Tenting tonight in the old Bourgueil

It’s a swell looking bottle.

The label is snazzy: French, you know.

Bourgueil. A Cabernet Franc, from Domaine de la Chanteleuserie, in the Loire Valley.

Got it for a song — the best of all possible worlds: a very good wine at a very low price. It’s bit young, but I am excited to dive in. After all, it’s a low price juice and the thought of holding on to it for any appreciable time to allow it to age, is out of the question.

In fact, I age it two days.

My pal James and I take great delight in ordering such wines, generally French, at the low end of the price spectrum, usually delightful everyday drinkers. Our last order we scored, big time: an incredible Cotes du Rhone, a phenomenal Rhone blend, a superb Cahors.

And this Cab Franc.

The sound of the cork exiting the bottle is music to my ears.



I am going to let the wine sit for a while, to open up. Not too long, mind you. perhaps five minutes. Time’s a wastin’.

The question in the meantime is what to make for dinner. No wine without a meal; wine’s a food, after all.

The problem: I don’t have much on hand and I am so anxious to get to sipping that I am not willing to make the long trip to the market.

I scout around in the fridge.

Slim pickings.

I find a bowl of a mighty fine red chile, left over from an enchilada extravaganza a couple nights back.

No way. Very few wines go with a mess o’ fiery red. That’s beer territory.

I discover a bowl of leftover sauteed russet and sweet potatoes, with onion, garlic, cumin and oregano. Hmm, bears attention, as a side.

Then, tucked behind a carton of vanilla soy milk, there is a large batch of leftover chicken meatballs, with ginger, garlic and cilantro, resting in a deep pool of Thai red curry sauce.

This was an incredible meal. I took ground chicken breast and added finely minced and mashed ginger, smushed garlic, finely minced white onion, a beaten egg, salt, pepper, chopped cilantro and enough panko bread crumbs to bring the mix together. I formed 2-inch diameter meatballs and browned them off in canola oil. I made a sauce in a separate pan, cooking minced white onion until soft, adding finely minced ginger, more smushed garlic and cooking for a minute or two over medium high heat, taking care not to brown anything. Then I added several tablespoons of Thai red curry paste and cooked it for a minute or two with the vegetables. In went a splash of chicken broth, a couple tablespoons of fish sauce and a can’s worth of unsweetened coconut milk. I cooked until blended, adjusted the seasoning and plopped in the meatballs. I simmered the mix until the sauce was thick. I had some cooked brown rice, so I heated canola oil in a heavy skillet, threw in some thinly sliced white onion and cooked it over medium high heat until it was soft. I popped in some minced and mushed garlic and the rice and stir fried for a few minutes. I splashed in a bit of fish sauce, amalgamated the mess and served it with the meatballs that velvety, rich sauce, and some steamed green beans.

It was tremendous, and easy to make.

And completely unsuited to the Cab Franc. Wine with a Thai curry? Like the chile, this is beer turf, though a Gewurztraminer or Riesling might pull the wagon.

So, what to make?

I spot it.

A salmon fillet. Not large, maybe a pound at the most. Skin on. Expiration date within reason (discounting the fact the fish flesh hadn’t seen open water in who knows how long). I had purchased it the day before and plans for dinner had been abruptly changed.

Salmon will do the trick. With the potatoes as a side. And a salad — a wad of “spring mix” with a simple vinaigrette.

I warm the potatoes in the microwave.

The salmon I prepare simply: I wash and dry the fillet (after sniffing for telltale signs of ammonia-tinged rot) and season the flesh with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. I preheat the oven to 450. I take a heavy, ovenproof skillet and put it over a medium high flame. When the pan is hot, I add a touch of oil and place the fillet in the pan, skin side down. I sear the skin until it begins to crisp and I can see the underside of flesh begin to whiten. Into the oven the pan goes, the timer set for 15 minutes.

While the fish cooks, I pour some wine. I give Kathy a bit (just a bit) and we proceed to do the wine snob tango.

We each hold our glass up and gaze at the wine as the light passes through it. Color is a good indicator of a lot of things — freshness being one of them.

“It’s pretty,” says Kathy.


We swirl the wine around the inside of the glass to get a bit of air in it. I have never been particularly good at this and invariably spill wine during the process.

Then we sniff.

I decide to put Kathy to the test.

“What do you smell,” I ask. The wine snob vocabulary is full of terms to fit this part of the ritual: leather, tobacco, lavender, berries, chocolate, barnyard, blah blah blah.

“I smell wine.”

“Well, of course you do. But smell it again. Surely, you detect some particular scents, some familiar odors?”

“Well, yeah. I do. It smells like an old canvas tent that has been in the garage all winter. You know how the tent smells when you first unroll it?”

“You gotta be kidding. Smell it again.”

Kathy sticks her nose in the glass.

“I smell an abandoned miner’s cabin. Do you remember how those ruined old cabins smelled when you opened the door? There were usually all sorts of old newspapers in there that had molded and dried up. Yeah, that’s it: abandoned miner’s cabin. What do you smell?”

“Uh, Bell pepper, herbs, violets, plums?”

“Yeah, sure you do.”

Next, we taste.

“Yep,” I say. “There is a berry undertone, maybe cherry. This is an unusually dense Cab Franc. There are some serious taste combos here, for a wine that costs so little.”

“It tastes like a well-used sleeping bag. But, don’t get me wrong — I like it. I loved to go camping when I was a kid.”

The salmon comes out of the oven. I have left it in a minute or two too long, but it tastes fine, spritzed with fresh lemon juice. And the leftover potatoes are a perfect foil.

And, actually, the fish and spuds match up beautifully with the Bourgueil.

Nothing balances the oiliness of the fish like an old canvas tent.