Tag: cabernet sauvignon

Acorn Squash and Crossfork Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Acorn Squash and Crossfork Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Acorn squash usually conjures images of fall’s bounty, the autumn harvest’s cornucopia of pumpkin, butternut, spaghetti squash, and all those hard, bumpy winter squashes that we don’t quite know what to do with. The hard rind makes these squashes long-lasting, hence the term “winter squash” although here in the Northeast, they are usually grown throughout the summer and picked in late September and October.

So how did we acquire a garden-fresh home-grown acorn squash in July? My sister-in-law, who moved to New Orleans last year, had the realization that a southern garden can be planted as early as March, resulting in mature winter squash in the middle of summer. On her most recent visit to the New York area, she managed to pack two large home-grown squashes in her suitcase. She must have had to leave behind half her clothes and shoes so as not to exceed the 50-pound weight limit.

My sister-in-law gave us a terrific tip to speed up the cooking time for hard squash that I haven’t seen on the internet. After cutting them in half and scooping out the seeds, she microwaves the halves for about 5 minutes. Although she likes hers with cinnamon, we opted for the more prevalent butter and brown sugar preparation, followed by baking.


Cut in half. I did it lengthwise, but either direction will work. Scoop out the seeds and that pithy stuff. My trusty grapefruit spoon comes to the rescue. Microwave the halves for five or six minutes.


Smear a half tablespoon of soft butter around the hollow. Sprinkle a tablespoon of brown sugar on each half. Bake at 350 degrees until a fork goes through the flesh easily (about 20 minutes)

The acorn squash was an enjoyable accompaniment to baby-back ribs with Brooks sauce. 

The wine of the evening is something new we’re trying, the 2015 Crossfork Creek Cabernet Sauvignon from Sheridan Vineyards in Yakima Valley, Washington. The Yakima Valley AVA, established in 1983, was the first AVA established in Washington State. It’s part of the larger Columbia Valley that garnered AVA status the following year, in 1984. Widely planted varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Syrah. The region is also known for growing Cascade hops, which are very highly regarded and sought after according to my beer-brewing friend.

The nose is fruity towards jammy, with floral notes and hints of green bell pepper and herbs. On the palate plum, cherry, and currants abound with afterthoughts of licorice and tobacco. Many of the Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon wines we’ve tried have been lighter in body than their California counterparts. Not so with Crossfork Creek; it’s squarely down the middle as a medium bodied Cab. The medium-length finish has some bright acidity balanced with oak and light tannins. Overall, Crossfork Creek is well worth the under $20 price.


2 For $20

Two for $20 sounds more like a sale at a cheap clothing store than my local liquor store. For me, two bottles of wine for $20 is much more exciting than 100% cotton crew neck T-shirts in an assortment of spring colors.

Although sale pricing is quite common at the liquor store, this is the first time I’ve noticed a 2 for $20 sale. Unlike clothing stores and supermarkets, liquor stores are restricted by our state regulations from selling below cost. They can’t employ loss leader marketing, taking a loss on some items for the purpose of driving business into the store for more profitable ones.

I’m game for taking a chance on an inexpensive wine with a backup plan of making Sangria with it if it underperforms. There are about a dozen reds from which to choose. A few I’ve tried and am not likely to buy again. I find a California Cabernet Sauvignon and an Argentinean Malbec that look worth a try. 

The first one we try is 2014 Crimson Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. Crimson Ranch is a new collection of wines from the Mondavi Family. The two other offerings in the collection are a Chardonnay and a Red Blend. Grapes are sourced from various areas of California.

The nose is brightly fruity and a little vegetal. Oak and vanilla are more present in the second glass. The medium-bodied palate is filled with ripe cherry, raspberry, and blackberry. The tannins are firm and end in an easy, medium-length finish. Overall, we’re pleasantly surprised by our $10 wine purchase. It’s on my list to buy again (even if the everyday price is about $13.50).

Wine #1 of our 2 for $20 sale has set the bar pretty high for wine #2, the 2013 Cruz Alta Grand Reserve Malbec. While I didn’t find company information online, the label seems to provide more than enough in the way of specs. But I must admit, I’m a bit leery of an overly ambitious label. This Malbec is made from high altitude, old vine grapes and aged 70% in new French oak and 30% in American oak for nine months. Okay…

As I pour the wine into the decanter, the grape jelly aroma is evident. We give it time to blow off, but essence of barnyard appears in its place. The palate is full-bodied with tobacco notes but the grape jelly flavor overpowers. Where are the oak and vanilla I expect in a Grand Reserve Malbec? The finish becomes tarter over time and we finally relent to implementing Plan B, making Sangria with the remainder of the bottle.

Internet reviews of various vintages or reserve qualities of Cruz Alta Malbec are all over the map, from horrible to wonderful, leading me to suspect that the batch in our blow-out sale was not up to par.

BTW, our Sangria recipe has evolved again. We’re using E&J XO (Black label) brandy in place of rum. Here’s the updated recipe:

  • 12 oz. red wine
  • 6 oz. triple sec
  • 3 oz. E&J XO brandy
  • 3 oz. orange juice
  • 3 oz. lemon juice and simple syrup mixture (half of each)

Back in the day, we used a store-bought lemon mixer that contained high-fructose corn syrup. Now we make our own lemon mixer with Real lemon juice and simple syrup in a 50/50 ratio. Instead of mixing it up for one or two drinks at a time, we make a one quart batch to keep on hand for Sangria and other cocktails.

Vistamar Sepia Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014


We’re always on the lookout for value wines that we can enjoy guilt-free on a weekday. Good deals can be found on red varietals from South America such as Argentinian Malbec and Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. Our local wine store clerk recommended the Vistamar Cabernet Sauvignon priced at about $10.

The Vistamar winery is located in the Rapel Valley about 75 miles south of Santiago. Grapes are sourced from various vineyards in four different geographic areas. The Cab we tasted is from the Cachapoal Andes Valley. From the Vistamar website:

“This valley has a warm climate, with a high concentration of rainfall during the winter, frosts in spring and high temperatures during the summer. The soils are highly fertile and suitable for agriculture. Its climatic conditions lend themselves a better growing for red grape varieties. Though most of the planting is given over to Cabernet Sauvignon, the main varieties identified with this valley are Merlot, Carmenère and Syrah.”

The pour is a deep ruby red with violet highlights. On the nose are dried fruit and smoky wood. The palate continues the dried fruit theme with prunes and dried cherries. Secondary flavors include toast, coffee, and unsweetened chocolate. The bitter aspect of coffee and cocoa continue into a medium length finish with smooth tannins.

The presence of bitter flavors in the Vistamar Cabernet Sauvignon are a quality that could make you love it or hate it. If you drink your coffee black, chances are you’ll like it. I found enough complexity to keep me interested, but my drinking partner bailed out after one glass which resulted in having to restrain me from finishing the whole bottle by myself.

Cheap Cab Throwdown-McManis vs. Josh


A while back we discovered a Cabernet Sauvignon from McManis Family Vineyards in California’s northern interior area, a nicely balanced, value-priced wine that was excellent for everyday consumption. A couple of months later we bought Josh, a popular California Cab from Total Wine that we thought was pretty good, but is it better than McManis? This question calls for a throwdown.

Our McManis and Josh Cabernet Sauvignon are both 2014 vintage. The McManis pour is a sparkly ruby red, while Josh has more plum tones and thinner color around the edges. McManis is more opaque than Josh.

The McManis nose is bigger and fruitier than Josh, one of the things we found attractive about this wine in the first place. Nice sweet cherries abound. Secondary aromas include rose floral bouquet and damp forested woodlands. Josh loses ground on the nose with the light raspberry fruit taking a back seat to the barnyard. It’s earthy, herbal, and has a hint of cola. If Josh had less hay aroma, we would have graded it as “different”, not “less than” the McManis.

Both Cabs are fruit-driven on the palate, tasting of ripe cherry, blackberry, and currants. McManis adds secondary flavors of cassis, pepper, green spices, vanilla, and oak. In contrast, Josh has a pleasing cola flavor with hints of oak and vanilla.

Had the tasting stopped at the mid-palate, this throwdown may have been a tie, but the Josh Cab became a little green on the finish, tasting of tartness of unripe fruit. McManis continued into a smooth, medium-length finish. The soft tannins in McManis underscored the lack of tannins in Josh.

Based on personal preference, you may like more reserved fruits, or find the cola aspect of Josh a winner, but overall, we felt that McManis was the winner, based on more complexity on the palate, smoother, less tart finish, and better balance of acidity. We thought better of Josh before our throwdown and tasting the two back to back made us appreciate McManis even more.

Artemis Cab and Fondue For Valentine’s Day


We’re becoming well-practiced in the art of fondue as our go-to holiday meal for two. It’s an entertaining activity we both enjoy that culminates in a scrumptious meal. A fair division of labor keeps the hour or more of prep time from becoming drudgery.

We start in the afternoon making the sauces, Green Goddess, port gorgonzola, curry, and Asian ginger (see recipes at the end). If time allows, refrigerate the sauces for a couple of hours before dinner. While the Master of Sauces creates his masterpieces, I clean and prep small yellow pee-wee potatoes and mushrooms and cut chicken breasts and hangar steak into bite-sized pieces.

Since we can’t afford to drink expensive wine every day, opening a bottle of Stags Leap Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 is a real treat. By the second glass I’ve come to the conclusion that the nose of this Cab is most intriguing. And it tastes pretty darn good, too!

The aromas begin with cherry and blueberry fruits, earthy dried herbs, and followed by leather and licorice. While all of that complexity on the nose is impressive, it’s the second glass that reveals generous sweet floral notes like honeysuckle on a summer’s day.

The mouth feel is young and light-bodied for a Cab. Next time we might give Artemis an extra year or two of bottle aging before drinking. The palate tastes of plum and raisin with vanilla and oak. The long, even finish adds hints of graphite and black pepper.

Staring at the bottle, we being to wonder, “Isn’t Artemis a god in Greek mythology?” Google has the answer. In case you’re curious too, Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo, daughter of Zeus. She is the goddess of chastity, virginity, the hunt, the moon, and the natural environment.

The Artemis Cab is well-paired with our fondue. We use a quart of Rachel Ray’s beef stock, a cup of dry sherry, and season with some garlic in the fondue pot. When the stock begins to boil we add mushrooms and potatoes, several at a time. We use a slotted spoon to retrieve them when they are done. Using the fondue forks, we cook shrimp, chicken, steak, and cocktail franks. We have found the special fondue plates to be essential for separating the foodstuffs and sauces and preventing a wet mess.

The supermarket usually has packages of meat marked “fondue meat” or “stir fry”. They are cheaper cuts and friendly to the budget but I found, as time went on, my fondue beef needed an upgrade. Now we’re using hangar steak. It comes out tender and delicious and totally satisfies my craving for red meat.

Hope you had a great Valentine’s Day!

Sauce Recipes

Gorgonzola Port

  • ¼ Cup Mayo
  • ¼ Cup Sour Cream
  • 1 Ounce Gorgonzola Crumbled Cheese
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • ¼ Teaspoon Pepper
  • ½ Teaspoon Garlic
  • ¼ Ounce Port

Green Goddess

  • 8 Ounces Cream Cheese, whipped or softened
  • ¼ Cup Milk
  • ¼ Cup Sour Cream
  • 1 Tablespoon Parsley
  • Sprinkle of Onion Powder

Cold Curry

  • ½ Cup Sour Cream
  • ½ Tablespoon Curry
  • ¼ Teaspoon Salt
  • ¼ Teaspoon Salt
  • Sprinkle of Garlic Powder


  • ¼ Cup Soy Sauce
  • ¼ Cup Duck Sauce
  • ½ Teaspoon Garlic
  • ½ Teaspoon Ginger

Simi Cab Vintage Throwdown: 2007 vs. 2013

Simi Throwdown2

For the New Year, 2016, we’ve decided to say goodbye to 2007. I’m referring to our last bottle of 2007 Simi Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley in Sonoma, California.

We first tasted Simi in 2010 when we owned our liquor store and brought home a bottle of the 2007 vintage. We liked it well enough to buy an extra case for home consumption. By 2012, when we were down to the last three bottles, we bought a case of the 2010 vintage and were surprised by the difference as compared to the 2007. Vintage does matter! We decided to save those last three 2007 bottles for future vintage throwdowns and 2007 vs. 2013 will be our last.

In the glass, we notice that the color of the 2007 has slightly more brick coloration than the bright ruby hue of the 2013. The wines we usually buy don’t age well past 8 or 9 years, so we take the change in color as a sign to finish up a vintage.

The nose is where the 2007 and 2013 differ most. In the 2007, vanilla dominates and is supported by dried herbs and blackberry fruit. The 2013 is more fruit forward with notes of coffee and fresh herbs.

Both the 2007 and 2013 are full of cherry, blackberry and currants on the palate. The fruits in the 2013 taste brighter and fresher, whereas in the 2007, the fruits are drier. It’s like the difference between a plum and a prune. The vanilla nose in the 2007 follows through on the palate, while the 2013 adds hints of dark chocolate and anise. The mouthfeel of the 2007 is smooth and mellow while the 2013 is edgier with higher acidity.

Both vintages have a nice medium-long finish but the 2007 wins by a hair. It has a roundness and lingering touch of fruity sweetness at the end that the 2013 misses.

The vanilla-heavy quality of the 2007 was something we really liked that was not as present in subsequent vintages. Overall, we still enjoy Simi Cab on a regular basis and it’s usually easy to find in retail stores and in restaurants. Definitely a plus when you’re traveling or selecting a wine from an intimidating wine menu.


Rutherford Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Rutherford Ranch Cab

We considered popping a pricier bottle for New Year’s Eve but didn’t feel worthy of it, being tired from having just come home from a trip. The Rutherford Ranch Cab turned out to be more than satisfactory.

We visited the Rutherford Ranch Winery for a tasting during our trip to California in November so we were eager to try a bottle at home where we could decant, sip slowly, and write notes. At the winery we tasted the Proprietor’s Selection and the Estate Cab, but the Rutherford Ranch, Napa Valley varietals seem to be the wines that are widely available. The grapes for this Cab are sourced from Rutherford vineyards as well as other Napa Valley sub-appellations. Small amounts of Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot are blended with 93% Cabernet Sauvignon.

The ruby-colored pour sparkles in the muted lighting against the fireplace backdrop. The nose opens up immediately with aromatic fresh fruits. Bright cherry and blackberry combine with notes of vanilla and anise. A whiff of herbal tea lies in wait.

On the palate, a youthful mix of currants and plums are accompanied by modest spice and graphite. The fairly full-bodied mouth feel reveals the added complexity of anise during the second pour. Oak tannins emerge in a moderately long finish. The berry fruits revisit for the finale.

Overall, Rutherford Ranch is an excellent example of a Napa Cab for under $20 and on our list to buy again.