Food & Drink, Libations

Fine pleasures

Last summer I received a rather nice small mustard cookbook from the Saskatchewan Mustard Development Commission. The Prairies produce 65 per cent or more of the world’s mustard, so the province and growers take the stuff quite seriously. As it happens, so do I.

I always have a jar of mustard flour in the cupboard and usually a jar of coarse Dijon style mustard in the fridge. It goes really well with beer and pretzels, and of course beef. In fact on cold winter nights one of my favourite dinners is a semi-slow cooked beef with mustard and sour cream.

It’s pretty easy. You cube a sirloin steak. Dredge the cubes through flour and then brown. If you like a spicy dish try adding a couple of teaspoons of mustard flour to the flour. Slice two medium onions, and cook till just colouring gold. Then stir three or four tablespoons of prepared mustard into the onions, add the beef, and about a half cup of water or white wine. Cook for another 20 minutes or so, on low, till done. If the dish dries too much add more water.

Finally stir in a cup of sour cream or yoghurt and serve over noodle of choice. If you want to make the full fat version, you brown in butter and use sour cream. I usually use olive oil and yoghurt, and serve on linguine, but really anything works.

Such a dish cries out for a crisp red. It’s too spicy for a pinot noir. Chianti and Valpolicella are pretty good. But if you feel like saving a couple of bucks and drinking a better wine I would suggest a Portuguese red. These are acidic fruity reds with beautifully restrained tannins and are probably the best deal in the liquor store. Think of a bright Syrah and youíve got some idea what youíll be drinking.

In general the main Portuguese grapes are tinto roriz and touriga nacional, but there are at least another 50 local varietals grown. And of course there are also various clones from France that have been planted now too.

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Tinto Roriz is known as Tempranillo elsewhere, and is a grape that absolutely challenges the traditional French varieties for supremacy. The Portuguese appear to have figured this out. In the last year I had at least one bottle (Vista, available in Manitoba and Alberta) that was attempting to clearly brand the grape with a large TR on the front label in a circle. I expect youíll see more such labelled bottles on the shelf here soon.

You should. Tinto Roriz makes absolutely stunning wine, as all followers of Rioja know. The Portuguese version is worth paying attention to for many reasons, not least they tend to grow the vines in unirrigated vineyards in the canyon of the Douro river. You aren’t growing anything but wines on these terraces, at least not economically, and they are a shining example to all of us, if you want to drink a sustainable product. Typically the vines are grown traditionally with minimal or no pesticides involved. The product is pure wine, made the way it has been made for five hundred years.

Vista is a Beiras wine, from the district up the Atlantic coast all the way to Spain. There is tremendous fruitiness to the wine, with a flavour I normally associate with Australian Shiraz – figs. The fruitiness is tremendously fresh – people who are sensitive to acidity may not enjoy Portuguese wines – and this is a first class dinner wine, great with roasted and barbecued meat, and very nice with cheese and cheese based fare (Pizza!)

Altano is a Douro wine, made by the famous Symington family. They donít list the grapes, but the bouquet has that spicy odour I associate with tinto roriz. There is a tremendous candied fruit flavour on the palate that will work well with anything spicy (like, say mustard) and all games and red wine dishes. If you once, or still loved shiraz you need to try this wine.

Medeiros was Sairey’s favourite of the tasting with a wonderful sense of restrained power. The bouquet is different than Altano, and the wine is primarily a blend of Aragone, Syrah and Tourigo Nacional with a soupcon of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a remarkably elegant wine, that I recommend to all red wine drinkers, particularly if youíre a fan of fine Rhone wines.

Passion of Portugal is another Roriz wine, with a great bouquet, lovely briskness and a smoky, surprisingly mineral finish. You almost never find this kind of complexity in a ten buck wine, and if your budget is constrained this is a great place to spend your money.

Terras de Estremoz is aimed at the more modern drinker. Itís a younger, fresher wine, with an apparent acidity but a very sweet mineral finish. It also has that thicker texture that so many wine drinkers adore.

Periquita is a wine that has anchored the Portuguese section for decades. It is a touch brisker than the other wines, but then it costs less than nine bucks. I drink a couple of bottles a year, and if you arenít feeling rich I recommend it.

Look which wines I prefer or like are beside the point. At this price you can afford to buy every red in the section, sit down with a couple of friends and try them all side by side, and pick your faves. Is that a great idea for a party or what?

Vista, Portugal, 2008. (Alberta & Manitoba, $12.99) ****
Altano Douro, Portugal, 2009. $14.23 ****
Terras de Estremoz, Portugal, 2011. $14.95 ****
Medeiros, Portugal, 2010. $19.95 ****
Passion of Portugal, 2009. $10.05 ****
Periquita, Portugal, 2010. $10.99 ****


[box title=”Beef with Onions and Mustard” color=”#333333″]

1 lb sirloin steak cut into 1 cm. Cubes
2 medium cooking onions, halved and sliced
2 tablespoons mustard
2 tablespoons capers
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup white wine or water

Melt butter in pan. Dredge beef through the flour, brown, and set aside. Add sliced onions to pan and cook till beginning to turn gold. Stir mustard and capers into pan with onions. Return beef to the pan and stir, until coated with the mustard. Add enough wine to cover the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan and cook over low eat for another 10-20 minutes or until beef is done to tasted.
Stir in the sour cream, and serve over pasta.[/box]


James Romanow writes about Wine and all things Boozy for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him @drbooze

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