Fall In To Fuller Wines

It’s official… summer is over.  But in many parts of the country we get to enjoy a great time of year – Fall.  And it’s also time for me to get back to some posting!

In Fall the days are strikingly clear, the nights crisp and cool, and I love the crunchy rustle of the fallen leaves as you walk through them.  In the vineyard the vines begin to shut down too and the leaves turn reddish rust or golden – a beautiful time to visit.

But no matter where you live Fall seems to signal that it’s also time for heartier foods and a return to the bigger style wines that go with them.  If summer is a time for Zippy Whites then Fall brings me back to mouth-filling reds, so I find myself reaching for different ones that fit the season.  It can be the ideal tailgate wine – California Zin,  juicy Merlot from Washington, tasty Syrah/Grenache blends from the Rhone in France, lush Tempranillo from Spain, spicy Shiraz from Down-under or terrific everyday Malbec from Argentina.  And, of course, there is always Cabernet Sauvignon in all of it’s kingly splendor.

Sure, that’s a pretty big list, but the tastes of Fall bring a lot of variety into the mix. At our house we’ve already chopped the carrots and chunked the beef for hearty stew, baked chicken and Italian sausage in the oven, braised short ribs, made a pot of chili, grilled thick cut lamb chops, roasted the pork all day to pull for tacos al pastor and slow cooked Osso Buco – and it’s only early October!

If you follow Sips or remember The Wine Experience then you know that my personal food and wine pairing mantra is “drink what you like.”  Well I like putting many of the tastes of Fall foods together with reds that just seem to complete the package.  Here’s what I mean:

  • Chili and Zin. Zin adds a dash of peppery flavor and has the attitude to stand up to the multitude of ingredients, especially the tomato and peppers. Other choice: Primitivo.
  • Beef stew and Merlot. Merlot’s jammy flavor seems ideal for the supple gravy and soft beef chunks, as well as the sweetness of the carrots. Other choice: Cabernet.
  • Baked chicken and sausage with Rhones. The Grenache based blends of the southern Rhone bridge the mild flavored chicken and the spiced sausage.  This one is interesting because we actually use white wine in cooking but I like the way the red pulls it all together when it’s time to eat. Other choice Sangiovese.
  • Thick cut grilled lamb chops with Cabernet. The tannins of the Cab are like an exclamation point to the richness of the lamb. Other choice Tempranillo.
  • Braised short ribs with Shiraz. I love the fruit and spice with the meatiness. Other choice Merlot.
  • Osso Buco and Tempranillo. I like the acidity of the Tempranillo with the deep hearty flavor of the slow cooked veal shank. Other choice Nebbiolo.
  • Tacos and Malbec. Si.

I think it’s time to start cooking – then pick some wine from our Sips pages for Every Day, Guest and Splurge wine choices.  And as your special treat, here is the Chicken and Sausage recipe!

Cristina Pastina’s Chicken and Sausage
Serves 6
Note:  Your choice on the chicken.  You can use a whole chicken cut up or six split breast if you prefer just white meat.

6 split chicken breasts (bone in)
4 Italian sausages, cut in thirds
6 medium sized Yukon gold potatoes, quartered
4 large carrots, peeled and cut to large chunks (3 or 4 per carrot)
1 large onion, halved and sliced
½ cup olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
½ cup seasoned bread crumbs
3 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1 tbs. oregano

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

  1. In a large baking dish, pour olive oil and coat the bottom.  Add the chicken and roll around to cover with oil.  Arrange chicken skin side up around the dish. You may use two baking dishes if more room is needed but this will add to the cooking time.
  2. Pour the wine over the chicken.
  3. Salt and pepper each breast.
  4. Sprinkle oregano, garlic and bread crumbs over each.
  5. Arrange sausage pieces, potatoes and carrots around the dish and between the chicken.
  6. Cover all with the onion slices.
  7. Loosely cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 1 hour.  Remove the foil and bake an additional 30 – 45 minutes to desired doneness – cooking time can vary… the tighter it’s packed the slower it cooks (don’t burn, but make sure the carrots and potatoes are cooked tender)  chicken should be browned by now…if not you may broil for a moment…but watch carefully.
  8. Serve.

Food and Wine Love

Do you get stressed out trying to match up wine with food?  It’s not surprising since so much has been written about the “rules’ to follow, too many restaurants have fostered wine snob attitudes and there just seems to be way too much to have to know so that you don’t make a “mistake.”  There’s been information overload when it comes to wine and food pairing.  It’s like too many windows open on the compute.  So let’s reboot and then restart and home in on three ways to think about putting wine and food together.

Think C-squared… it stands for complement or contrast. Wine is really like another ingredient added to the recipe or another side dish brought to the table.  You can choose the style of wine that will complement the primary flavors of the meal, or one that will add contrasting flavors or taste.  Here’s what I mean:

Wines that are big and bold are usually the perfect complement to foods that are too… like the rich taste of lamb with reds like Shiraz, or a Bordeaux; the juicy soft texture of prime rib and soft, melt in your mouth Merlot; that charred on the outside, rare on the inside NY Strip with bold Cabernet from California.  And if you put acidic foods together, such as spaghetti sauce with acidic wine, like Chianti, the acids balance out. Wines that have richness like Chardonnay and Viognier are great with richer foods – think lobster or scallops, and can be terrific with turkey or dishes that have a fair amount of butter in the sauce.  Pinot Noir is awesome with dishes that feature mushrooms or have fruity sauces such as cranberry or pomegranate since they match the somewhat earthy yet red berry flavors.

The contrast works the same way, only in the reverse!  Garlic Shrimp Scampi loves the fruitiness and acidity of a Pinot Grigio to balance things out (by the way my personal favorite with Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris are steamed clams); rotisserie chicken with the fat dripped off and toasty skin and a nicely acidic Pinot Noir taste great together;  spicy Mexican food is perfectly contrasted with off-dry Riesling and salty ham loves the way Chenin Blanc cuts through it; and one of my favorites, the yeasty yet crisp and fizzy joy of Champagne with the delicate flavor of sushi!

Keep the wine and food “in-country.”  Wine is a product of nature and nurture – and so is food. The wine and foods of a country or region share culture, environment and heritage – the shorthand is the French expression, terroir, which gets close to capturing all the influences that impact a wine.  So one of the easiest ways to pair wine and food is simply keep them in the family. It’s not rocket science that the rustic cassoulet of France and the Syrah, Grenache and Mouvedre blended wines of the Rhone Valley taste so good together. Or that hunk of Angus beef with a juicy California Cabernet; or the papardelle cianghiale of Tuscany with Chianti Classico and the  smoked wurst sausages of Germany  with slightly sweet Mosel Riesling.  The list can go on and on – get the picture?  Just default to the place for both the wine and food.

Drink what you like.  Forget the red wine with meat, white wine with fish thing.  Yes, some wines won’t pair as well to enhance the meal or fit with the way the sommelier recommends – but so what?  It’s really only your taste that matters and if you really like Cabernet and you really like grilled salmon then go ahead and enjoy.  If Sauvignon Blanc is your thing then enjoy it with your burger.  These may not be my wine preferences with these foods but all of our tastes are uniquely ours – so go for it.  Yes, this can make for some strange combinations, but I can’t think of a better way to be stress free about putting wine and food together than to be true to your own tastes and preferences.

Q the Zin

Q – as in Bar-B-Q.  So let’s fire up the grill or start the smoker and get your favorite rub or sauce mixed up so we can smoke, sear, baste, rub, pull, shred to our heart’s content.  I love barbecue any and all ways.  It’s the epitome of casual eating.  I think it’s that messy, finger-lickin’ thing.  And there’s one wine that, to me, has the lip-smackin’ style to match up with that finger-lickin’ food.  Whew… try saying that a few times!  That wine is Zinfandel.

What I particularly like about Zin is the jammy flavor for sure – to me its like a spoonful of boysenberry jam.  But with many of the Zins out there it’s the little dash of white pepper-like spiciness that just seems to bring the taste all together, especially with my Q.  These are easy to drink wines all by themselves, but let me tell you, Zin is always part of the meal with my own BBQ baby backs.

Now I know that there is great barbecue from other countries like China and Korea, but the best there is just happens to be from all over the USA.  And Zin is quintessentially an American born and bred wine. (I’ll cover its Italian relative, Primitivo another time along with the luscious cooking of southern Italy).  Sonoma’s Dry Creek region, the old vines of Lodi, the warm Alexander Valley, the rolling hills of Paso Robles and, lest we forget, Napa, all give us Zinfully tasty wines at just about any dollar amount you want to pay.  Maybe we should head for California and start the Zin tour now!

Everyday Sip: 2012 Klinker Brick Zinfandel Old Vine $16
Here’s that spoonful of boysenberry jam.  Old Lodi vines about 80 years old average produce the big flavor. I keep hearing the CCR refrain, “stuck in old Lodi again” and that’s a good thing!

Guest Sip:  Ballentine 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel $25
Black raspberries and spiciness.  Packs a bit of a punch at 15.5% alcohol. A big BBQ wine from old Calistoga vines in northern Napa.

Splurge Sip:  Martinelli Giuseppe & Luisa Zinfandel 2013 $65
First tasted an earlier vintage of this at the winery and was blown away.  Concentrated dried black cherry. Big fruit and a mouthful of wine in every sip – isn’t always easy to get.

Want a terrific dry rub recipe?  Here’s the one I use.  I adapted it from one of Emeril’s to my own taste and I think it offers just the right balance of flavor, spice and underlying heat, especially when the ribs are finished with a smokey sweet sauce.

3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup Hungarian paprika
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup garlic salt
1/4 cup crushed oregano
2 tablespoons Kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon ground cayenne pepper