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Richard C. Ross
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A visit to Sonoma Cutrer in Sonoma County







Perhaps you are familiar with the recent television commercial where, apparently in a public library, one man points to his dinner and whispers: "two ninety-nine" to his friend, referring to the cost of his dinner.  There is now another application of the same phrase that can be used with dinner at home: a smile comes to the face of a man's wife as she tastes the wine her husband has poured to accompany dinner, asking how much he paid for the very good Chardonnay she has just tasted.  He replies, with a smile of his own; "two ninety-nine".

For those of you who have had the pleasure of attending one of the wine dinners offered at Harvest Restaurant at Pheasant Run -- or at another fine area restaurant -- this article may seem a bit silly, since I presume that you are probably used to occasionally enjoying a marvelous bottle of wine with your dinner -- a wine that perhaps may even be a bit  expensive...  But for the rest of us who may not have known how nicely a bottle of wine can dress up even the simplest of meals -- especially one that is for the purpose of celebrating a special occasion -- I have a tip for you: there is some pretty darn good wine available that is, well, incredibly inexpensive and at the same time very good.  There are numerous bottles available that are inexpensive, but there are few that are also incredibly good when the price is cheap.  And there are fewer still that have won a double gold award against a few hundred competitors, as did the wine that I refer to here: a 2005 Chardonnay from Charles Shaw - commonly referred to as "Two-Buck Chuck".  The moniker is the result of the $1.99 sales price in California.  Around these parts it sells for -- and you need to whisper this part -- "two ninety-nine"!

Walleye Meuniere with broccoli, carrots and wild riceIn the beginning, I was not unlike most people who begin to discover how enjoyable wine drinking can be, especially with a good meal.  I had no idea what I was talking about when it came to describing wine -- I just relied on a relationship between price and the quality that was assumed to be there.  This is not the best way to approach wine drinking. But before I get too far ahead of myself, one important thing needs to be kept in mind; it was one of the things that I learned from a Master Chef in California: wine is simply to be enjoyed. If you like it, it's good wine.  If you don't like it, don't drink it.  As I began to try different wines with different foods and listened to knowledgeable friends about the flavors I was tasting, I got a bit better.  It was still however, simply a matter of taste and whether or not I enjoyed the wine with the food.

So, the bottom line is this: if you want to have a bottle of wine with dinner, don't go out and buy a $25 bottle just because of a name that someone told you about.  Try an inexpensive one first.  And a great place to start is with a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck (the 2005 Double-Gold Chardonnay) -- now sometimes referred to as TBC (Charles Shaw wines are available exclusively at Trader Joe's).  It is really a pretty decent bottle of wine.  It is soft, simple, balanced and has a hint of fruit.  It does lack the oak that some believe should go hand-in-hand with a Chardonnay.  And although it lacks the complexity that one might fine in a more expensive bottle, it is easy to drink... and very easy on the pocket book.  By the way, it went really well with a fish dish that a close friend taught me how to make.  Last night we enjoyed Walleye Oscar.  Oddly enough, I have rarely seen it on restaurant menus, and it is really a tasty way to cook fish; many varieties lend themselves to the recipe.  After you've tried the Chardonnay, give the Merlot a taste as well.  It's much easier and a whole lot less expensive to enjoy the experience at home.  What better way to enjoy that special dinner?!

Note: The dish pictured bottom left is Meuniere-Style Walleye Pike.  I rarely see it on menus either, but it is also very easy to make and the recipe for it is found here: http://onthelake.net/recipes/fish/walleyemeuniere.htm .



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