My go-to Pinot Noir, under $10

My go-to Pinot Noir, under $10

Welcome back to Wine Friday! It’s Memorial Day weekend and you’ll probably have something on the grill at some point, unless it’s still snowing/raining where you live. I’m currently loving the So Cal sunshine! So let’s get to it.

Talking about wine…It cracks me up to read Food & Wine Magazine, and see what they recommend to drink. The May 2011 issue touts “discovering fantastic pinot noir” on the cover. As it turns out, that article is about some great winemaker in Italy making Patagonian Pinot Noir. Not, I think, something I’ll find at Vons for under $10.

Looking further in the magazine, I think maybe I’m going to get lucky – there’s an article on page 70 about “Finding Tasty Wine on a Public-TV Budget”, so I head over there to check it out.

The article is well written but I skim it, looking for the prices…aHA! Found them! To my surprise, all the wines are at the $15 or lower price range. Hmmm. There’s a 2009 Bibi Graetz Bianco Di Casamatta for $11 – apparently it’s a vibrant, citrusy Vermentino.

Um. What? Any wine that makes me think of rats and cockroaches isn’t on my radar (Vermentino – vermin – get it? lol…).

The next one is a 2008 Argiolas Perdera at $12, from the Monica grape (who knew?), and this is a juicy red that’s now grown in Sardinia. Ooookay.

Well now here’s one that I understand. More or less. It’s a 2008 Michele Chiarlo Le Orme Barbera D’Asti for $12. This is an aromatic, berry-rich wine, which according to the author has a fantastic price tag.

Okay now I’m just tired, lol! I’m a busy woman. I pick up my wines at the grocery store, and I search out those well under $10 a bottle. Am I the only one? Don’t think so. All the above wines can be found in several NY City wine shops which is great if you live in NY City. We don’t have a wine shop where I live. Oh, WAIT – we DO! BevMo! Okay, consider this whine cut short.

Still…when I get dinner, and need to pick up wine to go with, I really don’t want to hop on the freeway at rush hour and question the BevMo staff about wines made from the Monica grape that are in my price range.  I buy 95% of my wine at my local grocery store, so getting a well-made wine for as little as possible is always my goal.

(Before I go further, I do adore Trader Joe’s and still shop there for wine, but I outgrew Two Buck Chuck about ten years ago. I still try $2 bottles of wine, though. You never know when you’ll hit on a winner.)

I have a definite go-to wine that I buy when I don’t want to think and don’t want to spend over $6. My go-to wine is the Smoking Loon Pinot Noir. It’s usually $5.99 at Vons, sometimes it goes up to $6.99 – but even when it’s NOT on “special”, it’s a $9.99 bottle of wine – at least, it is in California.

As a matter of fact, when I go wine tasting up in Paso Robles, if a wine isn’t considerably better in my mouth than a Smoking Loon Pinot, I won’t buy it. I really don’t want to spend the money, especially now.

Why Smoking Loon Pinot Noir? It’s consistent over vintages. It’s an easy sipping wine that goes with a lot of different foods. It’s got depth, flavor, and a nice lingering taste (plus, goes great with either a campfire or at the beach). It’s perfect with an elegant chicken dish, vegetarian offerings, or hamburgers and dogs off the grill. It’s unpretentious, a nice bottle of wine. Kind of like the unspoiled girl next door.

Okay – I understand that I’m not talking of the taste of the wine, the aromas, the flavors that I sense – I guess because my tastebuds will vary from yours. I will include those things when I write while I sip, and that’s not the case currently – but always remember, when it comes to wine? Your mileage may vary.

Oops, and I forgot! I rate the Smoking Loon Pinot Noir as ~Very Drinkable~ mainly because it has been consistent over the past five years. Plus – I just discovered that Smoking Loon is owned by the Sebastiani family, and has been in existence since 2000. So there are their bona fides!

Anyway – to further my wine education (which began many years ago with a trip to Napa Valley), I will continue to read Food & Wine Magazine (as they highlight expensive wine and fouffy food, for the most part, also NOT CHEAP to make, tho in their defense they never promised CHEAP dishes, now did they?) and stop by at BevMo for tastings. Plus have tastings with friends – that way, you get more opinions than just mine.

In the meantime, if you’ve got a wine you like that’s under $10 a bottle (and I’m not talking box or jug wines – I’ll get to those in a year or so), give me a holler!

Coming next week (probably): Three different Chardonnays, under $10

P.S. Oh, one thing I should mention – these wines are mostly grown in California, and I live in California – so my prices will be lower than yours if you’re in the Central states or on the other coast. I can tell you that every time I visit my friend Tammy in Snowmass, Colorado, I am shocked at the wine prices – one bottle of Smoking Loon there is around $15!

Stuffed Eggplant? Well…

It’s been awhile since I cooked something adventurous. Since we’re always looking for flavorful vegetarian dishes, I decided to work with eggplant (totally forgetting that by itself, it’s just not flavorful). Last night, I tackled a recipe from Food & Wine Magazine, one that didn’t look complicated (just work-intensive, like so many of their recipes). The recipe is in a section of the magazine that highlighted the “new” red wines.

I made Mushroom Stuffed Eggplant from their April 2011 issue (pg 134). This recipe apparently pairs well with Xinomavro which was compared to Oregon Pinot Noir (but the Xino tends to be more tannic, and goes best with hearty dishes), but not having a plane available to hop to Greece for a bottle or two (and not wanting to go wine hunting after a grueling yoga class), I settled for a solid Pinot Noir that I know and like a lot, from Blackstone. I can usually get it for under $6 on sale at Vons. (But the whole wine thing is another blog post!)

Well, I made the stuffed part – I did what I was told, cut the meat of the eggplant out (which is NOT easy -I needed to drink a full 4 oz of wine to get through it) leaving a 1/4″ thick shell. Then I salted it and let it sweat for 30 minutes (while preparing the stuffing – dry baguette cut into cubes and mixed with red wine; cut mushrooms and sauteed them on the stove; sauteed the cut up eggplant on the stove; sauteed a yellow onion with garlic and a bit of cumin on the stove, mixed those three together. Then I wiped out the eggplant shells, rubbed them all over with olive oil, put them cut side down in a pan with 1/4 cup of water, covered them with foil, and baked for 45 minutes.

Yeah. 45 minutes. By the time that was done baking, in happy anticipation I lifted off the foil and prepared to turn the eggplant over to stuff them.

Except, the eggplants were flat. And soggy. And burned to the pan. All three, which kind of blew my mind. WTF? I downed a short glass of wine to think this out. Quickly ditching the whole “stuffed” thing, I got out my trusty 8×8 pan, sprayed it with cooking spray, and then mixed the stuffing together – bread cubes, mushrooms, eggplant, onions and garlic. Checking the recipe, I noticed it called for “young” pecorino.

Um. Excuse me? “Young” pecorino? Not only not knowing what that is, nor where I would be able to purchase it, I tossed in the scant handful left of Trader Joe’s shaved cheese mix (parmesean, romano, and asiago cheese) plus another half cup of mozzarella. A teaspoon of salt and pepper each, and then into the oven it went.

The recipe wanted me to up the oven temp to 425. I saw that as a waste, so kept it at 350 for 15 minutes, then put it under the broiler 4″ away from the flame for 4 minutes. It came out crispy on top, tender inside, and nicely cheesy.

I did make substitutions along the way – the recipe called for a red onion, which I forgot to buy, so I subbed a yellow onion. It also called for a full pound of mushrooms – I knew I had an 8 oz package in the fridge, so thought I was set. It wanted a day-old baguette – um, sorry, baguettes NEVER last more than one meal at my house – so I bought a fresh one, cut it up, and toasted the cubes in a dry pan on the stove on really high heat for about five minutes. Oh, and it also wanted a full teaspoon of cumin added. We’re not big cumin fans at my house, so I only added 1/4 tsp.

Recipe upshot?

Taste-wise, it gets a solid B (and maybe that was because I didn’t “follow” the recipe). Overall it was bland except for hints of the cumin and of course the terrific cheese I’d sprinkled in (though on second thought, perhaps a sharper cheese like feta would have been better). Prep-wise, it gets a definite D. I think I could take this recipe and modify it for people who actually work and don’t have a year to spend in the kitchen making dinner. This might be a really great stuffing for bell peppers; the recipe itself wanted more of a punch taste-wise (perhaps that was the cumin’s job?), and bell pepper would certainly add that. Even browned spiced ground beef or turkey (not too much, maybe a scant cup) would give it the extra oomph it needs.

But – yeah, overall kind of bland and that definitely could have been my fault. But it makes me think – why did the F&W folks pair a wine that goes best with hearty dishes with THIS dish? O.o

I don’t think I’ll be doing much with eggplant in the future. As my hubby says, eggplants are just not worth the effort. Except for Eggplant Parmigiana, but I prefer to order that one out!