Affordable August Long Weekend Wines

Napeague Walking Dunes

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From the exploration of the Walking Dunes on Long Island to a look ahead at the August civic holiday long weekend, wine persists as the imperative of investigation. Vines are like the barren landscape’s phantom forest of forever shifting powder, speaking of a specific idea, a philosophy, a métier. A forest of pitch pine and oak is buried over by wind driven, walking sands. Truth be told, the pursuit of wine is made possible by ever evolving vines, each unique to its local sense of place.

I go wining like the Montauketts and Bonackers who once worked these fruitful waters. I rake the releases and wine stores to unearth gems like the crabs and clams crawling in Montauk’s living waters.

The dry summer is creating a challenge to crops but the teeming ocean swells alive. Lobster, Fluke, Blue Fish, Scallops and especially crabs are abundant and well-priced. Look for these under $20 values to enliven your long weekend meals.

Soft Shell Crab, Fluke and Delmonico Sirloin

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Alsatian at heart, PG is laying down roots all over the New World

The lowdown: Arguably the finest Kiwi version I’ve found, especially at this price

The food match: Steamed Mussels in white wine, shallot, fennel and tarragon

Spinyback Pinot Gris 2010 (214569, $16.95) of sexy flesh and bone has got a lot going on for the IVR*. River walks through Maori gardens of “ginger, lemon, indigo, coriander stem and rose of hay.” Biting chalky, mineral and pear, finding the river and swimming with Notacanthus sexspinis.  89

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: Lack of oak in Chablis makes for mineral-driven wines

The lowdown: Quality is rarely high at the under $20 (non-Cru) level. This could be your Wonderwall

The food match: Steamed and Grilled Soft-Shell Crab with lime aioli

Domaine Des Malandes Chablis 2010 (111658, $18.95) is a crisp, fresh, floral and tropical oasis of quality in a sea of mediocrity. The citron pressé, “back beat, the word was on the street” Malandes is endowed of high complexity and complement.  88

The grape: Fiano

The history: Ancient varietal from southern Italy

The lowdown: The unheralded whites of the Campania are one of the wine world’s undiscovered treasures

The food match: Grilled Calamari with garlic, olive oil, lemon, capers and parsley

Terre Dora Fiano di Avellino 2010 (120048, $18.95) is always good company and accompanies warm water seafood with pairing ease. Juicy, bursting citrus and tropical, tree-fruit flavours. This Fiano of one of Terre Dora’s three terrific, single-varietal whites (along with the Greco and Falanghina). This Fiano can knock on my door anytime.  89

The grape: Syrah

The history: Noble, dark as night varietal from the Northern Rhône

The lowdown: Languedoc Syrah tends to need support from Grenache and Mourvedre but this one emulates the northern style, in a top vintage and for a song

The food match: Crispy Pork Belly and parsnip pureé

Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2009 (177584, $13.95) is certainly more north than south with its smokey, cured beef and pork perambulations. Depth to raise thoughts of Septaguanarian Hermitage vines of twist and gnarl. A touch of burnt rubber and varnish but all in all a heap of Syrah for under $14.  87

The grape: Garnacha

The history: Big, juicy red of French and Iberian fame

The lowdown: Under $15 Calatayud Garnacha has become a consistent go to value

The food match: Ground Sirloin Burgers with Mahon Cheese

Filón Garnacha 2010 (280602, $14.95) is actually a bit of a misprision because of its black fruit character. Re-enacts Tuscan IGT and the most modern of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Tar, asphalt, bitter chocolate and sanguine Kirsch and very, very ripe fruit. Grand oak and tons of wine at $15.  88

The grape: Zinfandel

The history: Primate-like cousin to Primitivo from Italy and before that, Yugoslavia

The lowdown: Dry Creek Valley does this varietal like no other; sweet and dry.

The food match: Dry Rub, St. Louis Style Side Ribs

Pedroncelli Bushnell Vineyard Zinfandel 2009 (463026, $22.95) is so toothsome and bruising you may want to eat it with a fork. A sickly sweet moment is rescued by the DCV terroir. This 15.2% abv elixir of crushed and blended berries is a single-vineyard beauty that begs a question. Why pay $50 for top-tier Zinfandel when you can go Pedroncelli?  89

The Splurge

The grapes: Grenache and Syrah

The history: Storied producer of more than 200 years located near the famous Dentelles de Montmirail

The lowdown: The best Grapillon since 2001

The food match: Grilled Delmonico Sirloin Steak with cherry tomato, avocado and black beans salsa

Domaine Du Grapillon D’or Gigondas 2010 (981787, $28.95) of inky, jet black pitch is bombastic and confidently announces itself of full extraction. Blueberry compote, macerated cherries, roasted and bleeding elk all come to the visceral mind. Sweet, viscous liquor with acidity and viscous tannin. Needs 10 years or several oxygenated hours to settle in.  91

Canoe trip recipes for success

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Canoe trip cooking adheres to a less is more, zen-like philosophy. The chef must manage the intensity of absences, the maximization of omissions. The carrying weight of a tripping pack, storage restrictions and spoilage all combine to limit the boundaries of mis en place. Culinary science as outdated rhetorical lunacy, the act of banal heroism. My muse may not be a Jack Tripper Coq-au-Vin but “Lordy, Lordy, Lordy,” cooking outdoors is just plain fun.

The simple and meditative act of back country canoe camping perculiarizes the anthology of Canadian culture. Long before the assembly to dominion it was a summoning that defined our call to being. Today, the courir dans les bois persists as a tug of positable mythic that underlies who and what we are. Cherrywood paddles cutting whirlpools through ambient lakes.  Portage ambling over trails cut out of the forest lined with networking tree root systems and glacially deposited rocks. This base traversing of the landscape, in and out of a canoe, plodding a direct and simple course from points A to B.

Paddling Home

Living on nuts and berries” once sustained us, we gatherers, fishermen, hunters and farmers. Canoe trip cooking marked an enlightened beginning for many Canadian chefs, a list not the least of which includes me. It was simpler back then. Tripper’s stew, Mac and Cheese, Boil in the Foil. I don’t miss and reminisce on those anti-culinary days. The paradox of modern campfire cooking merges the taste of maple, pine and birch smoke with gastronomical possibilities that leave beef jerky and tuna surprise in the dust. The demotic canoe trip maxim might state “show me a good casserole and I’ll show you a casserole.”

Pancake Breakfast

The key to canoe trip cooking, especially in the heat of the summer, is to keep perishable food cold for as long as possible. Freeze everything that can be frozen the night before departure, transfer to the food barrel and don’t open until dinner. Remove only last in, first out items and re-seal the barrel. The following morning the milk, eggs, bacon, sausage and cheese will all be good to go, straight from the “fridge.”

Green Beans, Feta, Golden Beets and Kale Shoots

Recent years have seen preparations that included Glazed Baby Back Ribs, Smashed Potatoes, Fried Rice, Deep Dish Pizza, Tortellini in Brodo, Grilled Flank Steak and Mushroom Risotto. Night one in July 2012 ventures into some new territory. Vietnamese Phở Bò Tái Nạm, Pan-Fried Halibut, Salad of Green Beans, Golden Beets, Greek Feta and Kale Shoots.

Soup’s On

Pho Bo Tai Nam


1 package of flat rice noodles
2 lbs. centre cut beef tenderloin
2 litres frozen chicken stock
cheesecloth spice bag filled with cassia (cinnamon bark), fennel seed, whole cayenne chile, coriander seed, star anise, Szechuan peppercorn and clove. tied up with butcher’s string
fresh bean sprouts or baby greenhouse pea shoots
Thai basil (can substitute regular green, Genovese or purple basil)
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper


Bring water to a rolling boil for 15 minutes and add rice noodles. Cook for three minutes, strain out the water and coat liberally in canola oil.

Grill Beef Tenderloin over campfire coals until charred and rare. Remove and rest for 20 minutes.

Take out frozen chicken stock from the food barrel, transfer to a stock pot and add one litre water. Drop in a sachet of spices. Bring to a rolling boil over extreme campfire heat and continue to boil for 15 minutes.

Slice beef very thin.

Serve bowls of broth with rice noodles, sliced beef, bean sprouts and Thai basil.

Slicing the Beef

Braised beef, fully cooked and frozen ahead, effectively works protein into night two of a canoe trip. Rump roast, stew beef and short rib can all be reshaped into stew. BBQ sauce glazed boneless short rib acts as esculent partner to rice, beans and pasta. In this case, good-bye baked beans and hello Garam Masala-spiced green lentils. The beef would star in a Khao San Road inspired Khao Soi but tonight it rides along with grilled Veal Knuckers, gluten-free corn pasta, olives, baby carrots and Padano Parmesan.

BBQ Flanken

Beef Short Ribs


3 lbs. beef short rib, cut “flanken” style”
2 shallots, peeled and sliced in half
4 garlic cloves, sliced in half
2 cups dry red wine
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1 cup BBQ sauce


The day before the trip, season flanken butchered short rib with salt and pepper.

Braise for two hours in a 375 degree oven covered in red wine, shallot and garlic.

Remove from the jus, cool, discard the bones, then deep freeze wrapped in foil and double-bagged.

Glaze with BBQ sauce and grill over hot coals, two minutes each on all four sides. Slice and serve.

Courtesy of PlatyPreserve

Boxed wines have been the go to beverage to pair with my uptempo, combative and sanguinary campfire cooking. On my next venture into a Canadian nature preserve I plan to bring better wine. On the reliable and heady advice of AM, hereto referred to as my “wine conscience,” this contraption will house a bottle or two of something more than drinkable. I’m not suggesting a classified growth Bordeaux or Barolo here. I’m thinking dry as the desert Italian reds will find their way inside the preservation system.

Argiano NC Non Confunditur 2009 (72397, $24.95) achieves crunge by amalgamating Cabernet Sauvignon (chocolate and berries), Merlot (basil, lead), Syrah (black as night) and Sangiovese (animale grosso) in a Super-Tuscan, spezzatura package. Could paddle without a care to the world and sip this all day while searching for “that confounded bridge.” He sure is a good friend.  90

Mazzei Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 2009 (977629, $25.95) confounds as a juxtaposition of the exquisite and the atavistic. A prince of raspberry purée, “I think I love you.” Yet oak and osseous variation turn the Mazzei into a Black Beret, a strong-willed and big-boned, alpha male animal.  Walk with the Moose.  88

Good to go!