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My daughter’s birthday dinner

This blog was originally supposed to be about one bottle of wine, that I received on a special occasion. But I started to write about something much more important. About the special moment that was born around that bottle of wine. But let me start from the beginning:

When I got married in 1992, aside of exceptional husband (yes, I am saying this after all those years), I also gained 2 fantastic step-daughters. Recently, when my husband had a surgery, one of our daughters (Janine) gave him flowers with the wishes for the speedy recovery, and gave me a bottle of Christine Andrew Cabernet Sauvignon. Supposedly, for all the trouble I had, taking care of dad. But he was the one being sick!!! Didn’t I say we had fantastic daughters??? She also jokingly added: “Wait for me to open it”. And I did.

Christine Andrew Cab 2007 label

The truth is, we don’t drink a lot of Cabernet Sauvigon in our household anymore. It would require a good steak or burger dinner to enjoy it. And, honestly, that’s not on our menu very often. In the never ending effort to loose weight, we lately eat larger meal at noon (well, larger, about 1/2 of our normal portions), and a cup of soup in the evening. We try. So far it sort of works for us and I have lost some weight. Thankfully!

So you can imagine that with a regime like that, there isn’t much space to enjoy a good, big Cab. But there was a special occasion around the corner – Janine’s birthday. I have invited her and her husband for a birthday dinner and planned to open that bottle she gave me. Both of us never had it before, so it was a good way to try it out. The dinner was planned for just four of us. It would give her a chance to get away from her daily routine, taking care of their sweet child, away from stress – just to enjoy herself in the privacy of our home.

IMG_2774FOf course, she could have had a party, or a special dinner out with her hubby and friends, but she chose me. My little private “restaurant”.  I was thrilled. Therefore, I started to compose the “special birthday menu” around the wines, I was planning to open that evening. As we all like it spicy, I knew exactly what I am going to make.

I usually like to start with some light and crisp white wine, but I knew that both Janine and her husband really enjoy reds more, so I skipped that. We will start with red wine and continue with even bigger reds….

My husband took time to decorate the whole place with birthday balloons and other cute stuff we knew that she enjoys. We even put a birthday sign on the door, and noticed that her husband was taking a picture of her with that sign, before they rang the bell 🙂

Janine came dressed in a simple black long dress, so her jewelry, she just got from her girlfriend, could shine. It did, and so did the birthday girl. She looked stunning that night. Just for the private diner with her husband, dad and wicked step mom. I immediately felt like I should go and change. Before we even started to eat, she gave me the sweetest compliment without even knowing it. She said: “The neighbor asked me, seeing me dressed up, where is my husband taking me for the birthday dinner. And I said – we go to my dad’s and step-mom’s house! The neighbor looked surprised, so I explained: But she is a personal chef!!!”

We started the evening with mushrooms, stuffed with spicy Italian sausage, and roasted eggplant and peppers dip, spiced up with my own grown jalapeño pepper from the garden. The bottle of Christine Andrew Cabernet 2007 was already decanted.

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Christine Andrew Cab 2007 bottleWell, the 2007 Christine Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon was nice, I must say. When I did my research, I  found out that it was Kautz Family’s effort, a project that is a part of their Ironstone vineyards. The wine paired well with the appetizers, just as planned… It showed a nice, balanced dark fruit, velvety tannins, a little spice encouraged by the spicy food we had, and pleasantly long finish. A pretty wine.

Then we moved on to a dining table, and continued with Clos de Los Siete – in my opinion some of the best bargains out there. Superb red, made by the group of winemakers in Argentina, who are led by famous French winemaker Michel Rolland. For that wine, I have prepared a real treat:  slowly smothered steak tips in thick red wine sauce, seasoned with wild and shiitake mushrooms. All that was wrapped in potato pancake and decorated with little arugula salad and eatable flowers on top.

IMG_2767This really hit the bank! All four of us enjoyed it very much. The wine paired fantastic with the deep, rich flavors of the beef and medley of mushrooms. Of course, it wouldn’t be a birthday dinner without a birthday cake. As passionate as I am about cooking, I must say that I am not big on baking. I do it when I must, but this time I imagined that I wanted something petite, very chocolaty (that Janine loves), and something cute for her. I found it at WholeFoods bakery – exactly what I imagined. A tiny little espresso cups made of chocolate, filled with fluffy, dark, chocolate mousse goodness. Yummy!

My mouth is watering even when I write this. I so wanted to share this with you. Sometimes it isn’t just about the wine or food. Sometimes it is about the people you share it with.

Although it was my step-daughter’s birthday, and I cooked, I felt like I was the one who got all the gifts. The most important ones. Gifts of love, happiness and a great family.


Argentina, Malbec, Mendoza, Red blends, Red wine

Cuvelier Los Andes Coleccion 2005

Winemaker: Adrian Manchon (consulting: Michel Rolland)

Grape: 62% Malbec, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 8% Syrah and 3% PetitVerdot.
Region: Mendoza, Argentina

This wine is only one of 3 wines produced by this Bodega. You might also want to look for:
CUVELIER LOS ANDES GRAN VIN (higher percentage of Malbec in the blend, longer aging – 2005 vintage received 94 points from R. Parker)

CUVELIER LOS ANGES GRAND MALBEC (100% Malbec, best selection, 2005 vintage got 91+ from Tanzer, 94 from R. Parker)


Bertrand and Jean-Guy Cuvelier, owners of this property, also own Château Leoville-Poyferre in St Juilen in the heart of the Mèdoc and Château Le Crock in Saint Estèphe in Mèdoc, Bordeaux. Their art of blending and an experience with high quality Bordeaux wines comes well in use in Argentina as well.

They can work here with highest quality Malbec in the foothills of the Andes, at 1000 meters above the sea level. As the season of France and Argentina are in an opposite, it is a great opportunity to produce different wine projects at two different parts of the world.

The grapes for this blend undergo extensive selection at the sorting tables. They are than led by gravity to thermo-regulated small stainless steel tanks and go through a cold maceration process before fermentation begins.

Wine aged for 12 months in French oak barrels. Cuvelier Los Andes wines are neither fined, nor filtered in order to guarantee greatest expression of the fruit and its natural potential.

Tasting notes:
Intense purple-red color coating glass, promising a big body. Very rich aroma of rip red fruit, ripe plums, red and black raspberries, and spice of the oak. To decant this baby is a must! Don’t spill any on you though… that stain may never go away.

On the palate it is generous yet smooth, strong expression of rich Malbec and Cabernet. Muscular and sexy red that will give you a seductive, lingering finish. This wine will age gracefully if you prefer to lay it down for a few more years.

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: around $ 20.00

Ideal food pairing:
Steaks, Lamb burgers, dark meats as game, Beef chorizo, Flank steak with shitakee sauce

Argentina, Great wines under $10, Mendoza, Torrontes, White wines

Alamos Torrontes 2009

Winemaker: Felipe Stahlschmidt
Grape: 100% Torrontes
Region: Mendoza, Argentina

A beautiful Bodega Alamos, owned by Catena family enterprise, is located in Vistaflores, in the heart of Mendoza. Their philosophy is to make flavorful, approachable wines that represent the region. So how do they differentiate from other Mendoza producers?

The attention to every little detail during the time vines mature in the vineyard, during the harvest and wine making process assures that Alamos wines are the highest quality possible.

The harvest is done manually to assure gentle handling of grapes. When the wine arrives in the winery, the grapes undergo double manual selection and only the best grapes are chosen for Alamos wines. This process is time and labor costly, therefore usually reserved for “reserve” or top of the line wines, often double or triple the price. But in Bodega Alamos, this “special treatment” is reserved for all their wines.

To allow gentle extraction, the winery designed a special conic tanks. They are also using a small format tanks for separating a different lot selections. All these “little details” makes Alamos wines very special.

Tasting notes:
Don’t forget to sniff this wine! It has such a lovely aroma of fresh flowers and tropical fruits. Very attractive, crisp wine with lemony flavors and honey, balanced with bright acidity on the finish. This is a wonderful example of true Torrontes from Mendoza. Terrific wine for hot summer. I have to go back and get some more myself!

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: under $ 10.00

Ideal food pairing:
lovely to sip on its own, seafood salad, shellfish and white fish, summer salads with light lemon dressings, tapas

Argentina, Great wines under $10, Malbec, Mendoza, Red wine

Enrique Foster Ique Malbec 2008

Winemaker: Mauricio Lorca
Grapes: 100% Malbec
Region: Mendoza, Argentina

Bodega Enrique Foster is located in the center of the world’s premier location for Malbec – Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. Malbec, and only Malbec is planted on two Bodega vineyards at an elevation of 3000 feet above the sea level.

Carrodilla, where the winery is built, is 30 acres of ungrafted, pre-phylloxera vines planted in 1919 and Compuertas with 20 acres of less venerable vines planted in 1966.

So why it is that Malbec from Argentina is suddenly so popular? The grape variety is not new – Malbec is used in Bordeaux blends for ages to add color and dimension to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The varietal originated in the Cahors region of southwestern France and it is still produced there as a varietal wine.

But the French climate doesn’t allow Malbec to ripen fully. Therefore it is only here, in Argentina, that this wine can achieve the soft, rich complexity, so typical for the best Argentinian Malbecs.

Bodegas Enrique Foster produces 3 levels of Malbec wines:
Ique Malbec (from vines that are over 30 years old) doesn’t age at oak to preserve the fresh, young and fruity characteristic

Enrique Foster “Reserva” Malbec (from vines over 60 years old), hand harvested and aged for 1 year in French oak and an additional 9 months in the bottle, resting in their underground cellar

Enrique Foster “Limited Edition” Malbec (from their oldest vines)
Grapes for this wine are highly selected from the oldest vines, with restricted production not exceeding 2 lb. per vine. After the strict selection process this wine is aged for 14 months in new French oak barrels and 1 more year in the bottle.

The respect for the land and the never ending effort to produce the best Malbec in Argentina (which is to say the best in the world), shows in every one of these wines. After a research in California to study several gravity flow winery construction projects, the Bodega have built an unique system that eliminate pumping of the wine.

It was quite a challenge in the flat terrain of central Mendoza, but they achieved it. Mobil overhead I-beam crane that lifts grapes over the fermentation tanks, deep cellar for the barrels, multi-stage elevator and raised roof to fit it all in – all that requested much bigger investment than planned. But the quality of the wines, produced annually from this state-of-the-art-gravity-flow-winery more then justified the extra effort.

Tasting notes:
Rich aroma of ripe fruit and spice, this dark ruby young wine offers rich and complex wine experience. Great structure with silky tannins and long finish – an attributes that are more common in much pricier wines. An excellent value!

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: under $ 10.00 !!

Ideal food pairing:
Anything from the grill, Flank steak with shiitake sauce, Lamb burgers, Beef Bourguignon, Beef Chorizo, casseroles, leg of lamb or many more rich dishes

Argentina, Great wines under $10, Malbec, Mendoza, Red wine

Cabrini Malbec 2007

Winemaker: Hugo Cabrini
Grape: Malbec
Region: Mendoza, Argentina

Cabrini family is a forth generation family of Italian descent. They had been making wine in Mendoza since 1918. Their family has been making all of the sacramental wine for Argentina’s Catholic churches since 1939.

Hugo Cabrini, one of the owners of the winery, said that his greatest pride was when the wine arrived at the Vatican, brought as a gift for Pope John Paul II by a delegation of Argentine priests. The pope liked it so much that he used to celebrate Mass for the Jubilee.

In 1998 they partnered with Patrick Campbell, Californian wine producer of Terra Rosa brand. Thanks to this relationship with iconic Patrick and his co-winemaker Ray Kaufman, the Cabrini family improved their wine technology based on their suggestions, as they also received a helping hand in investments.

Cabrini Malbec (among other wines they are producing) was introduced to an American wine market 3 years ago and immediately took its place as an incredible value.

Tasting notes:
This wine, made from Medoza’s native Malbec, surprises with a rich aroma of ripe black fruit and herbs. Very complex, dry red wine with velvet tannins than offers blackberries and hint of pepper on the palate.
Growing in very warm and dry climate, Malbec gets just enough acidity to be a great compliment to large selection of different food.

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: under $ 10.00 !!

Ideal food pairing:
Pork chops with peppers,  Mexican Style Rice and Beans, Beef stew, Vegetable lentils,