The Cook's Adventures in Wine


"Cardinal Zin"
Old vine Zinfandel, 2005
Cadinal Zin Cellars

"Beastly Old Vines"

This was not going to be a dish for any old wimpy wine. Nope, no downstream wine. No "delicate hint of blackberry". No "night harvest special estate blend lightly aged in oak" wine.

I had just picked up the lamb. Mendocino County Grass fed lamb. Lamb ready to face the kind of strong curry spices that made a toxic cloud when they hit the blazing hot cast iron.

I had an image, more a memory, of the wine. A wine made by the first generation Italian immigrants that planted the grapes I picked as a child. Red. Really red. Fermented on the skins past red almost to black and pressed to within an inch of its life then put on the table almost as soon as it stopped foaming. Wine made from the gnarly old head pruned vines that old men had planted in their youth.

They called it, ah, well a word you can only use if you are one. And I'm not, so I wont. Anyway, I couldn't go to the counter and ask for a jug of Deg…ah Italian … Red.

So there I stood, cloth shopping bag in hand, surveying an entire wall of wine. The "Earthquake Zin" seemed mighty Californian and sounded like it would have its own force. "Big Ass Red" had a real appeal. I could imagine calling Old John Covalo's wine "Big Ass Red". But maybe my wide bottomed friend coming to dinner wouldn't be amused. "Dancing Bull Zin" had a good name, and a picture ready to charge the table. That "Toasted Head" with a fire-breathing bear might take on the bull in the pit. If I had stock brokers coming for dinner perhaps I'd of bought both and let them duel it out. I considered putting the "Wild Hog" on the table. But I might have to protect that grass fed lamb. "Dog Tail Vineyards" caught my eye with "Fire Hydrant Red". Hmmm. Well, maybe not. My mind jumped to an unsavory image. Could've been worse. Couldn't been a white wine.

Oh, there's the one. The bright red screw top caught my eye. Oh and that striking Ralph Stead water color of a mustachioed man in red. And the name: Cardinal Zin, and the claim; "wildly spicy". But what won me were those "Beastly old vines".

Soon enough I am ushering friends into my kitchen, my eyes still watering from smoking my spices. I cooled down the pan with yogurt and left it to simmer while my friends, fresh home from a trip to Mexico, shook loose of the rain.

Food was served and talked about, glasses were filled and re-filled as the tales of travel unfolded. I picked up the glass, intent to notice the wine, but the joy of returning friends held sway. Now, how'd that glass get back on the table? Empty too, and I am laughing and I hadn't noticed the wine at all. This time, I'll pick it up and pay attention. But there it is again, half empty on the table as we notice that all seven deadly sins are mentioned on the back label. But what did the wine taste like?

I picked up the glass again, determined to focus on the wine. I took a deep breath of fruity Zin and, oh, yeah, the story of the taking their dog to Burger King while they were gone, and there is that glass, back on the table. Again. Empty of wine. Again. And now she is telling me about the wood fired kitchen in the village and the wine will simply have to wait.

Eventually no encouragement would induce just "one" more helping and I reluctantly sent them back out into the rain. I stood in front of the wood stove and remembered my wine. An uncharacteristically generous fate had left one last good splash in the bottle.

Nice fruity Zinfandel nose. I took another deep breath of it. Sweet and fresh. I liked it. The 14% alcohol shows up in the legs and the nose. The first sip grabs right a hold of you, a hint of sour. It came over as a bit young. Well, it is the 2005 crush. I liked it though, young-ish fit right in. Grabs you again on the swallow, not at all shy. I'll buy the "wildly fruity" without negotiation. All in all, it well earned its place at the table. Darn well for a screw top bottle.


Curry Lamb

· 3 pounds breast of lamb, cut apart.
approx 4 tbl vegetable oil
1 large onion 3 glove garlic
1 - 4 Serrano peppers, to taste
curry spice to taste (I like 3 tbl)
salt to taste
2 cups plane yogurt
3 cups mixed vegetables (such as cauliflower, summer squash, winter squash, carrots, broccoli, potatoes)

1. Put a small amount of oil in a pan and brown the breast of lamb, rendering some of the lamb fat. Remove the lamb from the pan.

2. Add more oil as needed and cook the onion until it is clear.

3. Add the garlic, peppers and curry to the pan and stir at a high heat briefly to release the flavor. Be careful not to scorch them.

4. Add the lamb and yogurt, as well as carrots, winter squash, potatoes or other long cooking vegetables. Add water as needed to just cover the lamb.

5. Simmer over a low heat for 1 hour, stirring regularly.

6. Add the remaining vegetables and simmer, stirring often, until vegetables are barely cooked.

7. Serve over hot basmati rice.