Category Archives: Around the Wine World for $20 Or Less

A ‘Riviera’ Vacation in Your Kitchen: 2010 Abadal Cabernet Franc/Tempranillo and Mediterranean Beef Stew

Hit with two winter storms, 3 feet of snow, children home from school due to ‘snow days’, and a cold wind whipping outside my window, my thoughts turned back to my trip last May to Madrid and the ‘French Riviera.’ Oh how I longed to be basking in the warmth, the beauty, and the rich, delicious flavors of the people, the wine, and the food. This winter has made me desire both comfort…and a vacation. Fortunately, I got a taste of both in my own kitchen.

Nothing says comfort like a hearty beef stew, and nothing warms you from head to toe like a glass of incredible red wine. I chose to combine the two, and add a touch of ‘vacation’ into the pot by making a Mediterranean Beef Stew and pairing it with a Spanish 2010 Abadal Cabernet Franc/Tempranillo blend from Pla de Bages. The combination delivered with earthy goodness and the rich flair of flavor that only the Mediterranean can deliver in both its food and its wine. Simple yet seductive. Like so many ‘winos’ and ‘foodies’, I snapped the photo and posted it to my Corked Cowgirl page on Facebook (see the post here: Mediterranean Beef Stew and 2010 Abadal Cabernet Franc/Tempranillo ).

Today I was asked to provide the recipe for the stew. Your request is my pleasure. Don’t let the long ingredient list scare you. It’s mostly spices, and it’s super easy to make.

The recipe is as follows:

5 TBSP olive oil
2 1/2 lbs of stew meat cut into 1″ pieces
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt (I used Truffle salt. If you’re looking to try it, you can find it at William Sonoma, Dean and Deluca, or even on Amazon)
1 large sweet onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, thinly sliced
1/2 package of mushrooms, sliced (I used organic baby portobello mushrooms)
2 zucchinis or yellow squash, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 cups beef broth
2 1/2 cups water
1 2/3 cups dry red wine (I used the 2010 Abadal Cab Franc/Tempranillo…before sipping the rest!)
7/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon fresh coarse ground black pepper
2 TBSP Bay Seasoning (you could throw in 3 Bay leaves as well, just don’t forget to take them out before you serve the stew!)
1 can Garbanzo Beans (Chick Peas)
6 oz spinach (fresh or frozen)
3 1/3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (optional)

Brown the meat in three tablespoons of the olive oil in a dutch oven or 4-quart stock pot. Once it browns, turn the heat to low. Make a paste with the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil, the cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper, and salt. Dump it on the meat and toss it around to distribute the spice paste evenly. Pour yourself a glass of wine and start sipping.

Add the chopped onion, carrots, mushrooms, zucchini, and minced garlic to the meat. Pour the tomatoes, water, beef broth and (most importantly), the wine over the meat and vegetables. Stir it up and bring the stew to a boil. Turn the heat to low and simmer for an hour or two, or until the meat and veggies are tender. By now you should be ready for another glass (or two) of wine.

While you’re waiting for it to cook, mash the garbanzo beans with a fork and begin your second glass of wine. When the stew is done (which could be whenever you run out of patience, or wine) stir in the mashed beans and spinach. Cover and cook over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes or until the spinach is wilted(if it’s fresh) or warmed through (if it’s frozen). Sprinkle the vinegar (if you are using it) into the pot, stir up, and serve with brown rice if you want the extra carb rush. Salt and pepper to taste if necessary. You may also open another bottle of wine, if necessary.

If you decide to simply sip the wine for dinner and wish to forego the stew, you’ll find the 2010 Abadal Cabernet Franc/Tempranillo for between $15-20. It is an AMAZING wine with rich fruit flavors like blackberry and plum mixed with beautiful herbal notes and even a hint of toffee. Stock up on this one to drink throughout the rest of the winter!




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“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”: Global Zinfandel Day with 2009 OZV

Today is November 19th…unless it’s a birthday, an anniversary, or you’ve suddenly discovered you are the long lost love child of Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey and you’re inheriting EVERYTHING, you might not find the date terribly memorable nor exciting. For me, it was a day of typical gray hair causing activities focused around work, errands, pets, kids, and preparing for the entire family to convene on my household for the holiday. Stressful, exhausting…not normally a cause for celebration…

…until I realized it was Global Zinfandel Day.

YES! Zinfandel is perhaps my FAVORITE varietal of all time (shhh…don’t tell the other children…I hate to play favorites with the ‘kids’). I’m not talking about the pretty little pink version of WHITE Zinfandel (although if you like it, knock yourselves out…I’m not going to discriminate…after all, it’s still Zin), but I’m talking about the luscious, red, jammy, ‘lover in a glass’ Zinfandels.

How to describe Zinfandel? Hmmm…let’s compare varietals to a rock band. Cabernet Sauvignon is your big and bold lead singer. Merlot would be the sensual lead guitar player. Malbec would be the rock solid base player. Pinot Noir, the moody, sensitive keyboardist. And the drummer? The sexy, wild, showman that is personality plus, complicated in its rhythms, but able to hold everything together? THAT my friends is ZINFANDEL.

There are as many different styles of Zinfandel as there are drummers, but all have the wonderful red berry fruit that makes it perfect for barbecues during the summer, the perfect wine to sip by the fire pit in the fall, and a surprisingly good wine to serve with cranberries and smoked turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner.

The wine I’m drinking this evening is the perfect example of why you should celebrate Zinfandel. I’ve selected the 2009 OZV Zinfandel out of Lodi, California. Lodi has some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in all of California, and this wine boasts fruit from 50-100 year vines, making the flavors that much more concentrated and intense. Raspberry, red licorice, and milk chocolate on the nose (yeah…it’s like rich candy heaven). Raspberry, blackberry, milk chocolate, and a slight hint of pepper on the finish as you sip…and sip…and sip. The tannins are light, the mouth feel doesn’t feel like a wool sweater on your tongue…it is VERY approachable. If you are looking for a red wine to help you make the transition from whites, this would be a perfect wine to try.

This wine would be excellent with smoked meats of all type, tomato based pastas (heck yeah, cousin LeAnn…this would work with your ‘Christmas Spaghetti’), even grilled tuna!

Zinfandel is the perfect choice for every occasion, and OZV from Oak Ridge Wineries is the perfect choice, especially when you can find it on average around $13.

So grab yourself a bottle…or a case…and celebrate November 19th like a rock star!




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The “Spanish’ Dark Knight Rises: 2010 Borsao Garnacha

Tonight on the opening night of “Batman: The Dark Knight Rises”, I wish I had a dark superhero around to save me from the monotony and tedium of my normal life. As I sit here trying to make a Girl Scout ‘Sit-Upon’ for my youngest daughter’s Day Camp, I fantasize of a dark, brooding distraction. I grumble as I fight off a crazed cat who is tying herself up in the yarn of this evil project and imagine being swept off my feet by a character of great complexity. Fortunately, my ‘Knight’ has arrived. Let me introduce you to the 2010 Borsao Garnacha.

This lovely blend of 80% Garnacha and 20% Tempranillo is one of the most welcome surprises I’ve encountered this summer. One wouldn’t think you could find such fine wine complexity in a screw cap wine…ESPECIALLY for under $10…but don’t be fooled by it’s outer appearance. It’s alter ego is something spectacular.

Big, bold, and inky black in the glass. An intoxicating nose of blackberry, pepper, and wet stone are followed up by blackberry, plum, slate, and pepper on the tongue. A medium to full-bodied mouthfeel and a wonderful balance make this the perfect ‘go-to’ red for steaks and grilled meats. It can dance as easily with a strip steak as it could with ribs, brisket, or burgers and brats. I can’t give this enough praise because a wine like this would normally cost 2-3x it’s cost. Under $10, you would be foolish not to stock up on this incredible value wine.


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Enjoying my ‘Tropical Vacation’ In A Bottle From Alsace: 2006 Pierre Sparr ‘One’

Okay, I decided to go out on a limb here and do a VERY out of the box set of pairings with my Alsatian wine. Typically, a bottle of wine from the Alsace region of France will set you back a pretty penny, and often you will pair it with Foie Gras, cheese dishes, duck, grilled fish and seafood, sushi, buttery shellfish.  Me? I paired a 2006 Pierre Sparr “One” (a blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer, and Muscatel with both ‘Tater Tot Hot Dish’ and Coconut Gelato (yes, I don’t deny I’m a bit of a redneck eccentric).

The wine is off-dry with wonderful floral, mineral, and spice notes and a definite taste of exotic, tropical fruits, along with that ever familiar peach and melon flavor I’ve come to love from the wines of this French region.  It actually paired well with the casserole (or hot dish) but where it shone was with the gelato.  Okay, that’s an understatement…it was the most mind-blowing, creamy, mouth-filling, better than sex and winning the lottery, buttery Pina Colada explosion my mind could not even DARE to imagine!  My fear is finishing this entire bottle with this entire pint of gelato in a single sitting and needing to do at least 2 hours on the elliptical machine every day for the next 2 weeks to burn it all off…and even then, it might be worth it!  The wine was about $13.50; the gelato $5.  For under $20 I got ‘Fifty Shades of Gray’, ‘Magic Mike’, the Super Bowl, World Series, and a year’s worth of house cleaning all in one single spoon and glass combination.

I feel like I’ve gone to Hawaii, or Belize, or…straight to heaven!  You will too.  Kick off your shoes, pull out your loudest floral print shirt, and let this incredible value wine blow away both your cares and your tastebuds.




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This summer the fun begins with a six pack…of French Rose: 2010 Clos de La Briderie Touraine Mesland Vieilles Vignes Gris, Loire, France

Summer heat is upon us: grills are firing up, people are sporting flip flops and tan lines, and the weekend get togethers are in full swing. This past week I’ve had a good share of fun with friends and I even broke out my flip flop wine coasters to fit with the season. On more than one occasion, I was asked ‘when are you going to put the corkscrew away and finally have a kickback summer drink instead of that ‘snooty’ stuff?’ The more I heard the questioning and the term ‘snooty’ in reference to the wine, the more my feathers got ruffled. I even had to endure a song on the radio talking about some good old boy’s girlfriend being down to earth because she was drinking a beer rather than a ‘stuffy’ wine.

I don’t know how to break it to them, but this cowgirl isn’t stuffy, and the wine works darn near anywhere…ESPECIALLY at summertime, laid back events.

Take this wine for example, the 2010 Clos de La Briderie. I admit, the name might seem a little funny to us ‘country folk’, but I can assure you, this wonderful rose is perfect for kicking back.

I chose this little number for both the Tim McGraw/Kenny Chesney concert tailgating party and the day I headed out to the lake for a little ‘boat therapy.’ It paired up with the spicy brats we grilled up as well as those two ‘Brothers of the Sun’ and it held it’s own chilled properly in a cooler and being sipped out of a red solo cup while floating on an inter tube. This wine screams summertime.

Don’t let the pale pink color scare you…it’s not like your college kid white zinfandel or one of those ‘wine coolers’ we all have had not so fun experiences with. This is made with the Gamay grape of Beaujolais red fame. It has a perfume of red cherries and strawberries, like the fresh fruit from your grandma’s fruit salad at the family picnic. The flavor is intense: with what I would describe as the candied flavor of a strawberry Jolly Rancher candy and watermelon…you can’t GET more summertime than THAT! Although it has those candied flavor, don’t let it fool you into thinking it’s a sweet wine. This is a crisp, dry wine, with great acidity. Whether you’re doing burgers and brats, grilled chicken, ribs, or a pork tenderloin, this wine will go along with it…like your best friend on the way to the county fair.

No, there is nothing stuffy, nor pretentious with this ‘pretty in pink’ selection. In fact, dare I say that those with a beer bottle in their hand rather than a wine bottle are the ‘snooty’ ones. After all, compare the two bottles: One is for a single serving to sip on selfishly, and the other is big enough to share with friends and be neighborly. 😉

It’s a great value too! I found mine for around $14. Can’t go wrong with a versatile French wine from the Loire Valley for under $20!

So this weekend when you’re kicking back and ready to ‘pop a top’, make it a cork, and make it the 2010 Clos de La Briderie Touraine Mesland…

…I’ll see you on the lake. Cheers! ~CC


Roses, The Perfect Summertime ‘Flower’: 2011 Crios de Susana Balbo Rose of Malbec

After a long, productive, and exciting week of wine education, I arrived home just in time for the weekend with so many thoughts and ideas pouring through my mind that I knew there was only one thing I could do…

…and that was to set it all aside and relax with a little BBQ.

I arrived at our friends’ home armed with a few bottles of 2011 Crios de Susana Balbo Rose Malbec out of the Mendoza region of Argentina. As I opened the bottle and asked who would like a glass, I was met with resistance on all sides.

The men assured me they would never in a million years drink, let alone enjoy, a ‘pink chick drink.’ The women of the group objected with a resounding, ‘we don’t like those heavy, dry, red wines.’ I simply smiled, poured a mouthful into a glass for each of them and said, ‘You don’t like this type of wine? Prove it.’

Both men and women peered into their glasses, suspiciously eyeing the deep rose color/faded red color, and caught the scent of fresh strawberries and mild spice on the nose. Then came the moment of truth, the sip of strawberries and bright cherries mixing with that same subtle spice. Not too dry, not too sweet…balanced and refreshing. Not some thin, fruity little beverage. Not a heavyweight that bullies your tongue into submission. Just a perfectly wonderful companion in a glass.

The women smiled and said, ‘hey this is pretty good.’ The men, shocked, and trying to maintain their manly composure quietly commented that it wasn’t what they expected…while pouring more into their glasses.

Once I knew I had their interest, it was time to hook them.

I encouraged them to take a bite of the smoked brisket followed by a sip of the Rose. The men’s faces lit up with a smile; the women took a second helping. Then I encouraged them to take a sip along with a bite of the ham for a completely different experience. More smiles appeared, along with plates full of bbq and glasses being filled with the Crios.

By the end of the evening, three bottles had been emptied, all parties were asking for more and leaving the other bottles of wine untouched, and all wanted to know how difficult it would be to find it.

That’s what makes this wine even more special. The 2011 Crios de Susana Balbo Rose of Malbec is available pretty much everywhere, and you can find it between $10-13.

This is such a perfect number for the summer…it lends itself so well to summer fare of bbq, grilled chicken, salmon…as well as being an easy chilled sipper on the boat or on the back deck with friends.

With the hectic pace we find ourselves in so often, sometimes it’s good to literally ‘take time to smell the Roses.’ And in this particular case, to sip them often as well.




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