Our Wine of the Week, <strong>Enotria 2010 Mendocino County Barbera</strong> ($18) is big, brash and full-bodied. It is an exuberant wine, full of bold red fruit and swirling ropes of smoke. It's so meaty you can almost chew it. Yet there is enough acidity, enough brightness on the finish, that the wine is neither dour nor ponderous, as many husky reds are.
In the glass, it is deeply colored, landing on the spectrum somewhere between crimson and garnet, with moderate tannins that are not at all overbearing.
Anyone appreciative of barbera will love this earthy wine and welcome it at a weeknight table, a holiday table or even tucked into a Christmas stocking.
When it comes to pairing, fall and winter foods are the best companions. Root vegetables, slow-cooked soups and stews, sweet potatoes, winter squash and roast beef all make good matches. It's excellent with roast goose, too, and if your tastes run toward venison, grill a loin and top it with braised wild mushrooms. Vegetarians will enjoy the wine with grilled portobello mushrooms, served over farro or quinoa.
For today's recipe, I've chosen a seasonal favorite, braised lamb shanks, and paired it with earthy polenta nera, which combines cornmeal with buckwheat that in turn resonates beautifully with both the wine and the spices. I like to serve this rustic, lusty dish with roasted winter squash and sauteed kale alongside.
<strong>Braised Lamb Shanks with Polenta Nera</strong>
<em> Makes 4 servings</em>
4 lamb shanks, bones cracked
— Kosher salt
— Olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
8 to 10 garlic cloves, peeled
2 whole allspice berries
1 whole clove
— Black pepper in a mill
2 cups dry red wine
3 cups lamb, duck or beef stock, optional
2 oregano sprigs
3/4 cup polenta or coarse-ground cornmeal
3 tablespoons buckwheat flour
2 tablespoons butter
3 ounces grated dry Jack or similar cheese
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Set the shanks on a clean work surface and season all over with salt.
Pour just enough olive oil into a heavy ovenproof skillet or pot to cover the bottom with a thin film. Set over high heat and sear the shanks all over. Transfer to a plate or platter.
Add the onion, reduce the heat and saute until limp and fragrant, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic cloves and saute 1 more minute, until the garlic takes on just a bit of color. Add the allspice berries and clove, return the shanks to the pan and season with several turns of black pepper.
Add the red wine and the stock, if using, along with enough water to fully cover the meat. Tuck in the oregano sprigs, cover and set in the oven. Cook for 2 hours, uncover and cook for 1 hour more, until the meat is fully tender.
When you've uncovered the shanks, put the polenta and buckwheat into a small bowl and pour 1 cup of water over it. Stir and set aside.
Set a medium saucepan over a burner, add 4 cups of water, season generously with salt and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water reaches a rolling boil, stir it clockwise so that a vortex forms. Slowly pour the dampened polenta mixture into the vortex and continue to stir in the same direction until it thickens. Reduce the heat and cook, stirring frequently, for 20 minutes.