It seems that late fall has arrived early in Chicago, and the patio is under assault from the heavens. The hail of acorns and tree nuts, plus the slow descent of spent, lifeless leaves is sign that the fireplace is calling.
And really, is that a problem? Yes, everyone clamored to get outdoors after such a brutal winter and sluggish spring. Still, there’s something about autumn that really gets the juices flowing – so to speak – when it comes to wine. The crackle of a birch-wood fire and the romantic, candlelit table make it a perfect time of year to open a bottle of wine or three.
An active fireplace and the seasonal aromas of autumn receive a gastronomic boost from braising. There’s nothing like filling the home with the redolence of a slow-cooked masterpiece – and many of these hearty meals elicit the best attributes of red wine. More indoor-based weekends occur this time of year; embrace them with a new culinary project at the stovetop.
Sure, a beef tenderloin and Napa Cab are a hard-to-beat pairing. But, there are a few quibbles with that “unassailable” combo: Can anyone say, “Double dip?” Whether it’s battered credit (see Standard & Poor’s or that canceled card) or a new household budget, economizing is back – thanks to a stubborn recession. Besides, there’s the added pressure of potentially ruining a $100 piece of meat.
Instead, go to a local butcher and ask for some beef short ribs (more flavor than filet). Or, try braising one of northern Italy’s most famous cuts, Osso Bucco (more meat than Veal Piccata). And, once in a while, succumb to the reach-in aisle at the supermarket, grab a 7-bone slab of chuck, and get creative with a pot roast recipe. All provide that quintessential, home-filling aroma, best breathed in while looking out the window at the fall colors.
Here are a few value wines to pair with these economical feats of meat. They will help ward off any wistful wishes for summer, and keep the wallet – and waistline – from getting too thin:
Domaine de Piaugier Sablet Cotes-du-Rhone Villages 2008: Although a bit less intense than the amazing 2007 predecessor, the Sablet continues to be terrific. The spicy red berry aroma is followed by dark fruit, coffee and light tannins on the palate. The finish is slightly smoky. This. Is. For. Short. Ribs. $15.
Happy Canyon Vineyards “Chukker” Santa Ynez Valley 2009: A Cab/Cab Franc blend that aspires to a more European style, this features a round nose and a good, balanced palate of dark berries and cocoa. Try it with braised lamb shank. $13.
Barrel 27 Rock and a Hard Place Grenache 2007: This is a beautiful Central Coast wine, with a dark ruby color, and an aroma of sumptuous spice. The palate features rich, dark red fruit and just a hint of spiciness. Very versatile, it can pivot from the aforementioned 7-bone roast to a bacon-fat-brushed roast chicken. $16.