressive wine. The best glass was at the end of the evening so the remaining two bottles will see a little longer decanting. The wine will probably age for a few years but I suspect it may not get any better. Good wine, not the 96 points that label proclaims, but a very good wine for a steak.

With a cold Sunday coming it's now back to braising weather so tomorrow it's lamb shanks.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


The weather he has turned into a brief spring pattern. It definitely won't last, but overnight the temperature stayed in the low 60 degree range. It's also rainy.

Some rain didn't stop me from firing up the grill last night. The local fishmonger came up with a great special on some Island Creek oysters so they were popped onto the grill just until the shells opened. They were silky and smooth and tasted like the ocean. There was a little Spanish white wine left so the oysters were washed down with that. There has been an abundance of oysters from good suppliers in this area lately, and that is something that I don't normally see with Ohio being 600 miles from the nearest ocean. Whatever the reason I'm thankful.

While the oysters were being enjoyed we threw a split chicken rubbed with some Italian spices on the grill.

A couple of months ago I had an opportunity to taste a range of Barolos from Enzo Boglietti. They were very good wines, and though a little pricey I purchased a few of them. In the past month or so some other Boglietti wines have hit the local market so I purchased one bottle each of Dolcetto D'Alba, Barbera D'Alba and a Nebbiolo Langhe.

When the chicken came off the grill we opened the Dolcetto. Deep purple with lots of black fruits in the nose. That's exactly what carried through to the taste along with a healthy dose of acid. Long, almost sweet finish, and true to Dolcetto almost no noticeable tannin. At $16 a bottle this is a very nice, food friendly wine. It's on the list for adding a few more bottles while it's still in the marketplace.

Scott and Ellie were happy as there were plenty of chicken scraps for a quick treat last night and to mix in with their dog kibble this morning. Happily wagging tails.

Friday, February 1, 2008


While they are litter mates there are certainly differences between Scott (left) and Ellie other than the obvious anatomical ones.

One difference involves their dog crates. When no one is home the dogs stay in their crates. They were raised to appreciate the privacy it gives them. They eat in their crates and when we travel it's much easier to take the crates. It's a little bit of home on the road.

When I'm leaving the house and it's time to go to the crates all one needs to do is rattle the jar that has the dog cookies in it and they head straight for the crate room.

Ellie is definitely the easy one. She races into her crate, immediately turns around and stands there wagging her tail waiting for her cookie.

Scott is entirely different. He stands in front of his crate and either looks at me or stares into his crate. It's not that he doesn't intend to go in the crate or is unhappy about it. With Scott the cookie has to go in the crate first. He would stand there all day and wait, but if the cookie isn't already in the crate there's no way he will go in himself.

It makes little difference if I toss the cookie to the crate floor or simply hold the cookie in my hand and stick that hand inside the crate. All he wants is to make certain that his cookie is inside that boundary. Once it breaks the plane of the crate door the dog bounces happily inside and eats his cookie.

So CGIF has nothing to with "Thank God It's Friday." It simply means "Cookie Goes In First." That's my boy!