Sunday, November 30, 2008

Happy St. Andrew's Day

A cold, rainy, gray day here in Ohio for St. Andrew's Day. That meant braising something. To make it meaningful for the day we bought a small chuck roast of Highland beef. Rubbed with salt and pepper and thyme it braised away the day in chicken stock, white wine, onions, carrots, celery and a small dash of single malt Scottish whisky - in this case Caol Islay. That lent it an undertone smoky goodness.

There was some freshly made pappardele, a small salad and a wine to complete the meal.

The Gianfranco Alessandria Dolcetto d'Alba for 2007 just hit the market at $14 a bottle. It was bright and refreshing smelling of tart cherries and bright red plums. Good acidity and only a slight kick from tannin made it great with the richness in the beef. It is a lighter version of Dolcetto than the Sandrone discussed below. For the price it's a good wine.

Scott was bored all day as he has only been out for the necessary functions of a dog, but at least the squirrels and birds sequestered themselves for the day as well. Had they made an appearance he would have known it since he spent most of the day at the windows watching for them.

The evening will end with a "not so wee" dram of Lagavulin Distillers Edition. Who cares if it rains?

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Cut Above

It was another beautiful day and Scott and I got in a walk along the river, much to the chagrin of a large number of Canada geese.

Since it was sunny we lit the grill for dinner. There were two large lamb chops and they were rubbed with a mixture of rosemary, thyme, sea salt, Dijon mustard and olive oil and allowed to marinate for about an hour. While the chops marinated there was a risotto to fix. This version was finished with roasted buttercup squash, cheese, nutmeg and a quarter teaspoon of white truffle oil. It smelled like heaven should smell.

The wine was a 2005 Luciano Sandrone Dolcetto d'Alba. This was not "your father's Dolcetto." It opened to a blast of freshly turned earth, spices and dark fruit. There was a suggestion of vanilla in the nose as well. The color was extremely dark. The taste was about the darkest, ripest cherries mixed in with a few dark plums. Full bodied with surprising, tannin it just filled the mouth with flavor. There was good acid and a good grip of soft tannin that led to a long finish ending with fruit and earth. It was wonderful with the lamb but the risotto / Dolcetto match was magnificent. The squash was earthy and it matched the earthiness and fruit in the wine, and the white truffle oil provided a richness that the acid in the Dolcetto played tag with. As the evening went along and the wine had more time to breathe it mellowed and picked up a hint of flowers as well as the fruit and earth. There is enough in this wine that it should have a 3 to 5 year window for drinking.

Quite simply it was the best Dolcetto I've ever had the pleasure to drink - and there are two more in the cellar, and it is still available in the market here at $24 a bottle. We will be adding another bottle or two.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


We survived Thanksgiving this year, and it really wasn't too bad, but after an afternoon and early evening of eating and drinking a nap is in order.

The day started early as Scott and I managed an hour and a half at a wildlife area. It's one of the few places where he can be off lead and run to his heart's content and he did just that. It tired both of us, but it was a good type of tired.

Early afternoon was a Thanksgiving lunch with the wine drinking friends. The food was good and the wine was wonderful. We drank a 2001 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino. Deep red and fully extracted in color it smelled of earth and cherries. The taste was dark, ripe cherries with good acid and tannins on the edges. The wine was full bodied but the Sangiovese acidity was there to cleanse the palate between small bites of turkey. The finish was wonderfully long and refreshing ending with a small burst of fruit and some herbs. A very nice wine.

In late afternoon we ventured to my niece's house for a family Thanksgiving. She was replacing my sister as host this year after way too many year's of suffering through bizarre turkey experiments with my sister. Those experiments remain the stuff of legends.

The food was good but there was no wine, only a non alcoholic beer. There were also plenty of left overs and Scott totally enjoyed his dinner as it included turkey and home made stuffing. He's napping now and after a glass of port I will be joining him.

The picture above is not Scott. It his mother Stevie and was taken when she lived with us. Stevie was a great one for naps on the bed and was a very sweet girl. She now lives in northern Ohio and manages a house full of three English Springer Spaniels.

Monday, November 24, 2008


A cold but beautiful day yesterday so Scott and I managed a long walk by the river in the morning and we spent the late afternoon at a local park making sure the squirrels were in the trees where they belong.

During a market trip on Saturday morning there was a new item on the shelf. It's the first time I had seen bamboo rice. It is a wonderful pale green, short grain rice from China. Reading the labels on the package it turns out to be a white short grain rice that is soaked in bamboo juice to produce the unique green color. There was a recipe on the package that intrigued me so we tossed a couple of other ingredients into the cart.

The more I looked at the recipe the more it needed to be tinkered with so I added an item or two. Basically I sauteed shallots, garlic and minced ginger in olive oil, added a diced, sweet, red pepper and one finely diced Serrano pepper for effect and heat. Once the peppers softened I added the rice and vegetable stock. I brought everything to a boil and added the shrimp, then covered it and let everything simmer for 20 minutes over low heat. I removed it from the heat and added a chopped fresh mango, recovered the pan and let it sit for five minutes. The results are pictured above.

The dish was quite tasty but it had a problem or two that I will solved the next time. I prefer my shrimp less well cooked so I will not add them the next time until much later in the cooking - basically just letting them steam over the top of the rice mixture for the last several minutes. The dish also needed a slightly less ripe mango as it seemed to dissolve into the rice. I loved the taste of the green rice and mango together and the mango went great with the shrimp, but I would have just preferred that it be a little more crisp. I liked the slight kick from the Serrano and the taste of the ginger in the dish.

I opened two wines and while both were good, one was better with the shrimp. The first was a 2005 Chrismont, King Valley, Victoria dry Riesling from Australia. It is one of the few available in this area and I was anxious to try it. Dry, crisp and minerally with lots of limes in the nose and taste. There were some lemons and totally fresh peaches in the taste as well. Easy wine to drink and I liked it with the shrimp. It's $17 in this area.

The second wine was a 2007 Wilhelm Bergmann Bernkasteler Kurfurstlay Riesling Kabinett from the Mosel. There was a hint of kerosene in the nose with limestone and limes and spring flowers. Very ripe fruit in the taste with citrus overlaying a sweet, young grape taste. There was some residual sugar and that just married beautifully with the Serrano pepper and the ginger in the shrimp dish. This was as close to a perfect pairing as I've had for awhile. The amazing thing is that this wine is only $8 in the local market. That's an outstanding bargain.

I ordered a half case of the Leitz Trocken Riesling discussed below and I will add six of the Bergmann to make up the case, and that of course gets a discount and lowers the price on this wine to $7.10.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Rare Treats

Friends called early yesterday and offered a dinner invitation. They were trying a new recipe and wanted some other opinions. We accepted and it was a great meal.

I found a couple of bargain wines while out shopping in the morning and decided to try them. First was a 2007 Three Blind Moose Columbia Valley dry Riesling that was on sale for $5.99. We opened it as an aperitif. Clean and crisp with some peaches and petrol showing in the nose. Those flavors carried over along with a hint of lime. There was just a hint of residual sweetness. For the price it was a very good wine. With the economy being what it is I'll be adding more of this wine while the sale lasts. Just a very easy wine to drink without requiring much thought. The other wine I bought on sale was a Dow Fine Tawny Port for $12. We deferred that until after dinner.

Dinner was indeed a treat. It was a whole tenderloin butterflied stuffed with an onion and mushroom mixture that had been sauteed in butter and thyme and Madeira. The meat was then rolled and tied, sauteed in a skillet and popped into a very hot oven. When it came out of the oven it was spread with a sauce of garlic, butter, thyme and Dijon mustard and allowed to rest.

While the beef was in the oven we opened a 1995 Chateau Lafon Rochet. Clean leather and dirt in the nose, the wine was medium bodied and had thrown some sediment onto the side of the bottle. After some swirling some cherries and tobacco popped out and the wine began to open up. Good acidity and smooth tannins and ever increasing fruit made for a nice wine. Just as the beef came out of the oven the wine was finishing with a hint of chocolate covered cherries. There was a decent finish length and for a St. Estephe it was a very good effort. Nice wine and we saved some for the meal.

A second bottle of Bordeaux magically appeared on the table so we opened it as well. This was a 1998 Chateau Pichon Longueville, Baron de Longueville, a second growth Paulliac. The nose hit you with currants and cassis and dark cherries with hints of tobacco, dirt and cedar. Very full bodied and almost viscous in the mouth it was full of dark cherries and currants. Great acidity, big but smooth tannins and a solid core of fruit carried all the way through to the finish. The finish was lengthy and delightful. An excellent wine and a wonderful match with the mushrooms rolled up in the beef. This was several steps up from the Lafon Rochet and a wonderful treat.

The Dow port was light and easy to drink, though in the glass it looked more like a ruby port than a tawny. It was still a good wine for the price and with cold weather here will be enjoyed over a period of a week or more. There was some just cut Stilton to go with the Dow. One final wine then made an appearance. This was a Taylor Fladgate 30 year old tawny port. This was correctly colored like a dark raisin and just filled the room with its aromas of grapes and chocolate and caramel. Those flavors, along with some vanilla were predominant in the taste along with some English toffee. Throw in a wonderful, lengthy finish and it made for the perfect ending to a great evening.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Passing

There is much sadness here in the house as one of the namesakes of this site, Miss Ellie died late Monday morning. The death was very unexpected, and the only fortunate part is that the illness, while fatal, was very, very brief.

She was the primary kitchen assistant, the sous-chef. If someone was in the kitchen cooking, Ellie was there as well to supervise, taste, and offer encouragement. She was conniving, manipulative, and as happy as a soul could be. Her five and a half years were mostly filled with joy. She died knowing that she was loved and cared for, and sometimes I think that is all any of us should ask for.

The name of the site will remain the same even though she's gone, but in commenting on finished meals you might at times see the comment, "Ellie would have approved." It's not really much of a compliment because she loved just about anything food related, but it will always be a happy compliment on a good meal.

Sleep easy, little girl.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Snow showers yesterday as things continue to decline on the weather front. I'm just not ready for snow in any form. It's spitting snow again this morning as this is being typed, but there's been no accumulation.

After a big meal on Saturday I shouldn't have been too hungry, but that wasn't the case. It was time to turn on the oven and roast something inside. It turned out to be a small rack of pork. It was rubbed with a mixture of crushed brown mustard, rosemary, garlic powder, thyme and sage, I seared in in a skillet on top of the stove then popped it into the oven to finish.

The markets are still full of winter squash so this day was a buttercup squash, as opposed to Saturday's Delicato squash. I halved the buttercup, scooped out the seeds and roasted it.

With a German style pork roast it was time for a German wine, and it was a new one for me. I have enjoyed a number of wines from Leitz, but the 2007 Eins Zwei Dry #3 was not one I had run across before. This is a trocken Riesling from the Rheingau and checked in a 12% alcohol. The nose was full of lime and minerals. It reminded me of a young chablis. Definitely crisp and young, the limes came through on the taste along with some tart peaches and perhaps a hint of seawater. There was a very good body and weight to the wine. The minerality was up front in the finish and then just when you thought the wine was done there was brief splash of sweetness at the very end - a tart, but sweet green grape. That was a nice finish.

The pork was delicious and the wine was great with it. I ate about 1/3 of the squash and saved the rest for a buttercup risotto later this week.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Little Brother

No, this isn't a repeat post - the year has changed.

After some success with the 1983 Hermitage La Chapelle last weekend (see post below) I decided it was time to to try a younger version of the same wine. There were multiple bottles of the 1998 in the cellar so that was the basis of the decision. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were a total washout as an intestinal flu meant three consecutive days of chicken soup and mostly water and weak tea. Add in that the cold and wet weather is not helping my recently repaired knee and it was time for another good wine.

Since my appetite returned in a big way dinner was a grass fed porterhouse steak with a small salad and a baked Delicato squash. The steak was rubbed with a few drops of balsamic vinegar and lightly dusted with pepper. Despite it being a cold, drizzly and dreary day I lit the grill and cooked the steak outside.

The wine? Once again a heavy sediment clung to the side of the bottle. With this wine being fifteen years the junior to the last one I decanted about 2/3 of the bottle. Much darker color and a much different nose greeted me. The unmistakable smell of raw meat greeted me, with dark cherries and the darkest of plums sneaking out of the decanter as well. There was a wet earth aroma as well. The wine was medium in color as a lot of it was clinging to the inside of the bottle. On the taste it was a little closed but the plum fruit and earth were strong. There was just a hint of age showing in both the edge in the glass and in the taste. There were firm tannins and medium acidity.

Forty minutes later when the steak was on the plate the wine began blooming. The cherries and plums were stronger and as with the older bottle the food took away some of the aged taste of the wine. The raw meat smell was still there, and that is a smell I love. The wine seemed more full bodied and even the finish seemed more lengthy. Food definitely helped the older wine and it definitely helped this younger version.

A very good, but not great, cool climate Syrah. It definitely won't last as long as it's older brother so the two remaining bottles will move to the "drink up" portion of the cellar.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Veteran's Day

The official U.S. celebration of Veterans' Day is not until Tuesday, November 11, but this post moves the apostrophe one character to the left. That makes it a singular veteran.

The veteran in this case was opened and consumed yesterday. It was a 1983 Hermitage La Chapelle from Paul Jaboulet Aine. It was the oldest wine in the cellar at 25 years of age and it's time had come. We sampled a couple of 2005 Bordeaux while cooking. Best of the two was the Ch. Paviel de Luze from Margaux. Bright and fruity fresh with good color and acid, it was still closed up. Lots of swirling finally got enough of a nose of fruit and flowers to make it an enjoyable wine.

The cork stayed in the Hermitage while we cooked. Dinner was a small rack of Icelandic lamb which is back in the local market. With all the economic problems Iceland is having it was nice to help out their economy, or at least to use that as an excuse. The Icelandic lamb is very young, totally grass and pasture fed throughout the summer and sent to market in the fall. I buzzed some fresh garlic with rosemary, lemon thyme, white peppercorns, and red sea salt until it formed a heavy paste. The paste was thinned with Dijon mustard and then spread over the rack about an hour before cooking.

It was pan seared and popped into a very hot oven for ten minutes. There were rosemary roasted potatoes to go with the lamb and some steamed green beans on the side.

When the lamb went in the oven the cork came out of the Hermitage. There was heavy sediment in the bottle so we used a funnel strainer for pouring, but with a wine of senior age we did not decant. The wine was a remarkable color - not brooding and dark like a typical young syrah, but brick red and more Burgundy like in its depth of color. After a swirl it was obvious that the wine not young as there was nose of dry forest floor mixed in with some dried fruit flavors, mostly plums running to prunes. The taste was about the same as I had to struggle to identify the sensations. Dry pine forest floor, tart red plums, cinnamon, and perhaps some berry fruit mixed with some dry herbs to give the wine a not unpleasant taste, but not a taste that I am used to. Of the two other folks helping with the meal, one thought it was great and one thought it was old and tired.

We poured another glass and sat down with the lamb and potatoes. The lamb was tremendous as it had the natural gaminess of grass fed animals without overpowering the senses. Tender and delicious. I took a sip of the wine after a bite of lamb and the red plums jumped out of the glass and they brought some dark cherries with them. The wine tasted ten years younger. The fruit was in full flavor, there was still good acid and enough tannin to gently clear the palate. The finish was extremely long. The others agreed that the lamb made the wine better.

Bottom line, it was a fantastic experience and a delicious meal. This was not the best wine I've ever drunk, and it isn't in the running for the best of the year. But given its age and how it had changed and evolved from what I expect a Rhone syrah to be it gets a good grade and a standing ovation. Truth be told, it should have been opened about five years ago and I think it would have been magnificent at that point in time.

The oldest wines now in the cellar are some 1986 Bordeaux, chief among them a couple bottles of Ch, Leoville Las Cases. One of those is shaping up to be the New Year's Eve bottle.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Night and Day

The U. S. election is over and it is now safe to turn on the television and not be subjected to countless attack ads from national and local candidates. Living in Ohio, one of the key toss up states, it is also nice to hear the telephone ring and not have the expectation that it is a programmed call from a politician, one of his/her supporters, local political parties, people promoting or denouncing issues or a celebrity telling me to make sure to vote (and while you're voting make certain to vote for the right candidate). During the last week I disabled the answering machine and made full use of caller ID before picking up the phone.

All that said, I was not disinterested in the election at all. I thought it was critical to our future as I don't care for the direction the country has taken in the last eight years.

Around 10:00 PM the major television networks announced that Senator Obama was the winner in the state of Ohio, a major surprise at that time of day. In the last two elections it has taken all night and part of the next day to determine the winner in Ohio. That was reason enough to celebrate, but couple it with the fact that the correct candidate won meant it was time for champagne.

In this case it was a 2002 Lancelot-Pienne Cuvee de la Table Ronde blanc de blanc. There were lively bubbles when it hit the glass and there were aromas of yeast, toast, very fresh and tart apples and hints of lime. All those aromas were in the taste, though the toast came through more as fresh, crusty bread just out of the oven. It bubbled away in the glass for as long as it was allowed to stay in the glass. It was a wonderful way to end what turned out to be a very good evening. And yes, there was a deliberate choice in the Cuvee de la Table Ronde. An Obama administration will not be Camelot, but after the last eight years I feel as though the curse of Mordred and Morgan la Fay has been lifted.

It was another beautiful day in Ohio with warm temperatures and beautiful blue sky and a light breeze. The knee is keeping me home all week, but it didn't stop a trip to the market. Dinner was from the grill again. In this case it was veal rib chop. It received my standard and favorite marinade - lemon juice, olive oil, chopped garlic, chopped rosemary, red pepper flakes and a pinch of white pepper. That is what is marinating in the photo.

There were some diced potatoes tossed with duck fat and pepper and roasted in a hot oven for forty-five minutes and a salad of romaine, red peppers, tomatoes, carrots, celery, blanched, white asparagus and crumbles of soft, fresh goat cheese. All of this was dressed with lemon juice, olive oil and orange marmalade dressing.

The wine was a 2002 Beaulieu Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon from the heart of Napa Valley. I decanted the wine for half an hour. The wine was dark and the nose was just a little closed, but there were currants and dark fruit hiding in there. There was a touch of cedar in the nose as well. The wine was very closed on the first sip so I left the decanter alone until dinner was ready.

The currants and fruit came nicely forward and there was a hint of cranberry in the nose as well. The taste was full of the currants and cranberries and some very dark cherries as well. The weight was on the heavy side of medium, though not so full and powerful as to overwhelm the meal. Good acid and the unique tannins one gets with wines from Rutherford. Throw in a moderately long finish and for $22 you have a very, very good wine. The last of the second glass played very nicely with a square of dark chocolate with pomegranate bits.

I have one other bottle and I will squirrel it away for several more years as I don't think this wine was at its peak.

It was a very good day, and today will be good as well as there is some of each wine left. Champagne for lunch anyone?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Two Wines on Day Two and Fresh Crab

Indian Summer is in full force here in Ohio, and it's nice to know something other than the election is in force. Temperatures were in the low 70 degree range today and there were only a few scattered clouds.

The trip to the market was a perfect example of a dilemma. The seafood case was full of fresh Alaskan King Crab and my friend the fishmonger was busy extolling not only its taste but its price drop from last year. King Crab season in Alaska runs from the last of October to the middle of November each year and the crab that gets served outside of that time frame is always frozen during that three to four week period. The crab in the case was not frozen. It was flash cooked and air shipped to Ohio. The fishmonger pulled a small sample out and handed it to me. Sweet, clean, no bad aroma, great texture and tremendous taste. It definitely is superior to frozen king crab.

The price? Last year because of strong economies in Japan and China the going rate was $30 a pound. With those countries buying less the going rate this year is only $25 a pound, not a bargain by any stretch of the imagination. After being offered the second taste I decided that a rough week at work deserved a treat at the end (perfect rationalization). I bought a three leg chunk for $35 and the fishmonger threw in a fourth leg after weighing my selection. The small leg is shown above with a wine cork for size reference.

I reheated the small leg for an appetizer this afternoon and opened a 2006 La Brisas, a white Spanish Rueda wine. It was clean and crisp and perfect with the crab. The other three legs will be dinner tomorrow night.

Since the weather was nice the grill was started and I roasted a whole chicken. In a spice grinder I put in a teaspoon of red Hawaiian salt, some white peppercorns, some fresh sage leaves, a small shallot and some rosemary. I buzzed it down to a powder and rubbed it inside the chicken and over the exterior skin.There was some polenta rounds left from last week that were frozen so those were thawed and thrown on the grill during the last ten minutes of cooking. That's the yellow rounds in the above picture. The chicken skin was crisp and lightly smoky and the interior picked up the scent of the sage and rosemary. Interesting and delicious.

We revisited the Chianti and Cotes du Rhone from last night. The Felsina Chianti's edges mellowed somewhat overnight, as did its tannin. The acid remained and so did the tremendous cherry fruit and earth. It tasted better than it did on Saturday.

The Vidal-Fleury Cote du Rhone did not seem to improve with the air exposure. It was still medium bodied with good fruit but the finish seemed a little shorter and not as full. It was still highly drinkable and nice with the chicken, but the Chianti outshone it on day two.

An Unpleasant Week

It was back to work on a supposed limited basis this past week, but to quote Robert Burns, "the best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley."

In short, there was little that was 'limited' about it. There are four supervisors and thanks to a long planned cruise, an unexpected death in the immediate family and a sudden incapacitation to save a pregnancy there was suddenly only one, recovering knee and all. There was also a $450K project that had to be completed. That meant there was little wine and even less time during the week.

That changed in a good way yesterday evening.

Dinner was simple; some chicken thighs marinated in lemon juice, olive oil, and Turkish seasonings. They were baked in a hot oven, and there was a pot of curried couscous with almonds and currants to go alongside them.

I looked at two wines and made the decision to try them both. The first, pictured above, was the 2006 J. Vidal-Fleury Cotes du Rhone at $14 a bottle. It was spicy and peppery on the nose with lots of soft, ripe fruit jumping out. The flavors were simple and bright with ripe and tart cherries in a good balance. There was a nice rusticity to the wine and I like that in a Cotes du Rhone. Sometimes I don't want polish and finesse, and a good Cotes du Rhone nearly always can be counted on. There was good flavor in the mid-palate and acid and dry tannins helped the wine finish well. It balanced nicely with the chicken thighs. A good wine for the price.

The second wine was a 2006 Felsina Berardenga Chianti Classico at $19. I have had very good luck with the wines from Fattoria di Felsina, particularly the Riservas. The ones I've had have all been good and this is the new release in the local market. I bought a bottle to drink to see if I wanted to lay away a few bottles. The nose was arch typical Chianti - fruit and dirt. The wine is about balanced, sweet cherries playing off the earthiness and acid. For the price this was a very nice wine and two or three more will find an adopted home with me. I went particularly well with the couscous as the currants and curry really seemed to tame the tannin and highlight the fruit. Full flavored from start to finish and it also went nicely with a small bite of dark chocolate with pomegranate bits to finish the meal.

There is plenty of each left and they have been vacuum sealed. There will be a trip to the market and the meals for the next several days will center around these two wines.

The time changed back to standard time early this morning but someone forgot to tell Scott and Ellie to reset their stomachs, bladders and bowels. At 4:30 they were on the bed thinking it was time to go out. They won the battle of course, and like typical Gordons when their needs are met they are back to sleeping. Maybe they are right - a nap after breakfast sounds like a grand idea!