Red wine

Few things are more comforting on a cold winter evening than a deliciously braised piece of beef and a good bottle of red wine.

A couple of weeks back, chef Andrew Carmellini appeared on the “Today” show preparing Italian-style braised short ribs. Carmellini is a renowned New York chef. He cooked at some of the world’s top restaurants before creating his own food empire.

For those who might be unfamiliar with braising, it is an ancient cooking method that begins with searing seasoned chunks of meat in a very hot pan until all sides are golden brown. This seals in the juices of the meat, and is only a preliminary step in the braising process.

At the risk of sounding like a Food Network presenter, all of the brown bits left in the pan after braising the meat play a vital role in flavoring the liquid in which the meat is simmered until fork tender.

Carmellini’s braised short ribs are started in pancetta, which is Italian-style uncured bacon. Onions and garlic are then simmered in the same fat used to brown the meat. The braising liquid is crushed tomatoes.

The resulting dish is rich, comforting and delicious, with flavors that explode in the mouth. The recipe can be found on the “Today” website by searching “Italian Style Short Ribs.”

I served this wondrous concoction over a bed of creamy, parmesan-infused polenta, something akin to grits made from stone-ground yellow cornmeal.

The pièce de résistance of this recipe is the gremolata topping, made from toasted pine nuts and panko bread crumbs sprinkled over the meat just before serving.

For this most Italian dish, I planned to serve an Italian wine by Ruffino, Modus Toscana, a delicious red blend made from sangiovese, cabernet and merlot.

I had previously served this delicious wine with a good old American steak, but I was eager to try it again with Italian fare.

At approximately $25 per bottle, this Super Tuscan wine is a reasonably priced bottling in a category of wines that often are super pricey.

Then something marvelous changed my wine plan. Enter a friend bearing a gift in the form of a bottle of 2012 Justin Eighty One Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles. It was named “Eighty One” because it commemorates 1981, the year Justin planted cabernet in the hills west of Paso Robles.

I have tasted hundreds of wines over the years of this column. Few have fallen in the category of perfect, but perfect is the only way I know to describe this wine.

We opened the bottle an hour before serving and let it rest an additional 20 minutes in glass before the first sip. This was done because this is a big wine at 16 percent alcohol by volume.

I don’t know that it was necessary to allow the wine to rest that long before serving because it did not behave like a big wine. It had no rough edges. The first sip of this seamless wine conveys to those dining that they are in the presence of greatness. It exuded luscious dark fruit flavors, and was remarkably smooth and balanced from first sip to finish.

Likely these traits are attributable to how this wine was handled. It spent 24 months in new French oak and then was kept an additional 22 months resting in bottle before release.

Alas, the 2012 vintage sold out at the winery and was likely available only to Justin’s Wine Club members. It appears this is the situation for the most recently released 2013 vintage as well.

If you want to try Eighty One, then befriend a member of Justin’s Wine Society, but other Justin wines are available at Tyson Fine Wines and Things in Anniston, including the entry-level Justin cabernet for $20 per bottle and the winery’s proprietary Bordeaux blend, Isosceles, for $73.50.

Though I did not find the Modus Toscana on local wine shelves, it is distributed in Alabama and should be available by special order from you favorite wine store.

Pat Kettles writes about wine and spirits every other Wednesday. Contact her at