Our Wine of the Week, Montevina 2005 Amador County Syrah ($12) is first and foremost an attractively priced wine, something most all of us are looking for these days. In lean times, it is satisfying to find inexpensive wines that are as pleasing as their pricier cousins and that is exactly what this well-made syrah is.
The wine, crafted from grapes grown in the rocky foothills of the Sierra Nevada, a region that tends towards small, intensely flavored fruit that results in concentrated wines, expresses the layering of aromas and flavors for which the varietal is known.
As you lift the glass to your lips, you may notice subtle scents of violet, as if carried on a warm breeze. Next come red and black fruits, from fresh currants and blackberries to plums and a suggestion of pomegranate. As the fruit flavors linger, hovering between your upper palate and your tongue, a foundation of spices and dried herbs, especially allspice, anise, clove, cinnamon and thyme, begins to tickle your imagination. Before long, you are wrapped in a fragrant halo of aromas and flavors that swirl around you.
You can enjoy this wine simply, with some good crusty bread warmed in the oven and a chunk of cheese, preferably Montgomery Cheddar at room temperature, with some dried apples or simple chutney alongside. Add grilled sausages -- not chicken or turkey -- and you have a delicious meal that's only a step or two from? Ploughman's Lunch, a classic British assemblage of Cheddar or Stilton, chutney, pickled onions, eggs, mustard, apples or pears, sausage or pate and mustard, traditionally served with a pint of ale but equally good with this robust syrah.
More traditional but equally successful pairings include duck confit with caramelized onions and pistachios, mushroom pate with rustic bread and pasta with slow-cooked meat sauces.
Yet as I consider this wine, I keep returning to Cheddar cheese as the happiest marriage. Even though it is a single ingredient that inspires me, there is plenty of room for variation. The wine can stand up to big flavors -- indeed, being big itself, it needs husky flavors alongside, lest it be accused of bullying -- and that means you can consider everything from macaroni and cheese, Cheddar grits and Southern-style corn and crab bisque to all manner of cheese sandwiches, including Welsh Rarebit and Croque Monsieur.
For today's recipe, I'm returning to a very old favorite. When John Harris wrote, "The Book of Garlic" (Aris Books, 1974), he included a recipe entitled "Dottie's Spinach," contributed by filmmaker Les Blank. I have both cooked it and written about it many times over the years and recently have been making a dish that varies considerably from that recipe but is still inspired by it. It is absolutely perfect with this syrah alongside, either as the main course of a simple meal or as a side dish with grilled sausages.
Cheddar Greens Inspired By Les Blank
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 stick (4 ounces) butter plus more for the baking dish, preferably organic
1 yellow onion, diced
1 large garlic bulb, cloves separated, peeled and minced
-- Kosher salt
-- Ground cayenne
2 pounds winter greens (see Note below), rinsed, cleaned and sliced into ?-inch crosswise strips
? to 1 pound aged Cheddar, grated
-- Black pepper in a mill