Our Wine of the Week, Carlisle 2014 Russian River Valley Old Vines Zinfandel ($30), is a beauty, with an engaging softness on the palate. As it unfolds, you’ll notice gorgeous raspberry notes, followed by slight suggestions of black topsoil and hints of licorice root, allspice, clove, and sweet anise. There is a hint, a suggestion, of sweetness, not surprising given the wine’s 15 percent alcohol, but there is no heat.

This wine will blossom with short ribs braised in red wine and sweet spices served over creamy polenta, puréed winter squash, or baked sweet potatoes. Most root vegetables will welcome the wine alongside.

Slow-cooked tomatoes, including in cioppino, homemade pizza sauce, and classic marinara, are good companions, as are lamb ragout, venison stew and grass-fed beef pot roast. Scalloped potatoes with a full-flavored cheese is a good choice too, and so is mushroom risotto, carrot risotto, and winter squash risotto.

Overall, this is a perfect wine to pair with winter comfort foods. In warmer weather, enjoy it with all manner of barbecue and grilled burgers, grilled chicken, beef tri-tip, and ribs. Avoid sauces with too much heat and the match will be make everyone happy, especially if you’re sure to have some good vegetables on the grill for vegetarians.

Today’s recipe makes a great first course or side dish. Use it as a bed for braised short ribs and add the ribs drizzling the dressing on top or serve it simply, before a main course.

Sweet Potato & Red Onion Salad with Pecan Vinaigrette
Serves 3 to 4

2 medium-large orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, peeled
1 tablespoon molasses, warmed
1 tablespoon honey, warmed
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
— Kosher salt
1 small shallot, minced
2 tablespoons toasted and chopped pecans
— Black pepper in a mill
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to taste
1/2 small red onion, cut into thin rounds
1/2 cup shelled pecans, lightly toasted
2 teaspoons snipped fresh chives

Cut the sweet potatoes into 1/4-inch thick rounds and arrange them in the basket of a steamer. Set the basket over about 3 inches of simmering water, cover, and steam until just tender, about 9 to 12 minutes. Test by piercing a slice or two with a fork; it should go in with a bit of resistance. Remove from the heat, uncover, and let cool a bit.

Meanwhile, put the molasses and honey into a wide-mouthed glass jar, add the vinegar and several pinches of salt, close the jar tightly and shake vigorously until the mixture is smooth. Add the shallot, pecans and several turns of black pepper and shake again.

Taste, correct for sweetness, salt and acid balance. Add the olive oil, taste again and adjust as needed. Set aside briefly.

Arrange the sweet potatoes in an overlapping circle on individual plates. Top with rings of onion and pecans. Drizzle dressing over each portion, sprinkle with chives, and enjoy right away.

Michele Anna Jordan is author of the new “Good Cook’s” series. Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com and visit her blog at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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