Thursday, May 21, 2009

Beyond BBQ: Pairing Grilled Favorites With Australia’s Fantastic And Little Known Wine Export: Sparkling Shiraz

I have a secret I’m dying to let you in on just in time for Memorial Day weekend. Like any juicy tidbit, it won’t be a secret for long. As a cultural explorer and culinary sleuth, I am always on the lookout for exciting developments and the “next big thing” on the food and wine horizon. I believe I’ve found it. Are you ready? Lean closer … it’s sparkling Shiraz, or “spurgles,” as the Aussies fondly refer to it.

Many of you are probably no stranger to Shiraz, the spirited, fruity red that has become synonymous with Australian wine and a favorite among wine aficionados. But the sparklers stand on their own. Think bold and inky, a spicy, fruity depth with bubbles! Lots of bubbles. The color is glorious, too! The wine is best served chilled, in champagne flutes, and pairs beautifully with spicy and grilled foods. It’s perfect for summer barbecues or with your favorite spicy Thai food. But unlike champagne, which is often made with Pinot Noir grapes but remains pale because of its minimal contact with the red skins, sparkling Shiraz is vinified with the skins, resulting in a deep, crimson color and alluring aroma.

I must tell you this is not—I repeat, not—Cold Duck! Cold Duck is a carbonated sweet wine `from the ’70’s that bears more of a resemblance to grape soda pop than to fine wine. While I’m always up for a bit of retro chic, some things are best left in the past. Polyester leisure suits, anyone?

The Australians have been enjoying sparkling reds for years. Only now is their best-kept secret gaining popularity in the United States. Vintage sparklers are typically aged for five to 10 years, and are done in small quantities. For those reasons, they can be a bit of a challenge to find. My first excursion turned into an all-day outing that finally produced a bottle of Majella 2002 sparkling Shiraz from a local wine shop. Many shopkeepers along the way cocked their heads in an RCA Victor–dog sort of way and looked at me curiously when I inquired about the bubbly red. I nearly wept with joy when I finally found it, and carried it home like the Holy Grail and placed it in my refrigerator with eager anticipation to chill for that night’s dinner.

As I sat down to grilled steak and spicy roasted vegetables and popped the cork, I must admit, I was skeptical at first. I poured the wine into a tall champagne flute. The color was deep, dark purple and the bubbles a beautiful, rich shade of pink. I sniffed. It had a warm, fruity aroma. Not knowing quite what to expect, I took a sip. I was hooked! It was drier than I had expected. I took another sip. I was in love! The lush fruitiness and unobtrusive tannins were in perfect harmony. And those bubbles! Dancing in my mouth, they were perfect with the grilled steak and peppery vegetables. It all came together in that moment. I went out the next day and bought two more bottles. A week later I ordered a case and invited 10 friends to dinner to share my new discovery.

In my search for the perfect sparkling Shiraz, I found many that I liked (some better than others, but they all had something distinct to offer). As I mentioned, they’re not always easy to find, being that we’re just starting to catch on stateside. But I did find one amazing resource called the Jug Shop in San Francisco with several varieties in stock. In fact, they boast the largest selection of Australian wine on the West Coast, and were voted one of the top 10 specialty wine stores in the U.S. by GQ. They are friendly and knowledgeable, and their motto is: “We taste bad wines so you don’t have to.” The good news is, even if you don’t live in San Francisco, they have an easy-to-navigate Web site,, and they ship anywhere in the U.S. Now that my fizzy little secret is out, you’ll know what to look for when searching for the perfect wine to serve at your next barbecue. Just what you grill may be up for debate, but the wine selection is clear. Fire up the grill!


The following recipes pair perfectly with your favorite spurgles...

Kick Ass Burgers with Roasted Tomatoes,
Caramelized Balsamic Onions
& Smoky Chipotle Ketchup

The all-American Hamburger gets a gourmet makeover with the addition of ground brisket and a few other ingredients that really take this cookout classic to the next level. Perfect for Memorial Day! Admittedly there's a bit of preparation involved, but don't confuse time consuming with difficult. There's nothing difficult about these burgers and most of the prep work can be done days in advance. Believe me, the flavor pay off is well worth it! Ask your friendly butcher to grind the brisket twice for the juiciest, most delicious burger you've ever tasted.

Serves 6

2 1/4 pounds ground brisket
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons steak sauce (recommended: A1 Brand)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
3 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter

1 pound red onions, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch rings
2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
Kosher salt, to taste
2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar

1 cup ketchup
1 to 2 teaspoons canned chipotle peppers*, seeded and diced, or to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons adobo sauce from can, or to taste
2 teaspoons aged balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt & freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

6 Roma tomatoes
Olive oil for drizzling
Kosher salt & freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

6 Brioche Rolls or good hamburger buns, split, cut side toasted or grilled
6 thick slices sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups baby arugula leaves
1 ripe avocado, peeled and sliced

To caramelize the onions, heat oil over low heat in a large skillet. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, for 20 minutes or until soft and deep golden brown. Don’t rush this part. It really does take about 20 minutes to develop the sugars and caramelize the onions. Trust me, your patience will be rewarded. They key to success is low and slow. Season with salt and pepper and add the balsamic vinegar during the last couple of minutes to deglaze the pan. Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover; chill.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Spread tomato halves on a sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper and toss together to ensure everything is coated evenly. Roast for 45 minutes, cut side up, without turning, until the tomatoes are concentrated and caramelized. Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover; chill.

To make the ketchup, Stir together the ketchup, chipotle peppers and adobo sauce in a small bowl. Whisk in the vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover; chill.

To make the burgers, whisk together the egg yolks, steak sauce and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the ground brisket and put a touch of olive oil on clean hands to keep meat from sticking and to prevent over mixing. Carefully work the meat with your fingertips until just combined. It’s important not to overwork the meat, doing so results in a tough burger. To form patties, shape a loose ball in your hand and press half a tablespoon of the cold butter into the center of the meat. Lightly form each hamburger with the balls of your hands making sure the butter is entirely encased, but don’t pack the meat. The more you pack, the denser the burger will be and it will leave more potential for shrinkage. The burgers should be half an inch thick. Season both sides of the burgers with salt and pepper.

Heat an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan to medium-high.

Grill the burgers for 5 to 7 minutes on each side to desired doneness. Remove to a plate, add cheese and cover with aluminum foil. Allow the burgers to rest for 5 minutes and serve immediately on buns with desired fixin’s.

*Dried, smoked jalapenos in a spicy tomato sauce called adobo; available on the International aisle of most supermarkets and in Latin markets.

Coca~Cola Barbecue Ribs

This is the ONLY rib recipe you will ever need. Sticky and sweet. Absolute perfection!

Serves 6

1 (1.5 liter) bottle of Coca-Cola (not diet!)
1 large onion, quartered
6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
2 racks baby back ribs (about 4 pounds)

2/3 stick unsalted butter
1 small white onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup ketchup
1½ tablespoons yellow mustard
¼ cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 (12 ounce) can Coca-Cola (not diet!)
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large pot, add the (1.5 liter) bottle of Coca-Cola, onion, garlic, bay leaves and peppercorns. Add the ribs and, if necessary a bit of water just to ensure the ribs are submerged completely. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer, turning the ribs occasionally, until the meat pulls away from the bone, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, to make the sauce combine the butter, onion, garlic, ketchup, mustard, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and (12 ounces) Coca-Cola in large heavy sauce pan. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer for about 25 minutes stirring often until sauce is thickened and reduced. Season to taste with salt and pepper and let cool slightly. Using a blender, puree the sauce.

Note: Sauce can be made up to 5 days ahead and stored in the refrigerator in an air-tight container.

Preheat the grill to high.

Remove the ribs from the pot, pat dry, season with salt and pepper and brush liberally with the sauce. Grill, turning often, until charred on the outside, about 8 minutes. Loosely tent the ribs with foil and let rest for 5 minutes before cutting into individual ribs. Serve extra sauce on the side for dipping.

Grilled Zucchini & Tomatoes
with Feta Sauce

In the summer when tomatoes are at their peak, they’re made even better when introduced to the blistering heat of the grill and paired with the pungent sharpness of feta cheese. This dish is great at room temperature.

3 ounces (½ cup) good-quality mild feta chees
¼ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ teaspoons minced garlic
2 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
2 medium zucchini (about a pound)
3/4 pound cherry tomatoes on the vine
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Preheat an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan over high heat.

In a food processor, puree the feta, sour cream, water, lemon juice, and garlic until smooth. With the motor running, add 1½ tablespoons oil in a slow stream. Add basil and salt and pepper; pulse briefly to combine. Thinly slice the zucchini lengthwise (a little over 1/8-inch thick) using a vegetable peeler. Toss the zucchini with the tomatoes in a large bowl with the remaining oil and season with salt and pepper. If using loose tomatoes, thread onto skewers.

Grill, turning once with tongs, until vegetables are just tender (about 3 to 5 minutes) and have those beautiful grill marks. Serve with feta sauce on the side.

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1 comment:

  1. I am so happy to have found your blog! If it weren't for you, I may have never known about The Black Chook and sparkling shiraz. I'm happy to say that I found it locally and it was wonderful with our pizza last night! Thank you :)