Sips: An under-$20 Pinot Noir from Oregon rises to the occasion

Finding good, inexpensive pinot noir is one of the bigger challenges in the wine world. But one that passes the test is the 2010 Rainstorm Oregon Pinot Noir, which sells for $15 or so. The fruit  comes from two distinct Oregon regions, the cooler Willamette Valley in the north and the warmer and drier Umpqua Valley in the south.  The 50-50 blend results in a wine that is fruit-forward and accessible and ready to drink now.

That said, it did take a little while for it to open up when I sampled it the other night with a main course of chicken sautéed with mushrooms and white wine that my wife had made. It was enclosed at first with not much dimension. But then, after a half hour or so, a deliciously fruity, balanced and refreshing wine emerged that was perfect with the dish. Beyond its spicy cherry, raspberry and subtle blueberry tastes, just enough tannic structure and a subtle oak treatment give it nice complexity. Alcohol is just 12.5 percent, which makes it easy to drink, served preferably after it is slightly chilled. Wine received as a press sample.


Sips: From California, Gainey Vineyard’s 2010 Chardonnay

As I’ve said before, I prefer leaner-style chardonnays with moderate levels of alcohol and subtle oak treatment. There’s nothing wrong with those brawny, buttery wines, but in general they’re not my cup of tea. Gainey Vineyard in California’s Santa Barbara County makes chardonnay in this leaner style. It is consistently good, and the 2010 Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay is no exception.
As always, the wine is beautifully balanced, and in this vintage it presents a delicious combination of Bartlett pear, butterscotch, citrus and a touch of cinnamon. Try it with all kinds of fish, chicken and pork dishes or enjoy it on its own. Alcohol is 13.9 percent and the suggested price of $22 makes it a very good value worth seeking out. Gainey’s website says it’s sold out at the winery, but I imagine it’s around in any number of stores. Received as a press sample.


Carla's beef Burgundy

After my NBCNews.com piece last week on a cabernet sauvignon from Argentina matching beautifully with my wife’s beef Burgundy, a number of readers asked for the recipe and I, in turn, asked her.  

Carla’s Beef Burgundy


2-3 lbs. beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
Olive oil 
3-4 cups roughly chopped onions
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp. salt 
4-5 twists fresh pepper
1 tsp. marjoram
4-6 tbsps flour
About 4 cups beef broth
3-4 carrots, sliced lengthwise and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2-3 cups of red wine, preferably pinot noir
About 4 tbsps cumin seed
2-3 cups sliced mushrooms


1. Saute onions and then garlic in a cast iron or heavy-bottomed skillet until semi-transparent. Set aside.
2.Brown meat on all sides at  medium-high heat, taking care not to burn it. Do this in batches, if necessary, in the same heavy skillet.
3.When the last of the meat is done, sprinkle it with the flour, marjoram, salt and pepper and stir until meat is coated and all "white" from the flour is gone. There should be a gooey "sauce” from the flour absorbing all the meat juices.
4. Transfer the meat, sauce, onions and garlic to a large stew pot. 
5. Add the beef broth, red wine, carrots and cumin seed to the meat mixture. The liquid should just cover the ingredients.  
6. Cook over low to medium heat for at least an hour and a half, stirring often enough to prevent anything from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Lower the heat if it boils.
7. Add more salt, pepper, cumin or wine to taste during the cooking process.
8. Add the sliced mushrooms about 15 minutes before serving and cook through. 

Serve over white rice and with a green vegetable such as green beans.


Sips: From Napa, Smith-Madrone’s 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon

Charles and Stuart Smith do something unusual with their Smith-Madrone cabernet sauvignon. They hold it for several years before release, effectively pre-aging the wines. While most Napa and other California wineries are now releasing 2010 and even 2011 cabs, Smith-Madrone is still selling its 2006, which can be held for many more years but is drinking nicely right now.

This is a sophisticated and elegant cab grown in volcanic soils on the steep slopes of Spring Mountain at an elevation of almost 2,000 feet. The vineyard is dry farmed, meaning that it’s not irrigated. All of this is a recipe for complexity, which Smith-Madrone’s 2006 Cabernet is loaded with.

One is struck first by its earthiness, and minerality, which punctuate the dark fruit tastes, especially black currant and black cherry. The fruit is accented by fennel seed, unsweetened chocolate and leather notes and is supported by a good deal of acidity. The $40 wine was aged for 22 months in new American oak barrels. The blend is 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, nine percent cabernet franc and six percent merlot. Alcohol is 14.1 percent. Smith-Madrone also makes two white wines, a chardonnay and a superb riesling, which are also worth seeking out. Wine received as a press sample.