Bill’s Best Bets – February 2017

Bill’s Best Bets and Braised Meats
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Nothing makes me happier than the end of February. Springtime is around the corner. But we are still in winter and I know that not only because I seem to be shoveling snow daily, but because I am eating so many braised meat dishes. From stews to more elaborate recipes like Osso Bucco, there’s no better way to turn inexpensive cuts of meats into a delicious meal.

Braising relies on “wet heat,” where the piece of meat is slow-cooked in some sort of liquid, which gives moisture-laden heat. Meat is a muscle, a collection of muscle fibres held together by tough connective tissue, mostly made up of a protein called collagen. The cuts that are best suited to braising are those muscles which work a lot and have more of this collagen: the shoulders, legs, and cheeks for example.

As the meat heats up, the collagen and fat slowly dissolve into the cooking liquid. As the meat fibers contract, they lose moisture and become very dry, and even tougher. But as the meat continues to cook, covered, the fibers begin to relax and the meat gradually reabsorbs the juice, now laden with fat and the flavours from your cooking liquid. It’s a slow process which is why these cuts need to cook for a long time at low heat.

The end result is a meat which is texturally different from one that is cooked with “dry” heat, such as grilling or pan frying. With “dry” heat cooking, the meat is cooked over high heat over a short period of time to sear the surface of the meat and “seal in the moisture.”

“Dry” versus “wet” cooking require different types of wines. I have done many taste tests and have found that richer textured wines, with ripe tannins go best with the braise. The almost creamy texture of braised meat seems to be out of sync with that of a higher acid wine. What always seems to work, are wines like Barossa Valley shiraz and California cabernet sauvignon. The lower acidities and creamier textures of these wines match that of braised meat perfectly.

There is no lack of choice out there, and at various price points. Let’s start with the under $20 wines. I just returned from Argentina, where meat is king. Try the Don David 2015 Syrah or the La Mascota 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, which is paired with lamb due to its minty finish.

Don David Syrah Reserve 2015La Mascota Cabernet Sauvignon 2015Hacienda Araucano Syrah Reserva 2015

If you want to spend under $12, then the under $10 syrah from Araucano will work well, especially if you put a little Pirri Pirri sauce in the cooking liquid, which adds a smoked chile note.

But you can also find these richer wines in Europe, especially those wines made with grenache. The Château Coupe-Roses 2015 Les Plots has a wonderfully meaty finish, as does the Sardinian 2014 Costasera from Argiolas. Going back to the new world, and this time Australia, the Yalumba Bush Vine grenache is an exceptional deal.

Château Coupe Roses Les Plots 2015Argiolas Costera 2014Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache 2014

If you are looking to spend a little more then you have lots of great options. For you California cab fans, this is a great opportunity to open one, and I can’t think of a better option than the 2013 Sonoma cab from St-Francis. For those of you who want to spend $35, the 2013 Napa cab from Robert Mondavi surprised me with its complexity and high drinkability.

St Francis Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon 2013Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013Dinastia Vivanco Seleccion De Familia Crianza 2012Montecillo Reserva 2010

While classic Rioja tends to show higher acidities, there are many “new wave” examples which show riper fruit and softer tannin structures. Try the 2012 Crianza from Vivanco or the 2010 Reserva from Montecillo, which would be great with a Osso Bucco with lots of mushrooms.

Spring is coming folks.


“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

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Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - Better Beckons