Columns by John

John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

Howdy Doody, Julia Child and Sponge Bob: Only one has eaten Teala

Howdy Doody, Julia Child and Sponge Bob:  Only one has eaten Teala

As a general rule, I avoid cooking indoors this time of year. It doesn’t make much sense to heat up the house by using the kitchen stove – let alone the oven - but that’s what I did last weekend to prepare one of my favorite seasonal go-to dishes.

The Italian side of my family calls the dish “Teala” (pronounced tee-A-luh). This superb casserole uses some of the freshest vegetables available from our gardens or the local farmer’s market, and combines them with herbs, cheese and spices to make a delicious all-in-one meal.

Teala was a summertime staple for many of us growing up in our Italian neighborhood of North View (in Clarksburg). In those days long ago, Howdy Doody ruled the airwaves, Sponge Bob was traveling salesman and Julia Child was a former spy who liked to cook.

Anyway, Teala was about the only way my mother could get me to eat veggies such as eggplant, zucchini or squash. And those are the primary constituents of the dish, along with potatoes, which are optional. As a matter of fact, Italians not only allow options, they encourage menu latitude which in turn precipitates heated arguments over who’s Teala is best. And, of course, that’s the idea.

So, today I am going to share my version of the dish my mother, grandmother and aunts prepared (each one differently). Most used potatoes (I don’t), some refused to use tomatoes and others disdained the use of hot peppers, onions or bread crumbs. This then allowed them to debate the merits of each Teala iteration endlessly.

Wherever they are at this moment, I know they’re all ready to pounce, but here’s my take on Teala which, by the way, can be paired wonderfully well with sauvignon blanc such as St. Supery from Napa. The dish would also marry nicely with a medium-bodied, spicy red like Marques de Caceres Rioja.

Excellent choice with Teala

2 medium sized zucchinis, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch thick rounds
2 medium sized yellow squash cut into 1/8 inch thick rounds
2 medium eggplants, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch thick rounds
1 medium sized onion cut into thin vertical slices
1 hot (or mild) banana pepper cut into vertical slices
1 sweet red pepper cut into vertical slices
1 small bunch of parsley and one handful of basil chopped together
4 cloves of minced garlic
1 third cup of unseasoned bread crumbs
1 half cup of grated pecorino-romano cheese
4 ounces extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon each of salt and freshly ground black pepper

DRIZZLE a bit of the olive oil on the bottom of a casserole dish and rub all over
LAYER the eggplant to cover the bottom of the dish
TOP with salt, pepper, herbs, onions, garlic, peppers, bread crumbs, cheese and oil
LAYER zucchini and repeat the step above
LAYER yellow squash and repeat toppings
REPEAT above until the casserole is full
TOP layer should be drizzled only with olive oil, salt, pepper and cheese
COVER with aluminum foil and place in a 375F oven
BAKE for 1 hour 15 minutes covered and last 15 minutes uncovered
ALLOW Teala to rest for 20 minutes before serving

WineBoy in Transition

WineBoy is dead….long live WineBoy ! Well, he’s not actually dead, but he is in transition as this Gazette Community Blog has been renamed Vines & Vittles.

Why, you ask? For those of you who have followed WineBoy from its inception in January 2007, you will remember that it was first and foremost a webcast that allowed me (in the guise of WineBoy) to create several characters who had their own unique views about wine appreciation.

The WineBoy webcasts were produced by the Gazette and shown on this site for a little more than a year before they became too time-consuming for the newspaper to continue in light of the increasing demand for hard news video.

Since the demise of the webcast, this blog has continued to provide you with written information on wine and food, but without the weirdly insightful, sometimes outrageous and always wacky opinions of my alter-egos: Wine Astrologist Marcrazi Umberto Lupini, the Right Reverend Red N. White, English nobleman and wine critic Sir Reginald Winesot Clydesdale, Frenchman Pierre N’Cest Pas (wine cynic) and Cowboy Oenophile Spud Dumplin.

I am in the process of developing a website where I hope to reprise the WineBoy characters and archive many of the older webcasts. In addition, I will move my blogs to that site after they appear here first. I’ll let you know when my new website is up and running and hopefully you’ll be able to view some of my WineBoy webcasts as well as some new ones I’ll be creating.

Vines & Vittles (I know… the proper spelling is “victuals”) more accurately describes where my emphasis is with this blog, and I’ll continue to provide you with my take on wine and how food makes the beverage we all love so much better. Nothing here will change except the name of the blog.

So today, I’ll lift a glass to WineBoy and those intrepid characters who made telling you about wine so much more fun than it should have been.

*****Wine and Roses Fundraiser
The Roark-Sullivan Lifeways Center (RSLC) is a very special organization with a great group of dedicated employees and volunteers. The center assists individuals experiencing homelessness with services that help them become self-reliant.

For the past several years, RSLC has been hosting a fund raising event at Capitol Market called “Wine and Roses.” Wouldn’t it be great to help programs like Roark-Sullivan and enjoy good wine and gourmet food, too?

Well, you can! Join me and other wine lovers at the Roark-Sullivan Lifeways Center Wine and Roses event. Wine and Roses will be held indoors at the Capitol Market from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, August 4.
Area wine distributors and locally owned Napa Valley winery, Falcor, are donating the wines. And believe me, there will be exceptional wines available for your sipping pleasure from all over the world. In addition, there will be an assortment of gourmet appetizers you can pair with the wines.

I’ll be there to answer your wine questions and chat about the tasty treats we’re sipping. And, hey, if you find a wine you like, you can stroll right over and purchase it immediately from the nice folks at the Wine Shop.
Tickets are $35 and you can get them at the door or by call RSLC at 304-414-0109 . You may use your credit card or send a check to: RSLC, P.O. Box 1707, Charleston, WV, 25326.

I hope to see you there.

Italian summer sippers: Molto Bene!

Italian summer sippers: Molto Bene!

I have been on an Italian wine kick recently, sipping my way through all manner of vino and loving every second. It started with an Italian family wedding where the food was matched with fiascos of wine, including many hailing from that boot-shaped peninsula.

It kept on going when my brother, who thinks he is innately blessed with a sommelier’s palate, paid us an extended visit and proceeded to drink his way through my now depleted cellar. To be fair, he did share a few of his vinous treasures - most of them older Barlos and Brunellos – so I shouldn’t complain too much (but I am).

Don’t get the impression, however, that we focused only on reds. No siree, we sipped everything from pinot grigio and arneis in the north to verdicchio and grillo down south. In addition, we tasted a whole lot of other whites and reds in between to accompany the prodigious quantities of food we prepared and consumed.

As I waddle around here now in self-imposed detox, I’d like to share with you some Italian wine suggestions, particularly bottles that pair well with the lighter-styled foods of summer. The versatility of these wines insures that, while they certainly do well with Italian dishes, you can match them with just about any cuisine.

All the wines recommended below are available in selected wine shops around the state. Oh, and be sure to pop the reds in the fridge for about half an hour before serving them. So here you go.

Continue reading

A special wine and an App to help you find the best paired dish

A special wine and an App to help you find the best paired dish

'07 Allegrini Pallazzo Della Torre

With summertime upon us, it is logical for most of us to sip lighter  whites such as pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, riesling or a whole host of other refreshing wines. It’s also common for us to drink lighter-styled reds and even chill them a little before consuming them.

One of the best lighter-textured reds is Valpolicella. Produced from the relatively obscure corvina, rondinalla and molinara grapes, this red wine can be a very pleasant sipper and an excellent accompaniment to barbecue and other warm weather foods.

Today, however, in keeping with my annoying practice of taking a literary detour, I am not going to expound on the virtues of this lighter style wine. But I am going to discuss Valpolicella, and what happens to this timid quaff when a process called ripasso is employed during  wine making.  And, I’m also going to recommend the best wine I’ve ever tasted that uses the ripasso method.

To make a ripasso, new Valpolicella wine is refermented by combining it with the pressings or pomace from Amarone (which is essentially Valpolicella on steroids), and sometimes with the addition of dried raisined grapes.

The resulting ripasso wine is considerably darker and fuller bodied than Valpolicella, but not as powerful as Amarone. The ripasso process was invented in the early 1960’s by the well-respected Valpolicella producer Masi.

Recently, I had the pleasure of renewing my acquaintance with Allegrini Pallazo Della Torre. The 2007 version of this wine could be the best ripasso-style Valpolicella ($25) I have ever tasted.

Bursting with ripe, dark plum and blackberry flavors, a nose of cola and cherries and with bracing acidity, this wine is tour de force (that means good in Cajun’). I paired the wine with grilled rack of lamb that had been marinated in olive oil, Dijon mustard, garlic, coarsely ground black pepper and lemons. Yummy!

In addition to Allegrini and Masi, other ripasso producers to look for are Zenato, Bertani, Tommasi, Farina, Righetti and Mazzi.
Excellent Food and Wine App
I’m always looking for new food and wine pairings to spice up my usually mundane existence and to give me something to look forward to at the end of busy work day. And, while there are literally millions of combinations from which to choose, there are literally millions of combinations from which to choose!
So, wouldn’t it be great if there was some quick “go-to” way to make your wine buying decisions easier? And, it sure would be nice to find a complimentary dish to accompany that wine selection too.

Well, a new free mobile application can do just that!

I have pointed you in the past to the website of wine writer Natalie MacLean  ( who devotes her life to helping us make wine selection decisions a lot easier. Her new mobile app will also help you pair that wine with a complimentary food too.

With the “Wine Picks & Pairings app” you can use your Smartphone camera to snap a picture of any bottle label bar code in the wine shop and get tasting notes, scores, and food pairings too. Pretty cool!

Natalie is a certified sommelier and an accomplished wine writer who knows how to provide concise and easy to understand information on the sometimes arcane world of wine and food. Check out her app.

Chablis: It ain't what it used to be!

Chablis:  It ain't what it used to be!

When I first started getting serious about wine, Chablis was the generic term for any white, particularly those mass produced vinous products that were bottled in half or full gallon jugs. No one knew anything about varietal labeling or even that there were different types of grapes that produced different types of wine.

If it was white it was Chablis and if it was red it was Burgundy. Anything that sparkled was simply Champagne.

That’s all you needed to know. And if you drank wine in public places, people sipping martinis or chugging cold ones looked down their noses at you as if to suggest you join others of your ilk under the Southside Bridge.

But when wine began to become somewhat acceptable, those same cocktail snobs became wine snobs and the game was on.

It became “tres avant-garde” to squeeze in next to someone at the local beer garden and proclaim for all the world to hear: “I’ll just have a glass of Chablis.” So what if the bartender had to reach with both hands under the bar for the humongous jug, and then struggle to get some of the stuff into the glass.

We were so cosmopolitan!

Of course, none of us knew the composition of the wine back then, (nor did we care) and most of us were just happy not to gag on the swill that passed for wine. When I recall those days, my embarrassment is only somewhat tempered by the realization that our casual misuse of the terms Chablis, Burgundy and Champagne made the French completely insane.

Where am I going with this? Well, in the past month I have had the pleasure of sipping some excellent “real” Chablis. Of course, Chablis is an appellation and a region within Burgundy where the primary wine-producing grape is Chardonnay.

Wines produced in Chablis are generally more austere than chardonnay made in the more famous areas of Burgundy (i.e. Puligny-Montrachet, Corton Charlemagne, etc.), but they are considerably more reasonably priced.

The wines are steely textured with exceptional minerality and usually have a big dollop of acidity to balance out the richness of chardonnay. In good vintages such as 2008, Chablis can continue to improve in bottle for a decade or more.

The two wines I tasted were both very closed in at first and required about 30 minutes to open up. They also had bracing acidity and were not wines you could easily sit down and sip as an aperitif. Both wines definitely require food, but once paired with an appropriate dish (in this instance pan sautéed cod), they showed their complexity and ability to marry seamlessly to the meal.

These Chablis should be readily available and priced under $30 a bottle. The 2008 Gilbert Picq Chablis is more lean and austere than the 2008 Joseph Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru. I would advise cellaring both since I am convinced they will develop over a period of years into fuller, richer versions of what they are right now.

The Obelisk: a Capitol idea !

The Obelisk:  a Capitol idea !

Good golly! I spent a good part of last week in our nation’s capitol where the temperature was a sizzling 98 degrees. And while I perspired my way through a few business meetings, I knew, at the end of the day I would be sipping some lovely beverages. I did just that and then enjoyed an anniversary dinner at my favorite DC restaurant .

Washington is a very underrated food town, and that’s a shame because the city just brims with a bevy of eateries that rival establishments in some of the more recognized culinary burgs such as New York City, Chicago and San Francisco.

My absolute favorite dining address is the Obelisk Restaurant on P Street in northwest Washington. There is no sign on the unimposing building housing the small one room Tuscan restaurant, but once you’ve experienced the food, you’ll always find your way back for more.

The four-course prix fixe menu is $70 a person, but it is worth every cent and more. The wine list is very small, but well selected with an excellent sampling from Tuscany. Before the meal began, we were treated to four appetizers that were so good it was hard to imagine that the courses to come could be any better. They weren’t…but they were just as good!

How about these little ditties for starters: imported Italian Burrata  (a fresh cheese made from mozzarella and cream) with extra virgin olive oil, thinly sliced smoked duck breast with black cherries, fried, stuffed baby artichokes and cheese-stuffed zucchini flowers.

The meal that followed included porcini ravioli with a sage butter sauce, black bass with peppers and fennel, and lamb chops with sweet onions and rapini. A cheese course and dessert capped off the meal. A bottle of 1999 Podere Brizio Brunello Di Montalcino was liquid silk and a perfect match for the ravioli, lamb, appetizers and cheese course.

Next time you’re in DC, I really hope your give the Oblelisk a try, but you’ll need to call for reservations ((202 872-1180).

Warm weather does cause me to alter my usual reliance on red wine as the go-to meal accompaniment. Instead of my usual practice of sipping a glass of white as an aperitif, I am using these cooling beverages with the lighter-styled foods gracing the table at Chez Brown.

I am particularly fond of Soave, the Italian white from the Veneto. If you are one of the many out there who view Soave as an unworthy alternative to the more famous white varietals such as pinot grigio, you might wish to try these two wines.

Anselmi San Vincenzo Soave

2009 Anselmi San Vincenzo ($16) – This Soave is comprised of about 80 percent garganega, 15 percent chardonnay and 5 percent trebbiano. Fuller-bodied than most Soave’s, the San Vincenzo is full of ripe apple and vanilla custard flavors with a crisp, balanced finish. I sipped this baby recently with a smoked chicken Cesar salad.

2009 Re Midas Soave ($12) – This bottling is a more traditional lighter-styled Soave with a slightly grassy aroma followed by melon, lemon and almond flavors. It finishes with a little zing of acidity making it a great match with pasta salad sauced with basil

Cafe Cimino does it again !

Cafe Cimino does it again !

Adding my voice to the overwhelming chorus of satisfied visitors to Café Cimino might seem a bit trite, but a recent meal at this venerable West Virginia Bed and Breakfast is among the best I have ever experienced and I want to share it with you.

I am no stranger to over-the-top, multi-course, belly-expanding meals accompanied by flagons of wine where mile walks between courses are necessary for diners to safely consume the prodigious quantities of food and drink presented.

So when Café Cimino proprietors Tim and Melody Urbanic asked me to discuss the attributes of the wines selected for a nine-course meal they were planning, I immediately flashed back to several very unpleasant experiences I have had trying to eat and drink everything put in front of me at such bacchanalian extravaganzas over the years.

Tim and Melody Urbanic

These days, I am trying to transition from gourmand to gourmet (even though I know I’m kidding myself) so the thought of testing my will power to exercise restraint when offered a multi-course Italian food and wine feast was- at the very least -daunting. But hey, sometimes you just have to suck it up and do what you do best.

I have had the pleasure of dining at Café Cimino on several occasions so I knew going in that Chef Tim and sous chef (and son ) Eli are masters at extracting maximum flavor from their culinary creations with just the right size portions. Still, this was to be a marathon meal with accompanying wines from Barolo in the region of Piedmont of northwest Italy.

The WinesNestled in the northwest corner of Italy in the shadow of the Alps, Piedmont is home to perhaps the most revered of all Italian wines – Barolo.  The grape from which Barolo (a town and region) is made is nebbiolo. For a wine to be labeled Barolo, it must be made in the geographical confines of the government-designated appellation. In addition, Barolo must be aged for two years in oak barrels and one year in the bottle before it can be released for sale. Barolo can range in price from about $40 to several hundred dollars a bottle, and can continue to improve in the bottle for decades.

The Barolo of Viberti Buon Padre

For our dinner, we were treated to a six-bottle vertical tasting (1993-1998) of wines from the Buon Padre Vineyard of Giovanni Viberti. Established in the 1920’s, the Barolo of Giovanni Viberti is produced in a very traditional manner with a focus on the vineyard site and farming the grapes to achieve the Viberti style. The wines were provided by one of Tim and Melody’s friends who asked them to put a special Piedmont-inspired dinner together that would accompany the Viberti Barolo.

Five lucky couples began the culinary odyssey at 3 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon with an aperitif of Carneros chardonnay to warm up our palates. I had arrived a couple hours before and decanted the six Buon Padre Barolos into crystal decanters. I’ve discovered over the years that Barolo, particularly wines less than 20 years old, truly benefit from the aeration that decanting provides, allowing the wines to open up and demonstrate their complex layers of aroma and flavor. In addition to the Barolo vertical, some diners contributed a 2009 nebbiolo, a 1978 Barbaresco (both wines from Piedmont) and a 2005 Barolo to the meal.

Then the feast began…. and continued for five glorious hours. We enjoyed our final (cheese course) on the lovely porch of Café Cimino. For those of you who have never experienced a multi-course meal with accompanying wines, I’m sure you’re wondering how we all felt at the conclusion of this epic journey. Actually, quite well thank you. And anyway, we all spent the night in the delightfully comfortable digs of Cafe Cimino.

The Menu
1st Course
Bagna Cauda~ Warm Herbed Olive Oil & Garlic Dip With Grissini~ Breadsticks
Tocco Prosecco
2nd Course
Cream of Asparagus Soup
2009 Elio Grasso Nebbiolo
3rd Course
Old World Gnocchi~ with Gorgonzola Sauce infused with Chamomile Grappa
1994 Buon Padre Barolo
4th Course
Intermezzo~ Chilled Sliced Cucumber with Mascarpone & Strawberry

5th Course
Rabbit Cacciatore
1995 Buon Padre Barolo

Veal main course with the '93 and'97 Buon Padre

6th Course
Veal Stuffed with Salami Rustico, Polenta with Truffles & Asparagus finished with Roasted Garlic and Grana Pandana
1993 and 1997 Buon Padre Barolo
7th Course
Baby Lettuces w/ dried Fruits, Toasted Pine Nuts & 18 year old Balsamic
1996 Buon Padre Barolo
8th Course
House-made Chocolate Tartufo with Bing Cherry center, Hazelnuts & Cream
1999 Guerrieri Rizzardi Vin Santo
9th Course
Assorted Cheeses from the Piedmont Region of Italy
1998 Buon Padre Barolo and 1978 Borgono Barbaresco
The VerdictGuilty on all counts - of succumbing to the culinary artistry of Tim and Eli, the gracious hospitality of Melody and the wine making virtuosity of the Viberti family.

Provence: A cure for the blah's

Provence:  A cure for the blah's

I’m easily bored. Whether that’s a sign of a sterile imagination or an attention deficit disorder, I will admit that I am always searching for new experiences to stimulate me. Heck, maybe I need a curiosity transplant.

Anyway, that’s probably why I’m obsessed with wine and food where there are endless opportunities to feed my insatiable appetite for variety. It’s hard to be bored with a subject that can never be fully explored.

So when I’m tired of a particular wine or dish and the blahs are about to take hold, I simply close my eyes, imagine a map of the civilized world and select a place where I know the eatin’ and drinkin’ will be (as we say here in the Kanawha Valley) Spay-shull !

How about Provence in southern France?

While Provence is not as well known for its wines as say Bordeaux, Burgundy or Champagne, you may be assured that vines grown in this beautiful and topographically diverse landscape produce some excellent bottles.

Several years ago, I visited the area and actually spent a week in a small village, Menerbes, which was made famous by a PBS Television series entitled: “A Year In Provence.” The series was a film adaptation of a book by the same name written by Peter Mayle.

Anyway, my daily sojourns into the Provencal countryside yielded not only excellent wines, but also delicious regional foods, including a plethora of wonderful cheeses, fruits, and vegetables along with excellent lamb as well as seafood fresh from the Mediterranean.

The most prestigious wine of Provence, and also the most expensive, is Chateuauneuf Du Pape, a full-bodied red that has excellent aging potential. But you don’t have to spend more than $10 to $20 a bottle to get a truly excellent wine. Red wines from Provence are characterized by peppery, spicy, dark fruit flavors and they pair especially well with roasted meats and grilled vegetables.

There have been an incredible string of good to superlative vintages in Provence and the Rhone region over the past decade, particularly from 1998 through 2009. In fact, the excellent wines of 2007 are now being eclipsed by the spectacular 2009 vintage.

The ubiquitous red grape of the region is grenache which is blended with the more famous syrah, along with other lesser known varieties, to produce Chateauneuf Du Pape and the other reds of Provence.

After the producer’s name on the label, the wines are also identified by the villages near where the vines are grown. The most famous of these are Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Beaumes-de-Venise (famous for white dessert wine) and Tavel.

In fact, some the world's best rose is produced in Tavel.  Wines from Provence called Cotes Du Rhone,  made from both white and red grapes, are readily available and worth seeking out since they represent value and quality.

Some wines of Chateauneuf Du Pape

While red is still king in Provence and the Rhone, the whites can be very good too. Some of the more famous whites grown in Provence are viognier, marsanne and roussanne. These whites can be medium to full-flavored and match up well to the area’s excellent seafood and dishes such as Bouillabaisse.

Visit your local wine shop and have them point you to the wines of Provence. They’re guaranteed to cure the blahs!

Barbecue and Wine

Barbecue and Wine

In my hedonist’s mind, almost everything has a relationship to food and wine. This time of year, my thoughts turn to light and refreshing sparkling wines and roses along with medium-bodied, spicy reds like pinot noir, Beaujolais or grenache.

As far as food is concerned, my warm weather menus- more often than not – consist of grilled foods or barbecue. Barbecue, however, means different things to different people.

For some, it is a verb as in: “I’m going to barbecue some hamburgers.” For others, barbecue is a noun and refers to a type of cooked pork or beef (usually rib meat) that is dry-rubbed and/or immersed in various sauces, then chopped or pulled and served on a bun.

To me, barbecue means a style of cooking. You’ll find just about every kind of food on my grill, including (but not limited to) pork, beef, lamb, fish, vegetables and sometimes even fruit.

In my estimation, barbecuing also requires a grill that uses “real” charcoal. Gas grills – no matter how fancy – simply do not measure up. The biggest problem with them is uneven heat distribution. It’s also difficult to use smoking woods such as hickory, mesquite or apple on a gas grill, and that’s a problem for me since I feel these chips or chunks of wood add a wonderful flavor dimension to many grilled foods.

And, okay I admit it, there’s just something compelling and almost ritualistic about setting charcoal on fire, and then using the coals to sear animal flesh or things that grow. I’m not sure I want know why this practice is so appealing to me - but it is.

So, in the interest of making barbecue believers of you, I’m going to share a simple recipe for barbecued pork ribs that is easy to prepare and delicious to eat. I prefer to use baby back ribs that have been trimmed of excessive fat and scored with a fork.

Whether you use large slab ribs or baby backs, this recipe begins with a dry rub. What’s a dry rub? Well, first of all, let me assure you it does not require a masseuse. However, it does involve a massage – of the ribs with spices -that is.

One of my favorite dry rubs consists of one tablespoon each of cumin, chili powder, kosher salt, coarsely ground black pepper, brown sugar, smoked paprika and cayenne pepper (optional for those faint of heart). Stir this mixture and then rub it onto both sides of the ribs. If time permits, let the ribs sit in the refrigerator for a few hours allowing them to absorb the flavors.

At this point, I often grab a handful of hickory chips, immerse them in warm water and allow them to soak for at least an hour. Using wood chips is optional, but worth it because they give the meat another layer of flavor.

Now, fire up the charcoal and when the coals turn white/gray, divide them in half and move them to either side of the grill so you’ll be able to cook them indirectly. I have a large Weber kettle-type grill which has two small metal containers I can fill with the coals. Add the hickory to the charcoal and place the ribs on the cooking grate.

Make sure the air vents on the grill are closed to about one-fourth of an inch and place the lid on the grill. In this manner, you’ll be able to keep the temperature relatively cool – approximately 275 to 300 degrees F. Check the vents regularly to adjust the heat if necessary and turn the ribs once during grilling. It usually takes between 1 to 1 ½ hours to slow cook the ribs.

WineBoy's finished product !

Once off the grill, I cut the ribs into bite-size pieces and then either serve them as is or immerse them in a tangy sauce. You might like to try this sauce.

WineBoy Barbecue Sauce
Combine a cup of ketchup with half a cup of white vinegar in a cooking pot
Pour a 12-ounce bottle of beer and two ounces of orange juice to the pot
Add a tablespoon each of brown sugar and molasses
Add one teaspoon each of dried mustard and Tabasco
Bring to a boil and allow to simmer for about 15 minutes until it thickens
Dip the rib pieces in the sauce and serve.

Wines for your barbecue? Try these: Zardetto Prosecco ($13 - a sparkler from northern Italy); 2007 Sass Pinot Noir from Oregon ($23); 2009 Crios Rose of Malbec from Argentina ($13); and 2006 Las Rocas Old Vines Grenache from Spain ($14).

Now, let’s chow down!

Wine and food vacation options

Wine and food vacation options

If you haven’t already done so, it’s probably time to start planning your summer vacation. You may be considering the beach, the mountains or a cruise for your holiday this summer, and I hope you enjoy yourself whatever your destination.

I am fortunate to have a partner who is copacetic with my desire to spend our free time grazing all over the world in pursuit of the perfect food and wine pairing. In recent years, we’ve spent enjoyable sojourns to California, Oregon, Italy and France sampling the local cuisine and wine.

If you’re reading this, I’m sure you have at least a passing interest in food and wine so today I’ll mention two vacation ideas and a guided tour that may appeal to you as alternatives (or additions) to your travel plans this summer.

The Food and Wine Classic in AspenJune 17-19,

For 28 years, the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen, CO has been one of the premier culinary and wine events in America. Each June, FOOD & WINE magazine hosts consumers, members of the restaurant industry and press in mountains of Aspen.

The three-day weekend is chock full of cooking demonstrations and wine tastings. Seminars are led by wine and food personalities such as Mario Batali, José Andrés, Jacques Pépin, and Joshua Wesson. To register, call 877-900-9463 or visit

Scallop course at IPNC lunch

International Pinot Noir CelebrationJuly 29-31

For the past 24 years, the IPNC has been hosting pinot noir fans and food lovers from around the world in McMinnville, Oregon (the heart of the Willamette Valley). I have attended this gathering on three occasions and can tell you from personal experience this is a fantastic event for wine and food fans.

The 2011 IPNC will reunite winemakers, chefs, media and guests from the first event in 1987 and the past 24 gatherings. There will be more than 70 international Pinot noir producers, 50 Northwest chefs, and guests from just about everywhere in the world. Tickets are sold on a first come, first serve basis! To sign up go to or call 800-775-4762.

Slight Indulgence Wine Shop French Wine TourJune 30- July 10

Many of you who travel the state have met JC and Suzy Warman – owners of Slight Indulgence wine shop in Morgantown. The couple is hosting an 11-day trip to France to visit wineries and the regions of Burgundy, Bordeaux and Alsace. This promises to be an unforgettable experience for you wine and food lovers out there. For information, please call JC at 304-599-3402.

Wherever you venture this summer (even if it’s only to your front porch), have a good time and a great sip !

Rose': Just the tonic for springtime meals

Springtime is such a weather rollercoaster ride that it is hard to decide which type of food suits the season.  And of course that determination precipitates the most important decision:  which wine to use with the meal.  

Since it is looking more and more like we have seen the last of the little white flakes, I’ve been morphing from big reds to lighter style reds and whites that pair exceptionally well with traditional springtime  fare such as pesto-pasta, grilled chicken and all manner of seafood.

  Spring is the official start of the outdoor grilling season and I am excited by the prospects of searing all manner of meats and veggies on my trusty old Weber charcoal grill. One of the easiest meals to prepare on your grill is sausage and, whether you prefer Italian, Polish, Bratwurst or some other pork-encased tube steak, I’ve got the perfect wine to match this all-American meal:  rose’.Now some of you may have a jaundiced view of this (sometimes) pink wine, harkening back to a time when rose was bottled in heavy clay-like crocks (remember Lancers?) and tasted like spritzy cherry soda. Or you may think of rose’ as a sweet white zinfandel type wine.  Well, if these are your impressions, Forgetaboutit !

Today, rose’ is made in just about every fine wine region using just about every red grape imaginable from cabernet sauvignon to carignan and from pinot noir to mourvedre.  And, while there are many slightly sweet aperitif roses, there are even more that are produced to accompany food.

I’m going to tell you about four of my favorites that are available at a fine wine shop near you and I can guarantee that they will be especially excellent matches to grilled sausages and even burgers or baby back ribs. Each of these wines is classically dry, but all have great fruit and a smooth finish.2010 Grange Philippe “Gipsy” Rose ($14) - This wine from France (region unknown since it is labeled “Vin de Pays” meaning country wine) is a blend of syrah and grenache. Raspberry aromas give way to flavors of spice, cinnamon and cherries. You also might pair this rose’ with spicy Asian cuisine. 2010 Chateau Routas ($16) - From the center of Provence, this is a blend of cinsault, syrah, grenache and cabernet sauvignon that is about as complex as any rose’ I’ve had the pleasure of sipping. Flavors of strawberries and cola are smooth and the finish lasts a long, long time.2010 Domaine Fontsainte Gris de Gris ($16) - Like its name, this is a mouthful of wine for a rose’. Salmon–colored with flavors of minerals, spice, berries and even pineapple, the wine can certainly stand up to sausages and sauces that have a kick.2009 Banfi Centine Rose ($13) – Here’s a rose’ that is a blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot from Tuscany that has aromas of freshly mown hay and leather.  It is pale orange in color and has flavors of dried cherries and spice that leave a lingering dry finish.

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The Prescription for Wine Boredom

The Prescription for Wine Boredom

Do you ever get in a wine funk? I don't mean the malady that affects you when you’ve had too much of a good thing. Rather, I'm referring to the repetitive and sometimes boring patterns we fall into when selecting a wine to have with dinner.

We are all creatures of habit and, when we discover those wines that please us, we tend to stick with them.... and stick with them.... and stick with them! Which, of course, makes drinking them about as exciting as watching paint dry.

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with using a “go to” cabernet or chardonnay that is dependable and consistently good when you need a sure thing that works with the meal you are preparing.

And since labels, particularly those affixed to imported wines, require the translation and technical skills of a multi-lingual chemist, it is not difficult to understand why we tend to stick with good wines when we find them. And it’s certainly convenient and prudent to keep a few dependable bottles in the house.

But as one of my wine-stained friends, Guzzler LaMont, once said: “Too much of a good thing is only okay if it’s free and there is a lot of it!”

Well, there may be a lot of ordinary, boring same old, same old out there, but it ain’t free.
My advice is to be adventuresome and try something new each week. Then make a list of the wines you like, why you like them and where they are made. You’ll be shocked and pleasantly surprised by how many really good (and inexpensive) wines there are available if you’ll only give them a try.

Here are a few that demonstrate the diversity, quality and value of wines available right in your own back yard.

2009 Marquis de Riscal Rueda ($12)
An excellent introduction to Verdejo (pronounced vare-day ooh) with bright and refreshing green apple flavors. This Spanish white is crisp and well balanced, and would make a great accompaniment to omelets or brunch type food.

2009 Bodegas Norton Chardonnay ($11)
From Argentina, this golden wine has apple and tropical fruit aromas. Good structure on the palate, round and balanced with a delicate finish. Excellent with roasted cod that is sauced with buerre blanc.

2009 Hahn Winery Monterey Pinot Noir ($15)
This wine showcases the versatility of Monterey County Pinot Noir. With flavors of black cherry and cola , this smooth and balanced wine can be paired with a wide range of dishes. Try it with smoked or grilled salmon, or a roast rack of lamb.

2006 Bodegas Lan Rioja Crianza ($15)
This wine was number 44 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list of 2010.
From the Rioja region of northern Spain, this fresh and balanced red brims with cherry, spice and licorice. The texture is generous yet delicate.
Made from 100 percent Tempranillo, the wine begs to be paired with grilled flank steak.

Mountaineers are Always Free - to choose wine in them thar hills

When Joseph H. Diss Debar came up with our state’s slogan- Montani, Sempar, Liberi (“Mountaineers are Always Free”) in 1872, he kind of left it up to us to decide what we are “always free” to do. Taken to its literal and extreme conclusion by some mountaineers, those historic Latin words on the West Virginia State Seal have lead to incarceration.

My application of the slogan is much less dramatic. I take it to mean that I’m free to visit and experience all areas of the state, and then raise a glass to its vast and majestic beauty. Of course, unlike the aforementioned mountaineers, I choose to toast the state with a glass of wine instead of  a jug of John Barleycorn.

Hey, I’m not picking on those who prefer lesser beverages, but nothing compares with the experience of enjoying good food and wine in the lodge of one of our glorious state parks, or in one of our exceptional resorts while observing Mother Nature’s artwork.

I wax poetic only because I have visited some incredible places over the past several months where food and wine were the central theme around which visitors could enjoy and experience the beauty of nature right here in West –By-Golly.

Most recently, Stonewall Resort hosted their 8th annual Culinary Classic (held each March) where chefs from all over the state were able to showcase their gourmet wares and share them with the attending guests. More than 250 people attended this year’s event and sampled not only excellent cuisine, but also wines to match the delicacies.

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Washington State wines: everything in balance !

Washington State wines:  everything in balance !

Most experts agree that the Napa Valley is the greatest wine making region in this country and one of the best viticultural locations on the planet. While it is hard to dispute that point of view, one other area- year in and year out- is challenging Napa, particularly when it comes to producing wines from cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

I present for your consideration the state of Washington which has become, over the past couple of decades, one of the world's premier wine-producing regions! You're probably wondering how I came to this startling conclusion. Suffice it to say, years of personal research (i.e., drinking the stuff) made a believer of me!

In an area of the country perhaps better known for producing cherries, asparagus, apples, apricots and RAIN, thousands of acres of grapes have been planted, and some of the resulting wines are nothing short of stunning.

Of course when an “easterner” thinks of Washington, Seattle comes immediately to mind. However, that beautiful city, in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains to its east and the Olympic range to its west, is not where the majority of grapes are grown.

While there are some wineries in the Seattle/Puget Sound area actually growing vines, the overwhelming tonnage of vinifera is being produced across the Cascade Mountains in Eastern Washington.

Talk about a change! When you travel through the Snoqualmie pass - just 45 miles from Seattle - you go from a rain forest to a high mountain desert where the majority of vineyards are planted and extend eastward to the border with Idaho.

Washington State Wine Regions

And in the past 30 years, the wine business in Washington has grown exponentially.
Consider this: in 1981, there were only 19 wineries in the state. Today there are more than 700 scattered over 11 American Viticultural Areas (AVA’s), and the industry continues to grow vigorously.

So what makes this northwest corner of the U.S. so special? Excellent terroir, baby!

That somewhat confusing French word (pronounced tare-wah) means Washington has the requisite soil, climate and geographic location most ideally suited to growing some of the world's greatest wine grapes including, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, chardonnay, semillon and riesling.

I spent a week touring the area more than a decade ago and came to a rapid conclusion, after tasting the best the state had to offer, that the wines are exceptional. Since then, things have only gotten better and the cabernets and merlots are among the best being produced anywhere.

A bold statement? Maybe not, once you've tasted the wines. In addition to intensity, richness, elegance and power, Washington State wines have the potential to achieve a qualitative attribute uncommon in California - or anywhere else for that matter.

That characteristic is balance.
Balanced wines possess a harmony of fruit, alcohol and acid. There are also many sub-components that contribute to balance such as tannins and phenolic compounds and other technical stuff that only a chemist would find interesting.

Washington State, because of its unique terroir, has the ability to produce wines of exceptional quality and balance. I am particularly fond of the cabernet, merlot, riesling and semillon being made in the state.

Here are a few of my favorite labels from Washington State that you should find appealing. L’Ecole No. 41; Columbia Crest; Canoe Ridge; Hedges; Leonetti; Waterbrook; Quilceda Creek; Woodward Canyon; Covey Run; Hogue Cellars; Kiona; Milbrandt; Walla Walla; Chateau Ste. Michelle; Columbia Winery; DeLille Cellars; and Barnard Griffin Winery.

Tipsy Pork Tenderloin Loves Zinfandel

Tipsy Pork Tenderloin Loves Zinfandel

I don’t think there is any more versatile and tasty cut of pork than the tenderloin. In the past, I have regaled you with various culinary treatments for that long and lean piece of pig meat. And today, I’ll share another.

I call this recipe “Tipsy Tenderloin” because the marinade requires a glass of dry red wine (and also because I think it’s only fair to reward the pig for his sacrifice). As a matter of fact, I suggest you reward yourself with a sip or two from the same bottle for preparing this lovely dish. So, here goes…

Shopping List:1 pound pork tenderloin trimmed of all fat8 ounces of dry red wine (I suggest zinfandel)1 teaspoon of chopped fresh rosemary2 tablespoons of Balsamic vinegar2 cloves of garlic chopped1 small onion chopped2 tablespoons of flour1 egg and one-half pound of shredded mozzarella8 ounces of Italian sausage3 ounces of extra virgin olive oil1 red bell pepper cut into thin, two-inch long strips1 package of chopped frozen spinach1 teaspoon each of salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preparation Cut the pork tenderloin in two lengthwise and rub with salt and pepper

Between two sheets of wax paper, pound the pork into 1/2 inch thick pieces

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Synapse Wines: connecting with West Virginia

Synapse Wines: connecting with  West Virginia

Throughout history, wine has had a powerful influence on just about every aspect of the human condition. From religion, to culture, to art, to war and, indeed, to our daily lives, wine has played an important role in shaping history and civilization for thousands of years.

The Romans sent farmers to far off lands to plant vines well in advance of their invading armies so the soldiers would have wine to accompany their meals and to celebrate their victories. And to this day, wine remains an integral part of Judeo-Christian religious ceremonies.

So I guess it should not be surprising that someone from Weirton, practicing medicine in California would become infatuated with wine. What is surprising is the degree to which this WVU graduate has pursued his passion for the fruit of the vine.

Bruce Ginier was born and raised in Weirton, graduated from Brooke High in 1978 and received a BS and MD degree from WVU. He actually spent the last two years of medical school here in Charleston. After an internship, Ginier moved to Sacramento for his radiology residency. The rest is wine-stained history.

As you may know, Sacramento is the gateway to the Sierra Foothills wine country that includes El Dorado and Amador Counties. The town of Placerville is smack-dab in the middle of the Sierra Foothills AVA (American Viticultural Area) and that is where Synapse Wines was established.

The Vineyard
The concept for Synapse Wines began in 2000 when Bruce Ginier and his colleague and friend Randy Knutzon hatched the idea one evening over a few beers. (Strange how beer always seems to play a role in wine making). Anyway, the two friends scoured the Sierra Foothills and found the perfect spot for the vineyard on a 40-acre westward-facing slope overlooking the Cosumnes River Canyon.

Synapse owners Randy Knutzon and Bruce Ginier

Ginier said the initial plan was to simply grow grapes and sell them to wineries in the area. So in 2002, they planted syrah and later added zinfandel, petite sirah, viognier, grenache and mourvedre. But four years after planting the vineyard, the partners were so excited by the quality of the first vintage, they decided it would be more fun to make wine than just grow and sell grapes.

The Wines
For such a new enterprise, Synapse has garnered a significant treasure chest of awards from several prestigious wine competitions. Their 2006 K-Space Syrah won a Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Many of their other wines have won gold, silver and bronze awards at other competitions around the country. Debbie Knutzon (Randy’s wife) is the winemaker and both families are involved in all aspects of running the winery.

Most Synapse Wines are priced from $16 to $28 a bottle and can only be purchased at the winery. However, the wines are available online and can be shipped to West Virginia.

If you’re interested, check out the Synapse website at: If you decide to order wines, Bruce has offered free shipping on any order of three or more bottles. (When going through checkout, there is a box in the shopping cart window to enter a promotion/coupon code. In the box, simply type in fs3b2011).

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Inexpensive Wine: Easier than ever to find !

Inexpensive Wine: Easier than ever to find !

As those of you who regularly read my ramblings know, I am on an incessant search for wines of excellent quality that are also values. A few years back it was easy to despair of the notion that you could easily find good wine at reasonable prices.

To be sure, there are still outrageously priced wines in the marketplace that are immune to conventional economics, particularly those with famous names or those from places which are revered such as Bordeaux, Burgundy and Napa. Some wines from these regions are still priced out of all relationship to reality (as I define the term).

Chateau Petrus, which is undoubtedly the most famous wine in Bordeaux, is also the most extreme example of how crazy wine pricing can be. The 2005 Petrus fetches between $3000 and $4000 a BOTTLE! Amazingly, there is a long line of “trophy” hunters just waiting to plunk down their cash for the stuff.

But before you despair, forsake all wine purchases and switch to buttermilk, consider this: there are literally thousands of wineries around the world that are still making good and even great wine at affordable prices. You just have to look a little harder, be adventuresome and be willing to experiment with wines with which you are unfamiliar.

As a matter of fact, I am now convinced that the number of these value wines is increasing. Could this be a trend? I hope so.

World famous (and expensive) Ch. Petrus

In the past, it all came down to supply and demand. When Mother Nature smiles in the vineyard and there is a glut of wine on the world market, prices drop. The converse is true as well. You also have to factor in the tepid economy, which has forced some wineries to lower their unrealistic pricing.

But there is now more to the equation than just supply and demand and a weak economy. The new X factor is the Internet and search engines like Google, Yahoo and Information and pricing on wines which had once been obscure and unavailable are now just a click away.

I have maintained for years that there is a sea of excellent wine out there just waiting to be discovered. Well, now it’s easier than ever to find it, order it and sip it! And all because of the Internet.

Say you like cabernet sauvignon, but are put off by the prices of wines from some producers. Simply type: “highly rated cabernet under $20” onto your search engine and instantly you will be rewarded with an almost overwhelming number of choices.

At this point, you can order the wines online or simply take the list of wines to your local retailer. And building a relationship with folks running the local wine shop is probably the most important way of finding good wines that suit your budget. If the wines you want are unavailable, your wine shop can usually order the stuff for you.

We have a bevy of excellent shops in our state with a remarkable selection of wines from around the globe, and that is where I prefer to make my purchases. However, if you can’t find them locally, you might try the online retailers listed below that ship to West Virginia and many other states.

Here are some of my favorites:;;; and There are many others, but these are among the ones with both excellent pricing and selection.

To give you a head start, you might want to lock your lips around these delectable wine values: 2007 Crooked Row Merlot ($12); 2008 Di Majo Norante Sangiovese ($12); Cristalino Brut Cava (Spanish Sparkler -$10); 2009 Pacific Rim Gewurztraminer ($13); 2007 Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc ($15); 2005 Bodegas Beronia Rioja Riserva ($19); 2007 Trimbach Riesling ($17); and 2008 Hey Mambo Sultry Red ($10 – no kidding this a good one!).

Port: making winter bearable!

Port: making winter bearable!

I’m sure many of you will be toasting the New Year with sparkling wine. I know that I will, but my choice for après Champagne is something that will warm the cockles of your heart and soul even more than your favorite celebratory bubbly.

Today, I’m going to regale you with information about Port - my favorite winter time beverage that is sure to take the edge off this frigid winter.

Some would suggest that port, like scotch, is an acquired taste. If so, I’ve acquired it! And I’m convinced that once you try the stuff with a good blue cheese or a handful of walnuts, you’ll be hooked too. But first, let’s take a look at the history of Port and how the wine is produced.

Port or Porto (as it is called in Portugal where it is produced) is made from a variety of grapes grown along the steep slopes of Douro River. In fact there are more than 80 varieties of grapes which are permitted to be used in the production of port, but most producers use less than 10. The most prominent port grapes are: Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cão and Tinta Amarela. Rolls right off the tongue, no?

The center of port production is the town of Oporto where the wine is sold to companies (called” Shippers”) who age it, label it under their house name and then export it all over the world.

Port is fortified which means that brandy is added to the fermenting wine. This causes the fermentation to stop, leaving about 10 percent residual sugar in the wine and also boosting the alcohol to about 20 percent. While port was produced in mainly a dry style for centuries, today’s sweet version was popularized by the British in the middle of the 18th century. Many Shippers are also British companies.

There are also some very good port-style wines produced in other countries, most notably Australia and the U.S. As a matter of fact, two of my favorite tawny ports are produced in these two countries and I’ll list them for you later. Port is made in several styles, among which are:

Vintage Port -This is the best and most expensive style and is produced only in exceptional years (only about three years a decade). A “vintage year” is usually declared by an agreement among the shippers and the wines are given special care and aging.

Once you buy it, vintage Port can age easily for 15 to 40 years before reaching maturity. Recent vintage Port years are 1977, 1979, 1983, 1986, 1991 and 1994, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2003. You can pay anywhere from $50 to $150 a bottle for vintage port with the older, more prestigious years, commanding the highest price.

Late Bottled Vintage Port - Not to be confused with vintage port, this wine is a blend of ports from different vineyards in the same vintage year. Late bottled vintage port (or LBV) will have a vintage date on the label, but it is not vintage port. However, these wines are vinified in the same manner as vintage ports, except they are aged in barrel longer to accelerate their drinkability.

Ruby Port - Young port wine blends from several different vintages comprise ruby port. They are lighter and fruitier than other styles and usually the least expensive ports.

Tawny Port - I call this the poor man’s vintage port because it is aged for many years in oak and, when released, it is very smooth and rich like an old vintage port, though not as fine. Without a doubt, this is my go-to port and I’ll list a few of my favorites for you later. Most of the better tawnies are aged for 10, 20, 30 or 40 years and this fact is listed on the label. These wines can be found in a wide price range from under $10 to more than $30 a bottle depending on the age of the Tawny Port.

Ficklin 10-year old Tawny Port

White Port - Made from white grapes, this is the only port-style wine that is dry. It is usually crisp, yet full-bodied, and makes a nice aperitif wine.

Okay, now here is a list of some of my favorite tawny port producers. Incidentally, these wineries also produce other types of port if you should wish to try them.

Ficklin and Quaddy (US) and Clocktower (Australia) are my favorite port-like wines produced outside Portugal. The rest of these producers are Portuguese: Warre’s, Graham’s, Taylor-Fladgate, Croft, Dow’s, Fonseca and Ramos-Pinto. Prices for 10-year old tawnies can range from about $10 to $40 dollars a bottle. If you can find it, try Ficklin’s 10-year old tawny – it’s absolutely delicious.

So grab yourself a bottle of Port, build a fire and sip the cold away.

Gifts of wine build Christmas cheer!

Gifts of wine build Christmas cheer!

‘Tis the season to be (get?) jolly! Well, in that spirit, it’s time for my annual Christmas wine gift recommendations. In addition to providing you with a few ideas for the important wine lovers in your life, you might also wish to pass this list along to those inclined to remember you on December 25th.

But before I get to the wines, I have a few other wine-related gift ideas.

Books:The Oxford Companion to Wine – Third Edition ($65) by Janice Robinson is the most comprehensive compendium of wine information you will ever read. It is the ultimate reference guide to anything to do with the liquid we all love.

Been Doon So Long ($35) by the zany, clever, irreverent wine maker-satirist Randall Graham is a hilarious romp through winedom. Owner of Bonny Doon Winery, Graham’s views on the state of wine are delivered with zinging tongue-in-cheek wisdom and humor.

Wine Vacation:Solage is a 22-acre uber-spa located at the northern terminus of the Napa Valley in the town of Calistoga. Surrounded by mountains and vineyards, I had the pleasure of reposing at Solage earlier this year and was blown away by the experience. With an incredible restaurant on the premises, a world-class spa and even mud baths, this is a spectacular destination for any food and wine lover. Check out the packages at or call 866 942 7442.

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Chardonnay: Too much of a good thing?

Chardonnay:  Too much of a good thing?

Is it possible to love something, but be tired of that very same thing?

I emphasize the word “THING” to make sure the animate objects of my affection do not get the wrong idea. As you might suspect, I speak of wine. And not just any wine, but one of the greatest of all– chardonnay.

Too much of a good thing? Yes, that’s part of the problem because there’s no doubt the stuff is all around us. It seems someone is always handing me a glass of chardonnay at every event I attend or every bar I frequent. But that’s not the problem either.

What it gets down to is searching for quality and avoiding the boring plonk that so many wine makers are producing from this world-class grape.

With any wine, particularly one as ubiquitously produced around the world as chardonnay, the soil, climate and overall geography of the vineyard site, along with the wine making style of the vintner, become critical. These elements all define the style of the wine.

While it may be an oversimplification, I classify chardonnay as “new” or “old” world. New world chardonnays are those from North and South America, Australia and South Africa, and they are decidedly different from the old world wines produced with great success in the White Burgundy region of France.

For example, many new world chardonnays are rich, buttery and oaky with the intensity of a red wine. Many of these wines also have tropical fruit or butterscotch flavors and some have a good dollop of residual sugar.

In Burgundy, there are three basic regions where chardonnay is produced. In Chablis, the wine can show stony minerality and sometimes tart green apple flavors. In the Macon region, the best wines (such as Pouilly-Fuisse) can be aromatic and slightly buttery.

In northern Burgundy, the greatest chardonnays have creamy textures and ripe apple flavors with a kiss of oak. These wines, such as Corton-Charlemagne and Puligny Montrachet, can cost anywhere from $150 to more than $500 a bottle.

My own preference in chardonnay runs to the northern Burgundian variety, but my pocketbook leads me to California. In particular, I prefer chardonnay grown in the cooler areas such as Carneros, the Russian River Valley of Sonoma and the Santa Y’nez Valley near Santa Barbara where sunny days are followed by chilly nights to produce wines with excellent balance.

Carneros Chardonnay fermenting in my cellar

My favorite style of chardonnay combines ripe fruit richness, good acid balance and just a touch of oak. Wineries such as Chateau Montelena, Talley Vineyards, MacRostie, Acacia, Wente Riva Ranch, Talbott and Cakebread are among my favorites and range in price from under $20 to about $40 a bottle.

I actually took matters in my own hands (literally) a few years ago by making my own chardonnay from grapes grown in the Carneros region of southern Sonoma County. As a matter of fact, I’ve got 20 gallons of 2010 chardonnay fermenting in my cellar right now. I just bottled the 2009 chardonnay and I am sipping a glass as I finish this column.

I am not bored with this wine!