Our Wine of the Week, Chateau St. Jean 2011 Alexander Valley Robert Young Vineyard Chardonnay ($25), is a classic grown-up wine, with an admirable subtlety and grace about it.
A halo of fragrant floral aromas emerges from the wine to greet you before your first sip. As the wine unfurls itself on the palate, you'll think first of white peaches and nectarines. Next comes honeydew melon, Galia melon and a mouthfilling richness suggestive of vanilla and smoke.
The acidity is bright and refreshing, enough to pull the wine back from the edge of flabbiness, and there are little bursts of minerals, too. The finish lingers pleasingly.
When it comes to pairing this wine with food, think rich and lush. Butter-poached lobster, large gulf shrimp, scallops, swordfish and wild Pacific King salmon — fresh or smoked — work beautifully with the wine, as does simple roasted chicken, pork loin, root vegetables and all manner of corn. Soon it will be time for salmon and corn chowder and this wine is a perfect match. It is also delicious with pastas with cream sauces, including fettuccine Alfredo.
This wine is also lovely with sweet potatoes, the inspiration for today's column. This dish is inspired by traditional Shepherd's Pie but varies greatly from that dish, which typically includes ground beef or lamb with onions and carrots topped with mashed potatoes. This version is vegetarian but it is not vegan.
<b>Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie</b>
Makes 4 to 6 servings
<i>1 pound sweet potatoes, scrubbed
1 pound potatoes, such as German Butterball, scrubbed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, cut into small dice
2 carrots, cut into small dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
— Kosher salt
— Black pepper in a mill
— White pepper in a mill, optional
4 cups shredded kale
1 1/2 cups cooked cannellini beans or 1 14-ounce can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup homemade vegetable stock or chicken stock
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup half-and-half, hot
— Whole nutmeg
3/4 cup (3 ounces) grated dry Jack or similar cheese
2 cups shelled, blanched and peeled fresh fava beans
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup chopped pecans</i>
Bake the potatoes in a 375-degree oven until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven, cool slightly and break each one in half. Pass the potatoes through a food mill into a medium bowl, discard the skins after each press. (Alternately, peel the potatoes, cut them into chunks and cook in simmering salted water until tender; drain throughly, transfer to a bowl and mash with a fork or vegetable masher.) Set aside and keep warm.
While the potatoes cook, put the olive oil into a deep saute pan set over medium heat, add the onion and carrot and cook until soft and fragrant, about 12 minutes. Do not let brown. Add the garlic, cook 2 minutes more and season with salt and pepper.
Lower the heat, add the kale, cover the pan and cook very gently until the kale wilts; do not stir it. Add the beans and carefully pour in the stock, again with out stirring. Scatter the thyme on top, cover the pan and cook very gently for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.