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

Thank You Nelson Mandela !

Nelson Mandela’s achievements have been widely and deservedly heralded, but his ability to exhibit magnanimity to people who kept him incarcerated for decades, and to the government he inherited is truly remarkable. In choosing to rise above the inclination to seek revenge on his oppressors, he also demonstrated his wisdom and practicality.

So what does any of this have to do with wine? Well, one of the beneficiaries of Mandella’s benevolence during his tenure as the first democratically elected president of South Africa was the wine industry. Like most other businesses in the country back then, wineries were part of the white power establishment and, like other enterprises, saw their exports drop significantly during the years of Apartheid.

With the defeat of Apartheid and the ascension of Mandela, the ban on South African wines was lifted, and the product began to appear ever so slowly on American wine store shelves. Here in West Virginia, we’re just beginning to enjoy the wide variety and surprising quality of South African wines.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended an event at the Bluegrass Kitchen which featured about 20 South African wines and a variety of small plate dishes created by chef Gary Needham. The wines were from importer Cape Classics and ran the gamut from lighter- styled whites to full bodied reds. The common thread among the wines was their uniform quality and incredible value.

However, my first sip of South African wine – more than 30 years ago – was not an experience I remember fondly. In fact, the red wine made from the pinotage grape (a cross between pinot noir and cinsault) tasted like something that had been aged in oil barrels. To be fair, the quality of pinotage has been improved substantially over the years, but this native South African wine is certainly not among my favorites nor was it featured at the Bluegrass Kitchen event.

There are nine principal wine regions in South Africa, and most surround Cape Town where the influence of cool ocean breezes and diverse soils combine to create ideal grape growing appellations. The most well regarded region is Stellenbosch just a short distance east of Cape Town where the best reds and whites are produced.

The other exemplary note about these wines is that they are made to be enjoyed with food with none of the overblown, high extract and stratospheric alcohol levels so popular with some new world wine makers.

While I was particularly impressed with the cabernet sauvignon blends, the 2009 Indaba Merlot ($10) is a delicious bargain with ripe plum and cola flavors and excellent balance. It would be wonderful with grilled flank steak stuffed with roasted red peppers and provolone cheese.

Dessert wine fans absolutely must try the 2005 Kanu Kia Oro Late Harvest Chenin Blanc ($20 half bottle). This wine is chock full of apricot, pineapple and honey flavors that would love to be “peared” with poached pears topped with a dollop of whipped crème.

Another wine from South Africa that is exceptional is chenin blanc. Made in a variety of styles from light and slightly sweet to round, rich and chardonnay-like, wine makers in the country know how to squeeze the best from what many consider a humble grape. Of course, the chardonnay is superb, and the riesling and sauvignon blanc are distinctive too.

The wines listed below were my favorites at the tasting and should be available at a wine shop near you. If not, ask your wine purveyor to order them. I think you’ll like them and I hope you’ll raise a glass in thanks to Nelson Mandela!

Under $15 - 2009 Excelsior Chardonnay; 2008 Buitenverwachting Riesling; 2008 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc; 2008 Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc; 2009 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rose; and 2009 Indaba Merlot.

2009 Rustenberg Chardonnay ($22); 2005 Mulderbosch Faithful Hound (a Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot, malbec and merlot $32); and 2006 Rustenberg John X Merriman (another Bordeaux blend $40).

Describing wine: it’s easy to exaggerate

Sometimes it’s laughable. Other times it makes me crazy! Please read the description below of a wine being pitched to customers by an online wine retailer. This description takes hyperbole to a new level.

“The nose is redolent of dark Bing cherries, hints of black and white pepper on meat roasting in a wood oven, memories of English plum pudding steaming at Christmas, a touch of saddle leather, warm spice and tobacco at a distance. The nose continues to build and unfold with hints of violets and Portobello mushrooms, blackberries, minerals and sweet earth. It envelops the palette, almost to the point of overwhelming, then opens up to show beautiful balance and sophistication, and an elegant, glycerol texture. Explosive on the palette, it transforms midway into every red berry you’ve ever tasted. The finish lingers uncovering a wisp of anise, blackberry honey, and golden pastry roasting in the oven…Cherry Pie. “Holy obfuscation! How can you possibly glean anything useful about this wine from this exaggerated drivel? Saddle leather, Portobello mushrooms, explosive on the palette, plum pudding steaming at Christmas along with hints of white and black pepper on roasting meat?

No need to have dinner with this wine. It is dinner: appetizer, main course and dessert all rolled into one!

I must admit I have, on occasion, let my enthusiasm for a good wine cause me to use overly flowery language to describe a particularly memorable bottle. But in the main, I try to use common taste and aroma descriptors to which you can easily relate.

For example, if I recommend a wine that has flavors of cherries and an aroma of cinnamon, just about everyone has had those sensory experiences, and can therefore relate to them in evaluating whether or not to buy the wine.

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Wine and food events abound!

Tis’ the season of multiple wine related events and I can think of no better way to shed the winter blues than by enjoying the restorative power of good food and wine. In the next two weeks, you’ll have opportunities to do just that.

Bridge Road Bistro The Bridge Road Bistro prides itself on using locally produced foods whenever possible and Chef Robert Wong is planning a gourmet meal featuring Swift Level Farms beef from Greenbrier County.

Swift Level Farms is a 150-acre property featuring historic buildings, premium lodging facilities and a working farm producing spectacular Angus beef. The farm’s natural and organic beef program is based on Angus weanling calves purchased locally which are grain fed and then placed on winter grass with hay and supplemented with kelp.

On Thursday March 4, at 6:00 pm the Bistro will present a multi-course meal with accompanying wines featuring Swift Farms Beef. Yours truly will select and discuss the wines during the dinner, which is sure to be an excellent gustatory experience.The menu will include a Swift Level Slider, Asian Skirt Steak Roulade, grilled New York Strip Steak and & Braised Short Ribs among other culinary delights.

Price is $69 per person (plus tax and tip) and reservations are required by calling the Bistro at 304-720-3500.

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Tuscan Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

One of the leanest, most tender cuts of meat is the pork tenderloin. Today, the boy of wine is going to share a great dish with you featuring the little piggy’s tenderloin. I will also recommend a pair of absolutely perfect wines for this dish!

But first, a few thoughts on cooking pork.

As delicious as roasted pork tenderloin can be, it can also be a boring dish unless you spark it up with a good dose of seasoning, stuffing, or saucing. The recipe below will take care of this problem. However, the most common problem associated with preparing this delicate cut of meat is over cooking.

Most of us have been taught by our mothers and grandmothers that you must always cook pork until the center of the meat is completely devoid of any color. Why? Well, when mom and/or ma-ma were growing up, trichinosis, a disease contracted by eating under cooked pork, was a serious problem.

The solution was to cook the meat until it was DONE – in other words until it was stiff, dry and had the flavor and texture of leather. When I was growing up, fried pork chops could have been used as body armor.

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And the winner is…..

Last week I discussed a recent blind tasting I conducted where tasters were asked to evaluate six cabernet sauvignons (or cabernet blends). I suggested that you might wish to sip a few of the wines and judge for yourself before I revealed how our group viewed the order of preference.

So far the only feedback I've gotten has come from a few disgruntled wine lovers who have taken me to task for not letting you know which wines were judged best.

Okay, okay, I get the message. Here are the results along with the country of origin and the retail price:

1. 2006 Marques Casa Concha (Chile $19)

2. 2003 Falcor Le Bijou (Napa Valley $32)

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Tasting Cabernet Blind!

From time to time, I have the opportunity to attend or conduct a tasting where the wines are evaluated before anyone is shown what they’re tasting. These events are known as “blind” tastings.

Don’t get the wrong idea. We’re not talking about drunken parties where the tasters are blind from overindulgence. Rather, since the identities of the wines are kept hidden from the participants, the wines are being tasted “blind.”

Why? Well, tasting wines blind takes away the bias you may have toward a particular label because of past experience with the wine, or because of the reputation or price of a specific product. Without any idea of the wine’s identity, you’ll find you’re also better able to concentrate on the qualitative aspects of the wine such as color, aroma and taste.

I encourage you to attend one of these events or, better yet, conduct your own blind tasting with a few friends at home. It’s pretty simple. Just ask everyone to bring a bottle of wine which has been covered with a paper bag (be sure to tape the bag around the neck of the bottle).

I suggest using a specific type of wine such as zinfandel or sauvignon blanc so that you’re comparing different wineries’ versions of the same varietal. Most grape varieties, regardless of where they are grown around the world, produce wines that have defining aroma or taste characteristics that are universally recognizable.

Take cabernet sauvignon for example. Cabernet produced in such geographically diverse regions as the Napa Valley in California, Bordeaux in France or the Barossa Valley in Australia share varietal characteristics with which most wine drinkers can identify.

Some of the aroma and taste characteristics I find in cabernet are cola, leather, eucalyptus, tobacco, mocha, currants, green pepper and green olives. I don’t mean to suggest that every cabernet sauvignon has all of these components, but I can usually detect one or more of them in this world famous wine.

I had the pleasure of conducting just such a tasting recently where cabernets and cabernet blends were tasted blind. The blends are wines with cabernet and/or other traditional Bordeaux blending grapes (merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec).

This tasting consisted of six wines hailing from California, Bordeaux, Chile, Argentina and Australia. To make sure I was unaware of the order of the wines, I asked a person not in the tasting to bag and number the ones we were going to sip.

The wines ranged in price from around $11 to $35 a bottle and I asked the assembled group of wine lovers to taste each wine against all of the others and then to rate them. You may be surprised to know that the number one rated wine was far from the most expensive. In addition, I can honestly say that I would buy any of the wines we tasted and be happy with them.

So what were the wines and the results? Well, I’ll list the wines, but you’ll have to conduct your own tasting to determine which you prefer. After all, that’s what wine appreciation is all about – your preference after careful consideration. Incidentally, all the wines are readily available in wine shops around the state.

The wines tasted blind (in alphabetical order): 2007 El Portillo Cabernet – Argentina ($14); 2003 Falcor Le Bijou – Napa Valley ($32); 2007 Guenoc Victorian Claret – California ($15); 2006 Larose De Gruaud – St. Julien, Bordeaux ($35); 2006 Marques De Casa Concha Cabernet - Chile ($19); 2007 McWiliams Hanwood Estate Cabernet – Australia ($11).

Let me know what you think of the wine (s).

Wine is an acceptable water substitute !

Over the millennia, wine has proved to be an able and essential substitute for water. The Romans would regularly send troopers to plant vines and make wine years in advance of their invading armies to insure that they would have a safe and plentiful supply of wine (which is comprised mainly of water).

Remember the Biblical parable about the wedding feast where the attendees very quickly drank up all the hooch and one very special guest saved the day by changing large vats of water into wine?

Well, several years ago , I was a judge– now get this – at a water contest. Seven hours of drinking and judging municipal tap water, bottled water and sparkling water left my indelicate stomach even more distended than normal. Between frequent trips to the restroom, I longed for a miracle similar to the one performed 2000 years ago.

But really folks…. the town of Berkley Springs in the Eastern Panhandle puts on a first-class event that not only showcases waters from around the world, but also provides visitors with a hospitable experience second to none.

In a former life where I had the privilege of promoting West Virginia tourism, the good folks of Berkley Springs were a passionate group, always touting the virtues of the town, the springs and water that have made the place a magnet for weary travelers for hundreds of years.

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Bubbles for the New Year!

It’s almost 2010 wine lovers! As you get ready to toast the New Year, I have some last minute sparkling suggestions to help you celebrate the end of the first decade of the new millennium in style.

Sparkling wine and Champagne are delicious and appropriate wines to sip as you bring in the New Year and today I’ll share with you some of my favorite bubbly picks. While many sparkling wines are made in the Champagne method, none can be called by that famous moniker unless they are produced from grapes grown in region of Champagne in northern France.
If you recall, the Champagne method (or methode champenoise) is a process where still wines (traditionally pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier) are blended and then put in a bottle to which yeast and a small amount of sugar are added. This causes the wine to go through a secondary fermentation and the result  is a bubbly wine like Champagne.While Champagne is regarded as the gold standard, many other countries produce excellent sparkling wine using this method.
So here are a few of my favorites you might consider sipping New Year’s Eve and any time you get a hankering for a little bubbly:
Champagne under $40:  Perrier Jouet Grand Brut; Moet & Chandon Imperial; Veuve Clicquot Brut; and Michel Arnould Grand Cru Brut.
Sparkling wines under $25: 2005 Domaine Carneros Brut; Vigna Dogarina Prosecco; Roderer Anderson Valley Brut; 2005 Vilarnau Brut Nature (Spain); Parxet Cuvee 21; Domaine Chandon Brut Rose; and Gloria Ferrer Brut.

Happy New Year!!

Some wines (and stuff) for your holiday gift giving

Well, here we are again faced with that most enjoyable of all dilemmas: what wine to get for that loved one, friend or you this holiday season.


Normally, the pressures of holiday shopping are both frustrating and exceedingly difficult for me, but not when it comes to wine gifting!  Why?  Well, for me, securing a quality selection of top wines for the holidays is a labor of love and today I’ll share my top picks that should meet just about every budget.  


Let’s start, though, with some non-vinous gift recommendations for those in need of wine accoutrements (that’s French for “stuff”), or other goodies that are not liquid.   

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Sippin’ wine older than Howdy Doody!

Sippin’ wine older than Howdy Doody!

After rummaging around my very disorganized cellar for a suitably mature wine to pair with a celebratory meal, I came upon a bottle  which had obviously been lying in repose for quite some time. After blowing the dust off the label, I was incredulous to discover that the wine was a 1947 Borgono Barolo!


Say what?  That’s older than … Howdy Doody! (By the way, there is no truth to the rumor that Howdy Doody was the illegitimate result of a union between Little Orphan Annie and Pinocchio).


Anyway, it turns out my brother, who had prompted me to look in that particular area of the cellar and with whom I share a passion for the fruit of the vine, had years before slipped the Barolo into a nook instead of a cranny, and I was unaware I possessed this museum piece.   

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Thanksgiving WineBoy Picks

When I was growing up, one of our faithful family traditions involved enthusiastic discourse around the holiday dinner table. To the rare outsiders who were infrequently invited to our large family repasts, the decibel level of this “enthusiasm” must have been a bit disconcerting.


No subject was too grand, obscure or off limits. We would debate everything from presidential elections to the color of Aunt Agnes’ moustache, and those who prevailed usually did so through din rather than  eloquence.


So in keeping with family tradition, my brother and I have debated for decades the best wines to pair with Thanksgiving dinner. After exhaustive and sometimes heated discussions, we have come to the conclusion that almost every wine can marry nicely with some part of the Turkey Day meal.   Why? Listen up.

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How to conduct a wine tasting and FAQ’s on wine

One of the small pleasures of my life is conducting wine tastings. I really enjoy imparting information to eager learners, and wine lovers are perfect students. You ask good questions, are usually very attentive and truly want to learn more about the wine you drink.

My tastings go something like this: I’ll usually give you a short history of wine and then demonstrate how to get the most out of the tasting by teaching you how to use your senses to fully appreciate wine.  

Think in terms of the ‘five S.’s of wine appreciation: (1) sight – observe the wine and judge its clarity, color, etc; (2) swirl- rotate the wine in the glass to unlock the flavor and aroma; (3) sniff – place your proboscis deeply into the glass and smell and try to describe what you are smelling; (4) sip – my favorite part of the tasting where you roll the wine around in your mouth allowing it to touch all the surfaces; (5) swallow – judge the impressions the wine leaves when you swallow it.

Generally, a wine tasting will consist of examining six or seven wines beginning with lighter and sweeter wines and moving to fuller-bodied and dryer ones. Tasters should receive about one ounce of each wine so the total amount you drink over the course of the tasting approximates one full glass of wine.  

Tasters are encouraged to critically examine the color as well as the aroma and taste of each wine, and to render an opinion as to what they liked or disliked about a particular bottle.

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Sippin’ and suppin’ in Italy - Part II -

Sippin’ and suppin’ in Italy - Part II -

Our wine and food exploration of Italy continued in the Piemonte region and later included a brief, but memorable, stay in Tuscany where we were treated to a delicious multi-course lunch with accompanying wines at a renowned Brunello Di Montalcino producer.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Back at base camp (La Cascina Del Monastero), Velda Grasso and her winemaker husband Pepe (short for Giuseppe) not only provided us with excellent accommodations and spectacular dining recommendations, they also prepared and served us (and eight other lucky guests) a seven - course, seven wine gourmet dinner one evening.

Pepe’s wines, which include Arneis, Dolcetto, Barbera, two Barbaresco’s, Barolo and a delicious Moscato with dessert, were lovely accompaniments to the food. Velda’s menu consisted of:  antipasti with local cheeses and salami, bruscetta with fresh tomatoes and herbs, lasagna with four cheeses, Italian wedding soup, sautéed rice balls with fontina, porchata (roast pork) with porcini mushroom sauce and hazel nut cake with a poached pear.

(Check out the Cascina's website at You can also get great advice on lodging, restaurants and wineries on your next trip to Italy by going to dinner, our intrepid group moved to the terrace to watch the stars and sip Pepe‘s Grappa. For those of you unfamiliar with Grappa, it is the Italian equivalent of “moonshine” that is made from the pomace (pressings) of fermented grapes.  While Pepe’s elixir was smooth and (too) easy to drink, I’ve had the misfortune of sipping Grappa that could have been used as rocket propellant.Groggy, but undeterred, we set off the next morning for a visit to one of Piemonte’s most respected wineries, Prunotto.   Prunotto was established by the family of the same name in the 1920’s and sold to the Tuscan Antinori Winery in 1989. Prunotto‘s winery is located in the hub town of the Barolo and Barbaresco region – Alba.

Cellars at PrunottoWhile Prunotto features the full line of Piemonte wines, two that are worth seeking out are the 2005 Barbera D’Asti and the 2004 Bric Turot Barbaresco.  The former is bursting with bright cherry fruit,  is well balanced and would be a wonderful partner to pasta with a putanesca sauce (featuring tomatoes, garlic, olives and red pepper flakes). The Barbaresco is a single vineyard wine that has aromas of dried flowers and sour cherries with loads of rich, ripe black currant flavors that beg to be paired with roasted pork.

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Wine and food events in November

Before I regale you with more juicy details of my Italian trip, I thought I’d let you know about some upcoming wine and food events you may wish to get on your calendar.

Spanish Wine Dinner

The Wine Shop at Capitol Market and the Bluegrass Kitchen are teaming up to present a Spanish-themed gourmet wine dinner. The event will be held at the Bluegrass Kitchen on Monday, November 2 and will feature food prepared by Chef Gary Needham.    Wines will be introduced and presented by Felipe Gonzales Gordon who will be representing his family's winery Gonzales Byass.

With its origins dating back to 1835, Gonzalez Byass has no shortage of rich history in wine making.  In addition to the five course, five wine meal, guests will be served a sparkling wine aperitif and appetizer and will be entertained throughout the evening by classical Latin guitarist Eduardo Canelon.  Seating is limited for this meal and reservations must be made in advance through the Wine Shop.  Call for prices and reservations at 304.343.9463

 Canaan Valley Resort Wild and wonderful Wine and Food Weekend

Once again, I will be working with the fine folks at Canaan Valley Resort for another Wild and Wonderful Wine Weekend in the Mountains next month.  Join other wine and food revelers on November 13-15 for an entertaining and educational gourmet extravaganza. I’ll select wines from around the world that will be paired with a cornucopia of culinary delicacies prepared Canaan Valley Resort’s executive chef Nemat Odeh classically trained in Europe.

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My trip to Italia - Part I

My trip to Italia - Part I

I’ve travelled a few times to that ancient and venerable land of vines and wines we call Italy, but I had never explored one of that country’s most heralded regions, Piemonte. In the next two blogs, I will recount my visit to Piemonte as well as my short stay in the region of Tuscany. 

Nestled in the northwest corner of the Italy and in the shadow of the Alps, Piemonte is home to perhaps the most revered of all Italian wines – Barolo.  It is also the region where the equally esteemed Barbaresco is produced, as well other excellent reds such as barbera and dolcetto.  The main white of the region is the delicate arneis, a grape producing  a delightfully fresh and dry wine which  sometimes has just a touch of frizzante or sparkle. Some wineries also produce chardonnay in a style reflecting Burgundy more than the new world.

After a flight from Rome to Milan, we rented a car and travelled the 100 miles toward the village of La Morra where we had booked rooms in an “agriturismo.”   An agriturismo is a farm or historical edifice that has been restored and converted into a lodging facility. The one we chose, Cascina Del Monastero, is actually a working winery.

This  16th Century farm house was inhabited by Benedictine friars for three centuries and now has ten large suites which are tastefully decorated.  The farm became a winery in 1926 when the current owner’s grandfather purchased it.  Giuseppe and Velda Grasso were our hosts for our four day stay and are really warm and accommodating folks.

 Vineyards above Cascina Del Monastero

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Back from Italia!

Hey friends and neighbors, WineBoy here.  Just back from ten days in Italia where I tried to break the Garibaldi Book of World Records for consumption of food and wine.  One look at my dirigible-like countenance and you will agree I must have been a finalist in this gustatory competition.

Anyway, I hope to have a few words to share with you soon on my travels and the spectacular array of wine and food I experienced in both Piemonte and Tuscany. As you may know, Piemonte (which is in northwest Italy) is known for its famous Barolo and Barbaresco while Tuscany is home to Chianti and Brunello Di Montalcino among other fine wines.

Both regions boast some of the best foods prepared anywhere on Mother Earth and I did my best to sample them with flagons of the local wines. In fact, I arrived in Piemonte in the middle of the red wine harvest and at the beginning of white truffle season.

 So stay tuned over the next few days for a report on my travels to wine and food heaven!


Spicy turkey roll-ups, big reds just the right meal for fall

Fall is a time of transition and I’m going to get a head start on autumn food and wine by preparing one of my all time favorite fall meals.


 It is no real surprise, then, that most of us move from the light wines of summer such as riesling, rose’, sauvignon blanc, and pinot grigio to fuller-bodied red varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and syrah.


My idea of culinary Nirvana, as I have noted in this space before, is to match full-flavored, spicy foods such as stews, pot roasts and stuffed meats with big, juicy reds.  Today, I am going to share a recipe with you that will be enhanced by any of the above-mentioned wines.  Oh, by the way, this dish is absolutely delicious, particularly if you can tolerate a good dose of garlic and a little heat.  

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Wine and food events

Wine friends mark your calendars and start your palates for the following food and wine events around our fair state.


The Tamarack Foundation Gala, “Hats Off to the Arts!” at the Tamarack Conference Center in Beckley on Saturday, Sept. 19, from 6 to 9 p.m. will feature West Virginia foods on its extensive menu.

Tamarack Chef Jamie Henderson and his team of Greenbrier-trained chefs are saluting West Virginia’s protein, produce and food products from hors d’oeuvres at the reception to the dessert bar at the end of the evening.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to showcase West Virginia’s creative small businesses and entrepreneurs,” said Tamarack Foundation Executive Director Sally Barton.  “It’s great for us to give guests at the gala an opportunity to discover some wonderful local foods as well as fine arts and crafts.”

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A tasting of 30 year old zinfandel. What’s the verdict?

A tasting of 30 year old zinfandel. What’s the verdict?

Benjamin Disraeli was famously quoted as proclaiming: "The magic of first love is our ignorance that it can never end."

With all due respect to the late and esteemed Mr. Disraeli, I must say that I disagree, particularly when it comes to wine. The first grape I ever had the pleasure of making into wine more than 30 years ago was zinfandel.  And even though the resulting  liquid  was so over-oaked that it resembled toasted wood more than  it did wine, I still love zinfandel (made by professionals)  to this day.

As I have noted in this space before, zinfandel is the Rodney Dangerfield of red wines. It certainly doesn’t get any respect and even though many enjoy it, very few people want to take it home to dinner.  Why?  Well, the truth is that zinfandel has an identity problem.  In fact, it has multiple identities.  Are you listening, Dr. Freud?

The grape is so versatile that winemakers make it in a variety of styles. From white to blush, from light    to  medium -bodied, from  full-bodied to purple monster, zinfandel can be a confusing wine to buy and, unless you are familiar with the style made by a particular winery, it is difficult to match it with food.

The other problem comes from some wine critics who have declared that, while zinfandel  has some utility and can be a pleasant quaff, it really cannot be taken seriously because it does not age gracefully.  Since it does not benefit from extended cellaring (they proclaim), it should be drunk within the first few years after bottling.

I won’t deny that zinfandel – and almost every red and white wine produced on this planet – is best consumed within a few years after being made. However, I can attest to the fact that zinfandel does indeed age well and can be gracefully transformed into a multi-layered, subtle and complex wine - descriptors which are customarily reserved to describe revered  old Bordeaux.

How can I make such a claim?  Read on.

To honor this much maligned varietal and to test just how well (or not) zinfandel can age, some zin- fanatics (and yours truly) put together a vertical, blind tasting of zinfandel produced from 1974 through 1982.

There were 11 wines in the tasting (ranging in age from 27 to 35) and all were placed in paper bags to hide their labels. The zinfandels were:  1974 through 1980 Sutter Home (Amador County);   1980 Grgich Hills (Alexander Valley); 1980 Burgess (Napa); and 1981 and 1982 Grgich Hills (Sonoma County).

While the cellar conditions where the wines were stored could not be described as perfect, they were reasonably good. My wines had been aged on their sides in a dark and vibration free area of the cellar that has consistent temperature and humidity.   My good friend and wine aficionado, Andy MacQueen, had contributed wines too and his cellar conditions were similar to mine.

The wines had been allowed to sit upright for a week prior to the tasting to make sure all the sediment would fall to the bottom.  Just before the tasting, I carefully decanted the wines one by one into a carafe and immediately poured them back into the bottles which had been quickly rinsed to dispose of the sediment.  I also inserted the corks back in the bottles to prevent any further oxidation.

So with an assembled group of anxious and anticipatory wine geeks all fired up and ready, we got down to some serious sipping and evaluating.  Of the 11 wines, four were deemed by the group to be “over the hill” and virtually undrinkable. Those were the 1980 Burgess and 1976, 1978 and 1980 Sutter Home.  The remaining seven wines were all very drinkable and a couple of them were amazingly complex.

Some of the notes from the tasters described these varied and diverse attributes:  ‘tack room and teaberry mint aromas; coffee, cola and spicy cherry flavors; licorice, mint and tea notes;  silky, rich, subtle; and  minty, sweet fruit, layered flavors.’

The consensus favorite was the amazing 1974 Sutter Home Amador County. I described it as “a wine with leather and teaberry mint aromas, silky tannins, rich, sweet cola flavors and remarkable length – a wine with another five or more years of life.”  The 1975, 1977 and 1979 Sutter Home along with the 1980 Grgich Hills were also delicious examples of how well zinfandel can age.

No,  I’m not suggesting that you wait 30 or more years to replicate my tasting to determine if zinfandel can age as well as Bordeaux.   You just need to go out and experience today’s zinfandel, a wine  that is chock full of spicy, minty, jammy, blackberry flavors . And you’ll be amazed at how well zin goes with just about any full-flavored dish.

However, I have to admit it does my hillbilly heart good to prove that the prevailing view among the wine cognoscenti (regarding zinfandel’s inability to age well) is just one more de-bunked myth!

Pushing the envelope: white wine and barbecue

Do you find yourself burdened with a plethora of outdoor chores this weekend? With the heat index reaching Death Valley levels, those grass cutting, weed eating honey-do’s will sap the last lick of energy from your seriously dehydrated body. Thirst is a terrible thing and so in weather like this, one needs – above all else – to force fluids (I’m pretty good at this), limit outdoor activities (golf and fishing don’t count) and spend as much time as possible indoors.


The fact that I won’t be leaving the house, though, doesn’t mean I won’t be preparing a delicious barbecue meal. In fact, I plan on doing a brisket of beef that I will slather with some of wineboy’s own sweet and sour barbecue sauce or “mop” (see recipe below). I’ll accompany the barbecue with creamy cole slaw and  a baked macaroni and (four) cheese casserole that’s flavored with chipotles in adobo sauce (you’ll find cans of these fiery little goodies  at many supermarkets).


So, how will I accomplish this feat without beating feet outdoors?  Simple.  I’ll use a pre-cooked and smoked brisket that you can find at some grocery stores or at Sam’s Club. I know, I know…It’s almost un-American to call this shortcut barbecue, but it is a pretty good alternative to subjecting my feeble bones to the very real possibility of heat stroke.

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