Wine Q&A: “What is a ‘GSM’ wine?”

No, it doesn’t stand for “Good Stuff Maynard“, but it should!  That phrase, from a Malt-O-Meal commercial in the early 80’s, became part of the popular lexicon for anything that tasted really good.  Many swapped the word ‘stuff’ for a more common 4-letter term, but the sentiment remained the same.

But in the world of wine, the acronym “GSM” is a short-hand reference for a red wine blended from Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre.  Usually, such wines are from the Rhône valley in the South of France, where blended wines are the norm.  These GSM wines are known for their bright fruit, extroverted aromas of ripe fruit, dried sage and herbs, and a grippy, pepper-and-herb finish that echoes the wines’ aroma.

Sadly, most (but not all) of our domestic Rhône-style wines have been produced with a dominant (75%+)  variety – usually Grenache or Syrah – because we American wine drinkers are just now beginning to shed our age-old prejudice against blended wines.  Blends have long been thought to be inferior wines.

Nothing could be further from the truth, of course (Grand Cru Bordeaux, anyone?) but this domestic prejudice grew from a very old and sound reason – post Repeal, blended wines really WERE horrid concoctions.  They often contained the fermented juice of fruits other than grape.  Not to mention colorants/flavorants best left out of such an august discourse on fine wine.

Thankfully, we’ve come a long way, Maynard.  So go enjoy a GSM.  And if you don’t have one on hand, just ask a trusted merchant in your local fine wine shop.  Or visit the Red Rhône wine aisle in my online wineshop here.

Cheers,

Dave “the Wine Merchant” Chambers 

Braised Pork Shank with Soft Polenta & Horseradish Gremolata

After moving to the Bay Area from the Midwest in 1994, most weekends were spent fueling my wine passion in Napa or Sonoma.  Being single and new to the area, these were often solo trips, which meant I had to confer with no one about what wine to taste, where to eat, or how much to spend.  This freedom was greatly appreciated until it came time for dinner, when it would have been nice to share a meal with someone and rehash the events of our wine-soaked day.

But one solo dinner I recall fondly was eaten in a small restaurant called Girl & The Fig.  At the time, it was situated in Sonoma’s Valley of the Moon, and its warm glow rekindled memories of bistros enjoyed while biking through the Provencal wine country.  Every wine on their wine list was either from the Rhone valley or made from Rhone varietals, and their menu was crafted to match the warm and welcoming foods of Provence.

Sondra Bernstein and John Toulze at "the girl & the fig"
Sondra Bernstein, John Toulze at "the girl & the fig"

Although “French Bistro” is one of the most over-used restaurant concepts, this one was different. Owned by the very special Sondra Bernstein, Girl & The Fig was infused with the spirit of the Rhone and  I was smitten.  The Bistro became my preferred dining spot for many future trips – and I became something of an evangelist for it.

I watched with pleasure as Sondra tirelessly added successful venture after successful venture – cook books, an iPhone app, a line of packaged food products, a line of body products, two restaurants, bio-dynamic farms behind each of her restaurants, a catering company and probably several more things I’m forgetting.

I’ve become casually acquainted with Sondra and her business partner over the years, and was most pleased that she agreed to provide a recipe to pair with domestic Syrah-based wines.  I think this dish would work well with a broad range of red wines such as Cabernet, Zinfandel and any red Rhone blend.  This dish can be made year-round, but it resonates for me during the cold Fall and Winter months, when oven braising fills the home with warmth and aromas that beat back Winter’s chill.

Ingredients for Pork Shanks (Serves six)

  • 6 Pork Hind Shanks (we prefer Niman Ranch)
  • Salt & black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, quartered
  • 2 stalk celery, rough chop
  • 1 small carrot, peeled, chopped
  • 4 crushed cloves of garlic
  • 1 bottle white wine (unoaked, preferably)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 black peppercorns
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 2 quarts pork or chicken stock

Procedure for Braised Pork Shanks

Preheat oven to 350’.  Season the pork shanks heavily with salt and black pepper. Over medium heat, add the oil to a hot sauté pan and then sear the shanks until browned on all sides.  Remove from pan and keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat a braising pan (deep-sided roaster) over medium heat and then add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic and half the bottle of white wine.  Bring to a boil and reduce until almost dry.  Add the seared shanks to the braising pan along with the bayleaf, peppercorns, thyme and enough stock to just cover the shanks and vegetables.  Cover the pan with aluminum foil and move to the heated oven for 1-1.5 hours or until the shanks are just tender.

Remove from oven and when sufficiently cool, remove the shanks from the braising liquid and set aside keeping warm. With a fine mesh sieve, strain the braising liquid and skim any remaining fat from the top.  Add the remaining half bottle of white wine to a large saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and continue reducing the wine until almost dry. Add the braising liquid and simmer while continuing to skim off any fat that forms on the top.  Reduce to a thickened consistency.

Ingredients for Soft Polenta

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups milk
  • Salt
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • White pepper

Procedure for Soft Polenta

Add the water, milk, olive oil and butter to a medium saucepan, season with the salt and bring to a simmer. While stirring with a wire whisk, slowly add the polenta and beat into the liquid. Simmer and continue to stir for 10 minutes. Add the Parmesan cheese, adjust the seasoning, continuing to stir, cover and keep warm.

Ingredients for Broccolini

  • 3 Bunches broccolini, tough stems removed
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • Salt and white pepper

Procedure for Broccolini

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Blanch the broccolini for no more than 60 seconds, then shock in an ice water bath until cool and drain. Heat the butter in a large sauté pan over medium low heat until melted; add the broccolini, season to taste and heat till warm.  Alternatively, roast the broccolini in the oven until just crispy, and once plated, top with a small amount of the Gremolata.

Horseradish Gremolata

  • 1 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley, cleaned from the stems
  • 3 tablespoons capers, chopped
  • 2 lemons, zested
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 horseradish root, peeled & grated
  • Sea salt

Mix the parsley, chopped capers, lemon zest, garlic, olive oil, and grated horseradish.  Season with sea salt.

To plate:

Spoon the warm polenta into the center of a warm bowl, place a sixth of the warm broccolini onto the polenta, top with a braised pork shank. Nap the shank with the white wine braising sauce and garnish with the gremolata.

“the girl & the fig” • 110 west spain street • sonoma, ca 95476

www.thegirlandthefig.com

Improve Any Red Wine in 20 Minutes! Achieving optimal serving temperature.

After a recent wine tasting I led at San Francisco State’s school of Hospitality Management, I met two film production students named Shao Wei and Hiroshi Adachi.  As you may know, I’ve been hankering to create educational wine videos for some time now, and the work of these two young students seemed a perfect fit.  Let me know what you think!

Here’s a short video that shows how to quickly increase the pleasure you get from any red wine simply by adjusting its serving temperature.  You see, most red wines are poured when they are too warm, and a few minutes in the refrigerator will bring your wine to its perfect temperature for optimal enjoyment. I know this sounds like heresy to red wine lovers, just relax and watch.

Let me know what you think!

Cheers,
Dave
www.DaveTheWineMerchant.com

Perfect Pairing – Pinot Noir with Roasted Squash Risotto

Every chef I know makes risotto differently.  And it seems they each believe their way is THE way to make it.  The only thing they can seem to agree on is that a good risotto should be creamy but not mushy – cook it too long and it turns to a glop best used to affix wallpaper.  And though this recipe is not simple, neither is it difficult to do – and the time required to make it is well rewarded by the pleasure it brings.

Ingredients (Serves 4 as main course, or 8 as first course)
6 ½ Cups low-sodium, Organic chicken stock
4 Ozs pancetta, chopped fine (1/4” square)
2 Tbsp Olive oil
1 Large onion, finely chopped
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 ½ Cup Arborio rice
2 Cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
½ Cup white wine, not heavily oaked
2 tsp garlic, micro-minced
2 Tbsp fresh thyme, destemmed and chopped
4 Ozs fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced thin
¼ – ½ Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
6 Ozs fresh crimini mushrooms, sliced thin
Salt and Pepper

Procedure
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees (F).  Set a large sauce pot on a back burner over low heat and begin warming the chicken stock.
Heat a large, oven-proof stock pot or Dutch oven over med-high heat for 2-3 minutes. When hot, add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and when the oil is hot enough to shimmer (but not smoke), add the squash.  Sauté until it starts to brown – about 5 minutes – stirring so each side of the squash makes contact with the pan.  Move your pot from the stove to the oven for 8 -10 minutes or until the squash is tender but not mushy.  Remove from oven, transfer squash into a bowl (set the pot aside, we’ll use it again in a minute) and gently stir the minced garlic into the squash.  Set aside.
Heat a 12” sauté pan over med-high heat for two minutes, then stir in 2 Tbsp of the butter.  As soon as the foam subsides, add the mushrooms, a pinch of salt and fresh pepper and sauté for ~5 minutes without touching.  As soon as the bottom mushrooms show good browning, begin stirring and continue cooking for a minute AFTER the mushroom liquid has all cooked off, then set aside.
Increase heat to high under chicken stock.  Heat your large, empty squash pot over medium-high heat, add another Tbsp of the oil and sauté the pancetta until brown.  Add the onion and sauté until soft, ~5 minutes.  Add the Arborio rice and begin stirring (for the next 30 minutes!)  But first, after a full 2 minutes of stirring the hot rice, add the white wine and simmer until nearly absorbed.
Add the first cup of hot chicken stock to the rice.  Stirring often, add more liquid as soon as it is nearly absorbed – more frequently at first as the rice gets saturated after about 20 minutes, when the rice will be “al dente” tender. Gently stir in the thyme, squash and mushrooms.  Add another ½ cup of stock, the parmesan cheese and 2 tablespoons of butter and gently combine.  Taste for salt and pepper.  The rice should be creamy and tender.
Enjoy!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Perfect Pairing – Malbec with Slow-Cooked Lamb Stew

Because of the slow cooking, the lamb practically melts in your mouth.  Which is reason enough to try it, but it also boasts an earthiness that I like with a good Argentinian Malbec.  One of the nice things about Malbecs from Argentina’s Mendoza region is their affordability.  But sadly, their quality is inconsistent, so be sure to confer with a trusted wine merchant for a recommendation before parting with the $20 or so you’ll need to find a good one.

Ingredients (Serves 6+)
 2 Lbs lamb shank
 10 small onions
 4 Cups water
 5 tomatoes – blanched, peeled and chopped (or one can organic chopped tomatoes)
 2 Sprigs fresh parsley
 2 Sprigs fresh thyme
 2 cloves garlic, chopped
 2 Bay leaves
 2 (15 Oz) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
 1 pound cubed ham3 Sweet Italian sausages

Procedure
Boil the lamb in the four cups of water until it’s falling-off-the-bone tender.  Remove from heat but RESERVE THE LAMB BROTH for later. Once the lamb has cooled, cut into bite-sized cubes/pieces.

Using a generous square of cheesecloth (photo), secure the parsley, thyme and bay leaf with kitchen twine, leaving a long leash on the garni, so you can easily pull it from the stew later.  Place the herb bundle, the lamb, ham, onions, tomato and garlic in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the reserved lamb broth and enough water to equal four cups. Bring to a boil and then reduce to low and simmer for an hour.

Meanwhile, remove the sausage meat from the casings and brown lightly, breaking up into fork-sized crumbles. Remove sausage from heat, drain off fat, and reserve.

Drain and rinse the beans and set aside.  After the stew has simmered for an hour, stir in the beans and sausage and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes, or more if you want a thicker consistency.

The deep flavors of this dish work very well with the tannin and fruitiness of the Malbec, both of which offer warm comfort on a winter evening.

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Eileen’s “Dead Easy” Leg of Lamb

My wife and I enjoy a wide variety of people, but especially those who appreciate good food.  This dish always reminds us of Jeff & Eileen, our two foodie friends who introduced us to it, and it to us.

Their recipe works on many levels – it’s dead easy and affordable, it fills the house with the enticing aromas of garlic and Rosemary, and it tastes fantastic.

This highly seasoned dish calls for an earthy red wine, though frankly, it’s not that picky about what type – a wide variety of varietals will compliment this warm winter dish.  Try a Monastrell (AKA Mourvedre), a good red from the North of Italy, or a cool-climate pinot noir.

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Ingredients
3 ½ – 4 lbs bone-in leg of lamb
2-3 Cloves garlic, peeled
1 Oz Sea salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
3-5 Rosemary sprigs,about 6 inches long

Procedure
Pre-heat oven to 375℉.  Using the flat side of a broad knife (or any convenient and flat surface) smash the garlic on your cutting board.  Using the oil and salt as grit, chop and mash the garlic into a paste, then spread evenly on lamb and rub.  Place the meat on a wire rack in a roasting pan (OK, do as I say, not as done in the photo!) with about an inch of water and the Rosemary sprigs in the bottom of the pan.  Put in oven and set timer 15 minutes per pound plus 15 minutes (ex. – a 4 pound roast would get 4 X 15 = 60, plus the extra 15 = 1 hour, 15 minutes).  This simple timing formula produces a roast leg with a nicely pink center and some nice crusty bits at the ends for those who prefer their meat with less (or no) color.  Remove from oven, cover, and allow to sit for 15 minutes before carving.

Serve with roasted potatoes and a green vegetable.  Pairs well with a variety of red wines, though I prefer those with a bit of earthiness, such as pinotnoir, Mourvedre (Monastrell),  or most red wines of Northern Italy.

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Merlot with Braised Beef Short Ribs

When this marinade and slow-cooking process are used on a cut of meat with lots of well-marbled fat and connective tissue (Flank or Top Round are also fine) the resulting flavor and mouthfeel are perfect for this wine.  I again employ my secret ingredient – vanilla – which echoes the flavor of the wine. It really works!

Note: This recipe originally appeared as an insert with my October, 2009 club shipment.  Click here to see wines that pair well with this recipe.

Ingredients

6 Lbs beef short ribs 4 Ozs dried cherries
¼ Cup flour ¼ Cup fresh Thyme sprigs
½ Cup olive oil, divided 4 Sage leaves, fresh
3 Cups chopped onion 3 Bay leaves
2 Cups chopped carrots 2 Cups Merlot (don’t use the good stuff!)
2 Cups chopped celery 4 Cups low-sodium beef broth
8 Cloves garlic, peeled 1-2 tsp Balsamic Vinegar
1 scant tsp Vanilla

Procedure
Preheat oven to 300°.  Put ribs in large bowl and coat well with salt, pepper, and flour.  Heat a heavy Dutch oven or stock pot over medium-high heat for ~4 minutes.  Add half the olive oil and brown ribs all over, working in batches.  Set browned ribs aside.

Add remaining oil to empty pot and, when hot, add the Mirepoix (the holy trinity of onion, carrot and celery).  Cook until softened, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic, dried cherries  and the herbs and combine well.  Deglaze the pot with the red wine then return ribs to the pot.  Bring to a simmer and reduce for about five minutes.  Add the broth, cover, and place in oven to braise until ribs are tender – check after two hours but plan for three.

Remove from oven and let stand for 15 minutes.  Remove ribs and set aside (try to keep them on the bone!), and remove Thyme sprigs and Bay leaves.  Pour remaining ingredients into a food mill (or pulse in a food processor six or seven times until finely chunked), then return to pot.   Spoon off any fat, season to taste with salt and pepper, then add balsamic and Vanilla.  Return ribs to sauce until warmed through, serve with extra sauce spooned over ribs.

Serving Suggestion: Stand the ribs upright in mashed potatoes, spoon remaining sauce over both, and serve with a side dish of sautéed spinach.

Happy MerchantCheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Note: This recipe originally appeared as an insert with my October, 2009 shipment to members of my “Grand Cru Selections” sampling program.

Click here to see my current inventory of wines that pair well with this recipe.

Pork Ribs, Tuscan-Style (For Earthy Red Wines)

This month, my recipes seem to center around ribs.  I guess I’m craving these hearty fall-off-the-bone dishes as Autumn approaches.  Hope you are too!

These ribs are best when slowly cooked using low, indirect heat on your charcoal grill, but they are still delicious when slow-roasted in your oven until tender and crisp.  They are generously seasoned with aromatic herbs and spices that compliment the earthiness in a lighter wine, though they do have a bit of spice kick that will fight with high-alcohol wines.  What makes them Tuscan is the simple balsamic glaze finish, Balsamic vinegar being a Tuscan specialty.  I’ve adapted it here with a touch of vanilla, which helps round it out and bridge more effectively with Pinot Noir and other domestic reds.  Other bridge ingredients would include cherry juice or cranberry juice, and I encourage experimentation if these ingredients are handy in your kitchen.

Note: This recipe originally appeared as an insert with my October, 2009 shipment to members of my “Pinot Selection” sampling program.  Though optimized to showcase an earthy Pinot Noir, it works well with other such wines, such as a good Rhone-style wine (look for with alcohol below 14.5% or it will fight the spicy heat of these ribs) or the old-world wines of Italy.  Click here to see some current selections  that work well.

Ingredients (Serves 6)
2  Tbsp chopped rosemary
1 Scant Tbsp kosher salt
1 ½ Tbsp fennel seeds
2 tsp Freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp Chopped sage
2 tsp Chopped thyme
2 tsp Sweet paprika
1 Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp Ground coriander
1 tsp Ground cumin
1/2 tsp Ground allspice
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
6 Lbs pork spareribs
4 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
1 Scant tsp vanilla extract

Procedure
Combine all but the last three ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well mixed. Rub the spice paste over the meaty side of the spareribs and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours or refrigerate for a day.

Three hours before your planned mealtime, bring your grill (or oven) up to 300° (this is a low heat, requiring no more than 30 or so briquettes, though you’ll need to add five more every 45 minutes or so. Arrange the ribs on the indirect portion of your grill (or on a large, rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan if cooking in your oven) with the meaty side up.  Roast until tender, about two hours.

Remove ribs from heat.  Combine the vanilla and balsamic vinegar, then brush the meaty side of the ribs and return to the direct heat side of the grill (or 6” under the broiler) until browned, ~2 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes, then cut between the ribs and serve.

Serving Suggestion: mashed potatoes with chives, gingered carrots.

Adapted from a recipe by Bruce Aidells

DTWM Video Still croppedCheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Note: This recipe originally appeared as an insert with my October, 2009 shipment to members of my “Pinot Selection” sampling program.  Though optimized to showcase an earthy Pinot Noir, it works well with other such wines, such as a good Rhone-style wine (look for with alcohol below 14.5% or it will fight the spicy heat of these ribs) or the old-world wines of Italy.  Click here to see some current selections  that work well.

Wine of the Week: Pacifico Sur, 2006 Reserve Carmenere-Cabernet (Chile)

pacifico-res-car-cab

Wine of the Week!

Click to purchase Pacifico Sur, 2006 Reserve Carmenère-Cabernet (Chile)
$14/Bottle or $151/case (10% case discount)
Member Price = $12.60/bottle or $143/case (15% discount)
Selected as a “Jack’s Crowd Pleaser” in June, 2009

This week’s featured wine is an interesting blend of 60% Carmenère (car men EAR) and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Carmenère was an obscure, almost obsolete, blending grape in Bordeaux until it found a home in the coastal vineyards of Chile. In these mountainous vineyard, this varietal thrives – an almost-extinct varietal now achieving its full potential. Carmenère is the backbone of the burgeoning Chilean wine industry.

This wine was one of two favorites of the eight we’d opened for a recent group dinner and tasting. If tasted blind, you’d think it costs far more than its miserly $14, and that’s my definition of a crowd-pleaser! Better yet, the price goes down to $11.20 for club members ($11.90 for non-members)

Look for aromas of plum with sweet spices, a touch of oak, and a hint of farm yard and fresh garden earthiness. A nice balance between the Cabernet’s fruitiness and Carmenère’s soft tannins and nice herbal notes. And with 13.5% alcohol, it is both food friendly and head friendly – split a bottle tonight and enjoy a clear head in the morning!

Click to purchase Pacifico Sur, 2006 Reserve Carmenère-Cabernet
$14/Bottle or $151/case (10% case discount)
Member Price = $12.60/bottle or $143/case (15% discount)

Happy Merchant
Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant
Dave@SidewaysWineClub.com

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Quote of the Day

“Wine is an art. Winemakers are the artists, growers provide the paint, and history prepares the canvas.”
~ Unknown

Wine of the Week – Bonneau Wines, 2005 Zinfandel, Shenandoah Valley ($22)

06Zin-bottleWine of the Week!

Bonneau Wines, 2005 Zinfandel, Shenandoah Valley
$22/Bottle or $238/case (10% case discount)
Member Price = $19.80/bottle or $225/case (15% discount)

This wine was included in our June shipment to members of our sampling program “Maya’s Collectible Selections”.

It hails from the warm reaches of the Shenandoah Valley (between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite) in hot Amador County. This region is home to lots of big, fruity, “Monster” Zins, whose alcohol can exceed 16%.

This wine runs counter to that stereotype. It swims upstream. Marches to a different drummer, and a number of other hackneyed expressions that don’t come immediately to my fingertips at the moment. It enjoys an elegant body and a moderate 14.1% alcohol level with hints of fresh cracked black pepper that make this versatile wine – equally pleasing at the cocktail hour or the dinner hour.

A Classic Zinfandel With Pleasant Surprises!
For one, winemaker John Bambury has crafted that rare California Zinfandel that works well with food (recipe suggestion). The wine shows a beautiful dark fruit profile topped by a filigree of red raspberries and the tell-tale Zinfandel markers – mouth-watering wafts of dark licorice and fresh ground pepper.

From an old historic Sonoma family, this wine reminds me of the Zins I fell in love with in the 80’s. Pop the cork and drink a piece of history!

Just 420 cases produced.

Bonneau Wines, 2005 Zinfandel, Shenandoah Valley
$22/Bottle or $238/case (10% case discount)
Member Price = $19.80/bottle or $225/case (15% discount)

Happy MerchantCheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant
Dave@SidewaysWineClub.com

Quote of the Day
“To the sun that warmed the vineyards.
To the juice that turned to wine.
To the host who cracked the bottle,
and made it yours and mine!”

~ Unknown