Wining Through Winter
by Jonathon Alsop
It's only been winter, real winter, for a handful of days, and already we're looking for ways to help us muddle through it. After breaking out the truly great wine for friends and family during the holidays, January through March (make that April) almost has to be a wine letdown. As for the budget, suffice it to say the 2-for-$12 bin looks better and better all the time. And I even know a place with a 2-for-$8 shelf, if it comes to that.
There are essentially two options: stay home or go out. If you stay home and you're carnivorous, make an osso buco and red wine dinner. Osso buco is a hearty stew, perfect for winter, made with cross-cut leg of lamb, veal, or beef. The best recipes are the simplest: brown the meat, brown the vegetables, add 2/3 of a bottle of wine and a can of Roma tomatoes, and cook in the oven for six hours. The trick to a great osso buco and wine match is to spring for an extra bottle of wine and cook with the wine you're going to serve. Use the rest of the bottle for quality control.
Buy good red wine that's on sale in the $7 and $8 range. Lately, 1998 Rosemount Estate Shiraz-Cabernet blend from Australia and 1997 Buena Vista Zinfandel from California have been available almost everywhere. Australia is always a good value, and for a couple of dollars more, I like 1996 McGuigan Brothers "Black Label" Shiraz and 1997 Tatachilla "Wattle Park" Shiraz.
The movement to declare March Home Wine Tasting Month has never really gotten off the ground, but a wine tasting party is the perfect antidote to New England's cruelest time of year. Create a theme for the tasting (grape varieties are good, wine regions, too) or make it a scavenger hunt (red wine under $15 to go with osso buco!) and let your friends shop. In addition to the bread and brie, have Johnson's Pocket Encyclopedia of Wine handy.