Warm Soup And A Red Wine Blend

Once a month I host a Girls’ Night In with my moms and tots group.

Please note that the youngest “tot” is in college and many of the “tots” have tots of their own.

This month’s get together fell on one of our cold January nights.

I know, cold temperatures in Chicago in January?!?! Shocking!


The deal for these monthly parties is that everyone brings an appetizer or a salad to share and I supply the wine and other beverages.

This month, though, seemed to call for some warm soup. So I enlisted my personal chef (aka my retired husband) to whip up a batch of his mom’s Sausage & Tortellini Soup.

Sausage and tortellini soup

You are going to want this recipe.

Sausage & Tortellini Soup

  • 1 Pound Italian sausage
  • 1 Large onion, chopped
  • 1 Garlic clove, pressed
  • 3 Cans of beef broth (14 1/2 ounces each)
  • 2 Cans of diced tomatoes, undrained (14 1/2 ounces each)
  • 1 Can of tomato sauce (8 ounces)
  • 1 Cup dry red wine
  • 2 Carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 2 Teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 2 Small zucchini, cubed
  • 1 Package refrigerated cheese filled tortellini (8 ounces)
  • 1/2 Cup Parmesan cheese

Discard sausage casings. Cook sausage, onion and garlic in Dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring until sausage crumbles and is no longer pink; drain. Return mixture to pan. Stir in broth and next 6 ingredients, bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 30 minutes. Skim off fat. Stir in zucchini and tortellini; simmer 10 minutes.

Sprinkle each serving with cheese. Yield: 10 cups

Peter says it was easy to make. The ladies and I all said it was delicious!

Peter paired this soup with a red blend: 2007 Facets of Gemstone.

2007 Facets of Gemstone

This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (48%) and Merlot (42%), rounded out with Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

It features a lovely, full body and lots of juicy, dark berry fruit.

The Gemstone Vineyard has changed hands since this wine was produced. The new owners continue to produce a red blend like this in very small quantities.

But don’t be discouraged because you can’t find this particular wine to pair with a bowl of Sausage & Tortellini Soup. There are other red blends that will do just fine.

First let’s talk a bit about red blends. What are they? Why should we drink them?

Red blends have historically had the reputation for being the wine soup made up of all the grapes that a vineyard couldn’t figure out what else to do with.

Sometimes that is the case. But there are lots and lots of great red wine blends made with thought and intention by very skilled winemakers.

Red wine blends tend to be a bit less expensive than single varietal wines by the same producer. They also tend to be a bit easier to drink – blended for smoothness. In general, red blends are more approachable even for the rookie wine drinker.

Here are a couple more I like.

First of all, my “go-to” red blend, The Prisoner.

The Prisoner

The Prisoner is widely acknowledged as the wine that brought credibility to the concept of a red wine blend worth buying.

I find it to be a very reliable wine, well worth the $40ish price tag. It is smooth and flavorful but not overpowering or too spicy.

Check out my review of The Prisoner here.

Another red blend that I like is the Rancho Sisquoc Flood Family Vineyard Sisquoc River Red from Santa Barbara County. ($20 per bottle)

This blend is made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Syrah.

Pretty much you name it, it’s in there. OK, not really, but definitely a true blend of many different reds.

Rancho Sisquoc River Red

Interestingly enough, some wine makers do not disclose the blend of grapes that go into their wine. For some it is a proprietary secret, others are concerned about judgements being made about the wine without tasting.

For instance, a red blend containing even the mention of Zinfandel might be passed over by someone who doesn’t care for Zin. While the truth of the matter might be that the Zin is a tiny fraction of the blend, included for just a tiny bit of zest.

Just the other night we enjoyed a Sans Liege The Offering Red Blend. ($29 per bottle)

The Offering

This winemaker proudly displays the make up of the blend on the front label.

This lovely GSM blend (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) from Santa Barbara County includes a splash of Viognier, a white wine often used to smooth out red blends.

Check out these blends and others at your local wine store.

And definitely try the soup!

Now it’s your turn. Do you have a red wine blend to recommend?

No one paid me to say this.

Designated driver, Uber or cab

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Know Your Wine Preferences

Mo Wine Please

In many ways wine, like art, is all about personal preference.

Some people love a rich, buttery Chardonnay, other prefer a big, juicy Cabernet.

Peppery, fruity, light, bold. Different strokes for different folks.

Occasionally friends will tell me that they just buy the cheapest wine they can find because they can’t tell the difference.

I’d like to suggest that with a bit of self reflection, advice from experts, and a willingness to try new things, everyone can find wines they love at a price point they are comfortable with.

My pal, YogaGirl, is a perfect example of this.

YogaGirl is a wine lover. She has a very refined palate but a modest wine budget.

She loves The Prisoner (who doesn’t!) but was looking for something at more of an everyday price.

The Prisoner

YogaGirl decided to start playing a game called, “If I like this, I should try that.”.

YogaGirl talked to the wine guy at her favorite wine store, Binny’s. He said that if she likes The Prisoner (at around $40 per bottle), she should try Slo Down Wine’s Sexual Chocolate.

Slo Down Wines references The Prisoner when talking about the winemaking philosophy behind Sexual Chocolate. Both are blends with some combination of Zinfandel, Syrah and Petit Syrah.

2012 Sexual Chocolate Wine

Courtesy of Slo Down Wines

Sexual Chocolate Red Blend retails at under $25 per bottle and, according to YogaGirl, is indeed a delicious alternative to The Prisoner.

But she was not stopping there.

YogaGirl analyzed what it was that she liked about these wines – spice, chocolate, fruit – and went in search of an even more modestly priced wine with these same characteristics.

She strolled into a local grocery store, headed to the Red Blend section of the wine department and started reading labels.

Pretty soon she struck gold.

Once Upon A Vine – around $12 per bottle – describes itself as a big red blend with notes of spice, fruit and chocolate.

Once Upon A Vine

Courtesy of The Wine Bar

YogaGirl bought a bottle, tried it and loved it!

I know it is sometimes scary to try new wines that you may or may not like. Who wants to waste $20, $30 or more on a wine that doesn’t please our palate.

But if you go into the store having defined some of the wine characteristics you enjoy, you will be way ahead of the game. Know your wine preferences.

Often this means engaging the wine experts as DW did.

“If I like this, what else will I like?”.

I had that experience recently.

You know how much I love B Side.

B Side Cabernet Sauvignon

I popped into my favorite grocery store, Heinen’s, looking for this yummy, reliable Cabernet. When I asked Joe, the wine department manager, if they carried B Side, he smiled and said, “No, but if you like that, I have something else you will love.”

Beringer Knights Valley The 2012 Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was just as advertised.

The Knights Valley AVA (American Viticulture Area) is located in easternmost Sonoma County. It is the region, in fact, that separates Sonoma and Napa. Warmer than the coastal Sonoma regions, Knights Valley is prime Cabernet growing land.

Wine Spectator awarded this wine 90 points. Pretty darn good for a wine that costs about $25 per bottle.

This wine features juicy fruit notes and a long silky finish – two of the qualities I also love about B Side.

So, where do you start?

Start by paying attention.

What characteristics do you like?

  • Bold
  • Bright
  • Dark fruit
  • Red fruit
  • Citrus Fruit
  • Buttery
  • Peppery
  • Chocolate
  • Smoke
  • Earthy
  • Long finish
  • Leather
  • Vanilla
  • Cola
  • Tobacco
  • Floral
  • Oaky
  • Mocha
  • Minerality

The list goes on and on….

Do you have favorite wine regions?

I love Napa Cabernets but even more specifically, my favorite are Napa Cabs from Atlas Peak, Howell Mountain and Diamond Mountain. I look for wines from these AVAs.

Do you prefer Sonoma Pinot Noir? Or Oregon Pinot Noir?

California Chardonnay or French Chardonnay?

Keep some notes as you go through this process.

When shopping for wine, engage the wine experts. Tell them what you like. Yes, they are in the business of selling wine, but they also want to develop loyal customers. Build a relationship with these folks.

Read bottle labels, shelf recommendations and tasting notes.

If this all seems like too much work or you would like to leave it to the pros, you could always sign up for the wine club Bright Cellars.

Bright Cellars

Courtesy of Bright Cellars

Started by two roommates from M.I.T., Bright Cellars uses algorithms to discern the preferences of club members, thereby customizing each month’s shipment.

Club members start by filling out a questionnaire – what characteristics are you looking for in a wine to date drink? After each shipment, customers review and rate the wines. All of that information goes into making the next shipment even more precisely aligned to your taste. The website says you can skip a month or cancel at any time.

Pretty cool, eh?

I did a “test run” by taking Bright Cellar’s initial survey. My results, what would be my initial shipment, included four bottles each with a $20 retail price but $15 club price.The characteristics of each of the wines chosen for me matched my wine preferences quite well.

I had never heard of any of the wines before, but that’s kind of the point of joining a club like this, right?

How do you choose a wine? A you a Bright Cellars club member? Would you consider giving it a try?

No one paid me to say this.Designated driver, Uber or cab

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Reliable Wines

It’s been way too long…

Let’s Talk Wine!

Mo Wine Please

Surrounded by moving boxes and bubble wrap, I could sure use a glass of wine. Well, maybe not at 8 a.m. as I am writing this, but most definitely by the end of the day.

Has this ever happened to you?

Looking for a bottle of wine for dinner (or cocktail hour!), you head to you local grocery store or favorite wine store, step up to the shelves and your mind goes completely blank.

Too many choices!!!!

In times like this it is important to know a couple of reliable wines – names that you can remember and wines you can count on to always be good.

I’ve told you about The Prisoner which is my very favorite, reliable wine in the $35-40 range.

The Prisoner

But Mo, are there reliable wines at lower price points?

I’m glad you asked.

First up: B Side Cabernet.

B Side Cabernet Sauvignon

Honestly, I can’t believe I haven’t shared this wine with you before. My bad…

I have to give all the credit for this find to my sister-in-law, Kate. She discovered it at her favorite wine store and it has become one of her house wines which she is kind enough to have on hand every time I visit.

Don’t you love the name?

Harking back to the old 45 records which featured the A side – the chart topping song – and the B Side – the less well known but often hidden gem, the winemakers chose the name to describe their approach to the wine.

If the wines made by the Napa Valley “big guys”, the most powerful and well-known names, are the A Side, this wine is aptly named B Side.

As the winemakers say:

B Side reds are crafted with grapes sourced from the slightly-off-the-beaten-track vineyards along the valley’s eastern hillsides. They’re authentic originals: a little experimental and unexpected, crafted and perfected behind-the-scenes for those with a penchant for discovery.

At about $20-25 per bottle, B Side Cabernet brings delicious, classic Napa Cabernet flavor that won’t disappoint. Luscious dark fruits, a little chocolate, a little spice and nice full body are the hallmarks of the 2013 vintage. If you are a wine geek like me, you can read the full tasting notes here.

Love, love, love this wine!

Next up: Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon.

Liberty School Cabernet SauvignonThis wine comes from the Paso Robles area of California. You may be less familiar with Paso Robles as it does get overshadowed by its cousins to the north, Napa and Sonoma.

But keep an eye out for wines from Paso Robles. Wine Enthusiast called this area “a region to watch” when it named Paso Robles the 2013 Wine Region of the Year.

Liberty School Cabernet started out as the second label of the Wagner family’s Caymus brand using primarily grapes from Napa. But the Wagners started to become intrigued by Paso Robles and teamed up with the Hope family to source grapes for the Liberty School Cabernet from this region.

In the mid-90s, the Hope family bought the company and have since added a Liberty School Chardonnay and other wines to their collection.

Liberty School works with 50 or so family farms throughout the region. The result is a really nice, reliable Cabernet at a VERY nice price point.

The wine brings the berry and cherry notes you’d expect from a Cabernet. Although the body and finish are not what you would get from a $40 or $50 bottle of wine, at $10-15 per bottle the Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon shows pretty darn well! The tasting notes are here.

This wine is often included on lists of the best wines under $20.

While some of my pictures aren’t the greatest, I want you to be able to see the labels on the wine bottles so that the next time you are standing in the wine section and your eyes start to glaze over, maybe you will see one of these wines and say “Yes!!!”.


No one paid me to say this. Do not drink and drive!

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Beef Brisket And The Prisoner

Beef brisket. The perfect comfort food to warm your soul on a cold and snowy evening.

Beef brisket and red wine? The best combo of all!

Saturday, before the latest Boston blizzard started in earnest, we all headed over to my son and daughter-in-law, Walt and Lily’s home to spend the day and have dinner. Walt and Lily needed all hands on deck because they spent the day redoing Chip and Dale’s bedroom to convert it from a nursery to a big boys’ room.

While Walt and Lily worked away, the rest of the family entertained Chip and Dale and prepared a delicious beef brisket for dinner. (You’ll find the recipe at the end of this post.)

Chip and Dale playing

Chip and Dale using their kitchen set as a parking garage for their trucks.

Annie and I took baby Andy and ran some errands to pick up what was needed to round out the meal.

Of course, this meant a stop at the liquor store for wine.

(Side note: I am not at all a fan of the Massachusetts law forbidding the sale of liquor in grocery stores. What’s that all about?!?!?!)

Anyway, because we had the baby in tow, we needed to be quick with our shopping. So, in picking out the wine, I went with an old favorite, a wine that absolutely never disappoints – The Prisoner.

The Prisoner

This fabulous wine, 2013 The Prisoner (under $40 per bottle), is a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petit Syrah, Grenache and, believe it or not, Chardonnay.

Widely available, you can almost certainly find it at your local wine store or supermarket – unless you live in Massachusetts.

The Prisoner Wine Company purchases grapes from some 80 vineyards throughout Napa Valley. The winemaker, Jen Beloz, chooses the very best of the best grapes from their sources and creates this blend that is different every year but always reliably delicious.

Robert Parker of Wine Advocate awarded the 2013 The Prisoner 92 points saying:

“This dense, full-bodied, opulent red reveals gutsy, rich, peppery, meaty, blackberry, black currant and licorice notes. A savory, lust, heady red, it begs for a grilled steak or a big, juicy hamburger.”

Wow! This is why Robert Parker gets paid the big bucks to analyze wine (lucky dog!). Can’t you just taste the juicy goodness of this wine from his description?

In addition to going well with a steak and a hamburger, the 2013 The Prisoner paired beautifully with our beef brisket. Lily’s recipe calls for beef stock, onion soup and lots of ketchup. The blackberry, dark cherry and peppery notes of the wine played well against this flavor combo.

Maybe I should send Lily’s recipe to Mr. Parker.

Lily’s Beef Brisket: (serves approx. 4)

  • 2 lbs beef brisket
  • 1 bottle beer
  • 12oz. Ketchup
  • 1 can (10 oz) French Onion soup (Campbell)
  • 1/2 can beef broth
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 large onion (sliced thin)
  • 1/2 celery heart (sliced thin)

Night before the meal:

Marinate overnight in beer. It doesn’t really matter what kind of beer as long as it isn’t a dark beer.

Morning of the meal:

Whisk together the ketchup, soup, broth, garlic powder, pepper and onion powder.

Remove the meat from the beer and rinse lightly. Discard the beer.

Marinate in the ketchup mixture for a few hours, until ready to start cooking.

3 hours before the meal:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Put some of your sliced vegetables in the bottom of a roasting pan or baking dish. Place the meat on top and add the rest of your vegetables on and around the meat. Pour all of the marinading liquid on and around the meat.

Cover tightly with foil and roast in the oven for 2 hours.

Remove from the oven and carefully slice the meat against the grain as thinly as possible.

Recover tightly and cook for another 45 minutes.

Remove the cover and cook for another 15 minutes.

Serve with a delicious red wine like The Prisoner.

We ended the evening by celebrating the birthday of my sister-in-law, Kate. Lily baked a decadently delicious chocolate cake.

The Prisoner bottle was empty but that was ok.

Some dishes just beg to be paired with a white.

cake and milk

Got milk?




No one paid me to say this.

Do not drink and drive!

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