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Smooth red wines pair well with early fall's harvest bounty

Dave DeSimone
| Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012, 8:56 p.m.

As fall's glories slowly unfold, take a lingering look back on summer by enjoying the bounty of vegetables at local farmers markets. Use heirloom varieties of tomatoes, squash, onions, eggplant, bell peppers and garlic to create a delicious ratatouille that pairs beautifully with easy-drinking red wines.

A classic Mediterranean dish, ratatouille has many variations based on the country of origin. Purists insist on sauteing the vegetables separately and then combining them for either final simmering or oven-baking.

For a simpler, but equally tasty method, saute and simmer the vegetables together, starting with the garlic and onions, then the peppers and squash, followed by the eggplant. Finally, add the tomatoes with a half-cup of red wine.

For authentic flavor, simmer the vegetables with a bouquet garni — a blend of chopped rosemary, thyme, parsley, tarragon and sage with a bay leaf, wrapped and tied tightly in cheesecloth. After 45 minutes of simmering over low heat, add a tablespoon or so of capers before discarding the bouquet garni.

Serve the ratatouille with couscous or rice. Or, if you have a slightly stale baguette on hand, pour the ratatouille over the bread for a classic Mediterranean bread stew.

Pair the meal with the following wines:

2008 Domaine de la Terre Rouge Tête-à-Tête, Sierra Foothills, California (Luxury 45588: $16.99): East of Sacramento in California's Shenandoah Valley, the Sierra Foothills appellation features infertile granite and volcanic soils with a red hue. Accordingly, Bill Easton's winery carries the name “terre rouge,” French for red soil.

Because of the region's long, hot and dry growing season, maintaining the appropriate balance of ripe fruit and fresh acidity presents a challenge. Easton succeeds admirably.

“Tête-à-Tête” blends the classic Rhône varieties of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre in an easy drinking style. Spicy black-raspberry aromas open to dark red-fruit flavors with elegant toasty nuances from aging in François Frères French oak barrels. The wine finishes dry and fruity with smooth tannins. Recommended.

2007 Sierra Cantabria Rioja Crianza, Spain (Luxury 38109; $19.99): Ideal grape-growing conditions prevail in Spain's northern Rioja appellation. Hot, dry days with plenty of sunshine during the growing season alternate with cool nights. The primarily clay soils contain significant pockets of chalky limestone that contribute to the fruit's freshness.

Traditionally, the low yielding, pruned vines include tempranillo, garnacha, graciano and mazuelo. Tempranillo contributes bright dark-cherry fruit while Garnacha adds depth and roundness. The others contribute fresh acidity and tannic structure.

In addition, Rioja reds typically age in oak barrels. Traditionally, Rioja relied on American oak barrels, but more recently French oak has been used for more subtle spiciness. Final aging in bottles prior to release allows the wines to knit together. Rioja winemakers say they age the wine in advance so the consumer can enjoy the wine without additional cellar aging.

With this wine, the domaine's own vineyards provide a solid foundation of hand-harvested tempranillo fruit. Local independent growers round out the harvest with additional fruit.

With final sorting at the winery, only fully ripened, unblemished fruit goes into the fermentation tanks. Aging occurs in a combination of American and French oak barrels for 14 months. The ruby color opens with spicy, bright dark-cherry aromas. Fresh, fruity black-cherry flavors layer in uplifting acidity and smooth, elegant tannins for a well-balanced finish. Highly recommended.

2010 J.L. Chave Côtes-du-Rhône “Mon Coeur,” France (Luxury 30520; $21.99): Chave family winemakers have been working their magic in the northern Rhône since 1481. Their incomparable red Hermitage presents the syrah grape's ultimate personality and sheer pleasure. The domaine's terrific Hermitage whites and the red and white Saint-Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage earn universal kudos. All require cellar aging before reaching optimal drinkability.

Fruit for the domaine's “Mon Coeur,” on the other hand, comes from around Vinsobres in the southern Rhône where grenache, syrah and mourvèdre share vineyard space. This allows the Chaves to offer a more immediately drinkable wine while delivering the masterful Chave touch.

The dark-purple color unfolds spicy black-fruit aromas with smoky, earthy nuances. Ripe black-fruit flavors balance with firm tannins and fresh acidity. Highly recommended.

Dave DeSimone is the wine writer for Trib Total Media. he can be reached at

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