Monday, January 28, 2008

Welsh Rabbit (Rarebit) Recipe

A lot of words have been spent justifying calling melted cheese on toast Welsh Rabbit or Rarebit. The consensus seems to be that Rabbit is the original phrase.

Ken’s dad was arguably the world’s most un-creative cook. If you’ve ever suffered through “pizza” topped with canned tomato sauce, pieces of cooked ham, and canned green chilies, you’d understand. Anyway, he did have one excellent signature creation – Welsh Rabbit.

Our version is pretty close to Dad’s. It’s basically a roux white sauce, to which beer and cheddar cheese is added. It works well thick over toast, or thinner as a cheddar cheese sauce for vegetables, baked potatoes, or other dishes. Here’s our version (remember, we don’t measure much).

  • Melt 2-3 tbsp of butter in a saucepan
  • Add equal quantity of flour, cook on low heat for a minute or so
  • Add maybe 1/4 cup milk, and stir constantly
  • Add some beer (another 1/4 cup) - a good beer, please, not some watery American "light"
  • Season with some combination of prepared Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, white pepper, sage, thyme, a tiny pinch of nutmeg, and either a dash of cayenne or a shake of Tabasco-type sauce
  • Add grated Cheddar cheese 1/2 cup at a time, alternating cheese with beer until you have your desired consistency (thicker for traditional Rabbit over toast; thinner as a cheese sauce)

Tonight we had a thinner sauce over leftover broccoli-mushroom popovers and some pan-braised asparagus (please don’t ask us where that came from in January). Our wines were leftovers, too – a dry Riesling for Francesca and a hearty Zinfandel for Ken. Both worked well.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Wine Prices

Many of the wine prices we list are a little vague – often because we have lousy memories and also forget to record the price when we purchased the wine. On other occasions, we list the price we paid and also what typical retail is (ie: “$8 on sale, usually about $13”). In keeping with our wine philosophy, we’d say that 80 percent of the wines we discuss are below $15 retail. But we – and you – seldom need to pay $15 for a $15 wine.

Many retailers, especially supermarkets in many states (California and Washington are two we know of), frequently have a variety of wines on sale. And almost all wine retailers – whether a wine store, a liquor store, or a supermarket – offer case discounts (even mixed cases) of 10-20 percent for a case of 12 wines.

Part of our goal with this blog is to show that you can consistently find excellent wines at nearly every price point, especially affordable wines. Of course, when you go too low in price you’ll end up with a few stinkers, but we’ve had $30 bottles we didn’t like either.

Another good way to find affordable bottles is to stick with one producer you know and that you’ve had good luck – four of our “go-to” affordable wineries where we feel we’ll seldom go wrong are Columbia Crest (Washington), Rosemount (Australia), Beringer (California), and B&G (France). Try some of the wines we list as House wines, and if you agree with us, then try a few others in that winery’s line.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Louis Bernard Cotes du Rhone 2006 – France

As much as we like French wine styles, we really wanted to like this red. But... This Grenache/Syrah blend has a nose that’s almost alcohol-y, and tastes that have little fruit (a hint of dark plum), but lots of minerals, earth, acids, and tannins. Somewhat harsh (maybe young). A Maybe, at best. $13

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir 2006 – Italy

Another of the California/Euro hybrid Pinots, but this one isn’t successful. Cheap-tasting, harsh, young “red” wine. We’d had it on our No list before, but hadn’t tasted it in several years (and had forgotten to look at that list when we purchased this bottle). We know why. Pinot Noir from Italy sounds to us like Chardonnay from China. No. $10 (thank goodness we only paid $5 on sale, and only bought one bottle).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

“Go With Anything” Wines

Are there wines that can truly go with anything? Within reason, we think it’s possible. The wine would be white or rose (pink, blush, whatever you want to call them), have some acidity, and just the barest touch of sweetness. These wines won’t necessarily be the “best” with certain foods, but we think they can go with anything – steaks, burgers, asparagus, artichokes, salads, fish, shellfish, even some cheeses. (To us, that may actually be the toughest “go-with-anything” challenge. We think most cheese needs a completely dry wine, but try some of our following ideas and see what you think.) So, our choices for wines that you could take to a dinner where you don’t know what’s being served, or wines to have on hand just in case you can’t think of what to open with a particular meal.

If you can’t find (or don’t like) these particular wines, look for something similar – any Spanish Cava, a dry-ish Rose, a not-too-sweet Riesling. You might also experiment with Gewurztraminer, Chenin Blanc, or maybe even a light-weight Pinot Grigio.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Food and Wine Pairing

There was an interesting article in the January 19 Wall Street Journal about Tim Hanni, who has developed a wine consulting business and a method to help pair wine with hard-to-match foods. He also is promoting “progressive wine lists,” and we’ve shopped in wine stores where basic wine progressions similar to his were used (light-bodied whites, medium, full, etc.). Hanni’s credentials are impeccable – one of the first Americans to pass the “Master of Wine” exams – yet some of his recommendations seem odd to us. We really don’t want our asparagus to taste like salt and lemon juice (his basic spice suggestion) just so we can drink a big Bordeaux with it – just pass the white Zinfandel and we’ll enjoy it just fine.

Wine and food pairing is an art – just as food and spice pairing is. Try some of our “cheap” wine suggestions from this blog with different foods. If something doesn’t taste good together, open another cheap bottle of something else. To us, that’s far better than changing the flavor of the food we so carefully created.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2006 – Washington

This starts with a nose of apple, peaches, and apricots. The tastes come on with citrus, peach, apricot, and a little white pepper. The barest hint of sweetness, nice mild acidity. Yum. A new House wine for us. $6 on sale (usually about $9).

[Update: As previously mentioned, if we find a wine rated elsewhere, we will note those ratings – but only after we write our reviews. This received an 86 from Wine Spectator.]

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Pan-Seared Salmon with Teriyaki Sauce; Mushroom Saffron Risotto; Pinot Grigio

We eat salmon a lot, and in a lot of different ways. We also make our quick homemade Teriyaki sauce, which is:

  • Soy sauce or Tamari
  • Sake or dry white wine
  • Maple syrup
  • Crushed garlic
  • Crushed ginger
  • Mix equal parts of soy, wine, and maple syrup; add garlic and ginger to taste.

We like salmon cooked pretty lightly, so we first sear it skin-side down in olive oil. As soon as the skin side begins to get pink, we flip the filet over, peel off the skin, and cook the second side for another minute or two. We add a splash of the Teriyaki just before the fish is finished, then remove and plate the salmon. We add the rest of the Teriyaki sauce to the pan, to heat it and reduce it a bit. Drizzle some sauce over salmon, and serve the rest on the side.

Risotto rice is cooked differently from Japanese or Chinese rice.

  • Soak a pinch of saffron threads in a tablespoon or two of warm water.
  • Sauté sliced mushrooms and set aside.
  • Sauté some finely chopped onion in butter.
  • Add dry Risotto rice to onions in pan and coat the rice with the butter.
  • Add saffron and its soaking liquid, and a quarter cup or so of white wine.
  • Add warmed vegetable or chicken stock a quarter or half cup at a time, and wait for rice to absorb all the liquid before adding more.
  • When rice is fully cooked, add the mushrooms.

A Columbia Crest Pinot Grigio (previously reviewed) went perfectly with the smoky and smooth tastes of both the risotto and the salmon.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

GraEagle Red & Enchiladas

GraEagle “Red Wing” 2004 – Washington
The first taste is a quick blast of green pepper (not unpleasant). This wine then mellows out to just another red. Some nice solid acidity. Not bad, but just nothing special. A red blend of 49% cabernet sauvignon, 12% merlot, 39% cabernet franc. This was a gift, and we haven’t researched the price (wouldn’t that be unseemly?), so without that guidance, we’ll stick with a Maybe. (As we've said before, our "ratings" are value dependent -- a wine might be a "Yes" at $10 but a "Maybe" at $20.)

[Update: As previously mentioned, if we find a wine rated elsewhere, we will note those ratings – but only after we write our reviews. The 2005 vintage of this wine received a 91 from Wine Spectator.]

Green chili & cheese Enchiladas, with creamed spinach topping.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Lost River Syrah & Pumpkin Soup

Lost River Syrah 2005 – Washington
This is another nicely made wine from our closest local winery. It exhibits good Syrah character, in a style that the winemaker describes as between California and France. It’s nice to see a winemaker not just imitating California or Australia. Black cherries and spice on the nose, tastes of spice, chocolate, and very dark berry fruit. Yes. $22

Pumpkin Soup Recipe


  • Fresh pumpkin (about 1/3 of a medium pumpkin)
  • Desired spices
  • Butter
  • Carrot – 1 large sliced
  • Onion – half medium thick chopped
  • Chicken or Veggie stock – about 4 cups
  • Olive oil

  • Cut pumpkin into manageable size pieces
  • Sprinkle with spices and drizzle with melted butter
  • Bake in 350 degree oven until tender
  • Scoop out flesh and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Sauté onion and carrot in olive oil until start to soften
  • Add stock and cook another 15-20 minutes
  • Add pumpkin and cook another 5 minutes
  • Remove about half of soup, and blend until smooth
  • Return blended soup to pot
Serve with crusty bread or a side salad.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Campanile Pinot Grigio Friuli 2005 – Italy

Nose of ripe apple, melon. Conversely, crisp taste overwhelmingly of lemon; nice acidity. This is a “nice” wine that just doesn’t develop any depth or real character. Maybe. $9

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Rose, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel & New Year’s Eve Dinner

East African Peanut Soup and South African Curried Parsnip Fritters
These are variations from recipes in an old Time-Life “Foods of the World” cookbook. Hearty, spicy, excellent for a cold New Year’s Eve.

Nathanson Creek (Sebastiani) White Zinfandel NV – California
This just can’t be a 4-dollar wine. It isn’t some syrupy sweet factory white Zin; it’s almost like a continental Vin de Pays rose. Nose of papaya and strawberry. Crisp tastes of kiwi and mild raspberry; even a little acid, and not at all sweet tasting. At this price, it’s a House wine for sure.

Dinner wines
Narrow Gauge Inn Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 – California
A friend had given us this bottle a few years ago, with the caveat that it might not be good anymore. He was right. This had turned completely. So...
Narrow Gauge Inn Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 – California
We had another more-recent bottle that we were holding, so thought it best not to hold any longer and try it now. It was already getting old, but still drinkable. Earthy, leather, woody, with obvious oak and integrated tannins. For us, it was still unfortunately a No wine, but then it takes a special Cabernet to get us excited. Price on these two unknown as they were gifts. Both were “special bottlings” for the Narrow Gauge Inn hotel outside Yosemite, from the Guglielmo winery. And then...
Ridge Zinfandel Pagani Ranch 2005 – California
We had this as our ultimate backup wine. (Francesca just couldn’t get into the Cab at all.) This isn’t one of our top Ridge wines, but to us any Ridge is better than most other reds. A Yes/Maybe for this specific Zin. About $25.