Bogle Vineyards 2011 California Old Vine Zinfandel ($11), our Wine of the Week, is big, bold and intense, with a focused concentration of black fruit and swirls of vanilla, juniper berries, toast and topsoil mixed with brambles. Rich raspberry flavors -#8212; think raspberry jam -#8212; and sweet spices use this foundation like an acrobat uses a trampoline, with exuberance and buoyancy. These flavors, you could say, have lift.
The wine is affordable, approachable and sophisticated, all at the same time. At $11, it is a real bargain.
This zinfandel is an easy companion with pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, sausage and polenta, hamburgers, roasted root vegetables and mushroom-bacon ragout. The layers of spice, especially the juniper berries, also make it a lovely companion to venison stew, wild boar sausage and wild duck.
For today's recipe, I'm inspired by our cold nights and by a traditional Shepherd's Pie I enjoyed at a dear friend's Christmas celebration. This version is closer to the English version than that one, as it calls for ground lamb instead of ground beef. Ground duck works, well, too. If you use ground beef, try to make it grass-fed.
<strong>English-style Shepherd's Pie</strong>
<em> Makes 4 to 6 servings</em>
3 large potatoes, such as German Butterball, peeled and diced
4 tablespoons butter, plus more to taste
1/2 cup half-and-half, plus more as needed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, cut into small dice
2 to 3 carrots, peeled and cut into small dice
2 to 3 parsnips, peeled and cut into small dice
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
-#8212; Pinch or two of ground cinnamon
1 and 1/2 pounds ground lamb
-#8212; Black pepper in a mill
1 and 1/2 cups chicken stock, duck stock or beef stock
1 tablespoon double-concentrated tomato paste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
6 to 8 ounces grated Cheddar cheese
Put the potatoes into a medium saucepan, season generously with salt, cover with water by 2 inches and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer gently until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes; skim off any foam that forms as the potatoes cook. When the potatoes are tender, drain them thoroughly and return the pan to the heat for a few minutes to evaporate excess water; do not let them burn. Add the butter and the half-and-half, cover and keep hot.
Meanwhile, pour the olive oil into a large saut?pan set over medium-low heat, add the onion and saut?until soft and fragrant, about 12 to 15 minutes. Add the carrots and parsnips and saut?until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes more. Stir frequently and do not let the vegetables brown. Add the garlic, saut?2 minutes more, season with salt and stir in the cinnamon.
Add the lamb and use a fork to break it up as it cooks. Season with several turns of black pepper, add the stock and tomato paste and simmer until the stock is reduced by half. Add the parsley, taste and correct for salt and pepper. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Use a potato masher or a fork to mash the potatoes and mix in the butter and half-and-half. Taste and add more butter and more cream to taste and season with salt.