A well-aged cabernet sauvignon is one of most wine drinkers' greatest pleasures, and our two Wines of the Week -- Shafer 2003 Napa Valley Stag's Leap District Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon and Sbragia Family Vineyards 2003 Sonoma Valley Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon -- will not disappoint. They both have that combination of maturity and complexity that is so engaging.
Shafer cabernet is consistently outstanding year after year. If you love huge cabernets, this is a wine for you. It is massive, with an explosion of dark fruit punctuated by flourishes of milk chocolate, cedar, star anise, black pepper, with a burst of something refreshingly mint-like mid-palate. Earthy qualities suggest cool topsoil and, just maybe, a hint of truffle. Tannins are smoothing out but are still substantial enough that the wine can easily age for several more years. The very best pairing is a dry-aged ribeye steak with a rich potato-sweet-potato puree.
The Sbragia cabernet, from the widely acclaimed Monte Rosso Vineyard, still has remarkably bright aromas, with juicy black fruit -- especially dark berries -- and subtle notes of sweet spice, toast and cocoa. The wine is supple, tannins are resolving and the finish is long and pleasing. The wine will be excellent with prime rib, leg of lamb, grilled halibut, eggplant and almost any other dish that is compatible with a big red wine.
For today's recipe, I suggest the concentrated flavors of spaghetti squash combined with a slow-cooked ragu. You must plan ahead for this dish, as the ragu needs several hours of slow cooking. If you're in a hurry but like the idea of spaghetti squash, simply roast it, remove it from its shell and toss it with olive oil, a bit of butter, some chopped Italian parsley and minced garlic and plenty of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. It won't be as rich and complex as with the lamb ragu but it will make a delicious match.
Spaghetti Squash with Lamb Ragu
Makes 6 to 8 servings
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, minced
3 small carrots, peeled and minced (about 1 cup)
3 celery stalks, minced (about 1 cup)
6 ounces pancetta, diced
2 pounds ground lamb, preferably chili grind (ask your butcher)
-- Kosher salt
-- Black pepper in a mill
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
-- Whole nutmeg
1? cups dry white wine
1 cup whole milk
3 cups canned dice tomatoes, preferably Muir Glen brand
1 spaghetti squash, roasted, seeded and scraped from its shell (see Note below)
? cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
-- Chunk of Vella Dry Jack, Valley Ford Estero Gold or similar cheese
Heat the olive oil in a large, deep saucepan set over medium-low heat, add the onion, and saute until it is limp, about 10 minutes. Add the carrots and celery and saute until the vegetables are very soft, about 20 to 25 minutes. Add the pancetta and cook for about 7 to 8 minutes more, until the pancetta is translucent.
Add the lamb, increase the heat to medium, and saute, stirring continuously with a fork, until it loses its pink color. Season with salt and pepper, stir in the cinnamon and add several turns or gratings of nutmeg. Add the wine and simmer until it is nearly completely evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add the milk and simmer until it is nearly completely evaporated, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, decrease the heat to very, very low and cook very slowly for 4 to 5 hours, stirring now and then. After the sauce has been cooking about 3 hours, use a large spoon to skim off and discard any excess fat, which will have collected on top of the sauce. Continue to cook until the sauce is very thick and very rich. (The sauce can be prepared up to this point a day or two in advance. To do so, cool the sauce, transfer to a container, cover, and refrigerate.)