Tasty, dependable Sonoma County chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon with a special birthday mixed grill and risotto

For my birthday this year I fired up the grill, no surprise (although I use three: tghe grill, with a turbo searer burner; the the regular range; and a combination oven — convection dry heat, microwave, and a combination of both of those). For most meals I use at least two of the three cooking methods along with a wide variety of pots and pans; just so you know!).

One guest eats poultry and fish but not red stuff. I love slow-grilled chicken thighs on the bone, so we had an even dozen of those. They were marinated in soy sauce, toasted sesame oil and two vinegars — white wine and balsamic. Several minutes before they were finished I brushed them with a peach jam with no sugar, only kept moist with peach nectar. I cooked the thighs on the raised warming grid found on many grills, which allows for slow oven-roasting, actually.

With the chicken I served grilled turkey sausages with Italian herbs, dividing each in two. I’d have loved to have sauteed-with-white-wine chicken lives, also; but you know how that would’ve gone over. So I didn’t.

The mixture was mounded on a bed of slow-sauteed onions kept moist with a marvelous fig balsamic vinegar a friend had given us. Tasty, pretty presentation. I used three fairly large onions, so you’ve gotta know people liked them because I had way too few leftovers.

On the stovetop I made a fake risotto with light sour cream and (shhh!) some heavy cream, with a lot of grated asiago cheese and, when served, a generous grating of fresh nutmeg. Rice keeps soaking up liquid so, as usual, I refreshed the “risotto” with Two Buck Chuck (Charles Shaw) pinot grigiot. (People often ask, “What’s in there?” and they’re amazed at what’s in there.)

Both wines, a gift from my niece, Sherry, accompanied this country barbecue very well. Sherry and Ron, out of pure love, buy us better wine than we buy for ourselves.

The Clos du Bois  2008 North Coast chardonnay was, as advertised, bright with apple and pear flavors. It’s nice and round with enough well-balanced acids to keep the fruit and light oak on the palate for a few minutes. The winery suggests roast chicken as a good match for this chardonnay.

Rodney Strong 2007 Sonoma County cabernet sauvignon suggests cherry and black olive aromas and rich warm ftuit and spice on the palate. Sonoma County has pockets of warm air and soil suitable for fine Bordeaux wines like this one. It might surprise you that it easily made friends with the creamy risotto.

Steamed florets of broccoli, with carrot coins, rounded out the meal. People say they like to eat here, and I love to cook; so it was a great way to celebrate. reaching 78 years.


Sicily’s popular red wine, nero d’avola, with attractive fruit and clean, bright acids, beats merlot with grilled pork tenderloin

When nephew-in-law Ron gifted me with a baker’s dozen bottles of wine that he and a savvy merchant thought would intrigue me — a 2007 Terre del nero d’avola was included.

As I was planning a mostly-grilled meal for a bright, welcome Memorial Day, at first I figured on offering a modest merlot because the meal wasn’t going to be a blockbuster. Instead, it would want a wine that wouldn’t upstage the food.

So I returned a merlot to the shelf and opened Ron’s nero d’avola. I liked it! An online source told me that some Americans liken this wine to syrah, and that’s not a bad comparison. But Judy reluctantly gave some of the nero d’avola back to me and reached for an open bottle of Charles Shaw (“Two Buck Chuck”) non-vintage shiraz; she likes a little more kick). That worked okay, too.

I’d found a one-pound pork tenderloin, pre-marinated with wine and Italian herbs. Instead of searing it first, then slowly finishing it on the warming shelf of my grill, I reversed the operations. My grill has a separate turbo-searing grate which I use a lot. It was a very pretty tenderloin.

With it we had high-fiber grilled bread slices dressed with a sauce (two-thirds freshly made salt-free tomato puree, one-third light sour cream), topped with a pile of slow-sauteed caramelized onions and, finally, slices of tenderloin.

On the side we had parboiled cauliflower segments that I’d finished on the grill using walnut oil and Trader Joe’s 21-seasoning salute herb mix. The food came together in subtle complexity. This is one of my creations that I might some time try again, which I almost never do.

The wine is really inky dark, its highlights ruby red and as appealing (almost) as a second-story window along an Amsterdam canal. Its tannic backbone is a welcome addition to the other acids which are bright and complex. Dark plum with hints of cassis describe not only an attractive flavor but a rich mouthfeel. It is not a long-legged fullbred filly kind of wine, yet even without a glycerine effect it is round and full and, well, Sicilian. Nobody in Italy, let alone in the southern island, wants an “ordinary” wine; no wonder real Mediterranean oenophiles like this wine, which some say is as Grecian as Italian.

Maybe you’ve guessed that I liked both the wine and the food last evening. We were on our tree-shaded patio surrounded by all the herbs I cook with. We had put flowers on our little son’s cremains crypt up the street from our church, and it seemed the right time for some soul food, and that’s what we had.