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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Wines Under $20

A Grape That Could Use Some Love: Dolcetto

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Mario Batali's Spicy Stewed Sausages with Three Peppers
Dolcetto has a tough time getting the attention it deserves. Mainly its problem is that it’s grown in Piedmont, in Italy. The other red grapes that are grown in Piedmont? Well, first there’s Nebbiolo, the grape in Barolo, which means Dolcetto is competing against a beverage that’s been known since as the mid-1800s as “the wine of kings and the king of wines.” Not a fair fight. Then there’s Barbera, which is kind of the Avis to Nebbiolo’s Hertz. It’s number two. It tries harder. Which leaves Dolcetto as, what, the Rent-a-Wreck of grapes?

When I am the emperor of reality, after the bazillion dollars and the private island and the sudden ascent to George Clooney-like savoir faire, I am going to give Dolcetto a little boost. It’s a nifty grape. It makes juicy, lively, affordable and delicious reds, with a flavor that suggests black cherries and a faint, intriguing touch of bitterness. Dolcetto isn’t meant for deep thought but simply for happy drinking. You can chill it lightly. You can serve it with burgers. Hey, you could put it in a CamelBak and take it up a mountain. Dolcetto is fine with that. It would make me think of my Italian grandmother back in Alba and her great homemade agnolotti, except that I’m mostly Irish plus some random Welsh-German craziness and the only thing I remember my grandmother cooking was toast.

So, Dolcetto. Go buy a bottle. Invite some friends over. Get a pizza. Drink the stuff. Don’t think about it—there are plenty of other things think about. Besides, how can you not love a grape whose name translates as “little sweet one?”

5 Dolcettos to Hunt Down

1.     2009 Elio Grasso ($17) The rich fruit here recalls pomegranate rather than cherry.

2.     2008 Renato Ratti Colombè ($15) Mild tannins make this a good candidate for a light chill; an ideal picnic red, in other words.

3.     2009 Cavallotto Vigna Scot ($16) Dark fruit and soft tannins make this a good introduction to the Dolcetto variety.

4.     2009 Borgogno ($20) An old-school producer making old-school wine: earthy and herbal, rather than fruity and ripe.

5.     2009 Massolino ($20) Clear, precise flavors define this streamlined red. 

Related Links:

Wine 101: Dolcetto

15 Rules for Great Wine and Food Pairing

Bargain Wines

Beyond the Mimosa: Sparking Wine Cocktails You’ve Never Heard Of

Cooking with Red Wine

Bottles from the Best Blogging Winemakers

(Pictured above: Try pairing Mario Batali's Spicy Stewed Sausages with Three Peppers with a great Dolcetto)

Wines Under $20

Three Great Burger Wines

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Cheddar-and-Onion Smashed Burger
Grilling season has started, and while there are certainly other things you can grill than burgers, why? A burger is an excellent thing. To that end, here are three great burger wines:

NV Lini Labrusco Lambrusco ($14) It’s purple, it’s fizzy, it comes from Italy, and it’s really good, the latter part being what separatesit from most Lambruscos.

2009 Crios de Susanna Balbo Malbec ($15) Malbec was made for grilled meat (that may explain its popularity in Argentina, where people eat something like 125 pounds of beef each year, per person). Susanna Balbo, one of Argentina’s greatest winemakers, has a knack for the grape, which this juicy, lightly spicy red makes clear.

2009 Foxglove Zinfandel ($14) Bob and Jim Varner make high-end, terrific wines under their own name, and inexpensive, also terrific wines under the Foxglove label. There’s a little Petite Sirah in this, which adds some backbone to Zinfandel’s lush fruit.
 
Related Links:
More Burger Pairings
Best Burgers in the U.S.
10 Favorite Burger Recipes
Top 10: Fast Burgers
15 Rules for Great Wine and Food Pairing

(Pictured above: Cheddar-and-Onion Smashed Burger)

Wines Above $40

Shipwrecked Champagne

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A bottle the divers didn't chug.
Last summer, divers discovered a cache of incredibly old Champagne in a shipwreck off Finland's Åland islands. Today, someone snatched up part of it. Two 1840s-vintage bottles (one from the long-gone Juglar house, the other from the ubiquitous Veuve Clicquot) sold at auction for 54,000 euros (about $39,000 a bottle). That's plenty, but only half of what Champagne expert Richard Juhlin speculated they might sell for, and much less than the $130,000 that someone recently paid for a huge bottle of the so-so (but Jay-Z-approved) Armand de Brignac. So maybe today's winning bidder scored a deal.

What happened to the other 145 bottles? At least one was consumed, immediately, by the divers who discovered it. One told the press: "It had a very sweet taste. You could taste oak and it had a very strong tobacco smell." Sound enticing? You can hope that the Finnish government releases more.

If you missed the chance to bid, console yourself with 10 much more affordable Champagnes (and other excellent sparkling wines), plus pairings like crunchy hush puppies with Tabasco-spiked remoulade.

Wines Under $20

Today Show: Wines for Snack Foods

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I was on the fourth hour of Today on NBC this morning, doing a fun roundup of affordable wines to pair with snack foods—definitely no haute cuisine here. But if you've ever wondered what wines go with nachos with cheese & jalapeños, or Slim Jims, or Ring Dings (really), click through to the video.

Pairings

Weekend TODAY: Wines for the Holidays

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I got to rise very early this past Sunday morning and trundle over to the studios at Rockefeller Center to do a TODAY show spot on wines to go with classic holiday meals, with the always engaging Lester Holt. It was sort of a slow-starting morning, thanks a very unscientific tasting of multiple Champagnes the previous night, but after a large infusion of coffee my brain started zipping along in a relatively lively way. The result—you can watch it on this clip—was great fun. 

 

Wines Under $20

Weekend Today: Wines for Grilling

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It's grilling season, and consequently I'll be appearing on Weekend Today tomorrow morning—Saturday—in the eight o'clock hour with some affordable wine recommendations for everything grilled. Malbec with burgers, albariño with grilled fish, zin with ribs, and one of my favorite dry rosés that I've tried recently—the 2009 Mulderbosch Rosé ($11), from South Africa—with grilled chicken breasts. If I don't run out of time (always a risk, since three and a half minutes goes fast), I'll wrap it up with a tangerine-and-peachy, lightly sparkling, lightly sweet 2008 Michele Chiarlo Moscato d'Asti ($14) to serve with grilled peaches. Should be fun, so tune in.

Pairings

Tasty (Mis)Adventures in Vegetarian Red Wine Pairings

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Our May story on Bonny Doon and the brilliant chef behind their new Tasting Room, Charlie Parker, inspired me to try pairing vegetarian dishes with big red wines at home. If only I had the professional finesse of Bonny Doon. Earlier this week Ray Isle gave me half a case of big reds from the F&W tasting room for the experiment, which I was about to take on the subway when it started to pour. Since I had to hold an umbrella with one hand, I could only grab two of the six bottles with the other: a 2007 Praxis Lagrein and a 2006 Masi Campofiorin. Then, once I was at home I discovered the Campofiorin was corked.

I made my stuffed red bell peppers anyway, filling them with cooked red quinoa and feta cheese, and simmering them in a tomato sauce spiked with a pinch of chile flakes. Finally I tried them with the Lagrein. They tasted just how you'd imagine stuffed bell peppers would, if they'd been garnished with blueberry jam. I had much better luck with the 2009 Hofer Grüner Veltliner in my refrigerator: the faint floral notes married well with the juicy bell peppers, while the white pepper and zippy acidity lightened the rich stuffing. But there is nothing big nor is there anything red about Grüner-Veltliner, though it may be one of the most vegetable-friendly white wines out there. So I'm going to take a page out of Randall Grahm's book and try again.

Meanwhile, enjoy these brilliant vegetarian pairings from Charlie Parker:

Savoy Cabbage and Sunchoke Pizzas with a Dolcetto

Smoky Ribollita with a Sangiovese

Roasted Turnips and their Greens, with a Syrah

Pairings

Don't Jerky Me Around!

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Well, that headline doesn't actually mean much, but it was hard to resist. The point is, I've discovered my new favorite wine snack: the beef jerky that chef John Schenk (F&W Best New Chef '95) has added to the bar menu at the Strip House steakhouses in Houston and New York—and will in theory soon be adding to all the other Strip Houses around the country.

Strip House Beef Jerky

This tiny photo doesn't quite do it justice. What Schenk does is take prime strip loin, cut it into strips, pound it lightly till it's thin, then marinate it in minced garlic, ground coriander, curry powder, dark brown sugar, black pepper, soy sauce, oyster sauce, thyme, chopped cilantro, lime juice, and red wine vinegar—whew—for at least 24 hours. He pulls it out of the marinade, dries it in a 200 degree oven for somewhere up to 40 minutes or so, cools it, refrigerates it, then fries it to order in goose fat. (Because, you know, why the heck not fry it in goose fat?) And it's served with fried onions. It's slightly sweet, tender and chewy at once, excellently beefy, much more reminiscent of Hong Kong-style beef jerky than of the leathery, black, mesquite-smoked stuff I remember from being a kid in Texas. And I can tell you, it goes fantastically well with a big red wine.

If it sounds intriguing, you have two options: go to Strip House and order it, or, if you just have a general hankering for jerky, wait till our June issue when we're running a whole jerky article. Your call.

Pairings

Great Kosher for Passover Wines

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"There's no injunction in the Talmud that says kosher wine has to be sweet," explains Toronto wine writer Tony Aspler. For the seven remaining nights of Passover, wine writer Natalie Maclean  recommends these dry kosher-for-Passover alternatives:

© Tina Rupp

2007 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Cabernet Franc ($13) A rich, full-bodied wine from Israel with aromas of dark red berries, plums and smoke. Pair it with roasted eggplant, like this tangy eggplant caponata (pictured).

2004 Yarden Pinot Noir Golan Heights Winery ($27) This full-bodied Israeli wine has ripe, almost jammy, cherry and raspberry flavor. It's a great match for roasted and braised lamb, as well as grilled salmon, like this salmon dish topped with cilantro-pecan pesto.

2007 Golan Heights Winery Cabernet Sauvignon ($18) A lovely, supple Israeli wine with notes of dark raspberries and black plums. It would go well with skillet-roasted lamb loins with herbs.

 

Wines Under $20

Today Show: Wines for Takeout Food

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Had a fun time today, as usual, on the Today Show with Kathie Lee & Hoda. This time around the subject was wines to pair with takeout food, part of my secret plan (actually not so secret, given I'm blogging about it) to convince the world that wine (a) doesn't have to be fancy/elegant/effete and (b) that it goes with almost everything. You can see the segment here, but to give a quick rundown:

1) Unoaked Chardonnay with Sushi: 2008 Spring Seed Wine Co. Chardonnay ($15 or so, find this wine). My experience is that oaky whites don't do well at all with raw fish (or with shellfish, for that matter) but unoaked ones do. I could have used a Sauvignon Blanc, but from experience I know that Kathie Lee is not a fan—to say the least—of Sauvignon Blanc, so I opted for this tasty Australian Chardonnay. 

2) Gewurztraminer with Kung Pao Chicken: 2007 Hugel & Fils Gewurztraminer ($22 or so, find this wine). The oil and heat of some Chinese dishes can make them tough to pair; I find that Alsace Gewurz's substantial body and spicebox character works pretty well, especially drier versions like Hugel's. For even hotter dishes I'd turn up the sweetness on the wine, maybe to something in a Zind-Humbrecht style.

3) Champagne with French Fries: NV Henriot Blanc Souverain ($42 or so, find this wine). Basically, if it's salty and fried, Champagne is a good bet. And what's more fun that eating French fries and drinking Champagne? Only eating French fries and drinking Champagne while lounging in a bed in a stupidly expensive hotel room with a fantastic view of Paris.

4) Chianti with Pizza: 2007 Antinori Pèppoli ($22 or so, find this wine). Well, Chianti and pizza, right? But there's legitimacy to this beyond the sort of no-brainer cultural connection, which is that with something cheesy and oily (yep) like pizza really needs a red with firm tannins and a nice cut of acidity—which Chianti supplies quite well.

5) Pinot Noir with Tacos: 2008 La Crema Monterey ($19 or so, find this wine). I owe my sommelier pal William Sherer for this one. The reason it works so well is that Pinot's bright fruit can hold up to all-over-the-place flavors in something like a taco; but also, when you've got hot peppers/jalapeños/hot sauce, what you don't want is a particularly tannic red—tannins tend to amplify heat, rather than subdue it. Though, if you're one of those lunatics who likes chewing up scotch bonnets for fun, hey, pour a Barolo with your Mad Dog 357-smothered wings and go to town. 

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