Thursday, February 9, 2012

Can You Recommend an Exceptional Virginia Winery?

I had such a good time putting together my first book Craig’s Grape Adventure – Loving Life with a Skillet and a Corkscrew, I am already hard at work on my second book featuring recipes, stories and wine pairing with Virginia wines.  To date, I have stumbled across some great wines, and have experienced vino nirvana resulting from recommendations by good friends.  As I press on, I would love to hear from you.  Do you have a favorite Virginia wine or winery?  Let me know.

The challenge and fun with this second book is finding exceptional Virginia wines to highlight.  I am already finding wineries that are true gems.  I have also tasted a number of disappointments.  In a third group, I have found nice wines that standout from an otherwise unremarkable winery portfolio.  Here are several wineries that impress me across their lineup:

To date, these wineries are those I can highly recommend – without reservation.  Across their portfolio, you will find exceptional wine sure to please.  Each of these wineries is based on a strong philosophy of wine making, focus on full expression of terroir, and take pride and care in the making of great wine.

Based on my preliminary research, here are a couple of observations that contribute or detract from the winery and their product:

  1. The best wineries have a philosophy of wine making that keeps them steadfastly pointed in the right direction.
  2. The best wineries focus on expression of terroir leading to a clear identity for their wines.
  3. Serious wineries, don’t make fruit wines. 
  4. Labeling is a direct reflection of the winery.  Glossy labels, animals, catchy names, and highly stylized labels often foretell the story of a flawed wine.  Traditional, simple, straightforward labels are more commonly associated with good wine.  A label has nothing to do with the quality of the wine.  However, it is a reflection of dedication to making great wine.
  5. The best wineries focus on what they do best.  It is not necessary for a winery to produce every conceivable grape…and they shouldn’t.  The best wineries have a focused portfolio.

I will continue to do the tough work (ok, not really that tough) of tasting wines until I hit my goal of 75 wines suitable for pairing and inclusion in my next book.  If you have a suggestion for either a specific wine, or an exceptional winery such as those listed, I would love to hear from you.

If you are a winery, and would like me to consider your wine…I am all ears.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Braised Lamb Shank Garlic Mashed Potatoes Steamed Broccoli Paired with NV Running Hare Vineyard Sangiovese

Braised Lamb Shank-3

This weekend, Chef Sue and I arrived at a compromise for kitchen time.  I prepared one meal, and Chef Sue the other.  Looking to score a few points, I did the grocery shopping and picked the proteins – then left Chef Sue to decide which she preferred to prepare.  She chose the lamb shanks.  I was secretly hoping for the Lamb Shank, but in the interest of a harmonious relationship, I reluctantly gave up my dream – with a smile on my face.  Although I did not have the pleasure of preparing the lamb shank, I was rewarded with a fantastic meal and a wonderful wine pairing.

Chef Sue’s preparation of the lamb shank was phenomenal and layered with wonderful flavors.  The moderately gamey flavor of the lamb played a base note that was layered with the red wine braising liquid and wonderfully complemented with high notes of lemon zest, orange zest, and horseradish.

NV Running Hare Vineyards Sangiovese-2

To pair with this flavor filled extravaganza, I chose the NV Running Hare Vineyard Sangiovese even though our last experience with a Maryland wine was less than stellar (see Hasenpfeffer (Rabbit Stew) Spaetzle and Sautéed Brussel Sprouts Paired with a Disaster).  This pairing was the complete opposite.  Fantastic.  This wine begins with welcoming aromas of violet and thyme.  On the palate, you are rewarded with cherry, strawberry, orange peal, and a hint of vanilla wrapped in well rounded tannins. The finish is long and the fruit flavors meld to a mellow plum.

NV Running Hare Vineyards Sangiovese-1

In combination with the medium-full body, the flavors complemented the lamb shank wonderfully.  This was one of those often sought occasions when the combination of flavors far exceeded the sum of the parts.  As a side note, I was a bit surprised to find a Maryland Sangiovese.  After a little searching, I found reports that the Sangiovese grapes were sourced from the Piedmont region of Italy.  In retrospect, I am not surprised.  However, I am grateful to Running Hare Vineyard for treating the grapes with care and grace.

Braised Lamb Shank-2



  • Two lamb shanks
  • 1 onion
  • 3 large carrots
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 bottle red wine
  • 1 can of beef broth
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Zest of one orange
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Teaspoon of fresh rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons horseradish
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Dry the lamb shanks and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Seer shanks over medium high heat in a large pot or Dutch oven coated with olive oil.
  3. Remove shanks and add thinly sliced onion, sliced carrots, sliced celery, and garlic. Sauté until edges are brown.
  4. Add tomato paste, continue to cook for 5 minutes.
  5. Add 1/2 bottle of wine and beef broth, a bay leaf, salt and pepper.
  6. Add lamb shanks and place in oven preheated to 300 for 2 1/2 hours.
  7. Combine orange zest, lemon zest, rosemary, and horseradish and mix to a paste.
  8. When done, remove lamb shanks from the Dutch oven and place on a piece of foil large enough to completely enclose both shanks.
  9. Spread the horseradish mixture over the shanks, wrap up in foil, place on a sheet pan, and put back in the oven at 350 for 15 minutes.
  10. While the shanks are finishing, take two cups of the braising liquid along with the vegetables and blend with juice of 1/2 lime, salt and pepper to taste.
  11. Remove the lamb shanks and serve with gravy from blender.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Hasenpfeffer (Rabbit Stew) Spaetzle and Sautéed Brussel Sprouts Paired with a Disaster

Hasepfeffer Spaetzle Sauteed Brussel Sprouts

If you are planning a dinner party wine pairing, there are a few keys to making the pairing a success:

  1. Prepare a dish you know well or have a recipe from a trusted source.
  2. Choose your wine for the pairing based on you knowledge of the wine and the fundamentals of pairing.
  3. Alternatively, select your pairing wine based on a trusted source (like this blog).
  4. If you are trying a wine you are not familiar with, taste it before you pair – unpleasant surprises at your dinner party means an unwelcome guest.

Last night I prepared a German favorite - hasenpfeffer with spaetzle and garlic sautéed brussel sprouts.  It was wonderful.  Less so, was the wine.  Honestly, the wine was awful.  Over the last few months I have been focusing on locally produced wines.  Principally from Virginia, but also throwing in some Maryland wines. For our hasenpfeffer, I chose a Maryland off dry white with the hoping for a Riesling type flavor profile to stick with the German theme.  To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

I have a firm policy of not publicly trashing a vineyard or their wines – the guilty will remain unnamed.  The notes from the vineyard include a citrus nose, refreshing, and perfect for pairing with lightly seasoned poultry or fish.  This was not my experience.  The nose was strong and assaulting.  The dominant aroma is akin to pouring a glass of white concord grape juice on steroids.  The flavor precisely echoed the nose.  The wine was cloyingly sweet and unbearable.  I was hoping for a Riesling-like experience but was delivered Welch’s white concord grape juice with 13% alcohol.

Hasepfeffer Spaetzle Sauteed Brussel Sprouts-2

Although the wine was abysmal, the rabbit was fantastic!  The spaetzle and garlic sautéed brussel sprouts worked in perfect German harmony and made for a wonderful meal.  Both Chef Sue and I concluded a light to medium bodied red such as a Pinot Noir, or a medium to full bodied white such as a Chardonnay or Viognier would be a good choice.

If you are planning a dinner party, I recommend you follow the rules of thumb I suggested at the top of the post.  If you are just playing in the kitchen and experimenting with wine pairings, don’t be concerned.  Have fun discovering new wines and different combinations.  However, be prepared for the occasional disappointment.




  • 1 dressed rabbit cut into serving size pieces
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 pound diced bacon
  • 5 diced shallots
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup gin
  • 1 1/2 cups Beef stock
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1/2 lemon sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon red currant jelly
  • 2 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Season the rabbit with salt and pepper then toss with flour in a large bowl. Shake off excess flour and set aside.
  2. Add the bacon to a medium-large pot over medium-high heat and sauté to render for 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add the shallots and garlic and sauté until translucent.
  4. Remove the bacon and shallots and reserve for later. Reserve bacon fat in the pot.
  5. Brown the rabbit over medium high heat and set aside.
  6. Reduce heat to medium, add the gin and reduce by 1/2.
  7. Return the rabbit pieces to the pot and add the broth, wine, lemon slices, thyme, rosemary, allspice, cloves, bay leaf, and red currant jelly.
  8. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 1 hour or until rabbit is tender.
  9. Mix the softened butter and 1/4 cup flour until smooth to create a roux.
  10. When the rabbit is cooked through and tender, remove it to a serving dish.
  11. Strain the sauce through a fine sieve, discarding the solids.
  12. Stir the reserved bacon and shallots back into the sauce. Add more stock if necessary to make about 2 cups.
  13. Return sauce to a simmer on the stove and whisk a small spoonful of roux into the sauce and return to a simmer. Keep whisking spoonful's of roux into the sauce until depleted.
  14. Adjust seasoning, pour the sauce over the rabbit and serve.


This recipe is presented as “per person”


  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  1. Mix the dough several minutes until glossy. The dough should be wetter than brownie batter but not as wet as pancake batter.
  2. Bring water to boil in a large pot.  Reduce heat so water is just under a boil.
  3. Place a portion of the batter on a cutting board (a smooth glass board works best) and spread until about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thickness.
  4. Using a pastry knife or other flat edge, scrape off the batter, 1/4 inch or less into the water.
  5. Allow to cook until the spaetzle floats.  Remove, keep warm, and repeat with remainder of batter.
  6. Alternatively, you can take finished spaetzle, brown in a skillet with butter and finish with cheese.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Venezuelan Hamburger and Cuban Congri Paired with 2010 Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn Sarah Chapeau Virginia Vidal Blanc Sauvignon Blanc Blend

Venezuelan Hamburger and Congri

A true Venezuelan hamburger does not exist to my knowledge.  In fact, hamburgers are not very common in Venezuela other than the big chains that export the worst of our U.S. culture to all corners of the world.  Venezuelan’s have plenty of great street/fast food like pepitos, empanadas, and arepas – tough competition for the hamburger (for an arepa and pepito wine paring see my posts Venezuelan Arepas with Reina Pepiada and Pollo Mechado Paired with 2009 Benziger Family Winery Carneros Chardonnay, and Venezuelan Pepito, Guasacaca, Salsa de Ajo Paired with 2009 Clos Du Bois Sonoma Reserve Russian River Valley Chardonnay respectively). So rather than present a Venezuelan hamburger, I will be honest and present you with a Venezuela inspired hamburger.

By the way, for all my Venezuelan friends, if you care to correct me regarding my interpretation of a Venezuela inspired hamburger, I would love to hear from you.  I miss all of you, and your beautiful country (less so el presidente although he made every day an interesting one).

Conceiving of a Venezuelan Hamburger was quite easy.  Venezuelans like beef and pork equally and frequently enjoy both on the grill.  This gives us the first component – a burger made from 50% ground beef and 50% ground pork.  Next we add a slice of deli ham.  I’m not sure why, but just about every type of “fast food” or street food in Venezuela is adorned with a sliver or two of ham.

Venezuelan Hamburger and Congri-1

While not prevalent in all of the country, in the mountainous areas of Venezuela it is common to find a fried egg added to many dishes – particularly sandwiches, arepas, pepitos, and the like.  Finally, we top the burger with a slice of avocado and the ubiquitous Venezuelan salsa de ajo (garlic sauce).

If you follow the news, you know that Venezuela and Cuba enjoy close diplomatic relations.  As a result, the Cuban population in Venezuela has grown dramatically in the last 10 years.  One of the culinary delights that accompany Cubans is congri – seasoned black beans and rice.  If you don’t get excited at the sound of beans and rice, I understand.  However, I promise you that congri is much more than beans and rice.  It is rice and bean heaven!

Venezuelan Hamburger and Congri-2

I chose the 2010 Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn Sarah Chapeau Virginia Vidal Blanc Sauvignon Blanc Blend to for the pairing.  Normally, I would choose a medium to full bodied red to pair with a hamburger.  Routine choices might include a Bordeaux, Merlot, Zinfandel or Syrah depending on the cheese and other toppings.  However, this burger does not require a heavier bodied wine and features much lighter flavors.  First, the 50/50 mix of ground beef and ground pork brighten the patty flavors dramatically compared to an all beef burger.  Second, the choice of ham, fried egg, avocado and salsa de ajo beg for acidity, melon or bright fruit, and a lighter body.

2010 Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn Sarah Chapeau Virginia Vidal Blanc Suvignon Blanc Blend-1

Winemakers notes:  A hint of strawberries and rose petals.  The nose will entwine and tease you.  Flowery fruity yet tangy melon notes laced with a touch of semi-sweetness promises to satisfy your very soul.  To these notes I would add that the wine featured moderate acidity well matched to the food, and a hint of citrus that also worked exceptionally well.

2010 Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn Sarah Chapeau Virginia Vidal Blanc Suvignon Blanc Blend

If you live in the DC area, Aspen Dale Winery is just a short drive West on 66.  We had a very pleasant experience in a beautiful setting.  A visit is well worth your time.  I am confident that a visit to the tasting room will bring smiles – and a few bottles of wine for your collection.


For the burger, mix 50% ground pork with 50% ground beef.  Prepare as you would any burger.

Salsa de Ajo


  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 green bell pepper cleaned, deveined and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 of a medium onion chopped
  • Salt to taste


  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Cuban Congri


  • 1 Cup Black Beans
  • 2 Cups White Rice
  • 5 Cups Water
  • 12 ounces of Salt Pork cut into 3/4 inch cubes
  • 1/2 Red Pepper chopped
  • 1/2 Yellow Pepper chopped
  • 1/2 Green Pepper chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 Onion chopped
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt to taste


  1. Cook black beans in water. I used a pressure cooker with 5 cups of water - it took just 20 minutes.
  2. Roughly chop the peppers and onions.
  3. Heat olive oil in 4 quart sauce pan over medium high and cook salt pork , stirring occasionally, until pork is golden and crisp.
  4. Add onions, bay leaves, bell peppers, garlic and cumin. Sauté over medium-high heat until onion is tender.
  5. Add rice and stir in.
  6. Add the cooked beans along with the water used to cook them and let sit, do not cover or stir.
  7. Continue to cook over medium high heat for 10 minutes.
  8. Reduce heat to low, stir, cover and let simmer for 20 minutes.