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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bargain Wine of the Week: Chateau d'Oupia Les Hérétiques 2009

Our trip to southern France will include two major wine regions, the Rhône Valley and the Languedoc. We'll be based in a little village right on the border between the two regions.

The Rhône is by far the better known and produces consistently better quality wine. It's most famous output is Chateauneuf du Pape, and its wine tend to be a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and typically Mourvedre, Cinsault or Carignane.

But the Languedoc also has a very long and proud tradition of making wine since the days the Romans brought vines to this land nestled on the Mediterranean just north of Spain. Winemaking here has had its ups and downs, so it's wine is sniffed at by those who favor Burgundy or Bordeaux.

But we're in an up cycle, and that means bargains for the wine buyer, if you're willing to work your way through an occasional so-so bottle of vin.

The vineyards of Chateau d'Oupia are 100 years old and sit on the barren hillsides of the Minervois section of Languedoc. Proprietor André Iché has quietly been making good wine without the benefit of a big marketing campaign. He just keeps putting out what wine reviewer Robert Parker calls "ideal bistro wine ... with gobs of rich, peppery, red and black fruit."

This red wine, the 2009 Chateau d'Oupia Les Hérétiques, is a blend of Carignan and Syrah grapes. It probably won't get a 90+rating, but it should score in the high 80s, and at $10 that's still a great bargain.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bargain Wine of the Week: Beso de Vino Seleccion 2009 is 'Shockingly Good'

In our effort to taste the differences in Côte du Rhône wines in preparation for our trip to the region, we'll be mostly drinking wines made (as prescribed by local law) from Syrah and Grenache grapes.

It just so happens that a good deal of wine made across the border in Spain is made from the same grapes. Spanish wines, as we've noted often here at Eat Well, Eat Cheap, are a bargain that very often meets our criteria of less than $10 a bottle. And the quality is often superb enough to garner 90+ ratings from the big ratings "agencies."

As part of our testing, over the weekend we opened a Côte du Rhône and a Spanish wine from Cariñena. The Spanish red was a blend of 85% Syrah and 15% Garnacha (Spanish for Grenache). With a 90 rating from Wine Advocate, we knew it would be good, but we wanted to compare it to the Côte du Rhône.

Spanish wines in the lower prices often tend to be on the lighter side, but this one was not. It would have made a great wine for steak or lamb — very strong and hearty. Next to the Rhône, which was a good pre-meal wine in this case, the Beso de Vino was a perfect accompaniment to food.

Full of roasted coffee and muted fruit, this wine made Wine Advocate say that "it is shockingly good for the money." Can't disagree.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Oh, Yes, Another Recipe That Takes Advantage of Sage

When we posted the five things to do with sage a few posts ago, we forgot one of our favorites: Butternut Squash with Sage Risotto. We posted this old fave of ours during the brutal winter of '09.

But it also works as a great summer or autumn dish, especially when the squash and sage is prolific.

We had an old butternut squash sitting around, and we were clearly going to lose it before long. And our sage plant, after some pruning two weeks ago, is growing like a weed. So we uncorked two bottles of wine made from Syrah and Grenache grapes to let them breathe (in slowly disappearing glasses) and cooked the risotto.

The squash was smaller than called for. The sage ended up being twice as much as in the recipe. But the dish, accompanied by sliced tomatoes, was divine.

What a pleasant mid-summer treat.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bargain Wine of the Week: Domaine de Dionysos La Deveze Côtes du Rhône Villages 2009

Before any major exertion you should train a bit, so that's what we're doing in preparation for our trip to the Rhône and Languedoc in southern France. 

We've stocked up on $10 bargain wines from the area to form a base for our tastings while we eat and drink our way around the northwestern bank of the Mediterranean. We've already set up two winery visits — to two vineyards that we've reviewed.

In our effort to taste and determine the differences in Rhone wines, we opened a Côtes du Rhône that we bought online for $11, just a dollar over our $10 limit (thinking that in France it will cost $10 or less).

The Domaine de Dionysos La Deveze Côtes du Rhône Villages 2009 was rated 90 by Wine Spectator, so it was pretty much assured that it wouldn't be a loser. 

Indeed, this dark mix of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Carignane was a great all-around buy. It sipped well before dinner and accompanied our summer meal of tomatoes and pasta extremely well. It smells and tastes of berries, with just a hint of flint to keep it from being too jammy. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Great Column on Mindful Budget Eating

Felisa Rogers has been writing a series of wonderful columns for Salon on eating cheap—but they're about much more than eating on a (very) tight budget. She explores the joys of foraging, of refusing to waste, of refusing to give in to financial despair, of appreciating. Her column today is a beauty.

We like Rogers's writing because it exemplifies our favorite quote from M. F. K. Fisher:

“ . . . there is a basic thoughtfulness, a searching for the kernel in the nut, the bite in honest bread, the slow savor in a baked wished-for apple. It is this thoughtfulness that we must hold to, in peace or war, if we may continue to eat to live.” 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Five Tasty Ways to Use Sage in the Summertime

Sage is a wonderful but weird herb—wonderful because its deep, resinous flavor complements pork, chicken, potatoes, and squash so well, but weird because it flourishes in the summertime, when we tend to eat dishes that call for greener, more delicate herbs, like cilantro and basil. But you don't need to limit your sage use to Thanksgiving.

Here are five delicious ways to use sage in the summertime.

1. Sage and walnut pesto on pork or potatoes. This hearty pesto even works on the grill!

2. Crunchy fried sage leaves to garnish pasta or risotto or eat by themselves as a cocktail snack.

3. Roast potatoes with sage. Line a pan with whole sage leaves, then cover them with halved potatoes. The result: crunchy, creamy bliss.

4. White beans with sage and garlic. There's nothing easier than boiling some white beans with sage, garlic, and a little olive oil. You can eat them hot or cool them to use in a summer salad.

5. Sage vinaigrette. Add some chopped sage to a mustard vinaigrette for a tangy dressing on grilled or steamed vegetables.

Sage is a very easy plant to grow; it's disease-resistant and likes dry conditions. Depending on your climate, some plants will "winter over," providing years of tasty service.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Best Bought Veggie Burger Ever!

As you know—indeed, as you are probably tired of hearing by now—we avoid processed food whenever possible, for reasons of flavor, cost, and health. But every once in a while we discover a processed product that is so wonderful—that's so much better than we can make ourselves—that we have to blab about it. Vegenaise is one. Morningstar Farms Chipotle Black Bean Burgers are another.

There are a few inherent problems with veggie burgers. Homemade ones can taste great, but they tend to be too soft to grill, so they can't provide the full burger experience. Processed burgers, on the other hand, too often are dry, bready, and tasteless.

But Morningstar Farms' chipotle-spiked black bean burgers grill beautifully, developing  a "meaty" crust that could satisfy the most bloodthirsty carnivore. They're firm, flavorful, and, at a quarter pound apiece, satisfyingly large. They are heaven.

We discovered them at Costco, promptly finished a box, then went back for more, with some trepidation; Costco has a habit of dropping products that don't quickly catch on. Up and down the frozen aisle we prowled, worried that we'd never see the burgers again at a Costco price. Nothing . . . until we turned a corner and saw that Costco had devoted the entire "end cap" of its freezer section to a gigantic display of the burgers! As Costco is hardly a vegetarian paradise, we have to assume that this product is catching on with everybody.

Try them! You may never go back to hamburgers.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Burning Man ... in Spirit, Anyway

August is here, and Burning Man is almost upon us. Admittedly, we won't be there—broiling in the Nevada desert is pretty much the last thing we want to do, even for the sake of art, community, and countercultural frisson.

Still, we're glad that other people go to Burning Man, and the website is a joy to explore. We particularly like the section on how to cook well for yourself in a place with no piped-in water or fuel. The tips and recipes would work just as well for camping, and some of them would be great even for air-conditioned suburbanites like us, looking for some easy, delicious, healthy food as the hot summer unfurls . . .