In the early afternoon hours on Tuesday, February 1st, it started snowing.  And snowing.  And snowing.  Winds were gusting up to forty-five miles per hour.  Here’s what it looked like from my front door when it all started:


It finally stopped about ten the next morning, and somewhere along the line we accumulated around eighteen inches of snow.    There were drifts in my yard about four feet high.  My mailbox was almost completely buried.


Then, to top it off, the temperature dropped and we had a windchill of -5 degrees.  Roads were closed for hours.  Schools all over Chicagoland were closed for two days.  Even the store I work at shut down for a full day.  It was total insanity.

On the plus side, I didn’t have to leave my property for two and half wonderful, peaceful days.  I turned into a cooking and baking machine. There was potato soup and beef stew.  Ghirardelli hot chocolate.  Pasta Bolognese.  And cookies- chocolate chip and assorted kolackies which I shared with our awesome neighbors who helped us dig out.

Blizzard Wine

And, of course, there was wine.  The first evening I enjoyed a nice but unremarkable pinot.  During the afternoon of the second day, after the shoveling and hot chocolate, I drank a lovely moscato d’Asti, which gets a bad rap in my line of work, but can be quite a nice little treat.  But it was a fabulous little Spanish number that has truly stayed with me and will, for the rest of my life, be my 2011 Blizzard Wine.

Barbazul, by the tiny bodega Huerta de Albala, hails from Andalucia, the region in southwestern Spain known best for sherry.  It is a blend of cabernet, syrah, merlot and a varietal indigenous to the area called tintilla de rota.  It was light to medium bodied, with ripe but balanced berry flavors, notes of baking spices and a hint of sweet vanilla.  I found it deliciously spicy and zesty, especially considering its modest $13 price tag.  It was incredibly juicy and tasty, a very nice accompaniment to the pasta; but most importantly, just right for a shut-in in February.

What Inspiration Tastes Like

Many of my regular followers (and when I say many, I mean two) have been chiding me for not posting lately.  Hey, Vintage Barb is a busy gal these days.  Working 40+, taking care of the new house, fighting off the flu, experimenting with a new ice cream maker… It’s all I can do to even keep up with the news.  Not to mention follow the NFL.  And frankly, sometimes thinking and writing about wine just feels like more work.

But the truth is, I haven’t been inspired much lately.  When I get into a rut it usually takes a real special bottle of wine to awaken my enthusiasm and get my blogging blood pumping.  This time, there was not necessarily one such bottle; but several great bottles, some darn good homemade grub, and some terrific company.

I hosted my first dinner party in the new house a couple weeks ago.  I spent most of the previous evening and that morning prepping and cooking.  I had plans for wine but invited guests to bring something to share if they so chose.  My wonderful oenophile friends did not disappoint.  Everything was really fantastic.  The real standouts were a white Rioja I’d been dying to try, compliments of a conscientious and generous rep, and a 2000 Bordeaux a friend brought from his cellar.  But here’s the whole selection:

October 24th, 2010

Desiderio Bisol “Jeio” Prosecco: A light, delicate and luckily, inexpensive sparkler from Valdobbiadene that’s always a perfect aperitif.  Flavors of lemon, apples and sugar cane with just the right amount of fizz.  We sipped on a couple bottles of this as everyone arrived and got to know each other.  Also accompanied some nuts and prosciutto e melone.  Delish!

Field Stone Gewurztraminer 2008: My dad sent me the newest vintage of one of my favorite FS projects.  It was fresh, dry, and classically floral and spicy.  It was quite nice with a light salad and almost perfect with my tuna tartare.  We all wished for just a touch of residual sugar; in a do-over I would choose instead an off-dry riesling.  But we enjoyed the wine nonetheless and agreed it would be better matched with a crab or scallop dish with slightly richer sauce.

Bodegas Palacios Remondo Placet 2007: This was the pairing I was most excited about.  I chose this white Rioja for my potato and leek soup, which really brought out the smokey component.  It was a very good combination, but the complexity of this wine really shone.  It was creamy but balanced, with very distinctive melon, spice, peach and vanilla bean flavors.  An enormous hit with everyone at the table, even the cola drinkers, with its only flaw being its $30 price tag.

Goldeneye Pinot Noir 2006: This wine inspired what may go down in history as the greatest thing I’ve ever accidentally cooked.  I hadn’t planned a pinot course.  I had debated for hours, knowing I needed something, but had been convinced by my spouse I was making too much food.  Then, when more than one guest brought a pinot I knew I had to improvise.  I had to give the people what they demanded! Luckily I’d bought some shitake mushrooms for my crazy vegetarian pal.  So I ended up throwing together some farfalle with the sauteed mushrooms and a wave of truffle oil I’d picked up on the fly for no particular reason the night before.  Sometimes things just work out.  And there it was- after all my planning and prepping, this dish was ironically the best of the night.  The pinot was, of course, a tremendous companion.

JC Cellars Rockpile Syrah 2004: Brought by a friend, this syrah was almost simply an afterthought.  I opened it for the others to enjoy while I was cooking up some risotto.  I poured myself some to sip as well, and was completely bowled over.  Truly a remarkable syrah, with a lot of obvious new world flair.  Several years in the bottle had softened up the tannins but the big, chewy wine was still driven by gobs and gobs of concentrated blue and black fruits.  It could have slept in the cellar for at least another five years, but was quite exciting and impressive.  I spared some for the main course and begged my guests to do the same. Ultimately, it was a fantastic accompaniment.

Clos du Marquis St Julien 2000: My friend arrived with this bottle around 5:30.  We opened and decanted it almost immediately and didn’t touch it again until after 8.  It was fairly tight and compacted, so a good amount of swirling ensued.  What eventually came to life was an exceptionally elegant Bordeaux with all the trimmings: cassis, plum, spice, cocoa, a hint of licorice, and a slightly gamey quality that paired up quite nicely with my braised short ribs.  A truly beautiful, albeit young, Bordeaux certainly worthy of its reputable sibling, Chateau Leoville Las Cases.  Although, we did feel some of the subtlety was lost underneath all the sauce and spices of the dish, so I held some of mine and savored it once my plate was licked clean.  A masterpiece!

Glunz Family Winery Angelica: This is a local company’s Sherry-style dessert wine I purchased a couple years ago on a deep discount and thought would be a nice finish to the evening.  Very, almost excessively, rich and sticky, this wine was gushing with caramel and sweet nutty flavors.  Not the best accompaniment to the rich chocolate chip bread pudding masterpiece I had created, but still very tasty.  By the end of the long evening, we were all quite satiated, so the remainder of the bottle has made for fantastic leftovers.

All in all, I think it’s safe to say the first annual Vintage Barb Dinner was a success.  I only have two regrets: One: Next time I will pre-cook the risotto.  And two: I wish my new dining room table sat more than eight.

Mediterranean Pork Chops

Here’s one of my favorite dishes to cook.  It’s fairly quick & easy and I love to try new wines with this meal.  Try your own and tell me what you think!

  • 2 8-10 oz American cut boneless pork chops
  • 1 link chorizo, diced
  • ¾-1 cup dry red wine (See pairings below)
  • 1/2  cup lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp capers
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Sprinkle chops with salt and pepper.  In large skillet, warm oil over medium heat.  Cook chops about 4 minutes on each side.  Remove from heat, drain all but about 1 tbsp of oil, and set aside for about 10 minutes.  While chops are resting, mix wine, lemon juice, peppercorns and capers. This is a good time to make your rice or veggies. Return skillet to burner, warm oil, and add garlic and chorizo.  Cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes, until garlic is slightly browned.  Reduce heat to low-medium, pour in wine mixture and continue cooking for about 6 minutes, turning chops and stirring sauce frequently.

When ready to serve, pour sauce, capers and peppercorns generously over each chop.  I usually serve this with risotto or roasted potatoes and green beans or broccoli.

Best pairings:

  • Belle Glos Rosé
  • Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir
  • Dashe Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel
  • Domaine de Janasse Côtes du Rhône
  • Domaine de Boussiere Gigondas