Quick crispy chicken and three texture red potatoes

Salt, oil and potato.

Salt, oil and potato.

If old man winter had a last meal, this might be it. I borrowed two recipes last night to make his last supper. First, I used this insanely-easy roasted red potato recipe from Food52. You’ll need a cast iron skillet and lid. It created these wonderful spuds with three separate textures, one side with skins, another with a finely caramelized texture and a third that was softer, almost creamy. Tip: Salt and potato are bosom buddies so don’t skimp on the coarse sea salt.

Second, I fried the chicken part of this Jamie Oliver 15 minute meal. It’s a slightly tenderized chicken breast with fresh rosemary, fennel seed, salt and Parmigiano Reggiano. Nicely crispy with only a little cooking oil! The bacon and shiitakes were cooked a little longer to give them some of that firmer texture, too. And it’s hard to beat a bed of spinach that has been sauteed with garlic and drizzled with sweet balsamic vinegar.

Chicken ala Jamie Oliver.

Chicken ala Jamie Oliver.

If you’re one of the lucky ones who was able to scoop up a bottle of Michel Chapoutier’s venture into Australia, then now is the perfect time to pop it. The Tournon “Matilde” Shiraz is a savory meat magnet, so all that crispy chicken and well cooked mushrooms and bacon are a natural partner. Blackberry fruit and a distinct pepperiness abound. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better value for under $20.


Where’s the beef…… Bourguignon?

Classic French cooking with Boeuf Bourguignon...

Classic French cooking with Boeuf Bourguignon…

It’s really just more time consuming than it is difficult. Beef Bourguignon, the classic French stew that Julia Child helped to introduce to an American audience, is worth the effort and the time.

...And what to do with any leftovers a la puff pastry.

…And what to do with any leftovers a la puff pastry.

Savory and hearty are mere understatements to a rich mouthful of this wintertime fare – and one needs to look no further than the full bottle of red wine required to just get this pot simmering.

A traditional and young red burgundy wine like beaujolais or a pinot noir acts as both your base and your pairing. But if you’re in a pinch, substitutes like a Spanish Garnacha can work magic during the cooking process. And an all-purpose wine like a Cote-du-Rhone is always a well conducted pairing to the tender beef, the chunks of bacon and the mushrooms that interplay nicely with pearl onions and carrots.

We poured a glass of Chapoutier red rhone with our dinner and it was spectacular. The beef bourguignon works well with small roasted red potatoes or in a bowl-formed and carefully filled mound of your favorite mashed recipe. And just like Julia don’t forget to have a glass of wine (or two) while you’re engaged in this epic culinary adventure.

Mas tacos por favor

More tacos, please!

More tacos, please!

About ten years ago, I was giving a political speech (in Spanish) to a very patient and ultimately forgiving group of local Latino-Americans. In the middle of trying to inspire and call to action, I somehow inadvertently mispronounced a word. Rather than rhetorically asking the group what something was worth, I instead referred to one of body parts… and no, it wasn’t my arm. Ever since then I’ve made it my public policy to limit any foreign language endeavors to just a few words; and in this case it’s “mas tacos por favor.”

More tacos, please! That’s exactly what you’ll be saying or asking for after trying this recipe and wine. There are two make-or-break ingredients to these addictive tacos. First, you have to get down to your local Indian shop for a jar of coriander chutney. The bright green spread is not only visually appealing, but it’s also a concentrated zip of spiciness and fresh cilantro. In Knoxville, you’ll find it at the India Market off of Downtown West Blvd. And my son, Anthony, can’t wait until he’s a little older to try some with his Jigumasi.

Second, you really need to use Japanese panko crumbs when frying your preferred fish. There’s something about the crunch. Plus it doesn’t overwhelm the delicacy of the fish like a beer-battered version does. Add diced onions, fresh lime juice, sour cream, and yes more cilantro to the mix and you’ll be putting these away like popcorn.

As of late I’ve been on this white Rhone kick. If you’re looking for an easy to find and yet affordable one, then grab a bottle of the Chapoutier Bila Haut Blanc. Although white blends have become ubiquitous, this Cotes Du Roussillon mix of Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Macabeo grapes sets itself apart from the pack because of its simplicity, food friendliness and gulpability. Its salty, mineral penchant makes it a natural for fish foods, while its pink grapefruit and touch of lime finish will have you eyeing the bottle for a quick refill… and more tacos to down it with. Please!

The Best Wine Values of 2012

* A version of this column originally ran in the on-line edition of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

One of my favorite columns to write each year is a recap of the best wine values. 2012 had its fair share of remarkable values, due in large part to the influx of new and original domestic blends. Although there were quite a few leading the charge, one red blend really stood out. And as always, Europe continued to export extraordinary values geared more towards food lovers. Sit back and enjoy, for these are the best your dollar could buy in 2012.

Best French Value
The Grand Veneur Reserve Cote du Rhone by Alain Jaume is an amazingly rich wine with inky, crimson hues. Its bouquet shows off a dichotomy of rustic aromas and dried cherries, backed up by pomegranate tastes and a decadent finish. What a fabulous food wine!

Best Spanish Value
Ahhh, if only our market could get more Jorge Ordonez wines and get them regularly. It’s not just the wine that’s missing the boat ride over. This Spanish importer represents some of the best values that all of Europe has to offer. The 2010 El Chaparral by Vega Sindoa is Garnacha at its best, diverse and complex in aromas, easily enjoyable and inspiring in flavor. This wine is all about the fruit forward style. Runner up: 2009 Evohe Garnacha

Best Red Blend Value
What Ste. Michelle Wine Estates does for Washington in producing varietally correct, affordable wines, Bogle Vineyards does the same for California. And although Washington State led the charge years ago with early introductions of red blends, the release of the 2010 Bogle Essential Red proves that getting into the game a little later can make for a better game plan. Runner up: Concannon Crimson & Clover

Best Rosé Value
Any consumer would be fortunate to find this French Rosé still shelved at their favorite wine shop, let alone any of the fine Rosés from the 2011 vintage. The Hecht & Bannier Languedoc-Roussillon Rosé had a lot of stiff competition this year, including Oregon’s latest venture with the Acrobat Rosé. But its amazing blood orange color and raspberry/ strawberry fruit punched a whole lot of would be contenders down the rankings. Runner up: 2011 Michel Chapoutier Les Vigne Bila Haut Rosé

Best Zinfandel Value
Earlier in August, I blogged that the 2010 DeLoach Russian River Valley Zinfandel was the new “it” wine. There may not have been a ton to go around but this spicy tongue enticer was a summertime BBQ’s best friend. Runner-up: 2009 Brazin Lodi Zinfandel

Best Chilean & Best Sauvignon Blanc Value
With more grapefruit, lime and tropical expressions than a banana republic, it’s no wonder that the 2011 Leyda Sauvignon Blanc took home two “Best Of” awards. Sauvignon Blanc Runner-up: 2010 Vavasour from New Zealand

Best Italian Value
It’s done it again. This isn’t the first time that a southern Italian co-op topped the charts. The 2009 Colosi Rosso is easy drinking Nero d’Avola from Sicily. Runner-up: 2009 Masi Chianti Riserva

Best Cabernet Value – 2009 Milbrant Traditions Cabernet. Runner-up: 2009 Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet

Best Austrian Value – 2011 Wimmer Gruner Veltliner

Best Merlot Value – 2008 Santa Ema Merlot

Best Malbec Value – 2009 Trapiche Broquel from Argentina

Best Chardonnay Value – 2010 Four Vines from Santa Barbara

Best Sparkling Value – Lamarca Prosecco Brut NV and Cupcake Prosecco NV

What’s for dinner: Lamb pie and red Rhone

My oh my, that’s one good looking pie!

There’s a whole lot of different versions of a meat pie, but this may be my favorite. Lamb and root vegetable meat pie is like taking a nice gamey stew, wrapping it up and baking it. Think southern stew, meets Cornish pie pastry meets a savory Provencal Lamb recipe.

And most importantly, don’t forget to treat yourself to a nice French Rhone to accompany it. The Chapoutier Bila Haut Cotes du Roussillon Rouge is an affordable Rhone with dried plum and blackcherry nuances along with its own version of some gamey aromas and a sleek structure.

French Rosé, not just pretty in pink

After decades of domestic misperception, the importation and consumption of French rosé wines is finally taking hold in the United States. This misunderstanding evolved almost exclusively around the American consumer’s hesitancy to embrace a color, the sometimes-maligned color pink.

Dogged by not-so-fond memories of our youthful drinking days, consumers in the U.S. struggled to separate the tutti-frutti wines of long ago college days from the often-similar colored rosé wines of France and other parts of Europe, that were actually much drier. Those cheap blush wines of years past, in easy accessible screw tops, took a toll on our psyches as well as our stomachs.

Fortunately for all parties involved, winemakers kept increasing production, importers kept introducing new rosé wines and we as consumers slowly took off the blinders, put a bottle in our basket and took one home, where we would soon be pleasantly surprised.

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Three wines worth drinking this year

At the start of each new year, some people take time to look back and do some personal inventorying, while others prefer to look forward and explore what this new year has to offer. Fortunately for the latter, three wines are emerging as phenomenal super-values in 2011.

- Lamarca Prosecco Brut NV

Just because the New Year has already begun doesn’t mean that you need a special reason to celebrate. You do, however, need a great bubbly to do the celebrating. Lamarca Prosecco (from Italy) isn’t shy in showing a little swagger about being the first Italian Prosecco to make Wine Spectator’s “Top 100″ list. Not nearly as dry as French Champagne, Prosecco creates a softer, more approachable texture with fresh fruit flavors of peach and citrus.

- 2009 Chapoutier Les Vignes de Bila-Haut

While more and more wineries are going out of their way to find flashy ways to market their labels, one French producer is paying attention to what’s behind the label as well. Back in the 90s, Chapoutier became the first winery to put Braille on its label, informing the blind as to where the wine came from, when it was made and whether it’s red or white. Wine promoters may have perceived the change as a stroke of marketing genius, but more importantly, wine lovers were merely impressed that Chapoutier continued to put quality wine in their bottles.

Continue reading at knoxnews.com