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Rutherford Ranch 2011 Napa Valley flattering to classic autumn dishes


With the winter holidays coming, you may want to have several quaffable wines on hand that flatter fall food. Our Wine of the Week, Rutherford Ranch 2011 Napa Valley Chardonnay ($16), is one you should consider, as it is an ideal match with many classic flavors of the season.

The wine is so creamy on the palate that it suggests warmth while at the same time being refreshing, with a pleasing acidity. It makes me think of sitting by a fire on a cold night, wrapped in a cozy blanket. The aromas suggest a kitchen filled with the scents of baking apples, cinnamon coffee cake, pear gingerbread and hot spiced apple juice. These aromas are mirrored on the palate, along with ripe apricots, buttery toast, vanilla and just enough citrus to add a bright flash to each sip.

The wine's finish is long and interesting; if you wait long enough, you'll notice suggestions of fresh thyme.

The wine is a flawless match with turkey and cornbread dressing and also perfect with winter-squash soups, souffles and gratins. Fettuccine with a smoked salmon and cream sauce is a happy partner, too, as is a simple roasted chicken, especially with a butter-apple cider glaze. A traditional Comte fondue served with toasted brioche, spears of roasted chicken and steamed sweet-potato wedges is another wonderful and festive match.

For today's recipe, I've chosen a soup I love to serve at this time of year, especially when I have guests. It can easily be made a day before serving it and reheated at the last minute. Just be certain to have the cheese at room temperature, so that it melts as the soup is ladled over it. The thyme in the soup makes the parallel flavor in the wine blossom.

Sweet Potato Soup with Teleme and Thyme

Makes 4 to 6 servings

3 pounds sweet potatoes, scrubbed

1 medium potato, such as Yukon Gold, scrubbed

3 tablespoons butter

1 yellow onion, diced

1 large shallot, minced

5 garlic cloves, minced

-- Kosher salt

-- Black pepper in a mill

1 cup dry white wine or apple cider

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

3 cups chicken broth or stock or vegetable stock

3 thyme sprigs

6 to 8 ounces Teleme cheese, at room temperature

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Use a fork to pierce the sweet potatoes and potato in several places. Set on the middle rack of the oven and cook until completely tender, about 40 to 50 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool until easy to handle.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a soup pot set over medium low heat. Add the onion and shallot and saute until soft and fragrant, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and saute 2 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.

Stir in the wine or cider vinegar and stock or broth, add the thyme sprigs and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer very gently for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and cover.

Break the cooled sweet potatoes and potato in half crosswise and press through a potato ricer, broken side down. If you do not have a potato ricer, use a food mill fitted with the small blade or press through a strainer. (Do not use a food processor.)

Whisk the sweet potato and potato into the soup stock, add enough water to achieve a rich but not overly thick consistency and simmer gently for 5 minutes.

Use tongs to remove and discard the thyme sprigs. Taste, correct for salt and season with several generous turns of black pepper. Stir in half the thyme leaves.

To serve, divide the cheese into equal pieces and set in warmed soup plates. Ladle the soup on top, garnish with the remaining thyme leaves and serve.

Michele Anna Jordan hosts "Mouthful" each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM.

E-mail Jordan at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

You'll find her blog, "Eat This Now," at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.