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The Iron Hand in a Velvet Glove

Napoléon Bonaparte once said, “Put your iron hand in a velvet glove.” I am not sure whether he really lived by that quote or whether he just pinched it from Charlemagne (it's definitely not something the one-armed Lord Nelson could say), on the other hand, maybe he was just sorely misunderstood by history! The metaphor, however, that firmness can be delivered in a gentle manner, is apt for our two powerful yet smooth reds this week. Both are wonderful winter wines – perfect for a rich, savory meal in front of the fire. And yes, I’ve been getting lost in some epic books about military history lately, and it may be influencing my tasting notes.

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Valdesil Valderroa Carballo Mencia 2016($29). From Galicia in northeastern Spain, the unique terroir of the Valdesil vineyards creates a wine with great depth and silkiness: the granite and schist create intensity while the clay tames its edges. At 6 years old, this powerful wine is really coming into its drinking zone. I had to close my eyes and stop for a moment as I savored the first sip, which is a lovely feeling. The beauty of vivid fruit counterbalanced by great structure born of the rock underneath gives me an amazing sense of origin and connectedness. I sense wisps of smokey raspberries on the nose and then sweet black cherries, figs and earth on the palate. This wine would pair beautifully with one of my favourite winter treats: warm, ham-wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese (see recipe below). It would also be a perfect complement to pork chops in a sweet apple-sage sauce.

Domaine des Pierres Sèches Saint-Joseph Rouge 2018($40). From the famous Saint-Joseph appellation of the Rhone Valley, France. Burgundy-born winemaker Sylvain Gautier trained with Michel Chapoutier, one of the kings of the Rhone winemaking community. This 100% Syrah is a serious wine. It is grown in decomposing granite soils -- a very mineral-rich environment which imparts immense depth to the wines. Building on this, Sylvain brings his Burgundian touch, and conjures a rich layer of fruits that softens the brooding edges and creates wonderful balance. This is another head-turning wine that is a perfect choice for winter meals like cassoulets and casseroles.

Wine Friends Cooking Tip:

Simon's Favourite Wrapped Dates

1. Preheat oven to 400F

2. Remove date pits

3. Fill date centers with about 1Tsp of blue cheese

4. Close and wrap dates twice around with a strip of ham (Iberico, Parma or bacon)

5. Bake for about 8 min or until cheese is slightly melted and ham is crisping

6. Let cool gently before enjoying

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