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Cote du Rhone


Episode 2: the love affair between food and wine

Black Bean Burger care of: started to revisit the topic of food and wine as a match made in heaven a few weeks ago... My family wine taste-off of sorts interrupted us for a week last week, but with the fourth of July grill fest soon to come, it seems prudent to re-tune the station to another of our Supper Swap success stories! So without further ado, here we have Episode #2 of our Supper Swap series: Black bean sliders! The first time I tried my "Summer is Coming" black bean sliders recipe out on my fellow Swappers I discovered "it needed a little... tweaking", in the words of Tom Hanks in You've Got Mail. Not to worry. I excel at taking a base recipe and fine-tuning it for future endeavors. I discovered Sandra Lee's recipe lacked a bit of bite, sweetness and texture. The food processor process I employed the first time out of the gates ground everything to a paste;  the flavors of each individual component couldn't possibly show through once "grilled". (I also learned the grill is not the cooking tool of choice....) Here's what I came up with as an alternative to this fast summer savior:

Ingredients - black beans (30 oz), 1/2 sweet onion, 1/2 cup of whole beets, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, 1 egg (white)

Directions - Pulse the beans LIGHTLY and in batches in your food processor. Place in bowl. Then pulse 1/2 cup of beets in your processor. (This adds additional flare, color and sweetness to the burgers without being over the top for those who may shy away from beets.) Dice sweet onion into small pieces by hand. Combine, adding black pepper and salt to taste. Then combine with egg and crumbs. Form patties.

Use a skillet to cook each side (about 4 or 5 min/side), til done.

Makes 5 Servings for a large burger, or about 7 sliders.

Serve on a large English muffin and - the key - use Greek yogurt as the topping. Add mango salsa for additional panache!

So, what wine works?

I had a bottle of the Nuevo Mundo Cabernet/Malbec on hand the first time I tasted these re-vamped burgers - and have lived to tell the tale again and again (just ask my poor colleague...)!  But I've also given them a whirl with a Syrah-based Cote du Rhone as well as the Crios Syrah/Bonarda and been oh-so-satisfied. Basically, you want a lush and mouth-filling, deep, dark fruited red wine with a touch of herbaceousness and spice. Other blends that would work happily are the SNAFU (CA) and the Portteus Rattlesnake Red (WA). Or try a good old-fashioned, dark toned, (with chocolate subtones) Malbec!

The point is, these burgers aren't shy, but also offer a touch of spice and sweetness. A wine with dark but lush and sweet fruit or undertones (e.g. the chocolate thing) makes for a great pairing.

What other wines would you pair with such an easy-to-make, satisfying, hearty meal?



Red wine when summer comes early

Vacqueras loveWe've had a lovely bender of 80 degree temps here in Beantown. Love it. My soul is being nourished with Vitamin D, my grill is getting some much needed TLC, and I have an "excuse" to drink red wines even when it is warm out. This week I brought home a bottle of one of my all time favorite wines: 2006 Mas du Bouquet Vacqueras by Vignerons de Caractere.  Yes, I love a good Cote du Rhone. But the Vacqueras is my true happy place in that region. Almost 20 years ago Vacqueras got a little extra "credit" for the wines it produces, largely red wines made of the famous "GSM" trifecta: Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre; Vacqueras became one of (now) five AOCs in the Cote du Rhone. (By way of reference, there are over 100 villages within the CDR that do not have a special designation, or AOC status.)

Law mandates Vacqueras reds have at least 50% Grenache and at least 20% of either Syrah or Mouvedre. From there winemakers can blend in any one of the other 10 varietals permitted in the CDR, though you'll often discover Cinsault if a fourth grape is included in a particular red. Vacqueras is special because of its glacial soils as well as the hot, dry climate that is perfect for producing dense, structured, concentrated wines. And yet I find Vacqueras offerings tend to be a bit more approachable than its Gigondas or Chateneuf du Pape counterparts. (Ok, fine, you're working your way up the Wow Factor charts in "magical" qualities with those other two AOCs, but you also pay a few extra dollars accordingly.)

Vacqueras wines can certainly indulge your wild side or transport you to the great outdoors - they can offer tremendous earthy, herbaceous, rustic qualities, with trademark spice hitting a nice note on the finish. But more often I find those elements are more subtle, evolving behind the bigger fruit fiddles playing the main tune. These reds are big and bold - but soft and lush, too. The paradox enthralls my taste buds - AND more to the point, indulges my need to grill, grill, grill!

The Mas du Bouquet is a favorite of mine because of its tremendous consistency despite being the product of a co-op of winemakers. I think its consistency is actually an expression of place: the Manganelli Family has owned their vineyards for 100 years and many of the vines are quite old. That kind of history coupled with a dedication to sustainable, environmentally-friendly practices must set a certain tone and yield (no pun intended) particularly good fruit. That gives any winemaker a decent head start.

My tasting notes, you now demand? Fine, fine... When it is first opened, spices will literally tickle your nose distracting you from garnering more. But within as little as 20 minutes, its violet and lavender florals emerge, followed by aromas of black raspberries and plums. These fruits are juicy on the palate, with a touch of blackberry coming to fruition as well. A hint of leather, a hint of spice - and all is naughty and nice! The mouthfeel is what sends me to the moon, though - lush and supple with only gentle tannins becoming even softer as the wine continues to open. Lip-smacking goodness. Perfect with game, burgers, lamb - or even an earthy risotto dish, I imagine!

Which Vacqueras do you most enjoy? Or will you beginning your travels with the Mas du Bouquet?



the masked monster grape, aka wines for fall: petite sirah

What better way to continue our discussion about wines perfect for fall than to start the month of October with some banter about a monster wine? Petite Sirah (note the "i" in Sirah) is also a stealthy little operator, or the masked creature standing on your front steps in just 30 days time. Boo-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!! "What the heck is she getting at today," you ask with incredible anticipation and a smile dancing at the corners of your mouth?

Most people have never heard of this lesser known, somewhat cloak-and-dagger varietal. Petite Sirah is a test tube grape that actually got its start in the Rhone Valley of France. It is a cross between Syrah and Peloursin, and was originally named Durif, after it's human father. Dr. Durif developed the varietal in the 1800s to resist Powdery Mildew, to which Syrah is prone. Unfortunately being a tightly bunched varietal meant it wasn't equally resistant to gray rot. In the humid Southern Rhone this wasn't exactly a recipe for success.

Not to worry! California's drier climate provided just the breath of fresh air this varietal needed. Petite Sirah is a high-tannin, high-acid, darkly-purple grape varietal used to add structure (aka aging power), oomph (body) and/or color to other wines. So how/why the dramatic name change from Durif to Petite Sirah? It wasn't until the 1960s and 1970s that folks in California started to get particularly concerned with labeling wines per the varietals involved. And because the grape's characteristics so resembled those of Sirah, it was called Petite Syrah. (The longer story of it's confused genetic background and resolution by Dr. Meredith can be found here, via the notes of Dennis Fife of Fife Vineyards.)

So why is it so poorly known? For whatever reason - and I'm truly uncertain as to why - Petite Sirah is just not grown in major quantities. Something like 3200 acres of vines in California are considered Petite Sirah today. And so it is a cult wine. Many wine shops don't even carry it as a single varietal offering. And I don't think I've ever seen it as such on a restaurant wine list, either. But somewhere along the way I was introduced to this great monster of a wine. I enjoy it even more in the fall because it packs such a great punch - particularly when the grill is going (yea meat paired with highly structured, deeply flavored wines) and the night's are cooler (and a little something extra to warm you up never hurts)!

I'll spare you my own wine notes this post because I want you to really seek out one of these big, blackberry-fruited, peppery, single-varietal Petite Sirahs this fall. If your shop doesn't carry a single varietal offering, see if they can bring in Vinum Cellar's Pets Petite Sirah (~$12), the Peltier Station Petite Sirah (~$17) or the Mettler Petite Sirah (~$23). Once you taste these on their own you'll unmask this monster of a wine and better understand what this grape contributes when blended into wines like Trentadue's Old Patch Red or Owen Roe's Abbot's Table.

Do you enjoy this bold, inky, spicy red varietal? Which Petite Sirah is your fall pick?



Wine Blogging Wednesday: Cote du Rhone Blanc

Today is Wine Blogging Wednesday! And so it is I have the occasion to divert from my typical blogging approach to bring news of a gorgeous, supple white wine from the Cote du Rhone, France: 2006 Chateau de Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone Blanc. But first a brief introduction to this Wine Blogging Wednesday I speak of.... WBW was started about 4 years ago by Lenndevours to bring a virutal wine tasting to the global masses. A theme is selected by the monthly host and then wine bloggers select a wine they've tasted based on the theme and post their impressions on the applicable day. This month Dr. Debs is our guide. She had the brilliant idea of selecting the Cote du Rhone whites as the theme.

For me this month's "assignment" was a pleasure. The Cote du Rhone could be my favorite region in the wine making world. There is enough variation from the North to South to keep things interesting and challenging, too. The reds are full of character, offering a great sense of place and tradition - one that my palette adores. The whites are often seductive and refreshing. (Note: of course these comments are sweeping generalizations for a large and distinct region, but for the sake of keeping my posts relatively reasonable in length, I can't help but tempt you to explore for yourself. The Rhone is quite fun!)

There are nine grapes of the Rhone. The St. Cosme blends 4 of them: 50% is Roussanne and the rest is Picpoul, Clairette, and Marsanne. Roussanne and Clairette are perhaps two of the most aromatic and elegant grapes in this area - and the St. Cosme surely benefits. Marsanne and Picpoul are more often used as blending grapes (though I've had the latter on it's own and it is quite fantastically refreshing and versatile). Ok, so those are the grapes... "What about the wine?!", you ask?

I was shocked by the St. Cosme's stunning gold color. I couldn't wait to put my nose in the glass! I gave it a swirl and initially found the nose to have hints of petrol followed by intense, ripe pear aromas. As it opened and warmed slightly (it has been HOT in Boston), honey notes emerged. My first taste did not disappoint either. It had an incredible, fleshy-full, mouthfeel and flavors of pear and other tropical fruits danced around in my mouth. It paired well with my meal, too: cucumber dill & walnut salad, grilled tandoori chicken and red potatoes. This wine received my highest "rating": YUM!

I believe every taster has their own experience with and impressions of a wine; that's why I don't blog to rate wines, but rather focus on giving you the 'back story' or other tidbits about wine to increase your curiosity to play (read: taste) as much as possible. After tasting a wine for myself, I often investigate to see what other's think. Sometimes I completely agree, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I laugh at how someone can say a wine is "close to being outstanding" (first, what exactly does that mean??) and then rate it only 89 points.

My recommendation? Go out and splurge on the St. Cosme Cote du Rhone Blanc! Taste the wine and then check out Spectator's and Parker's notes or Google it for more info. After I selected the wine I realized Gary V tasted this wine out not that long ago, too. So there's lots of entertaining reading out there as you sip. Cheers!