Monday, March 01, 2010

Guest Column: Wine/Dinner of the Month Club – February

Naked Vine Note: The Naked Vine's international correspondent has decided to continue his foray into the intrepid world of wine blogging. I'm looking forward to Jeff's project. Read on and enjoy!

Earlier this year, I was trying to think of a way to surprise my wife Christine on her birthday. It’s not an easy thing to do. First, she’s too smart to surprise easily, and second, she has fairly down to earth tastes. The standard jewelry, perfume or clothes would not do (though she might like a snazzy new pair of hiking boots). But she does like good food and good wine to go with it.

I had recently finished off a small area of our basement as a wine/beer/hard-cider cellar and thought it would be a nice surprise to stock the wine cellar. Then, putting my head together with Mike of TNV, we hit on the idea of a dinner/wine of the month club. Mike helped me pick out twelve bottles of wine and made some general menu selections to go with them. I made a cute little certificate listing all the wines and the corresponding months and voila, Jeff’s Wine/Dinner of the Month Club was born. The kicker is that I am making the dinner each month. This is a very big thing because I don’t usually make the meals. I’m the clean-up crew in our house.

My labors paid off and the evening was a big hit – so much so that it looks like this gift might be an annual thing. Follow along each month to see how it goes. I’ll provide links to the recipes when available. You might get some menu ideas, or at the very least some excellent wine suggestions from TNV.


2006 Monte Antico Super Tuscan

On Friday, February 26, I started preparing the meal around 2:30 p.m. and we sat down to dinner around 6:45 p.m. The meal worked out well because I could prepare the dessert ahead of time (according to the recipe even the day before) and put it in the refrigerator. I then got the lasagna sauce started and simmering while I worked on cutting up ingredients for the bruschetta and preparing the cheese filling for the lasagna. It also made it easy to clean up along the way. Did I mention I rock as the clean-up crew?

About 30 minutes before we sat down to eat we poured the wine into our decanter to let it breathe. I don’t know if this wine really needed it, but I figured it couldn’t hurt and we have this nice decanter so, by golly, we’re going to use it.

The bruschetta had not only mushrooms in the topping, but also red pepper, onion, garlic and tarragon. It presented a veritable mélange of rather earthy flavors, and the wine held its own and complemented the appetizers very well.

Next up was the lasagna. This is a hearty recipe with ground beef and Italian sausage, three cheeses and lots of tomato products–crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste. It was one of the best lasagnas I have ever tasted. It was so good I forgot to drink the wine with my first serving and had to go back for seconds. It was also so good you couldn’t even tell the noodles were whole wheat.* Because of the tomato content, the lasagna presented a lot of acidity. The good tannin structure of the wine balanced this out perfectly, and we almost finished the bottle, but we needed a little something to go with the salad.

(*Lesson learned: We used whole wheat noodles though the recipe did not call for them. But really, if you’re making a two meat, three cheese lasagna, don’t use whole wheat noodles in some misguided attempt to make it “healthy.” You’re just kidding yourself.)

We saved a little of the Monte Antico in our glass to have something to drink with our salad, which is the Italian way and nice to have near the end of the meal to cleanse the palate for dessert. The salad was a simple romaine lettuce mix with walnuts and dried cherries topped with a vinaigrette dressing. It was even more acidic than the lasagna, but surprisingly, the wine worked well with this too, though it was a bit of a struggle.

We were finished with the Monte Antico, but we still had dessert to go. The panna cotta was a fairly heavy dessert, made with buttermilk, heavy cream and sugar. The sauce recipe called for reducing orange juice with some sugar and a tablespoon of brandy. Since we didn’t have any brandy in the house, I Kentucky-fied it with a tablespoon of bourbon. The dessert was delicious with the citrus sauce giving a good counterpoint to the creamy panna cotta. But, what to drink with dessert?

Well, a few years ago, Christine and I went on our honeymoon in Tuscany and had some vin santo, an Italian dessert wine, and loved it. A couple years later I was in a store and saw a small bottle for about $10 so I bought it thinking it would be nice with dessert some time. I pulled it out and we tried it with the panna cotta. Let me just say that you may not be happy with a $10 bottle of aged vin santo, and leave it at that. Our bottle found its way to the bottom of our kitchen drain.

Other than the vin santo incident, we both enjoyed the meal and the wine immensely. We can’t wait to see how March turns out.

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