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Fine French Burgundy at the American grill? Why not?!

Favorite Foods “On a Stick”
Minnesota cuisine isn’t usually considered exactly “gourmet”. At the end of summer, we relish our state fair, famous for foods on a stick: corn dogs, pronto pups, chocolate dipped bacon, deep-fried Snickers, even spaghetti & meatballs! Why not take a favorite cool weather dish (beef bourguignon) and twist it up for summer enjoyment on the grill? Beef-Bourguignon-on-a-stick!

Beef Bourguignon is a traditional dish from the Burgundy region, so we’ll pair our meal with a nice Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Even though we’re cooking at the grill, we’re going to stick with traditional wines for beef bourguignon.  You didn’t see any barbecue sauce there, right?! The toned down flavors and earthy aromas will be perfect.

We enjoyed our first course of a roasted beets with herb and blue cheese salad. The Chardonnay paired very nicely with the earthy-sweet beets, the herbs and the blue cheese

Chardonnay and Beet Salad
In the fancier appellations, you may need to spend over $100 a bottle for a top white Burgundy.  However, if you look in the Maconnais, a sub-region in the southern part of the region, you can find lots of very reasonably priced, delicious chardonnays. These wines are meant to be enjoyed at the table in a casual setting and they pair well with a wide array of foods. Beets aren’t my favorite food in the whole world, but mix them up with some herbs, dressing and blue cheese and I’ll happily clean my plate. Especially with a nice, lean white wine to wash them down.

Chateau de La Greffiere is located in the southern Maconnais region in Burgundy. Affordable, delicious Chardonnay!

Ch. de La Greffiére Mâcon-La Roche-Vineuse Blanc “Sous le Bois” AOC 2014 ($24 at Sunfish Cellars or online at Balanced Wine Selections)

White wines from Burgundy are nearly always 100% Chardonnay. This wine is from the Maconnais, a sub-region known for producing nice, affordable table wines and this one is no exception.

Eye: Clear, medium lemon yellow
Nose: Clean, medium intensity. White flowers and lemon custard, pears. Nice abundant fruit. No overt notes of oak.
Mouth: Dry, medium- body, medium+ acidity, bright citrus fruit, medium finish. Has a certain softening, perhaps, partial ML. A delicious wine at the dinner table.

Main course: Beef-Bourguignon-on-a-Stick!
The idea for our main dish comes from a fun little paperback cookbook published back in 1995, “Pedaling Through Burgundy Cookbook” by Sarah Leah Chase. Now out of print, you can get a copy used for around $5 delivered to your home. It’s a fun little cookbook with lots stories along with traditional and not so traditional recipes from the region. We’re going to pair our main dish with a very nice red burgundy from the Cotes de Nuits, known as the home of some of the finest red burgundy wines.  Our wine comes from Domaine Pierre Amiot et Fils, a winery I had the good fortune to visit on one of our trips to the region.

Red Burgundy = Pinot Noir. Morey-Saint-Denis is a lovely little village in the Cotes de Nuits section of the Burgundy wine region

Domaine Pierre Amiot et Fils Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru Les Blanchards AOC 2011 ($40 euros at the winery, US online here)
Eye: Clear, pale ruby center with a ruby-rose colored edge. Just slightly hazy, I would guess it’s unfiltered.
Nose: Clean, medium intensity, floral & fresh ripe cherry up front, herbal notes and fresh clean earth behind. Nose is so intriguing, you could almost be happy just breathing in the aroma.
Mouth: Dry, medium body, medium+ acidity, low tannins, luscious ripe cherries, nice herbal notes, long lingering finish.

Bacon wrapped sirloin skewers sounds so American, but it’s secretly Beef Bourguignon!

Old world wines rarely work with traditional American barbecue sauces. However, if you morph your beef bourguignon for the grill, a lovely red Burgundy will be a perfect choice. The Pierre Amiot et Fils wine is a premier cru wine, an official classification putting the wine in the top 10% of red wines from the region.

Beef Bourguignon-on-a-Stick

Note: this recipe is basically a red wine reduction and beef skewers, so jump right in!


Red Wine and Mushroom Sauce

  • 1 oz. dried mushrooms (I used porcini)
  • 6 oz. hot water
  • 5 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 12oz. fresh white button mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 1/2 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • 8 oz. beef broth
  • 8 oz. inexpensive but drinkable red wine

Beef Skewers

  • 24 oz. sirloin, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
  • If you like your steak rare or medium-rare, cut the steak into larger pieces,up to 2″
  • 8 oz. bacon, cut in 1/2 (enough to wrap beef pieces), blanched in boiling water for 1 minute
  • 16 oz. mushrooms – your choice of white, shiitake, or medium size portobella or baby bella
  • 2 medium onions, peeled, quartered and separated into layers
  • Flat leaf parsley for garnish


Red Wine Reduction Sauce

  • Make the red wine reduction sauce first, then keep it warm until serving time
  • Soak the dried mushrooms in the hot water for about 15 minutes. Drain, and reserve the water. Chop the mushrooms.
  • Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat and add the onion, garlic, and fresh mushrooms. Saute until soft and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
  • Add the flour to the mushroom/onion/garlic mixture and toss to coat thoroughly.
  • Add the red wine to the skillet, stirring to pick up the cooked bits off the bottom of the skillet.
  • Add the stock to make a nice smooth sauce
  • Add the minced dried mushrooms
  • Add the reserved mushroom soaking liquid if needed.
  • Note: on my first try, I made the sauce a bit too thick, don’t overdo it on the reduction

Beef Skewers

  • Wrap each piece of steak in a piece of bacon, then skewer, alternating beef, onion and mushroom until the skewers are full
  • Grill to your desired doneness, about 8-10 minutes for medium, depending on how big your pieces of steak are
  • Serve with the red wine reduction sauce on the side
  • Reduction sauce + beef skewers = Beef Bourguignon-on-a-Stick!

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Bordeaux has beautiful estates and legendary wines, but the top wines are out of reach of the everyday enthusiast

100 Problems with Bordeaux

  • Bordeaux is stuffy
  • Bordeaux is expensive
  • Bordeaux needs to be aged for 20 years before you drink it
  • I love Bordeaux, but it’s really only for very special occasions
  • Bordeaux is what grandfathers drink, no one under 50 will touch the stuff

These are the opinions in a typical American wine shop today, and you’ll have a hard time finding much Bordeaux in many a shop. There is a kernel of truth in some of these statements. Wines are labeled after the commune, not the grape. Wines which are traditional in approach with a line drawing of a chateau on the label can seem stuffy. Top Bordeaux wines can be mind-numbingly expensive and they will benefit from long aging. However, they are less than 10% of the wines produced in the region. There aren’t that many millionaires who can afford $500 a bottle!

The appellations of Côtes de Bordeaux sit on the Right Bank, just across the river from the storied Left Bank and just next to the top Right Bank regions. You’ll find lots of delicious bargains when you know these names (map courtesy of Teuwen Communications)

Côtes de Bordeaux to the Rescue
Wineries in the larger region of Bordeaux have wised up and have started to cooperate to take advantage of strength in numbers. Five communities in the affordable area of the Right Bank (generally Merlot-centric) have banded together under a new appellation name to increase their recognition. What originally were named Côtes de Blaye, Côtes de Castillon, Côtes de Franc, Sainte-Foy and Premiere Côtes de Bordeaux will now all be included under the umbrella of Côtes de Bordeaux. You may still see their individual village, but know that they are all working together to increase their identity. I think their nickname is perfect: “Bordeaux in Blue Jeans.” In my previous visit to Bordeaux I did not make it to this region, I hope to correct that on my next trip!

These wines are all made to be enjoyed today, no need to cellar them for 20+ years. They are priced to be affordable for us regular people, and there are even wines which will appeal to a wine drinker more accustomed to California than Saint-Emilion. The wineries in this area tend to be family owned. They share similar soil to the more famous Right Bank regions, a mix of clay & limestone. The dominant grape is Merlot, but as in all of Bordeaux, the wines are blends of the typical Bordeaux grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet France, Petit Verdot and Malbec. I noticed more use of Cabernet Sauvignon in the Côtes de Bordeaux compared with Saint Emilion and Pomerol.  Perhaps the climate is just enough warmer to allow Cabernet Sauvignon a better chance of ripening? Whites are less well known, but equally delicious. The white wines are blends as well, highlighting Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Côtes de Bordeaux accounts for approximately 10% of all of Bordeaux’s production.

French Winophiles Group Explores Bordeaux for Everyday Enjoyment
Thanks to our friends at Teuwen Communications, our French #Winophiles group is sampling affordable wines from Bordeaux this month. Cruise down further in this post to see a whole group of great ideas for your weeknight Bordeaux pleasure! (click on any photo for a full size slide show, hit escape to return)

The Wines
Wines for this post were provided as samples by Teuwen Communications.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Chateau Peybonhomme-les-Tours “Le Blanc Bonhomme” (sample, $20 SRP)

Tech notes from the winery:
Producer fifth generation brother and sister Guillaume and Rachel Hubert operate Château Peybonhomme-Les-Tours. They farm the estate and make the wines themselves, and represent the largest certified biodynamic estate in Blaye. The blend is 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 50% Semillon and is listed at 13.5% abv

Jeff’s tasting notes:
Eye: Clear, medium lemon yellow a touch on the warm side (color)
Nose: Clean, stony. Impression of rain on pavement, a bit of butter (only noticed because we tasted this vs. Sancerre).
Mouth: Dry, medium intensity flavor, medium+ acid, but well buffered. Medium body medium alcohol, flavors still remind one of wet stones, white flowers, lemon rind in the background. Nice medium+ length finish.

Avocado shrimp bowls were a great choice..

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Wine Pairing Weekend Plays with “M” Wines
Our monthly Wine Pairing Weekend blogging group takes on just about any challenge. This month, our host Lori from Dracaena Wines is hosting and we are joining her in her monthly “Winephabet” posts. So, we’ll all pick a wine that begins with the letter “M” and explore the wine with a food pairing of our choice. Should be fun! Do you have a favorite “M” wine? Take a look further down in this post to see if one of our bloggers highlighted your favorite.

M is for Marselan. Never heard of it? Not surprising. Read on!

M is for Marselan
If the Marselan grape is new to you, don’t be surprised. It’s new to me, too. I have a project in my “real job” that takes me to China on a regular basis, and I’ve been trying to explore Chinese wines a bit. I recently found out that the Marselan grape is grown at a number of the many wineries springing up in various parts of China. So much so that it is being talked about as the possible signature grape of Chinese wine.

Can you see the Great Wall from Amethyst Manor winery? Maybe!

Marselan is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache and it is a young variety, only being created in 1961. Paul Truel was a researcher at the National Agricultural Research Institute Vineyard at Vassal, near Montpelier in the south of France. Paul’s goal with this particular cross was to retain the intriguing aroma and structure of Cabernet Sauvignon while adding the heat resistance and vigor of the Grenache variety.

While Marselan is not well known, it is grown in 20+ countries and starting this year, even has a “wine day” in World Marselan Day. I found out about Marselan and World Marselan Day on my last trip to Shanghai, and I was able to bring home what I thought was a nice bottle from Pudao Wines.

Google Translate comes to the rescue when it comes to reading the back of the Chinese wine bottle!

The Amethyst Manor Wines Back Label Surprise
Initially I smiled, thinking the back label of the bottle wouldn’t be of much use. I don’t read Chinese and I was headed back to the US, so my Chinese work colleagues wouldn’t be able to help. I decided to try Google translate. I have found Google translate to always be entertaining, and sometimes even useful. Imagine my surprise when this came up:

“Huailai Amethyst Estate is located in Huailai City, Hebei Province, China’s high-quality wine producing region. The location of the production area is unique. The north can overlook Guanting Reservoir and the south can overlook Yanshan North Great Wall of Ming Dynasty. The estate integrates grape cultivation, wine production, filling, grape culture propagation and wine cellar possession service. It depends on the unique natural conditions and climate of the excellent soil in the Huailai production area – the overlapping layers of the Jiayi Lake. Amethyst Estate Wine with distinctive personality. This wine uses 50% of American barrels, 50% of Hungarian barrels, and is stored in 14 barrels. The body is dark purple, full of mature berries such as cherry plums and oak barrels. Aromas of vanilla, chocolate, etc. The entrance is sweet and charming, full bodied and full of tannins, with a pleasant and long-lasting aroma. It is not only suitable for family drinks but also for social business occasions, with a net level of 14% vol.”

Amethyst Manor Amethyard Marselan 2014 (469 RMB, about $76)
Eye: Clear, deeply colored ruby with a purple edge. Deeply stains the glass on swirling, no gas or sediment
Nose: Clean, medium+ intensity. Fresh, ripe blueberries & blackberries. Herbal edge of rosemary, and a touch of green pepper, but very well controlled. Cooking spices, fresh cedar shavings.
Mouth: Dry, medium+ intensity flavors, medium acidity, medium+ tannins. Medium+ body, medium+ alcohol. Dark fruit flavors with nicely rounded texture. Fruit forward, but not overly extracted or overly oaky. Medium+ finish lingers nicely. This is an excellent quality wine with good balance, length, rich intensity and interesting complexity. Drinking nicely now, could definitely benefit from more aging, 5-10 years.

When faced with a totally unknown red wine, I default to simple grilled red meat as a pairing. How about you?

“M” Wines from my Wine Pairing Weekend Buddies
Join us Saturday May 12 at 10am CDT for our twitter chat about the wine that starts with the letter “M”! Look for us at #WinePW on Twitter. Take a look below to see if one of our group picked your favorite “M” wine:

  • Jeff Burrows of FoodWineClick will be discussing “M” is for Marselan
  • Jill Barth of L’OCCASION explains Monterey Wines For Summertime
  • Camilla Mann of Culinary Adventures with Camilla  enjoyed M is for Mourvèdre with Maple-Glazed Duck Legs
  • Cindy of Grape Experiences enjoyed an evening Wine and Dine: La Mora Favorites with Margherita Flatbread
  • Lauren of The Swirling Dervish is chatting about Dry Muscat from Málaga and Pork Paella
  • David of Cooking Chat enjoyed Asiago Lemon Spaghetti with Malagousia Wine from Greece
  • Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm celebrated In the Merry Merry Month of May I Met Magistrate Merlot
  • Gwendolyn of Wine Predator decided M is for Malbec: 8 Wines, 4 Countries, 3 Continents paired with Empanadas
  • Nicole on Somm’s Table is Cooking to the Wine: Recanati Marawi with Black Cod and Papaya-Cucumber Salad
  • Lisa, The Wine Chef paired Roast Chicken With Moorooduc Estate Pinot Noir From The Mornington Peninsula – The Best Australian Wine Region You’ve Never Heard Of
  • Jennifer of VinoTravels enjoyed Malvasia on the island of Sicilia
  • Lori from Dracaena Wines will post #WinePW Meets #Winephabet Street; M is for Moscatel

Our Chinese Marselan paired beautifully with simple grilled meat with squash, also prepared on the grill

Pairing Dinner with Chinese Marselan
I had little idea of what to expect from a Chinese Marselan. I understood the parent grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, but would the winery take an old world or new world approach? The Hebei province is pretty far north, the winters can be cold, but how about the summers? How about the viticulture techniques?

The more modest Chinese wines I’ve tried to date often impressed me as somehow “odd”. As if they were trying, but somehow missed something fundamental in the formula.  I needn’t have worried! When the wine is a bit of a mystery, I go with a nice simple meal featuring grilled red meat. Today I grilled our favorite tenderloin steaks from our friends at Sunshine Harvest Farm. Alongside the steak, I cooked spaghetti squash, leeks, and wilted some kale. I mixed the veggies with a bit of simple olive oil & vinegar dressing and dinner was served. The Marselan was delicious with our meal. While it was fruit forward, it was not overly extracted and the oak was subtle. A big, structured red wine was indeed a great choice with our steak, and the grilled flavors in the veggies paired nicely as well. A winner all around.

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Shanghai is a City of Lights
I have a project in my “real job” that takes me to China regularly, most often to Shenzhen, Beijing, or Shanghai.
(click on any photo to view a full size slide show, hit “escape” to return)

Hunting for Chinese Wine in Shanghai
Forbes online lists China as the #6 worldwide wine producer in 2016. However, you are unlikely to see a Chinese wine in a Chinese cuisine restaurant in China.  If there is a wine, it will be red and typically from Australia or France.

Dedicated wine shops are not so easy to find, even in major cities. There was a wine shop near the hotel in Beijing and I managed to stop one day when they were open. I found the one clerk who spoke English and asked if they had Chinese wine? He made a face and said “they’re not very good, we drink these” pointing to the French, Italian, Australian, Argentinian wines on the shelf.

Sometimes you see wine in upscale grocery type stores, again, rarely a Chinese wine to be found.  The few I have found, I would have to say tasted a bit odd. Cabernet Sauvignon/Gamay blend? Finally, on my most recent trip to Shanghai, I had a few free hours on a Saturday and found a good size shop at Pudao Wines.

Chinese Wines to Seek Out
I brought home several bottles from my trip to Pudao Wines. I’ll be featuring the Amethyard Marselan in our Wine Pairing Weekend blogging group this weekend. Look for my impressions of Kanaan and Silver Heights in upcoming posts!

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Wine 201
The Wine 101 series features a no-nonsense, just the facts approach to a wine region. In Wine 101, we stick to key facts plus a firm price cap of $20 per bottle. In Wine 201, we’ll go a little deeper and open up the budget a little, but just a little.

Yes, Bordeaux has beautiful, expensive chateaux and expensive wines, but if you know where to look, you can find beautiful INexpensive wines! (Photo is Chateau Pichon Baron, 2nd Grand Cru Classé)

Wine 201: Bordeaux (France) Just the Facts
Bordeaux is famous, legendary, with a reputation for being super expensive and it’s true. Wine from a top chateau will cost upwards of $300 a bottle at release BUT, Bordeaux is large. At a recent count, there were over 7000 wineries.  Even if the top 1000 wineries sold super-expensive wines, there are still 6000 wineries to explore! Sure, a winery whose wine retails for $20 can’t lavish the same attention on the wine as a winery producing $500 bottles, but the $20 bottle can be very satisfying and show the heart and soul of Bordeaux.
Cut to the Chase
OK, you’re impatient and you just want the headlines.  Bordeaux wines in the $15-25 (US price) range are there for the rest of us.
  • If you like your blends to feature Cabernet Sauvignon, you want the Left Bank. Look for Cru Bourgeois on the label. Other sources of value: wines labeled Medoc and Haut-Medoc
  • If you like your wines a bit more generous and based on Merlot, you want the Right Bank. Look for wines with “Cotes de Bordeaux” on the label. Also, communities next to the big name communities. Examples include: Lalande de Pomerol, Lussac St. Emilion, St. Emilion Grand Cru. Don’t be embarrassed to admit you like Merlot! Right Bank wines are my personal preference.

(click on either photo below to see full size slide show – see the soil! Hit escape to return)

Key Concepts for Understanding the Region

  • The most famous wine region worldwide. Long history of highly sought after, expensive French wines.
  • Coolest of all the major Cabernet/Merlot growing regions worldwide
  • “Maritime Climate” = moderate climate w/ rain & humidity
  • LARGE area, ~ 7000 wineries.
  • All about the blend, best tasting wine, not about “terroir”, oak barrels = chef’s spice
  • Approximately 90% of the wines are red
  • Red grapes allowed: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec.
  • White grapes allowed: Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon
  • Region is defined by 3 rivers: Garonne, Dordogne, and Gironde estuary. Imagine you’re in a canoe, floating downstream toward the ocean.  On your left is the “left bank”
    • Left Bank – Left Bank of the Garonne river and Gironde estuary.
    • Right Bank – Right Bank of the Dordogne river and Gironde estuary.

Some estates are more accessible with wines that normal people can afford. (Chateau Siaurac in Lalande de Pomerol)

Bordeaux Basics

  • Classifications – Based on Chateau, not the vineyard. The 1855 original classification of Bordeaux estates (Left Bank and Sauternes) was based on price. The 1855 classification has only been updated twice, and even then, it was to just add or move up one winery each time. The Right Bank St. Emilion classification is updated every 10 years unless blocked by lawsuit! As you might imagine, classification is highly sought after and doubly highly defended.
  • Left Bank – FLAT, gravel, slopes down to Gironde estuary. This area was a marshy swamp, the Bordelais hired the Dutch to come and drain it. Estates are large, often 250 acres of vineyard around the chateau. Thanks to the gravel soil, the Left Bank is warm enough to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon, usually. Bordeaux wines are blends to hedge bad weather.
  • Right Bank – Beautiful, rolling hills, historic villages. Vineyards tend to be smaller. Limestone & clay soils, cooler, not warm enough to ripen Cabernet reliably. The blends usually feature Merlot as the primary grape.

Bordeaux is large, there are lots of affordable wines. The boxes labeled north-west and south-west constitute the Left Bank. The boxes labeled north-east and east are the Right Bank. The box labeled south-east is the Entre du Mer, neither right nor left, it is the space “between the two seas” Map courtesy of http://www.bordeaux.com

Dipping Your Toes in the Bordeaux Pool
While the top of the top are sold at prices mere mortals will never afford, there are some Grand Cru Classé wines which are within reach for a special occasion.  Or, get a group of friends together to do a tasting and split the cost.  You should be able to find a 3rd-5th growth Left Bank wine for under $100. Similarly, there are some nice Right Bank classified wines available in the $30-50 price range.  Tasting one of these wines will give you a sense of what the classified wines are all about.  Then, you can go bargain hunting. But beware, you might discover you have expensive tastes!

Left Bank Bordeaux Right Bank Bordeaux
Show Me the Money – Arms Race at the top chateaux $$$$ (prices shown are at release or current retail) Classification of 1855 – never changes

Grand Cru Classe’ (1st – 5th Growth)

Ch. Haut Brion $419

Ch. Margaux $399

Pavilion Ch. Margaux (2nd wine) $189

example: Ch. Kirwan (3rd growth) $59

Saint Emilion Classification every 10 years*


Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe’ “A”

Ch. Petrus $1995

Ch. Cheval Blanc $599

Ch. Figeac $109

Villages ($25-50+) St. Estephe, Pauillac, St. Julien, Margaux, Pessac-Leognan, Graves

example: Ch. Fonbadet (Pauillac) $43

Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe’

Lalande de Pomerol

example: Ch. Siaurac (Lalande de Pomerol)

Lesser Villages, Satellite Villages, mini-region ($15-25) Medoc, Haut-Medoc

Listrac, Moulis

Ch. Maison Blanche Medoc, Cru Bourgeois $20

Saint Emilion

Lussac St. Emilion

Cotes de Bordeaux, Cadillac CdB, Blaye CdB

Ch. Barbe Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux $18

Useful designation Cru Bourgeois – must be voted “in”

Applies to Medoc, Haut-Medoc, villages

 No Right Bank equivalent
Basic regional wine (<$15) Bordeaux Superieur, Bordeaux Bordeaux Superieur, Bordeaux

White Wines
Dry white wines are definitely second class citizens in Bordeaux. On the bright side, they are generally delicious and very affordable. They are made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon and some can age very nicely.

Dessert Wines
Sweet wines from white wine grapes on the other hand, are something special. The area around the southern Left Bank town of Sauternes as special weather conditions in the fall. The area around the Ceron river tends to have overnight and morning fog which facilitates a special kind of grape rot called botrytis (noble rot).This rot dehydrates the grapes, resulting in high sugars, special flavors and uniquely delicious dessert wines.  Sauternes wines were classified in the 1855 Left Bank classification, so you will see similar “Grand Cru Classé” on some Sauternes labels.

Learn a few facts and you can be an expert Bordeaux label reader! Left Bank example on the left, Right Bank example on the right.

Reading a Bordeaux Wine Label

  • Like all wines, you will see the vintage year (year the grapes were grown, not when the wine was released) and the winery name on the bottle.
  • Like many French wines, Bordeaux wines are labeled by the place, not by the grape. The place can be the community, like Margaux, or by the larger area, such as Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Côtes-de-Bordeaux.  Learning the lesser village names, and the villages right next to the big names can help you track down value.  Some Pomerol wines run over $500/bottle, while Lalande de Pomerol next door has some wines <$30.
  • Additional wording can mean something. “Grand Cru Classé” will only appear if the wine was part of the 1855 classification (not likely to see this in the affordable category). Grand Vin de Bordeaux simply means a Bordeaux wine.  “Cru Bourgeois” is a special designation organized by the Left Bank wineries of the Medoc and Haut-Medoc, and is a label designation we bargain hunters should be aware of. Wineries must submit their wines for approval to gain and retain the label status, so it serves as a vote of quality.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a Right Bank equivalent.

Plan a Bordeaux Tasting
(click on any image below to view full size slide show. Hit “escape” to return to the post)

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Picpoul de Pinet – aka “Lip Stinger” from the Languedoc region in the south of France

Winophiles Sample the “Lip-Stinger” of the Languedoc
Picpoul is a white wine grape best known for crisp, refreshing high acidity white wine. Picpoul de Pinet is the best known region for producing the wine, and it’s located very close to the Mediterranean sea in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in Southwest France. Perfect for sipping by the seaside on a hot summer day!

Find Picpoul de Pinet close to the Mediterranean Sea at #7 on the map. Map courtesy of: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vignobles_midi-fr.svg

The Picpoul-de-Pinet wine producers have a very nice website. full of good information on the grape, the area, and the growers. Perfect for the region, the wine pairs very well with seafood of all types, and excels as an oyster wine.

Having learned my lesson, steak tartare #2 was a success

Getting Back up on the Steak Tartare Horse
On our previous French Winophiles get-together, I had a humbling first experience with my do-it-yourself steak tartare. With some research, I found I wasn’t alone. Here’s an article on some other DIY failures, good for a laugh! Determined to soldier on, I found some good advice and reflected on my own first misadventure. Here are a couple of hints I applied to this go around:

  • Use high quality meat from a butcher you trust. It’s expensive, but you don’t need a lot, I used tenderloin.
  • Don’t use the food processor. Cut the meat by hand. It’s easy and surprisingly quick. There’s a link below in the recipe section.
  • The additions flavor the dish, but exercise care. Not too much, and not too many. Again, high quality ingredients are key.
  • You can mix in the egg yolk, but it looks so classy and dangerous on top…..

Domaine Condamine L’Eveque “La Dent” Picpoul de Pinet

Domaine Condamine L’Eveque “La Dent” Picpoul de Pinet AOP 2015 ($13 at France 44)

I found this nice description of the winery on the K&L Wines website:

“It’s rare to find estate-bottled wines in Picpoul de Pinet, so we are fortunate to have this direct relationship with one of the greats in the region. Made by Guilhem Bascou, whose father, Guy (and founder of the estate) was the president of the Picpoul de Pinet appellation. Both father and son work side by side, while mother Marie-Claude manages the office. The family’s 15 acres of Picpoul are planted just west of the Thun Lagoon near the Mediterranean, and the coastal influence is palpable in this licksmackingly refreshing wine. It’s a natural companion to seafood, but does equally well with rich cheese and charcuterie.”

Eye: Clear, pale lemon
Nose: Clean, medium- intensity, aromatic white flowers, lemons
Mouth: Dry, medium intensity flavor with high acidity buffered by a nice texture to soften the tart edge. Refreshing lemons, white flowers, and a reminder of sitting by the sea.  Not salty, just a hint of that salt air.

Crisp, clean white wine is perfect for steak tartare

Wine Pairing with Steak Tartare
Surprisingly, steak tartare pairs with a crisp white wine (rosé too) even better than a red. The richness comes from the meat, but the flavors are more from the additions. Classic accompaniments are frites, salad and cornichons. My conclusion is that the “steak” flavor from steak is a product of the meat itself plus the cooking technique. Searing, roasting, braising all bring out different aspects of the meat. Raw? Think white and rosé!

Picpoul wines almost always sport an embossed bottle. I love ’em!

Winophiles Dream of Summer Days in the Languedoc
There’s no shortage of great Picpoul ideas this month, check them out. If you see this in time, please join us on Saturday morning, April 21 at 10am CDT for a chat on twitter at the hashtag #winophiles

  • Michelle of Rockin Red Blog says, “Picpoul…Take Me Away.”
  • Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm encourages us to Pick a Picpoul to Enjoy al Fresco This Summer.
  • Susannah of Avvinare features Picpoul de Pinet – A Refreshing White from the Languedoc.
  • Jill of L’Occasion shares Mediterranean Bliss: Picpoul de Pinet.
  • Jeff of FoodWineClick! pairs Picpoul de Pinet and Steak Tartare Redemption.
  • Nicole of Somm’s Table writes Cooking to the Wines: Font-Mars Picpoul de Pinet with Crab Cakes and Fennel-Apple Salad.
  • Payal of Keep the Peas posts A Lip-Smacking Lip-Stinger: Picpoul de Pinet.
  • David of Cooking Chat makes a case for Picpoul Wine with Pesto and Other Pairings.
  • Lauren of The Swirling Dervish says Picpoul de Pinet: Your Go-To Wine for Spring.
  • Lynn of Savor the Harvest asserts The Single Variety Wine For Summer- Picpoul de Pinet
  • Gwendolyn of Wine Predator will share Picpoul Goes Southern with Shrimp and Grits
  • Rupal of Syrah Queen will also have a title soon.
  • Jane of Always Ravenous will post Halibut with Spring Vegetables and Picpoul Wine.
  • Robin of Crushed Grape Chronicles shares Picpouls from Pinet and California and a Seaside Pairing
  • Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla, is Pairing Bourride à la Sétoise with Picpoul From France to California’s Central Coast.

Steak Tartare Redemption

Steak Tartare is one of those deceptively simple dishes. It relies on fresh, high quality ingredients.

I prepped our tenderloin by placing it in the freezer until it was very firm but not quite frozen. Once it’s firm, cut it like fine dicing a carrot.  Here’s a video to see some of the techniques for preparation. The recipe below can be multiplied for the number of people you are serving. Leftovers are a no-no for steak tartare!


  • 8 oz. beef tenderloin (generous for two)
  • 2-4 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tsp finely chopped capers
  • 4 tsp finely chopped shallots
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh chives
  • 2 egg yolks (optional but delicious)
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Serve with:

  • Lemon slices
  • cornichon
  • baguette toasts (thin slices)
  • Green salad
  • Sweet potato fries (we make oven fries)


  • Start by prepping all the additions while your beef is firming up in the freezer.
  • Squeeze the lemons, finely chop the capers, shallots and chives
  • Separate the egg yolks, keep the yolks separate to place on the individual servings
  • Make and refrigerate the salad
  • Toast thinly sliced baguettes
  • When all the ingredients are ready and the fries are in the oven, start the tartare prep
  • Take the tenderloin from the freezer, and finely dice it (pretend it’s a carrot).  I like to get the beef to about 1/8″ dice.
  • Mix 2-4 tsp of lemon juice into the tenderloin. Start with 2 tsp, add more juice if needed, just to dampen the beef.
  • Mix in the capers, shallots and chives
  • Carefully mound the beef on each plate with a depression in the center
  • Carefully place the egg yolk in the center of the mound.
  • Plate and eat!

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Emilio Castelli grows Nebbiolo in Sonoma’s Green Valley

Hiding in Plain Sight in Green Valley
When I rolled into the driveway at Castelli Vineyards, I saw Emilio in his rubber boots, hose in hand. After greeting me, he asked how in the world I found Castelli Vineyards. Tiny production, no advertising, no media coverage. I explained I’m a Nebbiolo fan and I found him in the NEB (Nebbiolo Enthusiasts and Believers) group on facebook. NEB are an informal group of American winemakers who grow and vinify Nebbiolo. As a grape, Nebbiolo is particularly well suited to northern Italy, but has not flourished in other parts of the world. This could be equal parts difficulty in growing, and limited interest in Nebbiolo based wines.

In addition to Nebbiolo, Castelli Vineyards is a perfect match with my winery interests:

  • Small family production
  • Estate grown vines (not exclusive, but plenty of estate fruit)
  • Low intervention in the vineyard and cellar
  • Emphasize elegance over ripeness and power
  • Affordable!

Castelli Vineyards Story
I knew Emilio grew up in the Como region of Northern Italy, and I was curious to find out how he made his way to Sonoma. His thoughtfulness in every aspect of the operation became clear as we toured and tasted. I was doing some quick mental math: under 500 case production, wines sell for <$35. I asked Emilio how he runs a winery, does he have a job and wine is just a side passion? Emilio explained he had done well enough in his previous career in Italy have a small farm in Sonoma, doing what he loves. (click on photos below for slide show, hit “escape” to return)

In the genre of minimal intervention viticulture, you occasionally hear of the “do nothing” approach of Masanobu Fukuoka. Emilio Castelli practices this approach with his 5 acres of vines (explained more fully here). Vines were planted in 1997, and have seen no spray of any sort since 2011. The vines are dry farmed, not tilled or cultivated, and the only amendments to the soil are clippings and prunings plus the organic by-products of winemaking including the spent stems, seeds and skins from harvest.

Winemaking and Cellar
The Castelli Vineyards winery sits next to Emilio’s home. Built in 2008, the winery is of straw bale construction (5000 bales). With electricity generating panels on the roof, the winery requires no outside inputs.  The straw bale construction provides excellent insulation, so that heating and cooling are not required. Carrying on the “don’t mess with mother nature” approach, the wines are fermented in open fermenters using only ambient yeasts. The wines spend at least 3 years(!) in old neutral oak barrels before being bottled without fining or filtering. Minimal sulfur is used at bottling to ensure long term stability in shipping and storage.

As we started tasting, Emilio’s wife, Laura, brought some bruschetta featuring bread from a local bakery and the last tomatoes from their garden. Chatting with the winegrower, snacking on something delicious, is there a better way to taste?

Pinot Noir – ($24-30) Emilio offers both estate grown and non-estate wine made from grapes grown by neighbors and friends. I noted his Pinots as having a savory character with hints of olives.

Sangiovese – ($22) I asked Emilio how he could grow Sangiovese and Nebbiolo in the same area as Pinot Noir. I thought both Sangiovese and Nebbiolo needed much more heat than Pinot? He told me that Sangiovese needs heat; Nebbiolo needs time.  He only has a 1/2 acre plot which is warm enough to ripen Sangiovese most years. He has a neighbor who also has a 1/2 acre plot. Between the two of them, they manage to make 50 cases of Sangiovese wine. Note the Sangiovese is aged 4 years in barrel before bottling! I was very impressed with the Sangiovese. Old world character and drinking beautifully.

Nebbiolo – ($26-34) As Emilio said, one of the challenges with Nebbiolo is growing season. The vines bud early and the grapes ripen late. Spring frosts, hail, and fall rains are all risks. Even with these risks, there are winegrowers in California having some success. However, I’m not aware of anyone else maturing the wine for a time similar to wineries in Barolo and Barbaresco. Emilio does.  His Nebbiolo wines age 4 years in neutral oak before bottling, long even by Piemontese standards!

Find Castelli Vineyards Wines
Want to give the Castelli Wines a try? You can do as I did: order from their website! You’ll note I wasn’t kidding about those aging times. Current releases are 2012 and 2013. Here’s the order page: Castelli Wines

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Learn Verdicchio with the Italian Food Wine & Travel Group
April brings warm weather and our Italian wine loving group is itching to get back into Italian white wines, so Verdicchio is our theme for the month. I must admit, I too often lean on Italian reds. I have a good mental picture for how the major red wines taste, but the whites can be elusive. Time for more tasting! Take a look farther down this post for links to all my Italian wine loving friends posts on this lovely grape and white wine!

Verdicchio from the Marche Region
We don’t hear much about the Marche region of Italy in the states, which is too bad. There are interesting red and white wines from the region found to the east of better known Tuscany. The challenge is to get to the Marche requires crossing the Appenine mountains which run nearly the length of Italy from north to south. The principal white wine from the region and perhaps the best regarded wine overall is Verdicchio, made in a couple of different communities: Castelli dei Jesi and Matelica.

Marotti Campi “Luzano” Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore DOC 2016 ($15 at France 44)
Eye: Clear, pale lemon color
Nose: Clean, medium intensity flowers and herbs in front, fruit is well behind. White flowers, fresh garden herbs and a little tomato leaf (a touch green), underripe pears a bit of lemon.
Mouth: Dry, brightly refreshing and acidic. Medium body, medium+ acidity, medium alcohol, flavors of pears, a bit of green herbs, with a touch of almond in the finish. 13.5% abv aged on lees.

A Near Miss Pairing with Verdicchio
Chicken Skewers with Fruity Cashew Quinoa make a delicious and healthy combination. I never thought of a meal as “fruit forward” before, but the chicken and quinoa definitely are just that. The thing is, the Verdicchio is not fruit forward, being more floral and herbal. This wine was a better pairing with the asparagus side dish. It wasn’t bad, but a more fruity wine would match the main dish better. In the past, I searched for that perfect pairing, but recently have come over to the idea that food friendly wines are pretty flexible. This dish was a reminder to pay attention to stronger flavors in the food.

Verdhicchio paired beautifully with the asparagus, but the “fruit forward” main dish suggested a more fruity wine.

The Recipe
Simply skewer up chunks of chicken breast with apple, onion and red pepper. You’ll need 1 lb. of boneless chicken breast and 2 apples, 1 large onion, and 1-2 red peppers for 4 servings.  The Fruity Cashew Quinoa recipe can be found here. Note the photos and recipe don’t agree exactly, we went with the recipe advice of fine dice on the fruit and nuts, their photo shows large chunks!

ItalianFWT Dives into Verdicchio
Lots of good ideas from our #ItalianFWT buddies this month. Lynn from Savor the Harvest tipped us off to an informative session with Gianluca Garofoli Levi Dalton’s “I’ll Drink to That” podcast. If you see this soon enough, please join our chat on Twitter at 10am CDT on April 7.

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Domaine de l’A is the home vineyard of Stéphane and Christine Derenoncourt

What Kind of Wine Do Consultants Make at Home?
In the world of wine, there are winemakers whose expertise is respected to the point that they are searched out for advice, and often end up building a business around their approach. Each has a unique approach. For some, rich, ripe, smooth polished international style of wine is the desired outcome.

Stéphane Derenoncourt takes a different approach. He guides vignerons toward creating a healthy vineyard with vines whose roots reach deep into the soil. He is a proponent of organic and biodynamic viticulture. Stéphane came to winemaking the hard way, starting out as a vineyard worker, then working in the cellar of several estates for years before he found his way into winemaking and leading the operation. Today he happily consults for small clients with humble aspirations as well as famous clients with big name estates. I had the opportunity to meet Stéphane Derenoncourt at the En Primeur week in Bordeaux in 2017 thanks to our Millesima hosts.

#20 is Castillon-Cotes de Bordeaux, just next to Saint Emilion map courtesty of Decanter magazine (http://www.decanter.com/wine/wine-regions/bordeaux-wines/)

Domaine de L’A in Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux
Stéphane and Christine Derenoncourt purchased Domaine de l’A in 1999 (website is in French, but you can view in Google Chrome or use Google translate to view it in English). It is located in the Castillon-Côtes de Bordeaux, immediately to the east of Saint-Émilion. Farmed under organic and biodynamic principles, the domain is their “laboratory of ideas”, where they can perfect their approach to viticulture. It also acts as a training ground for their apprentice vignerons and consultants.

Situated in the rolling hills of the Right Bank, the soil is limestone and clay. They have 11 hectares (about 24 acres) of grapes, consisting of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. The average age of the vines is 40 years

In 2005, they built their winery and cellar.  The building is made of natural materials, with no cement or metal! In the winery, they take a minimalist approach, with the intent to bring in well tended perfectly ripe grapes, ferment in small wooden barrels using indigenous yeast, and aging 16-18 months in barrel.

Domaine de l’A Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux AOC 2014 (sample $22 online)
Eye: Clear, medium ruby with a ruby edge. The wine lightly stains the glass
Nose: Clean, medium intensity. Deep dark ripe fruit: blackberries & blueberries, mild mushrooms and leather in the background. Hints of vanilla far behind that.
Mouth: Dry, medium acidity, medium tannins. Medium intensity of flavors with the fruit and earthy notes carrying through a medium length finish. Delicious and ready to drink now, but would only improve with some additional age. 13.5%abv

Tenderloin Steak and Vegetable Tian
I grill all winter long, but the early evenings challenge photos.  I love the switch to daylight savings time, as it becomes “daylight grill and photo time” for me!

With a wine so carefully and thoughtfully made, a simple preparation of local pasture raised, grass fed beef seems just right. Our favorite is the tenderloin steak from our farmer friends at Sunshine Harvest Farm.  Even though it’s Provençal in origin, a vegetable tian makes a great side for the steak. Add some sauteed mushrooms if you like!

Sunshine Harvest Farms pasture raised tenderloin needs nothing beyond a bit of salt & pepper

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Break the Easter Rules
Easter Dinner has rules. Thou shalt serve either ham or lamb. No other dishes may be substituted. Well, I’m not all that fond of ham (it’s ok, just not my favorite) and Julie definitely will not eat lamb. So we go rogue at Easter, join us!

Celebrate Spring with Fresh Vibrant Spring Veggies
The date for Easter changes from year to year due to the way the various religious calendars work.  The range goes all the way from March 22 to April 25.  April 1, 2018 is definitely on the early side. Now, in Minnesota, spring doesn’t come until the latter side of April. We’re not thinking about cutting the grass yet, we’re not looking out for crocus’ and daffodils. We’re still waiting for the snow to melt. But on Easter, we are thinking that spring will come!

Easter dinner with no lamb or ham in sight. OK, there is bacon present…

It’s time to serve something springlike, time to leave the dutch oven in the closet.  What to cook? Make sure it has plenty of asparagus and spring peas. How about spaghetti carbonara with asparagus and spring peas? In a nod to Grandma, carbonara does have bacon, so we have a touch of ham in the dish.  With all those fresh spring greens, wine pairing can be a bit of a challenge. Good choices include New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, or perhaps a Vinho Verde from Portugal. For red, we went with a fun choice: (dry) Lambrusco frizzante. Lambrusco is a great partner for charcuterie, so the bacon is a natural. Forget Riunite, dry Lambrusco is a different animal and always a surprise: sparkling, red, and dry.

H&M Hofer Grüner Veltliner “Freiberg” Niederösterreich 1.0 liter bottle ($13.50 at Surdyks)

When you’re looking at Austrian and German wines, a sure sign of quality can be found on the back label; look for “Terry Theise selection, imported by Skurnik Wines”. Terry knows these regions, think of him as your trusted advisor.

Eye: Clear, medium lemon yellow
Nose: Clean, medium intensity, stony & floral with lemon peel, green apples, mild green herbal aromas.
Mouth: Dry, medium intensity, medium body with medium acidity well buffered by creamy texture. Medium finish of stony, flinty flavors with lemons and green apples. Delicious with the fresh, herbal notes of the vegetables and the acidity is a great counter for the creamy sauce.

Vigneto Saetti Ross Viola Lambrusco del l’Emilia IGP 2014 ($15 at Sunfish Cellars)

If you’re looking for dry Lambrusco, look at the alcohol content.  Anything over 11% will be dry.  This wine is imported by Louis/Dressner Selection and is listed as an organic wine. The label discloses this as a “red sparkling wine” fermented in bottle without addition of sulphur dioxide, disgorged in May 2015.

Eye: Clear, frizzante medium ruby color. Fine bubbles persist after a foamy pour.
Nose: Clean, medium intensity dark fruit with violets and baby powder perfume in front
Mouth: Dry (but fruity), Medium intensity flavors of blueberries, bright medium+ acidity, low tannins. Medium- body, medium- alcohol. Lively and full of fun fruity flavor with cleansing acidity with a persistent fizz in the finish. Great for cleansing your palette from all that creamy carbonara sauce.

Pasta Carbonara with Asparagus and Peas

There are a million carbonara recipes floating around the web. If you have one you like, by all means, use it.  We like this one, with the addition of asparagus and peas, you are into a full celebration of spring!


  • 1 lb. fresh asparagus, cut into bite size pieces on the diagonal 1-2″ long
  • 1 lb. fresh spring peas, hulled and blanched for 1 minute (2/3 cup of good quality frozen peas can be substituted if spring hasn’t quite arrived where you live. Like Minnesota…)
  • 12 oz. good quality spaghetti. We like Rustichella de Abruzzo from Italy. More expensive but worth it
  • 8 oz. bacon
  • 2 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)


  • Pre-heat oven to 425°F
  • Put a large pot of well salted water on the stove-top to boil
  • Cook the bacon in the oven on parchment paper for approx. 20 minutes until done (or cook it in a skillet), chop into bite-size pieces
  • Arrange the asparagus on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Lightly drizzle with EVOO, and lightly salt and pepper
  • Whisk the eggs, egg yolks and Parmigiano-Reggiano in a small bowl and set aside
  • Roast the asparagus in the oven for 10-15 minutes
  • Once the asparagus is in the oven, place the pasta in the boiling pot of salted water
  • When the pasta is done, place it in a large bowl. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water.
  • Mix the egg and cheese mixture into the pasta, add pasta water as needed to produce a nice, creamy sauce.
  • Add the bacon, peas, and asparagus, and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper if needed.
  • Plate the pasta and enjoy with some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on top.
  • Grandma wouldn’t admit it, but she would be impressed

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