All recipes paired with wine, Beef

Beef Bourguignon

Beef Bourguignon

Planning a dinner with friends, I was in one of those moods when I felt that it was time to open some ” special bottle of wine”. I planned to open Hewitt 2003 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Rutherford – Napa Valley. If you are familiar with the wine, you will agree that such wine deserves a special meal to be paired with. I didn’t want to go to obligate way and make a steak, so I tried my version of Beef Bourguignon.

You know, the one that Julia Child introduced to America. Remember how in the movie Julie/Julia the young Julie was making this dish for some food critic, and poor girl fell asleep and burned the dish in the oven? I have seen quite a few different recipes for Beef Bourguignon, less and more difficult. At the end, I created my own version, and it came out fabulous! Just give this dish the proper care, time and you will be in heaven. At least I was. To enjoy the food is the same like enjoying the good bottle of wine. Don’t rush anything! Also, do not use a slow cooker. The flavors are entirely different.

I have actually done the meat a day ahead – so the rich gravy really came out great. You are going to need a lot of French baguette to dip!


  • 4 lbs trimmed beef chuck, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 5 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 shallot
  • 15 white mushrooms
  • 1 leek
  • 3 bay leafs
  • 8 black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1 bottle of full body red wine, such as Cabernet, Shiraz, Syrah, Malbec or Bordeaux blend
  • 8 small fingerling potatoes or baby red, cut into half
  • 3 large carrots, divided into quarters lengthwise, or about 15 baby carrots
  • 4 slices of thick bacon, diced into small pieces
  • half a stick of unsalted butter
  • 12 white pearl onions, halved
  • plenty of fresh thyme sprigs
  • fresh parsley
  • oil


I started with meat – cut into pieces and seasoned with salt and pepper. In a large saute pan heat oil over high heat. Brown the meat on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the meat to a paper towel–lined baking sheet to drain. Repeat with the remaining meat, adding more oil if necessary.

Get heavy and large pan with a lid (or Dutch oven)  and start with heating a teaspoon of butter – add 2 cups of diced onion, bacon, shallot, 3 of the garlic cloves, add 6 of each thyme and parsley sprigs, sliced 1 carrot, 5 of the mushrooms sliced, leek, bay leafs and all the peppercorns. Saute for few minutes until translucent. Add browned meat, bring to high heat again and add whole bottle of red wine. If you work with gas stove, please use caution since the alcohol may catch a flames. Despite all the articles that states that it doesn’t matter what kind of wine you use, because it cooks out, I disagree. The better wine you use, the better the sauce will be. That doesn’t mean that you have to use an expensive bottle of wine. Just use something you would drink. There are plenty great reds around $10 – and it’s worth the investment 🙂

Bring to boil, cover with a lid and turn the heat down to low (or place into preheated oven at 350°F. Set your timer for 1 and 1/2 hours and go to do something else. Most likely you wouldn’t need to add more liquid – but if you do, use the stock. Check on the meat when the time is up and continue cooking it for another 1/2 hour if the meat isn’t tender enough. Set aside, let cool and chill in fridge overnight.

Next day, carefully transfer the pieces of meat to a deep, ovenproof pan or use the same dutch oven. Strain the liquid over the meat and mush through strainer to get every bit of all the good flavors in. It also helps to separate the fat that firmed overnight. Warm the meat in the oven for about 5 minutes, basting occasionally.

Heat butter in a medium saucepan and add baby carrots with 3 thyme sprigs, 2 garlic cloves and 1 tablespoon of salt. Saute over medium heat until golden and add 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes, or until tender. Drain, discard the seasonings, and add to the meat.

Repeat the same with pearl onions – saute on butter first and than add a little bit of water or stock, and simmer until tender. Cook potatoes in a little bit of water with thyme sprig until done, but not overdone. At last, heat more butter in the same saucepan, add halved mushrooms with remaining thyme and parsley, and saute for 4-5 minutes until soft.

Add potatoes, carrots, mushrooms and pearl onions to the meat and toss gently. If you like thicker sauce, you can add a half a cup of beef stock mixed with 2 tablespoons of flour. Roast in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the meat and vegetables are hot. . Serve immediately with a lot of crusty bread. This dish is a lot of work and requires some time, perhaps perfect for a snowy weekend. But believe me, you will be rewarded. Bon appétit!

Wine pairing suggestion:
I already wrote that I served this dish with big Hewitt Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa. It’s wine to collect and not the house wine (at least for most of us). I can recommend much more affordable Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa or Newton Claret (a Bordeaux varietals blend) from a steep Spring Mountain. Whatever wine you pick, make sure it’s something special with this “king of beef” dish.

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An unforgettable dinner with Dr. Su Hua Newton

“Did you ever meet her?” my colleague asked me a few years ago. We were waiting for a special (invitation only) Newton wine tasting to start, hosted by this amazing woman. “Not yet, but I heard a lot about her,” I replied. “Oh yeah, she is quite a character! You are in for a treat! This lady is incredibly smart, always curious, tough, funny and some people even find her offensive. She sure asks a lot of questions and she is very opinionated. I just love her! And most importantly, she makes amazing wines.”

I was familiar with Newton wines already, now I was about to meet the lady behind them. It An unforgettable dinner with Dr. Su Hua Newtonwas so exciting. The little I knew about her life story made me curious even more. Su Hua (her Chinese name is pronounced Sue Wa) means serene and majestic – as her parents wish her to be.

Majestic, definitely. Serene – far from reality! Growing up in communist China, life taught her the first tough lessons when she was still a little child. I heard that they escaped (on foot) when she was a child and found her new home in Great Britain. It sounds easy, but it was in fact quite dramatic.

She was raised by the then Secretary-general of the UNESCO family in London. Today Mrs. Newton is a winemaker, entrepreneur, professor of education, among other degrees she holds a Ph.D. in Clinical psychology, studies French (in her late 60ties) and many people could hardly keep up with her enthusiasm, energy a hunger for knowledge. Her passion for wine probably started around 1972, when she met the love of her life, British Peter Newton. He was already building his, then unknown brand, in Napa. Together they created one of the most recognized Napa winery. Which brand am I talking about? Sterling vineyards!

She started with a short introduction about Newton’s winery and asked the audience (mostly professionals, owners of the wine stores, and restaurant wine buyers) if they had any questions. Somebody asked her how they choose the Spring Mountain vineyard.

When Newton’s sold Sterling in 1977, they purchased 560 acres of land on the western slope of Spring Mountain in Napa. The steepest lots were cleaned and planted with classic Bordeaux varieties – Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Verdot. Their different heritage blended beautifully at their estate. Dr. Su Hua designed most of the vineyards, Peter’s love for English royal gardens created a combination of gorgeous gardens over the tasting room and throughout the property, with Chinese front gates to the vineyard…

To my excitement, madame Su Hua was seated at my table that evening. So I got to observe her first hand. Just like my friend said, I was really impressed with her personality (as much as with her wines). Yeah, I truly believe that when you find an incredible wine that stands out, most likely there is an incredible winemaker behind it. At least it worked for me so far. 

“Well, I think it actually found me. I’ll explain: I rode a horse in Napa one day and felt…” she said, speaking rather quickly with an Asian accent. The audience giggled. “As I am rolling down from this steep hill, covered in mud, I only hoped that nothing will be broken. And when I finally stopped, found out that I was O.K., I looked back up and my first thought was – wow, what a hill! I wonder if anybody owns it?! It would be a great lot for a vineyard. So I walked to the first house (accidentally it was one of my students) and asked if anybody knew about this piece of land. My student hardly recognized me under the cover of mud. And imagine the coincidence – it was for sale! We purchased it right away…”

Although Dr. Su Hua holds all kinds of degrees, she doesn’t have a formal education in enology. For the first decade their estate’s winemaker John Kongsgaard, who created a reputation for Newton’s Merlot, thought her a lot.

He was a great influence as well as other significant wine personalities, she learned from. Such winemakers as Christian Moueix who “was extremely kind” and taught her “what real Merlot is all about.” She also liked Michel Rolland right away.

Su Hua was never shy. She asked a lot of questions and met some masters of winemaking such as Paul Pontellier of Chateau Margaux, or Vincent LaFlaive, whose Burgundy completely charmed her. Madame Newton became an excellent self-made winemaker. Her philosophy is the more natural, sustainable approach to the vineyard. She insists on the use of wild, natural yeasts in the fermentation process. She likes to avoid sulfur use wherever possible.

One of her hilarious stories that night was about her experience buying oak barrels for the winery. She visited some most prestigious cooper in France and wanted to see his work. French winemaking is still almost exclusively men’s world – so he looked at her and referred her to a stock of barrels to choose from, while he was taking care of some other customers.

“In his chauvinistic mind, he thought: ‘An American Chinese? A woman winemaker? These are good enough for her’…” she laughed. We laughed too because knowing her, we knew that it must have been like stepping on her toe. Sure enough. Soon he found her climbing the top shelves where the best barrels were hidden for special customers. I can just imagine her climbing upper shelves with a mirror on a long stick, so she could inspect the inside, shouting questions at this poor craftsman, while he was dealing with other customers.

The cooper asked her what she was doing. And she replied, in front of all his regular customers – “I am not interested in that crap. You can keep those. I want the best barrels I can get.” When she added something unflattering about the stock he offered her, the cooper gave in. Preventing more embarrassment in front of his customers, he agreed on selling her anything she chooses. “Just be quiet, please…” he was begging.

As tough as she was on anybody doing business with her, she was tough on herself as well. She personally supervised hand picking and sorting of the best grapes from their steep Spring Mountain. Newton winery workers were only allowed to pick ripe fruit, that she clearly marked. Which meant up to four or five passes through the vineyard during harvest.

One of her vineyard workers still remembers how she once made him eat premature grapes he picked, using his own judgment and disobeying her orders. She cured him later but thought him a lesson. In her own words, all her workers are her “kids” but she isn’t a kind mama. Fair, but tough. People can call her in the middle of the night that they are in an accident and she will take care of them. But respect is something that she gives and expects back.

Fascinated by the slow, old-fashioned way of winemaking, it takes much more time and labor to craft wines her way. The majority of the wines are bottled unfiltered and unfined. “The whole Napa is fermenting already, only Newton wines are not!” she was joking during that dinner. She refused to speed up the fermentation process. Dr. Sue Hua also believed that filtering strips the wine of most of its aromatic character. “Filtering is cheating!” she said.

As Ms. Newton explained her winemaking approach, I wasn’t the only one fascinated by her. She undoubtedly captured everybody’s attention. Her true passion for her work corresponded with respect, she demanded when tasting her wine. “Don’t just drink it like that!” she noticed somebody, who didn’t wait any longer and started to drink on his own. “That’s not how you taste wine. That’s like you were getting ready for 3 hours to go on a date, and then you just saw your love for 3 seconds passing by in the bus…”

I was glad it wasn’t me sipping prematurely. I would hate to be embarrassed in front of her. She was right, her wines demand respect. Especially when you know how much labor went into every bottle. I just had a bottle of Newton Claret over the weekend and it reminded me of that evening and my first meeting with Dr. Su Hua. Today, Mrs. Newton left control of the winery to Moet Hennessy, who was a long-time majority partner in her winery. After her husband Peter passed away a few years ago, she was running the business herself. It must have been tough on her.

But I doubt Dr. Su Hua retired yet. I am sure she is busy with her beloved students and spends as much time as possible around wine. I can imagine how she is insisting on certain ways and driving everybody crazy. The wine leaving Spring Mountain Winery, with its lonely pine tree and her name on the label, must be the highest quality possible. She was proven right during 30 years of her winemaking. Newton wines were the first unfiltered wines in Napa, and Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay is consistently getting the highest scores from wine critics. And for anybody, who says “I hate Merlot” I would kindly ask them to invest in a bottle of Newton Unfiltered Merlot. Most likely they will never say that again!

Robert Parker, about Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay 2003 ( 95 The Wine Advocate):
“This beautiful chardonnay is reminiscent of a top premier Cru from Chassagne-Montrachet.”

Newton Chardonnay Red label
Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay (some highest-rated Chard from Napa)
Newton Claret
Newton The Puzzle (wine made from hand-selected fruit from 112 separate wine blocks)
Newton Cabernet Sauvignon
Newton Unfiltered Merlot
Newton Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon