There’s no such thing as true bargain shopping if one is only scanning the lowest shelf at the nearest supermarket. This is where lifeless alcoholic juice and jug wines reside by the canned soup. Time might seem scarce, but it pays to patiently wade through the value-wine waters rather than netting a bottom-feeding wine. But it is imperative to branch out from the usual one-stop shopping.
The concept of the supermarket is worth mentioning here, for their meat selections are almost as humdrum as their shin-level wine selection. Encased in plastic wrap and Styrofoam, with fissures in the former wreaking bloody havoc, these “morsels” have a similar assembly-line pedigree. Reaching in for a N.Y. Strip, and wearily stooping over for a mass-produced California red might seem sensible with the cart loaded up with detergent, Cap’n Crunch and ice cream bars. But even if a second errand seems tedious, serving a truly cheap supermarket wine at the table is guaranteed to be tiresome for both guest and host.
This is where a butcher’s knowledge dovetails with the independent wine merchant in pinpointing good values. In fact, getting a tri-tip or a pork shoulder from the neighborhood meat maven, combined with a personally selected value wine will probably feed and satisfy more people for less money than the supermarket’s spongy steak and cheap vino.
True, many of the less expensive cuts of meat are tough, and meant to be cooked low and slow. So, put them over indirect heat and leisurely browse the local wine shop. Here are some options that always make the “cut” with Chicago Budget Wine Examiner:
Beef tri-tip: Actually, this delicious beef sirloin cooks just like a steak directly over the coals. It can also be roasted to perfection in a 375-degree oven at 20 minutes per pound. Rub with garlic-pepper, ground sage and a bit of kosher salt. Slice against the grain, and serve with the conversation-inducing Zantho Burgenland Blaufrankisch 2008, which features blackberry aromas and flavors and just the right amount of peppery spice. It finishes long, with a hint of mocha.
Short ribs: Perhaps one of the most indulgent cuts of beef if one is willing to put in the time – it is the poster child for the concept of low and slow. When an autumn-like Sunday arrives, braise them in a 250-degree oven. “Short ribs are rich, and they demand a ‘luscious’ wine such as the Tres Picos 2008 Garnacha,” says Barbara Rooks, Assistant Wine Director at Schaefer’s in Skokie. “It’s been consistent from vintage to vintage, but as the vines have gotten older, the wine has become more structured.” ($13)
Pulled pork: Not only is this a favorite in North Carolina, but a pork shoulder produces enough meat to satisfy wild-eyed carnivores, and at the fraction of the cost of dry-aged rib-eyes…. or even supermarket rib-eyes. Cooking it low-and-slow, along with a vinegar-based preparation, accompanied by slaw and green onions, calls for a fruit-forward red that’s not too brawny or tannic. The versatile and delicious Feudi di San Marzano Puglia IGT Primitivo 2008 would be a delight – fresh, juicy cherries, but nicely balanced with an herbal touch.
Skirt steak: It was once called the “butcher’s cut” because only those who could properly wield a bone saw knew about its great flavor. Too many skirt steaks, admittedly, are tough and chewy (again, blame the supermarkets for this), so some people are reluctant to buy them. But local meat markets can properly tenderize a skirt steak, and it’s hard to go back to a bland filet mignon. Use a jalapeño-based marinade, and serve with the striking, bold Tamari Malbec 2008 ($10).
Chicken thighs: More flavorful than breasts, and with more meat than drumsticks or wings, barbecued chicken thighs are easy on the wallet and present a versatile meal for pairing with many wines. Make sure they originate from a plump, Amish bird, and try a delicious Spanish Rosé, such as the Cortijo Rosé III (Rioja) 2008 ($12).
And just a friendly reminder from Chicago Budget Wine Examiner: Law enforcement is cracking down on drunk driving over the Labor Day weekend. Plan ahead and have a designated, sober driver, take a taxi or access public transportation.
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