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

A tasty Rioja and some special wine and food events

A superb wine for your sipping pleasure: 

2005 Ramon Bilbao Rioja ($15) – I love the wines of Rioja in northern Spain and this special 100 percent tempranillo is a real stunner! With 14 months in oak, the wine has a nose of vanilla, leather and cola. On the palate, bright, ripe cherries give way to a rich, round, toasty mouthful of Rioja that lingers on the finish.  You need to try this wine with roasted meat such as tenderloin of pork which has been rolled in rosemary, garlic, crushed black pepper, sea salt and olive oil.

Wine and Food Events 

Join the good folks at Bridge Road Bistro on Tuesday, April 21st for a reception and special dinner featuring the wines of France.  Olivier Lotterie of Vineyard Brands will describe the wines which have been specially selected to match the multi-course meal.

The reception begins at 6 p.m. followed immediately by dinner. Cost of the dinner is $69 (plus tax and gratuities) per person. To make reservations, call the Bistro at 304-720-3500. 
 Canaan Wine Weekend 

Just about every six months, I have the pleasure of participating in and presenting at a wine weekend event at Canaan Valley Resort in the mountains of wild and wonderful West Virginia.  The fourth version of this mountain gourmet extravaganza will take place May 8th and 9th at the lodge on the grounds of the Tucker County state park.

I’ll select wines from around the world that will be paired with a cornucopia of culinary delicacies prepared by Canaan Valley Resort’s executive chef Nemat Odeh.  Chef Odeh, who received his culinary training in Europe, knows a thing or two about food and is also adept at working with wine – and picky wine guys like me. 
Here’s the schedule: Friday,  May 8 at 7 p.m.: Guests will kick-off the weekend with a "taste-around reception" where  more than 20 wines from the world's most prestigious regions can be sampled with matching culinary treats, including crab cakes, beef tenderloin, smoked salmon, pasta, a raw bar, desserts  and other treats.  This wine and food “graze around” is a wonderful way to evaluate wine with food. In fact, I always seem to experience a wine and food “epiphany moment” at these informal taste arounds.  
The next day at 11a.m., yours truly will conduct an educational wine tasting and seminar followed by a delicious luncheon with specially selected wines. Chef Odeh will then conduct a nutrition and culinary demonstration after which guests can enjoy an afternoon of activities or take a nap and get ready for evening ahead.  
Saturday evening’s activities begin at 7 p.m. with the multi-course Grand Gourmet Dinner with accompanying wines.  The menu includes Lobster Martini, Tabouilli Salad in a Cucumber Boat, Duck Cake with Tomato Lavender Marmalade, Steamed Pacific Cod with Napa Roasted Tomatoes, Braised Veal Shank with Morel Mushroom Risotto, and Baked Alaska with Huckleberry Puree.

Guests have the option of attending the entire weekend for a package price, or choosing to participate in individual events ala carte. For pricing and additional information or reservations call 800-622-4121.  I hope to see some of you at this great event.

Wine By the Rules

My good friend Rich Ireland , author of the eminently informative “Beers To You”  blog,  is a passionate proponent of all aspects of the stuff of which he writes.   Not satisfied  that he has almost single-handedly improved the number, quality and  availability of craft beers in the state, he also insists that we (and those who serve us) observe proper suds etiquette.  

In fact, his recent blog taking to task one of my favorite area  restaurateurs  for having the audacity  to serve beer in an iced tea glass got me thinking.  I should probably be more observant and critical regarding  the myriad wine-related faux pas committed each day by well-intentioned, but under- educated, wine lovers.

However, I must admit, when it comes to following rules of etiquette, I am a swine.  Just ask my wife.  In my rush to experience the sensory pleasures of certain liquids, I sometimes take shortcuts that might be as egregious a sin as eating with my bare hands. But, as someone who has served time in Catholic school, I am a great believer in redemption.

 So, from now on, I hereby give fair warning that I will be on the lookout for those of you in my line of sight who do not observe the rules (see below) of proper wine etiquette.

Rule #1 – Never drink from a wine skin that is made from the following animals:  anacondas; skunks; wombats; flying squirrels (still on endangered list); frogs; coyotes; muskrats; aardvarks; ring-tailed lemurs; porcupines; llamas; or hyenas. The best wine skins are still made from mature sheep by celibate shepherds.

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Valpolicella on steroids!

My brother-in-law (let’s just call him Uncle Bunk)  is a really good guy. I say this with conviction and affection because, in addition to his winning personality, good humor and great character (and believe me he is a great character), he occasionally surprises me with gifts of wine.  And I ask you:  what better measure of character is there? Anyway, several years ago Uncle Bunk presented me with bottle of wine that, to this day, remains one of my “go to” reds when I need something I can count on to compliment the full flavored or heavily seasoned foods that regularly grace the table in my home.Some of you who have read my vinous tomes over the years know of my fondness for full-flavored purple zins. However, you might be surprised to find out zinfandel is not the wine to which I refer.   No, that wine would be Valpolicella!  Valpolicella? you ask incredulously.  Yes, but not just any Valpolicella.  I’m talking about Valpolicella on steroids and made in the ripasso (or ripassa) method.   Valpolicella is located in northeastern Italy’s Veneto region and has, along with its neighbor Soave, gotten very little respect from the wine cognicenti. In recent years, that has changed and now both regions have begun to produce some exceptional wines. And while we’re talking today about Valpolicella, you might try the Gini Soave Classico ($17), a round and rich white that is nicely balanced and would make a great accompaniment to baked flounder stuffed with lump crabmeat. But I digress.    Valpolicella is made from corvina, rondinalla and molinara  grapes, all of which produce light to medium-bodied red wines that can be very pleasant quaffs.  Valpolicella becomes something more, though, when a process called ripasso  is employed during the wine making process. First though, it is necessary to tell you about Amarone which is like ripasso's bigger brother.

Amarone is produced from the same Valpolicella blend, but instead of taking the grapes from the vineyard to the crusher, the little buggers are put in buildings and on trays and allowed to shrivel up and dry out like raisins.This exercise increases the sugar content so that the resulting wine is a powerful, dark and very alcoholic brute that is then aged in wood for a couple of years before it is bottled.  Amarone usually costs between $50 and $100 and is one of the most unique wines I’ve ever tasted. To make a ripasso, new Valpolicella wine is refermented by combining it with the pressings or pomace from the Amarone, and sometimes with the addition of dried 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. Their ripasso is called Campofiorin and is still among my favorites. So how was I introduced to this lovely elixir? Well, it turns out that Uncle Bunk – who is quite the world traveler and bon vivant – took his lovely bride to Verona to visit the apocryphal home where Romeo met Juliet.As luck would have it, the Bunkster’s amorous advances later that evening were not repelled, due in large measure to the quantity of ripasso consumed by the love birds. I’m grateful for Romeo, er…Uncle Bunk’s night of ecstasy in Verona because it  prompted him to present me with a bottle of Allegrini Pallazo Della Torre on his return from Italy.  To this day, I find it difficult to pass up the latest vintage of ripasso. The wines are just shy of the intensity of zinfandel, with ripe, dark plum and blackberry flavors and with balancing acidity that makes them excellent food wines. Just this past week, I opened up a bottle of 2005 Zenato Ripassa ($22) to accompany the beef short ribs I had braised in red wine. Spectacular! In addition to Masi, Allegrini and Zenato, other ripasso producers to look for are Bertani, Tommasi, Farina, Righetti and Mazzi.  You should be able to find some of these wines around the state and, if not, you should ask your wine shop to order them.  Most are priced between $15 and $25 a bottle.   

Spring forward to white wine!

Lately, I seem to be on a white wine tear.  Maybe it’s because I feel that sipping a nice, refreshing white will hasten the approach of spring, or maybe I’m just tired of the plethora of ponderous reds I’ve been drinking lately. Whatever the reason, I have had the delightful experience of tasting more than a few excellent whites recently, and that’s put a smile on this haggard face.

It started with a glass of 2007 Liberty School Chardonnay ($15) at Soho’s a couple of weeks ago. Liberty School (formerly the second label of Caymus) has always been a reasonably priced wine, and this chardonnay was more creamy than tropical fruit driven, making it a good match to my slab of gorgonzola-stuffed chicken. 
Next, as is often my custom, I was rooting around the cellar for a white sipping wine to enjoy before the obligatory red with dinner when I came upon a bottle of 2006 Oxford Landing Viognier ($14) from

Since this wine was almost three years old, I was a little concerned that it might have lost the apricot, honeysuckle and melon flavors that were the most impressive features of this bottle. However, while the fruit component of the wine had mellowed out a bit, the flavors actually seemed even more intense.  I liked it so much I forgot about the red and finished the bottle over dinner – with a little help from my wife of course. By the way, viognier makes an excellent aperitif wine and it does quite well with Asian dishes that feature a little heat.
The next white to please this jaded palate was presented to me at one of Bluegrass Kitchen’s Tuesday evening wine flight tastings.  Wine enthusiast Gary Thompson and Bluegrass owner Keeley Steele were offering a flight of New Zealand wines that night and I was truly impressed with the 2007 Villa Maria Riesling ($18).
 From New Zealand’s Marlborough district, this off-dry style riesling (that means just slightly sweet) is a wine with loads of citrus and melon flavors, an underlying minerality and bracing, but balanced, acidity. I liked it so much I ordered another glass to accompany my porcini-crusted Puget Sound halibut the restaurant was highlighting that evening.
Is your mouth watering yet?  Well, hang on because the next wine I’m about to describe is about as true to its style as is earthly possible. 
I believe it’s fair to say that not many of us drink white Bordeaux on a regular basis. However, I think you might be willing to add these lovely wines to your shopping list if you give the 2007 Chateau Graville-Lacoste  ($21)a try.  Why? Well, first of all 2007 was an excellent vintage for white Bordeaux. The customary grapes used to produce the wine are semillon and sauvignon blanc with just a touch of muscadelle.
In addition, this particular wine typifies the best of what you can expect from white Bordeaux. While hints of grass and citrus are evident in the aroma (typical of sauvignon blanc), the wine has very complex flavors of anise, melon and minerals when you put it in your mouth. That’s the effect of semillon – an under used and under appreciated white grape that I really love.
The Graville-Lacoste is restrained, yet it has ripe fruit flavors and is perfectly balanced. I paired it with roasted North Atlantic cod that had been seasoned with lemon, butter and just a touch of truffle salt. 
I think spring has arrived!

There’s more to Beaujolais than Nouveau!

I bet when most folks think of Beaujolais, they think of that frothy, grapy new wine called Beaujolais Nouveau that is released with great fanfare in France each year around the middle of November.

Beaujolais Nouveau is a fun wine full of fresh strawberry fruit flavors (it’s only about two months old when it arrives) that is more a celebration than an exercise in fine wine drinking.  Most Nouveau is relatively inexpensive (around $10 to $15 a bottle) and is meant to be drunk within the year after bottling. 

In the last decade or so, importers have gotten Nouveau to the US within a day or two of its release in France, and so now we Americans also celebrate the “new” wine. In fact, a few local wine shops have Beaujolais Nouveau “barrel” tastings each November.

Today I’ll tell you about the other Beaujolais wines that, while less known, are considered far superior to Nouveau. Don’t get me wrong. I really do enjoy Beaujolais Nouveau in all its frothy, fruity glory. However, I think most folks don’t realize there are also some serious wines being made in this region just to the south of Burgundy.

Beaujolais is produced from a grape called gamay. Gamay is a lighter pigmented red grape that, when allowed to soak for extended periods on its skins, can produce a medium and, in some rare instances, full bodied wine.

Beaujolais lies just south of the Macon region of Burgundy. From there, it descends south along a 34-mile stretch of rolling hills and ends near the famous Rhone wine region of Cote Rotie.  In addition to Beaujolais Nouveau, you will see wines labeled Beaujolais, Beaujolais Superior or Beaujolais Villages and these can be decent to very good wines. While I do enjoy these wines, the best of Beaujolais are much more serious wines and some can actually improve with bottle age for up to ten years. 

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Navigating the wine economy: Abstinence is not the answer!

In this depressing economy, where certain staples of existence such as food, fuel and shelter have all become more affordable, I have not yet seen a comparable drop in the price of wine. 

Oh, believe me, I am out searching the hinterlands each day for affordable sippers so you and I can continue to enjoy a glass of wine with our mac &cheese at the end of the work day.  But it’s not easy.

In ruminating about ways of economizing the wine budget, I’ve decided to suggest  several wine categories  for you to explore (according to price) in the hope  you’ll be able to find a wine to suit your palate and wallet too. So, here goes.

Vino Jigundo

First (and perhaps least appealing) would be to search the jugs, boxes and wine skins for the large volume products that are something more than colored water with the addition of grain alcohol.  I’m no snob, but most of this mass-produced plonk is,  at best, unappealing.

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Falcor Winery: Charleston’s Napa Valley connection

Falcor Winery: Charleston’s Napa Valley connection

It’s not often many of us can have our dreams come true, but that’s pretty much the case for two Charleston lawyers whose love of wine has morphed from a passionate hobby to another full-time occupation.

While Mike Bee and Jim Petersen (at right) won’t be giving up their day jobs any time soon, the two local residents are spending a considerable amount of time in their second jobs as owners of a boutique Napa Valley Winery – Falcor. 

As enthusiastic wine lovers and regular visitors to California’s North Coast wine country, Bee and Petersen decided to take the plunge and start their own winery. After visiting Napa and talking to many people in the trade, the men were encouraged to modify their idea of building a full-fledged winery and begin their foray on a more modest scale.  
First they set about finding the right wine maker. A mutual friend introduced them to   Ray Coursen, then the winemaker at Napa Valley’s Whitehall Lane and now owner of Elyse Winery who agreed to take on the task.  Coursen is not only a fine wine maker, but is also familiar with many of Napa’s finest vineyards and is able to procure fruit from them for his (and Falcor’s) wines.
Their first wine was a 1996 full-bodied style Napa Valley Chardonnay. Mike and Jim were very pleased with the result and that led to a stable of limited production  wines (about 500 cases for each varietal) including two chardonnays, sangiovese, syrah, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, Le Bijou ( a Bordeaux-style blend), cabernet franc and a rose.
Mike’s son, Ryan, is now Falcor’s general manager and, in addition to his day-to-day duties, he oversaw the building of Falcor’s new winery and up-scale tasting room which opened last summer in the town of Napa. If you’re in the area, you can visit the winery at 2511 Napa Valley Corporate Drive, Suite 115 for a tasting of the wines. 
While Falcor wines are available at wine shops and fine restaurants throughout the state and the southeastern US, you may also order wines directly from the winery by calling 888-402-9463 or visiting the website at
I have reviewed a few of their wines in the past and today I’ll give you my impressions of the latest releases from Falcor.
2005 Durrell Vineyard Chardonnay ($42) – Grapes for this rich, full-bodied wine come from the Durrell vineyard in Sonoma County where renowned wineries Kistler and Patz & Hall also source their fruit. This wine shows flavors of ripe pear and creamy vanilla and will benefit from two to three years of bottle age. Try it with chicken cordon bleu or Chilean sea bass.
2005 Sangiovese ($35) – This Napa Valley wine is comprised of 88% sangiovese and 12% cabernet sauvignon. Medium-bodied, it is brick red in color and full of bright cherry and cinnamon flavors with a lingering finish. Excellent balance insures it will continue to improve over the next five years, but would be a great pairing now with a roasted veal chop.
2004 Syrah ($32) – Also from Napa, this wine has dark, juicy plum flavors with a hint of toasty oak. Stylistically, it reminds me of a big Barossa Shiraz and would marry nicely with marinated and grilled leg of lamb.
2003 Le Bijou ($40) – This Bordeaux blend of cabernet, cabernet franc, merlot and petit verdot is a symphony of flavors and always a favorite of mine. Complex with tack-room and spicy aromas, the wine has forward fruit and cola nuances and is well balanced. While drinkable now, it too will benefit from further aging. No question of the food match here:  grilled or roasted filet.
2003 Cabernet Franc ($38) – Ripe, rich , blackberry fruit with a touch of anise and toasty oak, this Napa wine is stylistically  more like a Chinon (from the Loire region of France) than a California wine – and that’s a good thing. Drink it with pork tenderloin that has been marinated in lemon juice, olive oil and rosemary and then roasted.
2005 Dry Creek ( Sonoma) Zinfandel ($36) – Like its Dry Creek Valley neighbors A. Rafinelli and Lytton Springs, the Falcor Zin is bursting with blackberry fruit typical of the area. Rounded out with a touch of oak, this wine will benefit from about three more years in the bottle. This wine needs baby back ribs slathered with a Kansas City style sauce.
2003 H. Block Cabernet Sauvignon ($65) – This is a special wine made from grapes grown around the town of St. Helena in the Napa Valley. It is a rich, full-throttle cabernet, but is well balanced with black currant and cola flavors with just a touch of oak. Decant it for an hour if you want to drink it now and serve it with roasted red meat or…with a “death by chocolate” dessert.  

Can anyone make a good chardonnay?

Can anyone make a good chardonnay?

I have to admit, I have been very critical in recent years about how certain winemakers, usually from
California, vinify perhaps the greatest of all white wines - chardonnay. In a word, too many chardonnays are “overdone.”

How? Well, some chardonnay growers allow the grapes to get overripe on the vine which produces not only hot, high alcohol wines, but also ones that lack balancing acidity.  Then, many of these same wines are put in new wood barrels and allowed to absorb huge amounts of oak flavors, completely overwhelming the fruit and producing a wine that doesn’t even resemble something that once actually grew on a vine.

What you’re left with is a beverage that’s about as subtle as “White Lightnin' ” without the benefit of corn liquor’s kick! And forget about matching the stuff with food unless your tastes run to dishes like anaconda and habanero casserole.
Now, I am not the first wine writer to criticize chardonnay made in this bombastic manner, but I may be one of the first to complain about the knee-jerk response to this style by other wine makers.  I refer to them as the ascetic school of chardonnay producers.
These guys have ridden the pendulum to the other extreme, making some of the most austere, acidic and painfully bland chardonnay in a pitiful attempt to capitalize on the criticism with the overblown stuff.
Help!  Is there anyone out there who can restore sanity and a sense of balance to producing this absolutely wonderful wine???
Just when you’re ready to give up on ever enjoying  a chardonnay that actually reaches it’s enormous potential….bam, pow wee.. you taste something that renews your faith in the unpredictability of wine.
So there I was in a restaurant called Frank’s at Pawley’s Island, escaping from the brutal frigidity of
Charleston to bask in the near temperate climes of North Cack-a-lacky when, to my lips, I placed a glass of chardonnay.

Hoakey Smokes! The stuff was subtle, creamy, rich yet balanced, and tasted like the fruit of a grape called… chardonnay!  And no, this was not a $200 bottle of white Burgundy or even some trophy wine from Napa. It is the 2007 ZD (California) Chardonnay.

At about $25 a bottle, the wine has a “California” appellation, meaning that the grapes for it could have come from anywhere in the state – not necessarily a prime location like Carneros or Santa Rita Hills, Napa or Sonoma. 
I drank the wine with grilled grouper and the combination was a testament to the old axiom about the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. What a superb match.    
Lest I be misunderstood, I would not describe the wine as great. It is just very good and very true to the varietal grape – chardonnay – from which it was made.  However, in producing a wine that is the purest essence of chardonnay, ZD deserves kudos. 
Here are some other wineries that seem to produce balanced chardonnay year in and year out:  Chateau Monelena; Talley Vineyards; Acacia; Pine Ridge; Montes Alpha; Merryvale Starmont; and Alamos.
Go get you some!

A Port for the storm of winter

When the ambient air temperature descends below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, I seem to require foods and beverages of substance.  Stews, soups, roasted meats and full flavored cheeses, such as Roquefort and Stilton, grace the table in my humble abode this time of year. 

To accompany these hearty foods, I usually uncork full-bodied wines such as zinfandel, syrah or cabernet sauvignon and, to cap the meal off in style, a glass or two of Port with coffee, nuts or cheeses. While I have written about the glories of Port for you in this space before, it is winter and it just seems an appropriate time for me to visit this tasteful subject again.  
While our per capita consumption of table wine in this country has increased to a respectable level, the volume of Port (or any dessert wine for that matter) consumed in this nation is so small it could fit on a gnat’s eyelash!   
 In fact, most of us have an aversion to any sweet wine because of either  (a) bad personal experiences, or (b) prejudicial views passed on down to us by uninformed know-it-alls  who assert that “only dipsomaniacs or effete snobs drink Port.” 
I’m still trying to forget the night (a few decades ago)  I spent hovering over the “porcelain alter” after consuming an inordinate quantity of a sweet, high alcohol rocket fuel some low-rent winery had the nerve to call Port.  I’m sure some of you have had similar experiences and have vowed never to let the vile stuff pass your lips again.  And you shouldn’t!
But let me suggest that classifying Port and high alcohol, sweet wine as one and the same is like believing turpentine and chardonnay (both of which are white liquids having alcohol as a component) are also the same.
Port or Porto (as it is called in Portugal where it is produced) can be made from a variety of (unpronounceable) red grapes grown along the steep slopes of the Douro River. The river flows toward the town of Oporto where the wine is sold to shipping companies 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 a mainly 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.
Since there are several styles of Port, here is a description of the most common types:
Vintage Port -This is the best and most expensive style and is produced in 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 25 years before reaching full maturity. Recent vintage Port years are   1983, 1986, 1991 and 1992, 1994, 1997, 2000 and 2003.
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 is not vintage Port.  However, this wine is vinified in the same manner as vintage Port, except it is aged in barrel longer to accelerate their drinkablity.

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 – This is my favorite type of 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. I love the caramel flavors ofTawny 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.

Some of the great Port producers to look for are:  Warre’s, Graham’s, Taylor-Fladgate, Croft, Dow’s, Fonseca and Quinta do Noval.  Prices for non-vintage Port typically range    from $10 to $40 a bottle while newly released vintage Ports will cost anywhere from   $40 to 150 each. 

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WineBoy economics 101: recession provides buying opportunities

There is no doubt that we are in a serious economic downturn, and I often ruminate on how these tough times are affecting the wine industry as well as those of us for whom the fruit of the vine is more than just an occasional dalliance.

I suppose there is both good news as well as bad in how the economic crisis is affecting wineries around the globe. The law of supply and demand has always been a major fact of life in the wine world.  When a bad vintage limits supply, prices go up and, conversely, an overabundance of wine drives prices down.

This usual supply and demand principle is now compounded by the world wide recession so, if you have a little disposable income, there are some bargains out there to be had.

You’ve heard me proclaim this before, but there are an incredible number of excellent wines in the $8 to $20 a bottle range if you are willing to do a little reading (like you’re doing right now), extensive shopping and internet research.  

Finding knowledgeable local wine purveyors is also very important. Locally, the folks at the Wine Shop at Capitol Market are excellent at determining what you like and then matching a price and wine for you. You’ll also find help at the Ashton Place Kroger and the Drug Emporium on Patrick Street. The Liquor Company in Patrick Street Plaza also has regular wine tastings and a great selection of wines and spirits.

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Good wine and food: a cure for seasonal affective disorder

Looking for way to pull yourself out of the post-holiday blues? How about some reds…or whites… or some top-notch victuals. Well, listen-up buckaroos because there are some nice wine-related events on the radar screen for the greater Charleston area that should help you beat those winter blues.

Good food and wine always seem to lift my spirits and shine some much needed light on my seasonal affective disorder. The following event lineup is sure to brighten your smile this winter too.  

Bluegrass Kitchen

I’ve really been impressed with Chef Gary Needham who has expanded the offerings at this neat East  End establishment. Bluegrass owner Keeley Steele, along with local wine enthusiast Gary Thompson, are taking things a step further by offering wine flights each Tuesday (beginning Jan. 13th). Flights, for those unfamiliar with the term, refer to a series of wines from a particular region or from a specific varietal grape. This coming week will feature the wines of Spain.

Five wines will be offered, including an Albarino, an old vines grenache and a tempranillo. For an additional price, guests can sample Chef Needham’s tapas specially prepared to accompany the wine. These include chorizo stuffed mussels, paella cake with mole and Spanish cheese toast with olives. Price of the tasting flight is $12 and they begin at 4:30 p.m.

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Wine Resolutions for the New Year

Wine Resolutions for the New Year

Welcome to 2009 wine lovers! Today, I’m taking the pledge! Not to go to the gym or to lose 10 pounds, or to (heaven forbid) limit my consumption of adult beverages.

No siree, I’m resolving to go where no wino has gone before. To explore new galaxies of wine appreciation, to set a course for bacchanalian bliss and to sip the most obscure Romulan elixir! [ED. NOTE: I added at right a shot of some Romulan ale, but don't you think that's Rich Ireland's bailiwick?].  So, get on board, loosen up and be prepared to toss wine convention to the wind.

Okay, so maybe that’s a bit over the top. But I would like to start 2009 off with some New Year’s wine resolutions that you might find some value in too.  Introspection can provide a powerful wake-up call and my wine -related modus operandi reveals that I have fallen into an alarmingly predictable pattern when it comes to the beverage we all love. So here are some vows for the New Year.

1. Drink more white wine with dinner.  I seem to have fallen into a pattern of using white wine almost exclusively as an aperitif to get my palate ready for the “real” (can you spell red?) wine that will accompany that shank of  wolf pancreas I’m having for dinner.

2. Explore the wonderful world of German riesling and pledge to drink these wines with dinner, too. There are two primary problems Americans have with German wine:  1)  the labels on the wines are written in German, a language that seems to require each word to have at least 15 letters; and 2) riesling tends to be sweet and -- some of us think --  sweet wines are for amateurs or for those who prefer to sip their beverages under a bridge.

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Some holiday gifts for the wine lovers in your life

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. I can tell because many of the people I know are calling asking me to suggest a wine gift or two for the special people in their lives.  Even though I probably won’t be considered  “special” enough to benefit from my own advice, I do experience a kind vicarious enjoyment in being a part of this process.

So today, I’ll share with you some gifts I would love to have this holiday season,  and hope that you will pass these ideas along to my family and friends. Of course, depending upon your bank account, you can spend just about as much as you choose on wine and related gifts. However, my budget is not unlimited so we’ll stick with gifts you may acquire for under $100.

Let’s begin with wine.  Here are some bottles that should please the palate of just about every sipper: 2005 Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir ($60) – I have collected wines from this Oregon producer since their first vintage in 1990, and the 2005 Evenstadt is among their best wines yet. If you like earthy, black cherry and mocha flavors overlain with aromas of spice and vanilla, then you’ll love this wine.  The Wine Spectator rated it among the top 100 wines of 2008 and, while the ‘05 Evenstad Reserve is enjoyable today, the balance of this wine will enable it to continue to improve in the bottle for another 10 years.  Match it up with this year’s holiday prime rib roast.

2004 Pio Cesare Barolo ($58) – Pio Cesare is one of the tried and true estates in all of Piedmont (in northwestern Italy) and their 2004 Barolo is a wonderful example of why Barolo is considered one of the greatest wines on the planet. Deep, dark fruit flavors with coffee, mushroom and earthy aromas, this relatively soft (for Barolo) wine will, if consumed now, need to be decanted for at least three hours. However, if you can wait, it will benefit from several more years of bottle age. This would be a wonderful accompaniment to a crown roast of pork sliced and served on top of porcini mushrooms sautéed in olive oil (with a few drops of truffle oil) and seasoned with salt and black pepper.

Rene Coutier Brut Champagne ($48) – This relatively small producer is located in the Grand Cru Champagne village of Ambonnay and this sparkler is a real pleaser. Full of toasty, rich, brioche flavors with a silky texture, this Champagne is a wine you can use as both an aperitif or with a seafood entrée such as mussels cooked in a spicy broth of white wine, garlic and tomatoes.

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Gone, but not forgottten: A tribute (and some holiday wishes) to WineBoy’s webcast friends

As we get closer to the holidays, I’ve become hopelessly nostalgic and, yes, even maudlin. Why? Well, suffice it to say that I yearn for the company of a certain group of friends who’ve left my immediate circle.  And while I will be surrounded by family and other friends this Christmas, I truly miss these special ones that have gone away.

Some of you may remember the WineBoy Webcast that appeared on this site last year. Alas, the show was cancelled after one glorious season.   That’s sad enough, but the loss I feel most is for those five intrepid experts who appeared with me from time to time to present their unique views on wine appreciation.

I speak, of course, of 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 American wine hater) and cowboy oenophile Spud Dumplin.

More...So today, I’ll lift a glass to these unique individuals who, in the past, have provided me with inspiration, advice and, from time to time, a welcome dose of reality as I  attempted to impart a little wine information on the webcast.  Here are some special holiday wishes and my gifts to these very wise men.

To wine astrologist  Marcrazi Umberto Lupini:  May your Christmas be filled with galaxies of shooting stars, a cornucopia of moonbeams, urns of anchovies, and only the most fragrant garlands of garlic and tripe. For you Umberto, I send a special CD “The Vatican’s Greatest Hits” performed by such musical luminaries as Aldo Cella, Lucca Brazzi and Treccy Bungunga (with liner notes by Father Guido Sarducci).

To the (always) Right Reverend Red N. White:  As your preaching reaches a fever pitch this holiday season, I wish you voluminous lung capacity, hordes of cowering congregants and a bevy of beautiful women sitting in the front row (at least ones without facial hair). Your gift, Reverened, will be a Methuselah of Sparky’s Heavenly Elixer and Altar Wine along with 200 new reptile boxes to fit under the pews.

To Sir Reginald Winesot Clydesdale:  May your stables be always muck free, may your upper lip be always stiff and may your trademark whinny and neigh resonate thunderously through the midlands. For you, dear Reginald, I am sending one dozen designer clip-on ascots to conceal your rather prominent (but distinguished) goiter.

To Pierre N’Cest Pas:  My dear Pierre, I hope your holidays are filled with flagons of wine (French, of course), long-legged Pariesan women and the songs of Pepe LePew. I’m sending you a DVD of the movie “Bottle Shock” which memorializes the 1976 Paris blind tasting where an American wine was selected by Frenchmen over a first- growth Bordeaux.  Mon Dieu!

To cowboy oenophile Spud Dumplin:  May you always ride under cloudless skies, may your wine bottles be full and corkless, and may your domestic animals always be well groomed and obedient. Spud, my friend, I am mailing you a copy of Arsenius the Hermit’s famous book:  “If Only Sheep Could Cook.”

Odds and ends and wines to try

Odd n’ ends…As you know, each year around the 15th of November, the first wine of the 2008 vintage from the Beaujolais region in France is released to the public with great fanfare and celebration.That’s right, Beaujolais Nouveau time is upon us and this year’s wine is very good.

In terms of drinkability, Beaujolais Nouveau can be a lively, frothy, strawberry fruit- forward mouthful of wine.  At its best, the wine is a pleasant quaffer that is never meant to be taken too seriously, but rather to be enjoyed and celebrated. Even when the wine is ordinary, it’s still something I look forward to each year.

In cafes and wine shops all around the world, people are buying  Beaujolais Nouveau to toast the new vintage year and to prepare their palates (and wallets)  for the holiday wine-buying season to come. More...If you haven’t yet sipped the 2008 Beaujolais Nouveau, I recommend the Georges Duboeuf ($14). With a mouth-tingling frothiness and aromas of strawberries, this is a very tasty wine that will match up well with an assortment of mild cheeses or a frittata of eggs, Italian sausage and red and green peppers.


Wine and beef lovers should take a trip over to Huntington and sample the goodies at Frankie D’s Italian Chop House. Frankie D’s specializes in using “choice” beef and serves up reasonably priced dishes of you favorite cuts of red meat.  The menu also includes seafood and pasta, along with a martini bar and an extensive wine list.

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Thanksgiving: It’s easy to find the right wine!

Thanksgiving: It’s easy to find the right wine!

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. For years, I have written about the culinary versatility of turkey to be successfully paired with white or red, as well as light or full-bodied wines. The reason is this bird is blessed with meat that has different flavors, colors and textures. Add to this the way it is cooked - from traditional oven-baking, to deep frying, to grilling, to smoking (with hardwood such as apple)  - and you have even more wine choices from which to select. When you add stuffing to the turkey, you add a whole other flavor dimension which, depending upon the nature of the dressing, opens up even more wine possibilities. One year, for example, I stuffed a charcoal grilled turkey with cornbread, ancho chili peppers and chorizo sausage. What wine, you might ask, did I serve with this non-traditional turkey and stuffing?  Well, I started with Domaine Carneros sparkling wine as an aperitif. I proceeded to open a bottle of Pierre Sparr Pinot Gris for those who preferred white wine,  and a Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel for those who wanted a big red. And guess what? It worked. For dessert, I chose a bottle of Joseph Phelps Late Harvest riesling to accompany the  pumpkin pie, and then plopped on the couch to watch some team beat up on the Detroit Lions.Here are a few wine-pairing suggestions, based upon cooking methods, for your Thanksgiving Day:  The traditional oven-roasted turkey with a mild dressing is very nicely accompanied by whites such as pinot grigo, sauvignon blanc or chardonnay, or reds such as pinot noir, chianti classico, or sangiovese. Older wines such as Bordeaux or California cabernet sauvignon go nicely as well. On the other hand, if you smoke or grill your bird, try full-bodied zinfandel, shiraz, Chateauneuf Du Pape or even Amarone.     So what about my approach this year? Well, I plan to stuff  the critter with bread dressing flavored with Italian sausage, chestnuts, onion and celery,  then bake it in the oven.  With this traditional meal, I’ll start with a bottle of Vigna Dogarina Extra Dry Prosecco ($23, at right) for the aperitif, followed by 2007 Baron Fini Pinot Grigio ($14) as well as 2005 Falcor Sangiovese ($35) (which will both be poured with the main course). For dessert with pumpkin pie,  I’ll be blowing my diet with a taste of 2004 Arrowood Late Harvest Riesling ($24).   Since Aunt Agnes shaved her moustache, the only thing left to decide is the subject of the family holiday dinner debate.   Bon Apetit!              

My workout regimen: Exercising restraint is not an option

My workout regimen: Exercising restraint is not an option

Since my days
as a long distance runner are in the rear view mirror, I have had to find a suitable aerobic exercise regimen to forestall the dirigible-like expansion of my midsection.  I am fighting the inevitable losing battle. However,  I am persistent and so I work out feverishly on exercise equipment, sweating profusely so that I can rationalize a lifestyle that only Orson Welles might have considered moderate.
 I feel compelled to mention this because, as you can probably guess, I spend a considerable amount of time thinking about food and wine.  And today, I am going to provide you with a recipe that is so delicious you won’t mind working out just so you can justify having it on a regular basis.             
 Someone once said that necessity is the mother of invention and so, as I rummaged around in the pantry and refrigerator looking for culinary inspiration, I stumbled upon a few ingredients and came up with a delicious meal idea.  I call it Smoky Salmon Pasta.    
The shopping list:
One red bell pepperOne-half cup of chopped cilantro
One clove of chopped garlic
Three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
ne chopped jalapeno pepper
ne-half cup dry white wine
ne-quarter cup of Half-and-Half
One cup of chicken broth
Oone-quarter pound of smoked salmon
One pound of farfalle pasta (bow-ties);
(Salmon Note) You may use any smoked salmon that is readily available, but I prefer to get mine from Joe’s Fish Market in Charleston (304-342-7827). The good folks at Joe’s brine and then “cold smoke" their salmon over apple wood and it is fabulous. It’s also great as an appetizer with a good pinot noir, such as the 2006 Evesham Wood from Oregon. 
Preparing the meal: 
1. Put a fork in the red pepper and roast it over the burner on the stove turning it until the skin begins to blacken. Place the pepper in a small paper bag and allow to sit for about 20 minutes. Then peel it, discard the seeds and chop into half inch pieces.

2. In a large sauté pan, place olive oil, jalapeno and garlic and lightly cook until the veggies are soft. Then add the chicken broth white wine and cook on moderate heat until liquid is reduced by one-third. Remove the pan from the burner and add the red pepper and salmon.

3. Now boil the farfalle in salted water until al dente (about 10 minutes). Place the sauté pan back on the burner, add the pasta, the half and half, season with salt and pepper and toss all ingredients. Now add the cilantro and serve.

Wine Recommendations:
This meal needs a full-bodied white wine. I love it with the Falcor Chardonnay which is a rich, oaky mouthful of wine that marries nicely with the spicy, smoky flavors of the dish. You might also try the L’Ecole No. 41 Semillon from Washington  State which is ripe and round with good balancing acidity.

Canaan Valley gourmet wine weekend

Canaan Valley gourmet wine weekend

Chef Odeh doing his thing at last year's gourmet wine and food weekend
Canaan Valley Resort is planning a “Gourmet Wine Weekend in the Mountains," and I’ll be there to help spread the joy!

Join me and other wine and food lovers on November 14-16 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 by Canaan Valley Resort’s classically trained European executive chef, Nemat Odeh

And the good news is you will have the option of attending the entire weekend, or choosing to participate in individual events ala carte.

The Schedule of Events:

-Fri., Nov. 14, 7 p.m. - A “taste-around reception” where more than 20 wines from the world’s most prestigious regions can be sampled with matching culinary treats, including crab cakes, beef tenderloin, smoked salmon, pasta, a raw bar and other treats.

-Sat. Nov. 15, 11 a.m. – I will conduct an educational wine tasting and seminar where guests will taste and evaluate a number of wines from around the world along with matching cheeses.

-Sat. 12 noon - The tasting will be followed by a delicious three- course luncheon with specially selected wines.

-Sat. 6 p.m. - An aperitif reception featuring a selection of wines to prepare the palate for the multi-course Grand Gourmet Dinner which will follow.

-Sat. 7 p.m. – Chef Odeh is planning an autumn-inspired five-course menu with accompanying wines, featuring Continental cuisine and using only the freshest seasonal ingredients. I will match his goodies with some truly outstanding wines.

For information on pricing or to make a reservation, you may call 800-622-4121 or visit online

Christopher Columbus: The real story

This past week we celebrated the life of a true American hero who braved the high seas to make sure we all have a place to call home. I refer, of course, to Christopher Columbus. As we toast Columbus this week with pasta and flagons of Chianti, you need to know the truth about our intrepid hero and how history was shaped by his love of good wine and food.

Columbus is most commonly thought of as a great explorer, but in reality he was an exceptional pitch man who was desperately trying to get someone to bankroll his questionable idea to find a shorter route to India where he would procure all manner of exotic spices.

Let’s also be honest and admit that as a sailor he was, at best, directionally challenged. Here’s a guy who traveled west to find a quicker route to the east and ended up discovering North…. America.

But Columbus was an unrelenting salesman who spent most of his life trying to convince the powers that be (back then) to underwrite his voyage.  In Italy, he threw party after banquet after bacchanalian feast trying to secure the funds.

As a result of this constant feasting, Columbus became a great gourmand who whose prodigious appetite for food and wine was legendary.  He was also a major pain in the rear for the Italian officials who were constantly bombarded with his proposals.

Finally, he went too far. After suggesting that you could get from Rome to Venice by way of the Caspian Sea, his Italian countrymen banished him to the loony bin, but not before for he had consumed an entire wheel of gorgonzola and washed it down with copious quantities of Frascati.

Undaunted, Columbus then went to Portugal where he lobbied King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. At the conclusion of a six-day orgy, where barrels of  Italian wine were consumed with the finest Portuguese cuisine, the king and queen  agreed, secretly hoping with all their hearts that  he would sail out of their lives and off the end of the world.

The rest, is as they say, history!

You may question the veracity of my story, but if you’ve ever been to Italy, you know the Italians, like Christopher Columbus, take their wine and their food seriously. I do too, and that’s why I think the vast portfolio of Italian wines suit just about every cuisine imaginable.

Unfortunately, most Americans think Italian wines should only be served with Italian foods, particularly the old stand-by of spaghetti in a red sauce. Well, yes, a good barbera (from northern Italy) does pair nicely with this type of pasta, but so does zinfandel, syrah and petite syrah – wines not native to Italy.

Today, I hope to convince you to try the wines of Italy and use them with the foods you eat each day. Italy has been described as a boot full of wine and there is no doubt this ancient and venerable land of friendly people and great food is awash in a sea of white and red. From the Piedmont in the northwest to the island of Sicily in the south, each of Italy’s 20 states makes more wines themselves that most countries produce.

And Italy boasts some of the greatest red wines in the world such as barolo and barbaresco produced in Piedmont from the nebbiolo grape. You will certainly need to decant these wines for hours before drinking and then you will need a full-bodied roasted meat dish, such as venison, to accompany them.

In Tuscany, Brunello Di Montalcino is also considered a great red wine. While the aforementioned barolo and barbaresco are heavy wines, brunello is more subtle, silky and mroe approachable in its youth.  Try it with grilled lamb seasoned with rosemary, garlic, olive oil and lemon.

Everyone has heard of chianti ( a region in Tuscany), but did you know that there is chianti, chianti classico (a delimited area where the best wine is produced) and also chianti classico riserva (which requires the chianti classico to be aged in oak barrels for a specified period of time).  Chianti is made from a combination of grapes, the most prominent of which is sangiovese. Chianti’s go well with roasted and grilled foods like chicken, salmon and portobello mushrooms.

In the northeastern part of the country, pinot grigio and prosecco are the most famous white wines, while chardonnay, cortese di gavi, arneis and gewurztraminer are also produced in the same geographic region.  Try the chardonnay with pasta in creme and butter sauces, the prosecco as an aperitif and the pinot grigio with lighter dishes such as omelets or quiches.

Another superb white wine is made from a grape called vernaccia. Try a Vernaccia Di San Gimignano from Tuscany for a lovely treat that is a nice accompaniment to broiled seafood such as sole or sea bass.  Many other whites, such as frascati, soave, and orvieto, are generally lighter styled wines and can be used as aperitifs or with salads, seafood and vegetable casseroles.

I‘ve barely scratched the surface in telling you about the wines of Italy.  Wines such as amarone, the full-bodied red of the Veneto, aglianico from Campania, primitivo from Apulia or nero d’avola from Sicily are also readily available for your sipping pleasure and can be matched with a wide variety of foods you consume each day.

So, the next time you reach for that bottle of cabernet to accompany your grilled beef tenderloin, grab a bottle of merlot from northern Italy or a nice vino nobile di Montepulciano from Tuscany instead. Salute!

Some Sippers for Fall

Some Sippers for Fall

There's something exhilarating
about Fall. Mother Nature is dishing up the colors, colleges are playing football and wineries (in this hemisphere, at least) are harvesting grapes and making wine.  I love this time of year.  I am amped, and I have been taking action!

In the last month alone, I have:  roasted two bushes of sweet red peppers, crushed 1,000 pounds of grapes, grilled all manner of fish, fowl and cow and consumed enough food and wine to insure an ample supply of blubber to get me through the winter.     

And, dear friends, I have been toiling mightily at the alter of Bacchus -- just for you. This fine Fall day, I have a slew of tasteful recommendations for your consideration.  These little lovelies hail from all over the globe, and are very reasonably priced. I hope you'll give some a try and let me know what you think by posting a comment.

2007 Ancient Peaks Sauvignon Blanc - The aroma has the usual herbal and grassy notes associated with sauvignon blanc, but this one is a surprise because, once you  put it in your mouth, it shows a lively combination of peach and citrus flavors. Good as an aperitif or with lighter foods such as crab cakes.  ($15)

2003 Rentas de Fincas Crianza - Medium-bodied blend of tempranillo and grenache and chock full of forward fruit and spice. Give it a try with grilled chicken basted with kosher salt, black-pepper, olive oil and garlic. ($16)  

2006 Pierre Henri Merlot- Round and rich with nice balance, this is an incredible bargain, and a good bottle of wine from our French friends.  Would be nice with roasted Asian-style pork chops ($9)

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