Fred Tasker’s “Cheap” Wine Suggestions

I think I’ll start a club for wine fans like me: We love good wine, but we’re cheap. We like good restaurants, but we have problems with wine lists that average $80 or $100 a bottle. Well, for the most part, we’re just out of luck.
There is one thing we can do, however, to ease the pain a little. When we pick up a wine list, we pass right over the section on cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. Far too many top California cabs and pinots hover around $100 on wine lists, and, if you plan on ordering more than one bottle, it really gets out of hand.
Something I do often is to turn to the French wine section and look for the Rhone wines. These are wines from the Rhone Valley, southeast of Paris, which starts just south of Burgundy and goes down the Rhone River to the Mediterranean, near Marseille.
Then I pass over the Northern Rhone wines, which can also be pretty expensive, and go closer to Avignon, in the Southern Rhone. These are big, hearty red wines, based mostly on two grapes – grenache and syrah, although there are 11 other obscure grapes that can be in the blend.
These are labeled Cotes-du-Rhone wines, and they’re often less than half the price of the big California cabs or French Bordeaux.
A good example, although it’s hard to pronounce, is the 2006 Maison Bouachon Les Rabassieres Cotes du Rhone. It’s very rich and smooth, with flavors of black plums, black raspberries and cloves. And it’s only $15 retail. It would take 10 minutes to spell this; so just check it out on or
Another good one, and even cheaper, is the 2006 Jaboulet Cotes du Rhone Parallele 45. It’s kind of muscular, a good steak wine, with flavors of ripe black cherries and minerals. And it’s only $13.
So go to the Rhone Valley and you won’t have to go to the bank to dine out.

Elegant Dinner

Dinner for a special eve with an easy, elegant meal of veal scallops with wild mushrooms and nutmeg-spiked cre`me fraiche.

I use dried mushrooms, which take only minutes to reconstitute in hot water. Cre`me fraiche, a slightly soured cream, can be found in many supermarkets. Heavy cream also works well in the recipe.

Sweet pepper orzo is a colorful side dish. Red and green bell pepper cubes are added to the pot just before the rice-shaped pasta has finished cooking.

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Quick ratatouille draws on the flavors of France

Freshly made ratatouille and crispy, sautéed chicken cutlets make a quick meal for this busy time of year.

Coating the chicken with coarse cornmeal gives it a flavorful crust without deep frying. Thin cutlets, found in most supermarkets, cook in about 2 minutes per side.

Ratatouille is a popular dish in the south of France. It is made by slowly simmering eggplant, zucchini, onion, garlic and tomatoes in olive oil. My quick version captures the flavors of Provence. Complete the meal with crusty French bread.

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