Wine and food pairings 9: Mushroom ragu, since it’s so difficult to find meat

mushroom ragu

The Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with a mushroom ragu

The Wine Curmudgeon buys dried mushrooms, and then they sit on a back shelf,  almost forgotten. So, when I found a package while rummaging through the pantry, I thought: Why not use them to make a mushroom ragu, a dish ideal for dinner at time when even ground beef is in short supply?

In fact, almost everything in this recipe can be substituted for what’s on hand. I like spinach noodles, but almost any noodle or spaghetti will work. Less expensive dried mushrooms will work just as well as pricey shitakes. Don’t have dried mushrooms? Then just use more fresh and substitute vegetable stock for the mushroom soaking liquid.

The other thing about this recipe? No tomatoes or tomato sauce. You can certainly add them if you want, but given how many of us are eating spaghetti with red sauce with regularity these days, a pasta recipe without tomatoes is likely most welcome.

Click here to download or print a PDF of the recipe. This is light red wine food (or even rose), since you don’t want to cover up the subtleties of the mushrooms. These three suggestions will get you started:

• Santa Julia Reserva Mountain Blend 2018 ($10, purchased, 14%): I bought this Argentine blend of malbec and cabernet franc when the European wine tariff was wine’s biggest problem, but not because I wanted to drink it. Once again, don’t judge the wine until you taste it. There is sweet berry fruit (but the wine isn’t sweet), as well as some grit and body from the cabernet franc. Very well done for this style, and people who appreciate this approach will want to buy a case. Imported by Winesellers Ltd.

• Badenhorst The Curator Red 2017 ($11, purchased, 13.5%): Nicely done Rhone-style blend from South Africa, with rich dark fruit, soft tannins, and a pleasant mouth feel, There’s not a trace of the pinotage in the mostly shiraz mix, which is not easy to do. Imported by Broadbent Selections

• Cheap Chianti: This post, featuring five Chiantis costing $10 or less, speaks to pairing wine with food from the region. Each of them show why this is such a terrific idea.

Full disclosure: I forgot to take a picture of the ragu; the one accompanying the post is from the What James had for Dinner blog. My noodles were fettuccine size.

More about wine and food pairings:
• Wine and food pairings 8: Not quite ramen soup
• Wine and food pairings 7: Classic roast chicken
• Wine and food pairings 6: Louisiana-style shrimp boil

Slider photo: “Rome Elite Event: wine, food and nice people” by Yelp.com is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Wine scores rant: Top-notch cava gets 86 points, about the same as a crummy supermarket wine

wine scores

“I said 86 points — so give it 86 points or I’ll put my fingers in your eyes.”

Wine scores show their failings once again in Cellar Tracker’s 86 point rating for spectacular Juvé y Camps cava

The Juvé y Camps Brut Nature Reserva de la Familia Gran Reserva is a top-notch cava, a delicious, elegant, and value-driven $15 Spanish sparkling wine. So why does it only average 86 points on CellarTracker?

Because wine scores are less than useless. They reflect the critic’s biases, and not the quality of the wine. We’ve shown this many times on the blog; sadly, this is just one more example. If the Juvé y Camps is only worth the same number of points as supermarket plonk, then I’m going to start buying $50, 15 percent Napa Valley chardonnay and write poetic odes to it all day long.

This is not a rant about any of the CellarTracker users who scored the wine so poorly. They’re entitled to their opinion. Rather, it’s about the failings of wine scores and the system that has grown up around them – a system that intimidates too many wine drinkers into drinking wine they don’t like. “Oh, it got 90 points, so it must be good,” they think, and then buy it and discover the truth and give up wine in favor of hard seltzer.

There are many reasons why the Juvé y Camps could have gotten such a low score, reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the wine. Two are common.

First, does the reviewer like cava? One of the most difficult things I have to do as a critic is to review wines and wine styles that I don’t like, such as California merlot or Argentine malbec. That’s why so few show up as wines of the week. But at least I know my shortcomings, and try to allow for them.

Second, does the reviewer expect a Spanish sparkling wine to taste like Champagne, even though it’s not supposed to? This happens all the time, and even with the most professional critics. I was talking about cava with a sharp, smart wine writer who I like and respect at a competition several years ago. “Don’t much care for cava,” he told me. “It doesn’t taste like Champagne.”

So no scores on the blog – not now, not in the future, not ever. If scores turn an amazing wine like the Juvé y Camps into something that is barely ordinary, what’s the point? And yes, that pun is fully intended.

More about wine scores:
Scores, value, and the Wine Spectator top 100
Chateau Bonnet Blanc and why scores are useless
Wine business slow? Then boost the scores

Wine of the week: Torres Verdeo 2018

torres verdeoThe Torres Verdeo offers a welcome and refreshing take on Spanish verdejo

The Wine Curmudgeon hasn’t been able to visit his local shops as much as usual during the duration, which means I’ve been buying more from national wine retailers. That also means I’ve had to drink more Big Wine products than usual, and many of them have been as expected. On the other hand, there have been a variety of pleasant surprises, including the Torres verdeo.

The Spanish white comes from a branch of the Torres family, which has been making wine in Spain for five generations and 150 years. It’s best known for Sangre de Toro, a supermarket red wine that comes with a plastic bull. The Torres Verdeo ($11, purchased, 13%) costs three or four dollars more, but it also tastes like this part of the family wants to do something a little different than make supermarket red wine.

The wine is made with the verdejo grape, which can be turned into into quality cheap wine but can also be tart or bitter or both. In this, the Torres verdeo is a step up, much better than I expected (and this comes from someone who has bought and enjoyed cases and cases of the Sangre de Toro). It’s almost layered, so that the lime flavors aren’t quite as limey as in less well made versions, and there seems to be the taste of some kind of stone fruit. Plus, the wine shows an almost nutty oiliness that rarely shows up in wines of this price.

If not highly recommended, certainly worth trying, and I will taste a second bottle to see if this is a candidate for the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame.

Imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates

Winebits 647: Responsible drinking, wine sales, wine writing

responsible drinkingThis week’s wine news: We’re not boozing it up during the duration, plus what comes next as the country opens up and a wine writer discusses wine writing and objectivity

Not overindulging: You couldn’t tell from many of the medical warnings we’ve heard over the past couple of months, but a survey last week found that we’re not drinking more than normal during the coronavirus pandemic. Responsiblity.org, a group funded by some of the biggest alcohol companies int the world, says more than six out of 10 Americans are drinking the same or less as before the pandemic – and that includes 11 percent of us who say they’ve stopped drinking entirely. These studies can be unreliable, and that it was paid for by liquor companies gives another reason to wonder. Having said that, the numbers – 35 percent drinking the same, 28 percent less – jive with similar surveys from Nielsen.

What will it take? Nielsen reports that alcohol sales will have to continue to grow more than 20 percent to offset losses from closed restaurants during the pandemic. Which isn’t very good news for the wine business, if the Responsibility.org survey is correct. That means, as restaurants open at less than capacity, or don’t open at all, we’ll have to buy more from retail to make up the difference from what we bought in restaurants.

Hardly objective: Richard Hemming, MW, a Singapore-based wine writer, caused a stink in the cyber-ether last week when he wrote that most wine writers aren’t particularly objective and do consumers a disservice. “the wine media is frequently compromised by the close-knit nature of the trade. … The quick answer is money.” The industry has it, whether in samples or trips, and wine writers take those perks. It would be one thing for me to write this – which I do regularly – but that someone with initials after the name put this in print is mind-boggling. I’m trying to set up a podcast with Hemming to talk about this; as soon as we figure out a way to handle the time difference between Singapore and Dallas, I’ll post the podcast.

Mini-reviews 133: Even more rose reviews 2020

rose reviews 2020Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month. This month, five rose reviews 2020 in honor of the blog’s 13th annual rose fest.

• The 13th annual Memorial Day and rose 2020 post

Casillero del Diablo Rose 2019 ($10, sample, 12.5%): Much improved over last year. Heavier than European rose, but not heavy like roses made to taste like red wine. Look for dark red fruit and almost spicy, and a fine supermarket purchase. Imported by Eagle Peak Estates

Yalumba Y Series Rose 2019 ($12, purchased, 11.5%): Not off-dry, but very fruity (cherry) with a hint of residual sugar. Not unpleasant, but not the tart cherry and minerality of past vintages. In fact, there seems to be extra acidity at the back to offset the sweetness. Imported by Winebow

Tiamo Rose NV ($5/375 ml can, sample, 12%): Consistent canned pink from Italy that equivalent to half a bottle. Look for fresh berry aromas, some not too ripe strawberry fruit, and a long finish. Shows that canned wine can offer quality and value when someone cares. Imported by Winesellers Ltd.

Matua Pinot Noir Rose 2018 ($10, sample, 13,5%): This New Zealnd rose, made by Treasury, may be one of the best Big Wine products in the world – bright, fresh, crisp and almost lemony. No word on when the 2019 will be available. Imported by TWE Imports

Château de Nages Rosé ButiNages 2019 ($11, purchased, 13.5%): This Total Wine private label was much better than I expected – lighter, crisper, and zippier than most Rhone roses with tart strawberry fruit. Imported by Saranty Imports

Rose week giveaway 2020: four Schott Zwiesel wine glasses

Today, to celebrate the blog’s 13th rose extravaganza, we’re giving away four Schott Zwiesel wine glasses

wine glassesAnd the winner is: Mike Tennity, who selected 717; the winning number was 715 (screen shot to the left). Thanks to everyone who participated.


Today, to celebrate the blog’s 13th annual rose extravaganza, we’re giving away four Schott Zwiesel wine glasses. The complete contest rules are here. Pick a number between 1 and 1,000 and leave it in the comment section of this post. You can’t pick a number someone else has picked, and you need to leave your guess in the comments section of this post — no email entries or entries on other posts. Unless the number is in the comments section of this post, the entry won’t count.

If you get the blog via email or RSS, you need to go to this exact post on the website to enter (click the link to get there). At about 5 p.m. central today, I’ll go to random.org and generate the winning number. The person whose entry is closest to that number gets the wine glasses.