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

Little Giuseppe: "Sunday is Pasta Day"

It was a very warm and sunny Sunday. Normally, that would mean firing up my old Weber to grill the edible parts of some formerly animate land or sea creature. But dang, "Little Giuseppe" (my Italian alter ego), preempted my redneck intentions and whispered to me: "mangia pasta, mangia pasta, mangia pasta……"

Yes, the weather may be warming up a bit, but you can still enjoy the exceptional satisfaction of a pasta dish whenever you get the urge. And with springtime in full bloom, you might just want to prepare a version of pasta that is a bit lighter, and also more seasonably appropriate for this time of year. So today, I will impart to you a healthy recipe that should not only satisfy your pasta craving, but also mitigate any residual guilt you may have for ingesting a few more carbohydrates.

Spoiler Alert: this dish contains broccoli!

For those of you who have an aversion to this cruciferous plant, please know that you can substitute any green vegetable that is acceptable to you, including asparagus, peas, scallions or even ramps. Or, if you so choose, you may eliminate the green vegetables altogether and stick with what’s left of the recipe. I think you’ll like it that way too. So bear with me broccoli-o-phobiacs, I think you’re going to love this dish. And guess what? I’ve got two really great wine pairing suggestions that should elevate the dining experience even more.

Fusilli with Broccoli and Italian Sausage

One pound fusilli or rotini pasta
One-half pound of broccoli florets
Two links of hot or mild Italian sausage
One-half small onion finely chopped
One cup grated Parmesan cheese
Eight ounces of chicken stock
Three tablespoons of heavy cream
One teaspoon each of salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes and minced garlic
Four ounces of extra virgin olive oil
One-half cup of reserved pasta water

How To:

Fry the Italian sausage in sauté pan until done
Slice the sausage into rounds and set aside
Boil one pound of fusilli until al dente
Add broccoli florets to boiling pasta water for two minutes and remove
Drain the pasta in a colander
Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent
Add salt and pepper and half the cheese to sauté pan and adjust to taste
Put the broccoli, chicken stock and pasta water in pan
Add fusilli and sausage to pan and heat through until mixture is integrated
Stir in the heavy cream and heat for one minute
Serve pasta into dishes and sprinkle each plate with cheese and red pepper flakes

2016 Antica Napa Valley Chardonnay ($30) This Antinori family wine tastes more European than Californian with hints of ripe apple and brioche leading to a long and silky finish. Great balance and elegance and just the right hit of acidity to marry perfectly with the fusilli dish.

2017 Domaine De Montredon Picpoul de Pinet ($17) – From the Languedoc region of Southern France, this crisp, fragrant and fruit forward white has flavors of ripe pear. This wine is a lovely counterpoint to the richness of the pasta.


Restaurant Dining: setting the Bar high

I’m not quite sure that I would call this a trend, but I’ve recently noticed that a greater number of restaurant patrons are choosing to dine at the bar of their favorite eateries. Count me among those who prefer to forego the more formal seating in the dining room to roost in close proximity to the wine and other adult beverages being offered.

And hey, it’s not all about the drinks either. Sitting at the bar of a good restaurant has other advantages too, particularly if you’re alone or in a bit of a hurry since meals ordered there seem to be served more quickly. And the bar also offers more intimacy if you are with that someone special.

Yes, there are downsides to bar dining. It’s very difficult to enjoy the experience with more than just two in your party unless you get corner seating where couples can use that 90-degree angle to converse. And noise can be a problem too.

But there is also something special about the feeling or vibe in certain restaurant bars. In these establishments, friends meet regularly to drink, eat and discuss the issues of the day. And even strangers can make new acquaintances in the convivial atmosphere of a good restaurant bar. Of course, these establishments have exceptional bartenders who are knowledgeable, friendly, and loquacious. We are particularly fortunate in Charleston to have several restaurant bars that fill this bill quite nicely. Here are my favorites.

Bricks and Barrels has a very long L-shaped bar that is just about the perfect place to have your meal, or just sip an after work drink. The wine by the glass list is well-conceived and features one of my favorite zinfandels – Easton Amador County – by the glass. The restaurant has recently added some new menu selections and has excellent appetizers. Bricks and Barrels’ bartenders – Drew and Cody- know their stuff and can whip up any drink you can possibly think of. Try the Lightning Bug.

Soho’s U-shaped bar at Capitol Market is one of my favorite places to whet my whistle, meet friends and dine on the extensive Italian selections on the menu. Joey is the bartender and, if you’re a regular, he knows what you want to drink before you do. The wine by the glass list is fairly comprehensive. I love the Zaccagnini Montepulciano D’Abruzzo (red) to pair with the wild mushroom and caramelized onion thin-crusted pizza. You might also sip a glass of Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay to accompany the chicken Alfredo pasta.

It’s hard to top the bar at the Chop House during happy hour. Excellent appetizer and drink prices along with a friendly and competent bar staff, make this a super place to enjoy happy hour or a meal. The Chop House has a broad selection of wines by the glass and two of my favorites are the Erath Pinot Noir and the Chalk Hill Chardonnay. The calamari appetizer is top notch too.

A few other restaurants in town feature bars where it is fun to sip and sup. I love the food and wine at The Market in South Hills where the long bar has ample room for dining. And Howard at The Bridge Road Bistro is one of Charleston’s best bartenders. The Bistro has a very nice bar area with a good selection of wines by the glass. The Block in downtown Charleston is also a great place to eat and drink at the bar or in the bar area. The owner of the restaurant, Des Baklarov, has put together a deep selection of bottles from most of the world’s great wine appellations.

I’ve also enjoyed the wine and food in the bar area at Noah’s where it’s often difficult to score a table in the main dining room. I am also a fan of the food and drink at Bluegrass Kitchen’s bar where you are up close and personal to live music just about every night of the week.

Of course, I must give a big shout out to Haley at the Red Carpet Lounge who has been serving me a varied selection of beverages at the bar for several years. And now, with a new outdoor kitchen under construction at the Carpet, we’ll be seeing more dining options on the menu too.

So the next time you’re going to be dining out, you might wish to consider enjoying your meal at a restaurant that sets a high bar!

Feastivall 2019

Now that I’ve had the opportunity to rest my weary palate after the culinary marathon of Charleston Restaurant Week, I’m more than ready to push the appetite reset button because there’s more good eatin’ and drinkin’ on the horizon! And I bet if you’re reading these words, you’re probably ready to join me. As a matter of fact, there are three events I’m planning to attend next week that you may wish to consider too.

Come Celebrate Galentine’s Day (no that’s not a typo) on Wednesday, February13 from 6:30 to 9:30 pm at the Capitol Market Wine Shop. Galentine’s Day was created for an episode of the “Parks and Recreation” comedy series nearly a decade ago. That particular show was so popular that it became a kind of urban legend that has made Galentine's Day an unofficial national holiday. It is held the day before Valentine’s Day each year and has become a celebration of friendship, particularly among women. But men are obviously invited too. Several wines will be available for tasting and there will be food as well as music. Cost is $25 a person.

Fellows, believe me when I offer this piece of advice: women take Valentine’s Day very seriously! Hey, I’m no Dr. Phil (and I’m certainly not Dr. Ruth), but I do know that there will be serious consequences if you forget to do something special for your significant other on February 14. The good news is that just about every restaurant in town has a special Valentine’s Day menu.

I may take Friday off to recharge my batteries because I will be competing in West Virginia’s signature food and beverage competition on Saturday, February 16 at the seventh annual Feastivall dinner. Feastivall, held at Berry Hills Country Club, is a fundraiser supporting Festivall – the ten-day event in June that brings top-notch musical and entertainment talent to the greater Charleston area.

Feastivall is a good old fashion beverage throw down pitting wine versus beer in a five-course gourmet meal. Attendees will have the opportunity to vote on the best accompaniment (wine or beer) for each of the five courses prepared by Buzz Foods' Paul Smith and the executive chef at Berry Hills.

The event will begin at 6 p.m. with a wine and beer aperitif bar where guests can sip, mingle and bid on items at the silent auction which will include works of art, as well as restaurant packages, travel opportunities, and other gifts. The evening will also feature performances by local artists and will be hosted by Mountain Stage’s Larry Groce. Cost is $115 a person and an optional up charge (to $150) for those wishing to attend a special VIP tasting before the main event . Get your tickets by going to: or by calling 304-470-0489.

So come out and root for your favorite beverage. Thus far, wine has won four of the six previous events so there’s more pressure than ever on that lesser beverage (beer) to compete for bragging rights. My good, if misguided, friend Rich Ireland will pick the beer for each menu item. You can check out my wine selections with the menu below. Hope to see you there.

Aperitif: 2016 Acrobat Pinot Gris

Course #1A goat cheese tartlet with greens, beets and herb buttermilk dressing

2016 Trimbach Pinot Blanc

Course #2Smoked Salmon and Smoked Trout Nicoise

2015 King Estate Pinot Noir

Course #3Mushroom and Sherry Soup with Crostini

2017 Clos Pegase Chardonnay

Course #4
Waygu short rib with Farro parmesan risotto and
Roasted root vegetables

2016 Artezin Old Vine Zinfandel

Course #5Chocolate Ganache Tartlet with salted caramel and stewed berries

Taylor Fladgate 10-Year-Old Tawny Port

New Year's Wine Resolutions

It’s a new year and while many of you are struggling with resolutions involving body weight, finances or personal relationships, I’m resolving to explore new wine horizons in the hope of reinvigorating my relationship with the fruit of the vine.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m still in love with wine. But like any long-standing love affair, there needs to be, from time to time, a spark to reignite the ardor and excitement I experienced when I first realized that I was in this relationship for the long haul.

But my connection with wine was not love at first sip!

As a child in my Italian-American family, I was expected to consume a small glass of wine (that had been diluted with water) at the regular Sunday family meal attended by an army of aunts, uncles and cousins. But I hated the sour-tasting stuff.

After faking a sip of the awful mixture during the traditional family toast at the beginning of the meal, I always poured the remainder in dribs and drabs under the table where the family cat, with a much less discriminating palate, bailed me out by slurping up the vile concoction.

So my first experiences with wine were not exactly positive. Later in college, my encounters with the fruit of the vine were less than memorable. As a matter of fact, the flagons of the high octane swill I consumed back then often rendered me memory-less. So it wasn’t until I was married and gainfully employed that I began to appreciate that wine actually had qualities beyond precipitating inebriation.

My actual wine epiphany occurred at a meal when the perfect compatibility of a certain food and wine combination was an almost ethereal experience for me. In this instance, it was the heavenly marriage of a black cherry glazed pork tenderloin and a Ridge Lytton Springs zinfandel. That exceptional pairing made me understand that wine can truly be a magic elixir.

Okay, so what will once again excite my obsessive interest in the world of wine? Well, I’m going to start my exploration by seeking out wines from unfamiliar viticultural areas. Not just countries where I have little or no experience, but also appellations within those nations. Take, for example, New Zealand. While I’ve enjoyed the wonderful sauvignon blancs from that distant land, I hope to try the pinot noirs from Central Otago well down the South Island of New Zealand.

I’m also going to try and find the excellent red wines of Croatia and Slovenia, two countries that share the northern extension of the Adriatic Sea with Italy. While many of the grapes in these two countries are almost impossible to pronounce and spell, I am going to seek some of them out.

Plavic Mali is perhaps the best red produced in Croatia. I visited the island of Hvar in that small country and was scheduled to have a tasting of Croatian wines. While our group enjoyed the rose and white wines of Croatia, the winery that was to supply the Plavic Mali did not show up. Yet, I’ve heard this is a very special wine and I am determined to find it.

The wines of Sicily have always intrigued me too. Most wine lovers have tasted the ubiquitous nero d’Avola and primitivo reds of that country, but I want to try the nerello mascalese and syrah of the region along with the malvasia white wine.

And those are just a few of my resolutions for the New Year. That’s the beauty of wine appreciation. You can appreciate that the journey never ends.

Wines for your holiday shopping

It’s beginning to look a lot like… time to go holiday shopping for wine. And in an effort to assist you in your search for that perfect vinous gift, I have listed some of my favorite wines from the past year with, of course, food pairing suggestions. I wish you all a very happy holiday! Here you go.

2017 Izadi Blanco Rioja ($20) –From Rioja in northern Spain, this white, comprised of 80% Viura and 20% Malvasia, was barrel fermented for three months in French oak and features flavors of ripe apples and citrus. Round and ripe, it would be excellent paired with Paella or grilled monk fish.

2014 Collefrisio Confronto Bianco ($36) – This Italian white from Abruzzo is a chardonnay-like blend of pinot grigio and pecorino (the grape not the cheese) that is a rich and round, medium to full bodied wine. With almond and brioche nuances, this white would be a perfect match to veal saltimbocca.

2015 Mer Soleil Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay ($30) This is a rich, yet perfectly balanced, chardonnay that has hints of vanilla on the nose and a creamy mouth feel with ripe apple flavors and refreshing acidity. This would be lovely paired with chicken cordon bleu.

2016 Mastroberadino Fiano di Avellino ($30)- One of the characteristics of this white wine from the Campania region of Italy (in the hills above Naples) is the nutty, round and rich flavors of Fiano. It also has some citrus and mineral notes and should be a perfect match to the complex flavors of rigatoni with peas and Italian sausage in an alfredo sauce.

2014 Montefalco Sagrantino ($40) – From Umbria just north of Rome, Sagrantino is a rich, medium-bodied red wine and is also the name of the grape from which it is made. Ripe black cherries, tea and hints of smoke characterize this tannic red. This would be a delicious accompaniment to veal osso buco.

2015 Ridge Geyserville Zinfandel ($44) - This wine, with flavors of blackberries, cola and spice, is round, rich and silky. It’s an elegant zin that would be heavenly paired with a butterflied leg of lamb that has been rubbed with coarsely ground black pepper, kosher salt and garlic, and then marinated overnight in a bath of red wine, olive oil, lemons and rosemary before being grilled over a charcoal fire.

2013 Sant’Antonio Paradiso ($30) – From Italy’s Veneto region, this medium-bodied red is full of ripe cherry flavors with just a touch of oak on the finish. Try it with barbecued baby back ribs that have been dry-rubbed with black pepper, kosher salt, brown sugar and cayenne pepper.

2013 Luna de Esperanza Super Premium Malbec ($39)- This malbec from the Mendoza region of Argentina has hints of blackberries and coffee. The medium tannins mask the silky texture of this lovely bottle that would be a perfect accompaniment to grilled hanger steak with a green chimichurri sauce.

2015 Anderson’s Conn Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – ($60) –Rich, ripe and chock full of chocolate, mocha and cola flavors, this wine is a keeper. The wine offers aromas of currants and spice with hints of toasty oak. Decant the wine for at least an hour and then serve it as a delicious accompaniment to roasted prime rib.

2015 Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir ($75) – My all-time favorite Oregon pinot noir, the Evenstad Reserve is consistently excellent year after year. Ripe dark cherries, spice and tea combine on the palate and are enhanced by a kiss of oak. Drink this wine with a Christmas ham or roasted turkey.

Wines for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of our most cherished national holidays. It is a time to remember the sacrifices and contributions of the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock nearly 500 years ago. We’ll celebrate our national heritage with a feast like no other replete with foods that are produced or grown in the good old USA.

With turkey (our “National Bird”) as the centerpiece of the meal, we will consume, among other culinary delights, a cornucopia of uniquely American dishes such as sweet and/or mashed potatoes, cornbread or chestnut stuffing, cranberry relish and pumpkin pie.

So you might be surprised to know that the first wine I’ll lead off with to toast Thanksgiving dinner this year will be from … France!

Why, you might ask, would I not celebrate this uniquely American meal with wine produced in our own country? Well, before you get your red, white and blue undies in a tangle, please know that I will be using American wines too – just not to begin with.

You see, there is another date – Thursday, November 15 -that should have particular significance for wine lovers everywhere. That’s when Beaujolais Nouveau – the first wine of the 2018 vintage – was released in France and is now available in the US- even here West Virginia.

Beaujolais Nouveau is a fun sipper full of fresh strawberry and cherry flavors that is produced from the gamay grape, and it’s only two months old when it arrives in wine shops and cafes around the world. I plan on using the nouveau this year as an aperitif before our Thanksgiving dinner.

After the Beaujolais Nouveau I plan to open a bottle of Trimbach pinot gris from Alsace for those at my dinner table who prefer white wine. I will also open an Oregon pinot noir for those who would like red. (I’ll have a little of each). For dessert, I will chose a bottle of Chateau St. Jean Late Harvest riesling to accompany the pumpkin pie, and then I’ll plop down on the couch to watch some NFL team hand the Detroit Lions THEIR lunch.

You can really have fun selecting wines for Thanksgiving because the meal can be successfully paired with white or red, as well as light or full-bodied wines. That’s because turkey is blessed with meat that has different flavors, colors and textures. Add to this the manner in which 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. Stuffing for the turkey adds a whole other flavor dimension which, depending upon the nature of the dressing, opens up even more vinous pairing possibilities.

Here are a few wine-pairing suggestions, based upon cooking methods, for your Thanksgiving Day feast:

The traditional oven-roasted turkey with a mild sage dressing is very nicely accompanied by whites such as Alsatian riesling, California sauvignon blanc or a steely chardonnay like Chablis. For reds, you might try a Washington State merlot, Brunello Di Montalcino from Tuscany, or a Bordeaux blend from Napa.

For those intrepid souls who choose to smoke or charcoal grill the National Bird, I suggest pairing this spicy, smoky meal with pinot noir from either California or Oregon, petite sirah or zinfandel from California or Chateauneuf Du Pape from France.

And with dessert - whether it’s pumpkin pie and whipped cream or some other belly-buster- you might select a California late harvest riesling or a moscato from the Piedmont region in northern Italy.

Here’s wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Malbec - better than ever!

I had never been a great fan of malbec, a grape that traditionally served as one of the five vinous components in red Bordeaux. Malbec is used to add weight and color to the Bordeaux blend, which may also be comprised of varying amounts of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and petit verdot.

But, in the past few decades, malbec has helped put Argentina on the world wine map as a single varietal. Malbec was first planted there in the late 1800’s, but it languished for decades as just another red wine. However, in the 1990’s vintners began to adopt better vineyard practices and started using up-to-date wine making equipment to produce a malbec that quickly became an international favorite.

But I had never been fond of the wine. It seemed to me to be a bit over done, too rough around the edges and too tannic for my palate. I tried several different producers’ wines, but most of what was being made was just “too in your face” for me.

But a few years back, things began to change for the better. Some producers, particularly those in the high altitude Mendoza region of Argentina, began to make malbec that was significantly more drinkable. For me, the improvement can be expressed in one word: balance.

That had always been the missing ingredient in Argentinean malbec. In the Mendoza region where vineyards are planted at altitudes exceeding 3000 feet, malbec benefits from not only warm sunny days, but also from very cool nights that give the grapes enough natural acidity to balance the ample sugar, and assist in producing a very drinkable wine.

But of all the good Malbec I‘ve had in the past couple of years, none compares with three wines I had the pleasure of sipping recently at one of the JQ Dickinson Salt-Works’ farm to table dinners. The dinner, exquisitely prepared by Chef Paul Smith of Buzz Food Service, paired three Argentinean courses with three malbecs from Luna De Esperanza, a small American-owned winery.

Luna De Esperanza is located in the Uco Valley of Mendoza at more than 3700 feet above sea level. The tiny three-acre vineyard produces three wines that are deep, rich, full-bodied and age worthy. They are also wonderfully balanced and definitely show their best when paired with complementary foods such as the dishes prepared at the JQ Dickinson dinner. The three wines are available at the Wine Shop at Capitol Market.

2014 Luna De Esperanza Grand Blend ($49) – This blend of 70 percent malbec along with 10 percent each of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and syrah is aged for 18 months in new French oak. With flavors of mocha and spice and nuances of licorice and cola, this is a very tannic, but well-balanced, wine. The Grand Blend was deliciously paired with two types of grilled sausages.

2013 Luna de Esperanza Super Premium Malbec, Uco Valley ($39)- Slightly lighter in texture than the Grand Blend, this malbec (90 percent) along with equal parts of cabernet franc and syrah has hints of blackberries and coffee. The medium tannins mask the silky texture of this lovely bottle. Paul Smith matched this wine with grilled hanger steak with a green chimichurri sauce.

2013 Luna de Esperanza Barrel Fermented Malbec, Uco Valley ($69) –This massive, 100 percent malbec was fermented in older oak barrels before spending 24-months in new French oak. With decadent flavors of rich dark chocolate and toasty oak, the wine paired seamlessly with Dulce de Leche – a bitter sweet chocolate and heavy crème concoction that was truly over the top!

Grandma's Marinara

It's almost Columbus Day and in a tribute to that intrepid (if flawed) explorer, and to all things Italian, I will share with you a simple, but exquisite, recipe for making the perfect marinara sauce.

But first, let’s take a candid look at Christopher Columbus. Columbus spent most of his adult life trying (unsuccessfully) to convince the Italian government to underwrite a voyage to India where he promised to procure all manner of exotic spices. Undaunted, Columbus then went to Portugal where he lobbied King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

He pestered the king and queen so relentlessly that they finally gave in, secretly hoping that he, along with the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, would sail out of their lives and off the end of the world – which, of course, was flat back then.

You have to give it to Columbus, though. He was persistent and ultimately successful. But you also have to admit he was directionally challenged. Here’s a guy who traveled west to find a quicker route to the east and ended up discovering north…. AMERICA? But thanks to Columbus, my Italian grandparents also took the voyage from Europe to America, and I exist because of them - and him.

I have a multitude of wonderful memories of my Italian-American family, and of growing up in the North View section of Clarksburg. One of my most cherished and enduring recollections, though, is of my Grandma in her kitchen, lovingly making her delectable marinara sauce. The recipe below is a close approximation of her simple, yet delicious, creation.

One quick note about wine pairings with pasta marinara: You don’t necessarily need to use Italian wine. Any medium to full-bodied red will marry nicely with the spicy tomato sauce featured below. Here are two wines – one from Italy and one from France, you might consider.

2015 Domaine Lafage Bastide Miraflors Rouge ($17) – Composed of 70% syrah and 30% old vine grenache, this southern French red has loads of ripe blueberry and blackberry flavors. It is also spicy and a perfect match to the flavors in the marinara.

2014 Castello Di Albola Chianti Classico Riserva ($22) –This medium-bodied red has scents of new oak, and is an elegant and ripe sangiovese-based wine. Paired with Grandma’s marinara, the combination is truly simpatico.

Grandma’s Marinara
Two 28-ounce cans of San Marzano Italian whole tomatoes
One medium onion diced
One red bell pepper and one carrot diced
One hot Hungarian banana pepper diced (optional)
Four cloves of minced garlic
Two ounces each of fresh chopped basil and Italian parsley
One tablespoon of kosher salt
One teaspoon of coarsely ground black pepper
One-half teaspoon of ground cayenne or red pepper flakes (optional)
One-quarter teaspoon of dried oregano
One-quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil
One medium sized Hollywood pork boneless rib
One-quarter cup of Balsamic vinegar
One pound of linguini or fettuccine pasta
One half cup of grated pecorino romano cheese
One cup of grated parmesano reggiano cheese

How to:
Sauté the pork rib in olive oil in a large pot until browned on all sides
Remove pork from pot, add onions, peppers, carrots and sauté until translucent
Add garlic, salt, black pepper and dry oregano to pot
Open cans of tomatoes, add to pot and use a large fork to break up tomatoes
Add the fresh basil and parsley along with cayenne or red pepper flakes
Add Balsamic vinegar, pork rib and pecorino romano to the sauce
Cook over medium heat for 1/12 hours, stirring regularly
Place pasta in boiling water, cook until al dente and drain in a colander
Add half the marinara and all the pasta to a large sauté pan
Over low heat toss the pasta in the marinara to mix completely
Plate immediately adding more marinara sauce
Top the pasta marinara with grated parmesano reggiano

Lovely Fall Wines

It’s Labor Day weekend and I’m smiling ear to ear.

Why? Well, it’s almost fall and that means football season has arrived, leaves on the trees will soon be painting our beautiful mountains with a palette of autumn colors and, best of all, the harvesting of wine grapes is in full swing.

In my little corner of the world, the harvest also means a few hardy souls will join me in transforming some of those grapes into wine right here in West-By-Golly. As a matter of fact, this old geezer has been making wine each fall since 1977.

Since I’m not a formally trained wine maker or a chemist, I have learned from other more experienced amateurs how, for example, to use my eyes, nose and taste buds to determine how to coax the best from the grapes or juice I’m fermenting. I’ve also come to the conclusion that a good home wine maker is, first and foremost, a good steward (i.e., keep equipment clean, the barrels topped up, don’t use too much sulfite, etc.).


Over the years, I have used a number of different varietals to make wine, including cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, syrah, petit sirah, grenache, zinfandel and sangiovese. And yes, I am an amateur, but I’m also serious about trying to capture the best possible flavors from the grapes or juice I buy. So, assuming that I acquire reasonably good grapes, I can usually produce a very drinkable wine.

And while I’ve made a lot of good wine over the years, I know most of you will never engage in the process of producing your own wine. So, today I’m going to recommend several wines that will complement your enjoyment of fall. Whether you’re tailgating before that big game, enjoying a hike in our majestic mountains or picnicking in your back yard, you might give these vinous lovelies a try.

2017 Chateau Ferry Lacombe Mira Rose’ ($18) – Ripe strawberry flavors highlight this dry rose’ from Provence in southern France. Pale orange in color, this wine is round, yet has excellent balance and would be a superb accompaniment to a cheese soufflé’.

2017 Izadi Blanco Rioja ($20) –From Rioja in northern Spain, this white, comprised of 80% Viura and 20% Malvasia, was barrel fermented for three months in French oak and features flavors of ripe apples and citrus. Round and ripe, it would be excellent paired with Paella or grilled monk fish.

2014 Collefrisio Confronto Bianco ($36) – This Italian white from Abruzzo in Italy is a chardonnay-like blend of pinot grigio and pecorino (the grape not the cheese) that is a rich and round, medium to full bodied wine. With almond and brioche nuances, this white would be a perfect match to veal saltimbocca.

2015 Zenato Valpolicella Superiore ($17) – From the Veneto region in northern Italy, this Valpolicella is a delicious quaff with flavors of ripe cherries and spice. This medium-bodied red would make a great accompaniment to chicken grilled and basted with a sweet barbecue sauce.

2015 Domaine Lafage Bastide Miraflors Rouge ($17) – This blend of syrah (70%) and grenache (30%) is a ripe, inky, purple mouthful of wine with smoky, blackberry flavors. Silky and smooth, this French red from Languedoc needs to be paired with a full-flavored meat dish such as smoked beef brisket.

2015 Argiolas Costera Cannonau di Sardegna ($20) – From the island of Sardinia, this ripe grenache has fruit-forward flavors of dark cherries and black pepper. Aged in French oak, drink it with grilled Italian sausage and fried (sweet) bell and (hot) banana peppers.

Three state restaurants added to Wine Spectator Awards list

In my last column, I listed eight West Virginia restaurants that received special recognition from the Wine Spectator Magazine for their exceptional wine lists. It turns out, though, that there were eleven.

The three I left out are the Bavarian Inn in Shepardstown (which received a “Best of Awards of Excellence”) along with Savannah’s Restaurant and Bistro in Huntington and Final Cut Steakhouse in Charles Town- both of which received “Awards of Excellence.”

One of the most important Latin phrases I learned as an altar boy at St. James Catholic Church in Clarksburg some 60 years ago was “mea culpa.” Strictly translated into English mea culpa means “through my fault.” In a prayer called the “Confiteor” at the beginning of the Catholic mass, parishioners repeat, “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa” as a way of repenting for their sins.

During a lifetime full of embarrassing blunders, I’ve had to invoke that phrase much too often, and I was about to use it today to beg forgiveness for the egregious error I made in my last column. But before I dawn my sackcloth and ashes and seek your forbearance, there is more to the story.

When I went online to the Wine Spectator site to determine which WV restaurants achieved the award designations, only eight eateries were listed, and those are the ones I wrote about in my last column. However, the print edition of the magazine, which must have come out after the online story, lists eleven.

So yes, I screwed up, but I had some help. And while I’ll say mea culpa, mea culpa, I ain’t saying mea MAXIMA culpa!

I have tasted some excellent wines recently that you may wish to seek out. The first two wines listed below are from the Languedoc region of southern France and were presented at one of the Capitol Market Wine Shop’s recent tastings. Trying to pronounce theirlong names will make you thirsty – but that’s a good thing.

2016 Chapoutier Bila-Haut Cotes du Roussillon Blanc ($14) – This blend of grenache blanc and grenache gris has some surprising heft to it. The wine has aromas of citrus and slate-like minerality with flavors of ripe pears, anise and toasted almonds. This would be a treat to pair with a grilled, rich, white fish like grouper or Chilean sea bass.

2017 Chateau Coupe Roses Bastide Minervois ($16) – This was a total and very pleasant surprise! Zinfandel-like, this blend of grenache and carignane is full of ripe blackberry flavors with spicy black pepper notes. It is round and rich, yet has a nice dollop of balancing acidity. Try this with barbecued baby back ribs slathered with a Kansas City-style sauce.

2014 Montefalco Sagrantino ($40) – From Umbria just north of Rome, Sagrantino is a rich, medium-bodied wine and is also the name of the grape from which it is made. Ripe black cherries, tea and hints of smoke characterize this tannic red. I would advise decanting it for at least an hour before drinking. This would be a delicious accompaniment to veal osso buco.

State Wine Spectator Award Winners

I spend a considerable amount of time cruising around our town and state in search of the perfect dining experience. Of course, an essential component of any excellent meal is an appropriately matched wine that is reasonably priced.

We are blessed in the Kanawha Valley to have several fine dining establishments with very good wine lists. I am always on the lookout for those eateries that understand the importance of wine and attempt to craft a list that complements their specific menu.

So today, I’ll report to you on the best wine restaurants in West Virginia as rated annually by The Wine Spectator magazine. Wine and food lovers in our state should be proud to know that eight West Virginia establishments are among those receiving the lofty honors in 2018.

According to the magazine, Wine Spectator’s restaurant awards program recognizes places whose wine lists offer interesting selections, are appropriate to the cuisine and appeal to a wide range of wine lovers. To qualify for an award, the list must present complete and accurate wine information and it must include vintages and appellations for all selections, including wines by the glass.

The three categories of awards are: “Awards of Excellence;” “Best of Awards of Excellence;” and the “Grand Award.” Only 2453 restaurants across world have received the “Award of Excellence,” including six restaurants in our state. Two other WV restaurants received “Best of Awards of Excellence. ” That’s quite an honor since only 1215 restaurants on the planet achieved that distinction. And only 91 restaurants around the world received the highest honor. Unfortunately, none are located in our state - yet.

The state restaurants receiving “Awards of Excellence” are: Bridge Road Bistro; The Chop House; and The South Hills Market and Café – all in Charleston; The Wonder Bar Steakhouse in Clarksburg; Provence Market Café in Bridgeport; and Sargasso in Morgantown. The two restaurants that received “Best of Awards of Excellence” designations are: The Greenbrier’s Main Dining Room in White Sulphur Springs and Spats Restaurant in Parkersburg (at the Blennerhassett Hotel).

The Wine Spectator recognition is a special tribute to the winners in the Mountain State, and we lovers of wine should do our best to patronize these restaurants. We should also encourage our other favorite eateries to upgrade their lists and/or submit them to the magazine for future consideration.

Here in Charleston, one restaurant that should considering entering their wine list for a Spectator award is Laury’s. Not only do they have some of the best food in the city, but they also have the most comprehensive and reasonably priced wine list too. Other restaurants in town that should consider submitting their lists are: The Block; Paterno’s At the Park; Noah’s Restaurant and Lounge; Bricks and Barrels; and The Barge Restaurant.

Restaurants wanting to have their wine lists evaluated by The Wine Spectator for a possible award should contact the magazine at on the criteria for each award level. Applications must be submitted Dec. 1, through Dec. 31, 2018 for consideration.

Pappardelle for Papa's Day

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads and grand dads everywhere! And since I qualify in both categories, I put in my request for a Father’s Day meal a few weeks back. As a matter of fact, I actually cooked the delicious dish I am sharing with you today back then. I want it again!

I know, I know… most of you guys out there in father land are probably going to be celebrating our day by eating a large piece of cow meat. And while I might just fire up the grill this afternoon for an accompanying rib eye, I’m definitely going to make my mushroom and pea pappardelle pasta dish the centerpiece of this hallowed holiday.

So if it’s too late for your chef de cuisine to change the meal plan today - or to add to the holiday menu - hang on to the recipe below because it is a WINNER! But whenever you decide to try the dish, be advised that while I would opt for a full-bodied white wine to pair it with, you could also accompany it with a silky red.

Here are my white and red wine suggestions for this exquisite pasta dish.

2016 Mastroberadino Fiano di Avellino ($30)- One of the characteristics of this white wine from the Campania region of Italy (in the hills above Naples) is the nutty, round and rich flavors of Fiano. It also has some citrus and mineral notes and should be a perfect match to the complex flavors in the pasta dish. If you can’t find Fiano, you can substitute it with a white like friulano or even a rich chardonnay.

2016 Allegrini Valpolicella Classico ($17) – This lighter-styled, silky red is full of fruit forward and ripe cherry flavors. It is perfectly balanced and refreshing with enough acid to be a counterpoint to the richness of the pasta.

Mushroom and Peas Pappardelle
One pound of pappardelle pasta
One half pound of mixed mushrooms (shitake, oyster, baby portabella, etc.)
Three ounces of extra virgin olive oil
One tablespoon of butter
One small Vidalia onion and one clove of garlic
Four ounces of green peas (preferably fresh spring peas)
One-half cup of chicken stock
Three ounces of dry white wine
Three tablespoons of heavy cream
One tablespoon each of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
One tablespoon of chopped Italian parsley
One teaspoon of red pepper flakes (optional)
Eight or ten cherry tomatoes

Grate one-half pound of Parmigiano Reggiano (or other good grating cheese)
Slice tomatoes in half and thinly slice the onion and garlic
Shuck fresh peas or thaw out frozen green peas
Clean mushrooms with a damp cloth and slice into quarter inch pieces
Sauté onions in olive oil and half the butter until translucent
Add peas, mushrooms and garlic to sauté pan and cook for about three minutes
Pour in chicken stock and white wine and cook for about five minutes
Turn heat down to simmer
Add pappardelle to boiling water and cook until al dente
Drain pappardelle reserving one-half cup pasta water
Add pasta to the simmering mushrooms and peas
Add the remaining butter and pour in heavy cream and pasta water
Sprinkle in the salt, pepper and red pepper flakes
Add the cheese and toss the mixture until it’s all integrated
Sprinkle parsley and more cheese on each plate of pasta
Serve immediately

Buon Appetito!

Wines for picnic meals

Can anyone find spring? I think Mother Nature must have benched spring this year for not showing up with more energy and intensity. It seems like we have sprung directly from winter to summer.

Anyway, Memorial Day weekend is upon us and, while this is a solemn holiday, it also heralds the official start of the picnic and barbecue season. And it’s also time to transition from the heavy wines of the cooler months in favor of lighter-styled whites, roses’ and reds.

Of course, you’ll need to pair these vinous lovelies with appropriate hunks of protein like red meat, chicken, fish and pork as well as fresh garden vegetables. And the best way to enjoy warm weather food is to cook it in the great out-of-doors on your trusty charcoal or gas grill. So let’s talk about the most common picnic type foods you will be preparing this summer and which wines are most compatible with them.

If you’re like me, you don’t mind wolfing down an occasional (less than healthful) food product. I cherish those increasingly infrequent times when I toss caution to the wind and select hot dogs, Italian sausage, chorizo, kielbasa or smoked meats like ham for the grill. I love to match these humble offerings with lighter styled reds like Beaujolais, cabernet franc or grenache-based wines such as those found in the southern Rhone. I also love to pair them with chilled, fruit-forward and dry rose’.

For our vegetarian friends – or anyone else who wants to go meatless – there are wines for you too. Try using a crisp, herbaceous sauvignon blanc or a fresh and fruity pinot grigio with grilled veggies like asparagus, broccoli or with sweet, or with multi-colored bell peppers. You might whip up a cold penne pesto pasta salad -composed of basil, minced garlic, pecorino romano, and extra virgin olive oil – and pair it with albarino from Spain or picpoul de pinet from southern France.

How about scallops or lobster tails on the grill? You’ll want a rich, but well-balanced, chardonnay or a full-bodied and round white like friulano. This lovely wine from northeastern Italy is not well known, but it is worth searching out because it’s a delicious substitute for the ubiquitous (and sometimes over-used) chardonnay.

Sangiovese and pinot noir are my favorite red wines in the warm months, particularly when matched with dishes like barbecued baby back ribs or spiced up (cumin, ancho, cayenne, etc) skirt steak. These reds should be served slightly chilled and are particularly simpatico with spicy foods.

But the sine qua non of all warm weather dishes is red meat. And guess what? You don’t need to forego using full-bodied reds just because the ambient outdoor temperature is sizzling. Simply pop that big cabernet, zinfandel or petite sirah into the fridge for a half-hour or so before you’re ready to eat. Then enjoy that rib eye steak, rack of lamb or filet mignon with the full-flavored wines that were meant to be paired with them.

A sutble ramps recipe ?

If you’re a fan of ramps and willing to forego the traditional Mountain Mama recipes for this less than delicate lily, then boy do I have a culinary treat for you to consider.

Right now, many towns in the state are holding ramp feeds. However, I am not a fan of the traditional manner in which ramps are prepared at these dinners. Most folks fry them in lard or bacon grease and then add them to potatoes or pinto beans. I think they’re prepared in this manner to cover up their rather pungent taste and smell.

My favorite way to consume these babies is to grill them, particularly over charcoal, and feature them as an accompaniment to protein like beef, pork or chicken. I will also sauté ramps in olive oil with just about any vegetable dish from broccoli to green beans to zucchini.

But today’s recipe includes the use of ramps to help spark up the rather bland flavors of white fish such as grouper, cod or halibut, and demonstrates that these odiferous little lilies, if applied prudently, can actually have a subtle influence on a dish.

And this lovely rendition of ramps-enhanced seafood really marries well with
crisp, yet rich, white wines such as verdicchio from around the commune of Matelica in the Italian state of Marche. The verdicchio in this region is much superior to the wine made from the same grape in other parts of Italy.

Here’s my choice to pair with the following recipe:

2016 Bisci Verdicchio de Matelica ($18) – Round, ripe and crisp, this wine has the depth and freshness to enhance the flavors of the dish while also providing a refreshing and thirst-quenching attribute.

The Recipe
Two six ounce filets of firm white fish (grouper, cod or halibut)
Six to eight cleaned and ramps
Two ounces of extra virgin olive oil
One-half teaspoon of salt, black pepper and hot pepper flakes (optional)
Four ounces of dry white wine (I would use the verdicchio above)
One-half teaspoon of minced garlic
One half pound of asparagus cut into half inch pieces

Sauté in olive oil the ramps, asparagus, garlic until translucent
Add the white wine and sauté along with the ingredients above for 30 seconds
Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes
Remove sauté pan from heat
Sauté the fish -three minutes a side until firm
Reheat the sauté pan with the ramps and asparagus
Plate the fish and pour the ramp and wine sauce over the fish
Serve immediately

Wine Weekend Getaways

Now that winter is in the rear view mirror (I hope) and spring has arrived, it’s time to plan a few nice-weather getaways. And, surprise, all of these jaunts I’m recommending involve exposure to and consumption of good food and wine.

Let’s start close to home.

Taste of ParkersburgThis gourmet extravaganza kicks off on Friday evening, June 1, with a special wine and food dinner. On Saturday June 2, (from 5. to 11 p.m.) attendees will be able to graze outdoors and sample the edible wares from more than a dozen local restaurants. There will also be more than 40 wines from which to select. Call 304-865-0522 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information on the Taste of Parkersburg.

West Virginia Wine and Jazz FestivalThis event will be held on September 15th and 16th (Saturday and Sunday) at Camp Muffly near Morgantown. Local and regional wines will be available for tasting (Saturday: 11 AM - 6 PM, Sunday: 12 noon - 6 PM.) Admission is $20 per person/per day and includes a commemorative wine glass. Contact for tickets.

Wine and All That JazzThis annual fest will be held on Saturday, June 23, on the lawn at the University of Charleston. The event is hosted by The Fund for the Arts and offers a variety of foods as well as West Virginia wines. In addition, the entertainment will feature a full day of performances by several renowned jazz musicians. Tickets are $30 each ($35 the day of the festival). Contact for more information.

For those of you who want to make your wine and food adventure a vacation, you might check into these two special gourmet events: The Food and Wine Classic at Aspen, Colorado and the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) in McMinneville, Oregon.

Food & Wine Classic, Aspen, COThis is among the top five food and wine weekends (June 15-17) in the nation. You will be fed by some of the best culinary talent in the country and be able to rub elbows with the wine illuminati while sampling their vinous products.
The days are filled with cooking demonstrations, seminars and tastings with more than 300 wines represented at the Grand Tasting Pavilion. This is not an inexpensive undertaking at $1700 a person. Check out the itinerary at

International Pinot Noir Celebration in OregonThis spectacular celebration of pinot noir is held each year on the last weekend in July (27-29 this year) at a small college campus in a town about 45 minutes south of Portland. While the weekend focuses on different aspects of producing pinot noir in Oregon and around the world, you’ll also spend a great deal of time sipping wine. And the food is absolutely phenomenal since you will be catered to throughout the weekend by the best chefs in the Pacific Northwest.

I’ve been to IPNC four times and I’m considering making it five this summer. It’s also very expensive at $1295 a ticket, but you might be able to rationalize the expense (like I did) if you call it a vacation. Anyway, it is a very special wine and food experience and I highly recommend it. Go to their website: for more information and to sign up.

Three memorable food and wine pairings

I’ve always stressed the importance of pairing your favorite wine with a complimentary food - or vice-versa. Why? Well to quote Aristotle : “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

In other words, if you think that thick, bone-in rib-eye is culinary nirvana, pair it with the right wine and the whole experience is elevated to a completely new level of sensory satisfaction. Sound hedonistic? Maybe, but hey, why only treat your palate to half the potential pleasure?

Today, I’m going to tell you about three recent food and wine pairing experiences that have been real “Aha Moments” for me. These occasions reminded me just how satisfying and fun it can be to find that perfect marriage of a particular wine with a complimentary dish.

It started with a meal at Sam’s Uptown Café during Restaurant Week. I love the varied menu at Sam’s, and the weekend brunch offerings are always superb. But this particular course at Restaurant Week was absolutely spectacular: Boar sausage roll with hen of the woods mushroom, heirloom tomato ragu, sautéed escarole and house ricotta. I selected a 2014 Wente Riva Ranch Arroyo Secco Pinot Noir to pair with the course. Sometimes selecting the right wine can be the result of a thoughtful and reasoned approach or it might just be the right guess and a big dose of dumb luck.

In this case, it was the latter, but what a great guess it was! Pinot noir, particularly from California’s central coast, can have earthy, root vegetable nuances which, in this pairing, particularly complimented the hen of the woods mushroom that was the prime ingredient in the boar sausage roll. Wonderful!

The second exceptional marriage of wine with a specific dish occurred at FeastivALL - the annual fundraiser for FestivALL where attendees attempt to pick a winner between wine and beer selections matched with each of five courses. I paired the course featuring lentil soup -composed of herb fennel sausage, roasted vegetables and grilled crostini - with a 2007 Bernard Faurie St. Joseph, a syrah from the northern Rhone Valley in France.

This hearty lentil soup needed a full-bodied and dry red, but one with enough acidity to provide a refreshing balance to the complex flavors of the dish. Zinfandel or a big cabernet sauvignon might have overwhelmed the soup, but the French syrah was perfect. I don’t think a California syrah or shiraz from Australia would have worked either because that style of syrah tends to accentuate the fruit sweetness of the grape.

Oh, by the way, in the beer vs wine throw down, FeastivALL attendees chose wine as the overall beverage winner this year!

The other excellent pairing of food and wine I experienced recently occurred during a visit to my brother Spike who lives in North Carolina. Spike lived the dream many of us have of owning and cooking at our very own restaurant. His five year stint (sentence?) as chief cook and bottle washer at a bistro-like establishment left him with burn marks on his hands and arms, a whole new epithet-enhanced vocabulary and a renewed appreciation for cooking at home.

Spike spent a career in the wine business so, when we get together, we do eat and drink well. This last visit, my brother bought a whole striped bass and rubbed the interior cavity of the fish (which had been dressed) with olive oil, garlic, lemon slices, coarsely ground black pepper and herbs. He then completely covered and packed the exterior of the fish with kosher salt and roasted it in the oven for about an hour.

The fish was moist, fragrant and luscious, and the 2014 Michel Lafarge Aligote made this experience deliciously memorable. Aligote is the other white of Burgundy (which most famously produces chardonnay) and the Lafarge wine is full of ripe green apple flavors, minerality and, in this instance, was a refreshing and harmonious compliment to the striped bass.

So the next time you’re thinking of uncorking a bottle of wine or you’re ruminating about what to prepare for dinner, consider combining the two endeavors. It will surely make the overall experience more complete and pleasurable.

Describing wine: clarity and brevity are in short supply!

Wine can be a pretty complicated hobby. So much of the language of wine is foreign and intimidating, and the incredible number of choices can be overwhelming. That’s why I try to simplify the process of wine appreciation as much as possible. Heck, I’ll even make fun of the whole wine snobbery thing from time to time.

Those of you old enough to remember my weekly wine columns in the 1980s, may recall that I asked members of the (apocryphal) Southside Bridge Tasting Club (SBTC) to act as a kind of tasting panel. Monthly, in the dead of night, I would visit the great bridge under which my expert panel would gather to sip and then critique the various wines of the time. The group would help me evaluate products for that segment of the wine drinking public that was — how shall I put it — more plebian in their tastes.

Today, I still try to avoid the pretentious aspect of wine appreciation, particularly when I recommend a bottle for your drinking pleasure. At a minimum, I hope you will at least have some idea what the wine actually tastes like. In addition, I hope that my description of the wine’s attributes leads you to understand why I suggest pairing it with a particular dish.

As you might expect, I spend a good deal of time not only tasting and then evaluating wine, I also read the descriptions of wines I have not tasted to determine if I should suggest them to you.

And while I’ll admit my wine descriptors are relatively short and to the point, most of the wine tasting notes I read from national experts are anything but brief. Here’s a typical example of how a critic from one of the national wine publications recently described a bottle of California cabernet sauvignon:

Dark ruby in color. Explosive aromatics feature a mix of ripe cherry, sweet spice, and dried rose petal, all framed by new oak nuances. Richly textured, packed with sweet red fruits, black cherry compote, tobacco, and licorice, finishing with dusty tannins and a juicy acid backbone. Drink now for its youthful extravagance, or hold off until at least 2035.

Huh??? This sounds like a mish-mash of totally disgusting and incompatible ingredients and a recipe for heartburn…or worse. If it wasn’t for those “dusty tannins and that juicy acid backbone”…

Every now and then, I’ll come up with some pretty obtuse, otherworldly or off-the-grid descriptions, but they’re always done with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. But the above-cited quote is, unfortunately, a pretty standard type description used by today’s wine intelligentsia.

Here are two wines for your consideration described in (hopefully) understandable, but not quite monosyllabic, language:

Gloria Ferrer Va de Vi Ultra Cuvee – This lovely sparkling wine from Sonoma’s Carneros district has aromas of almonds and toast. It is rich, yet balanced, with flavors ripe, green apples. Use it as an aperitif or with brunch foods.

2013 Sant’Antonio Paradiso – From Italy’s Veneto region, this medium-bodied red is full of ripe cherry flavors with just a touch of oak on the finish. Try it with barbecue baby back ribs that have been dry-rubbed with black pepper, kosher salt, brown sugar and cayenne pepper.

So the next time, you read about how a wine is “ethereal, orgasmic, or full of dusty tannin undertones,” go get a bottle of Annie Green Springs, unscrew the cap and toast the members of the Southside Bridge Tasting Club.

Wine and food resolutions for the New Year

Most of us will be out celebrating on New Year’s Eve.  When we wake up the next morning it will be 2018 and, after the obligatory New Year’s morning headache, guilt will set in and we’ll probably begin to think about resolving to seek self-improvement in the year ahead.

Sure, you could go to the gym, cut back on carbohydrates, or even make a concerted effort to think positive thoughts about your mother-in-law. But next month when these resolutions have gone down in flames, you’ll need something to boost your morale and repair your damaged self-esteem.

Well, why not resolve to improve an aspect of your life that you already find appealing and gratifying? How about considering some wine and food resolutions for the New Year that might just take your enjoyment of these endorphin-enhancing staples to new heights.

And keeping these resolutions will be so easy and rewarding that you’ll probably wish to make them permanent. So here are my wine and food related resolutions for 2018. You might wish to consider them too.

- Try unfamiliar appellations and wines like: pinot noir from Central Otago on the South Island of New Zealand (great with grilled salmon); the other white wine from Burgundy – Aligote (especially good with scallops); or Aglianico, the spicy red from the Campania region of southern Italy that is a lovely match with rack of lamb.

- Explore the wines of our sister state. The wine regions around Charlottesville and up the spine of the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia have emerged as the best appellations on the east coast. I especially like the cabernet franc, viognier and chardonnay produced there. Rappahannock oysters, local cheeses, country ham and smoked tomato grits pair nicely with Virginia wines.

- Drink more sparkling wines with weekday meals and on non-special event occasions. Champagne and sparklers such as Cava from Spain, Cremant from Alsace and Prosecco from Italy go especially well with spicy dishes from places like Mexico, India and Thailand.

- Reexamine the wines of West Virginia. There are more than 20 wineries in our state and, while many of them are producing very good sweet wines and dry French-American hybrids (such as seyval blanc and chambourcin), others are trying to grow the better (vitis vinifera) varieties like cabernet, merlot, chardonnay and riesling.

- Drink more sweet wines as aperitifs and with dessert. Some folks have the misconception that sweet wines are for beginning wine drinkers or the unsophisticated. I think that is a largely an American myth since a lot of us associate sweet wines with the unpleasant experiences we might have had in our youth with sugary, high alcohol products. You might try Sauternes or Barzac from France, late harvest riesling from Germany or California or Vin Santo and Moscato di Asti from Italy.

And while it will be difficult for me to accomplish all of these New Year’s resolutions in 2018, I’ve resolved not to completely abandon moderation in pursuit of them.

Happy New Year!

Wine for your holiday meals

Unlike Thanksgiving, the Christmas day meal does not have a universally accepted main course. In these United States, turkey is the traditional Thanksgiving centerpiece around which we prepare a whole host of other edible goodies such as bread stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. But the Christmas day repast is a more diverse culinary undertaking where our ethnic and/or cultural heritage largely determines what we put on the table that sacred day.

In homes where the ancestral heritage derives from the British Isles, Germany or other northern European locales, we Americans tend to lean toward either a repeat of Thanksgiving (with turkey and all the trimmings); we prepare a prime rib roast-centric meal; or we opt for baked ham as the featured main course.

In largely Catholic countries, like Italy, Christmas Eve dinner is just as important as the meal on Christmas day, and the menu is built around seafood. In my home, where I try to enjoy the best of both culinary traditions, my wife and I divide up responsibility for the two meals. I’m in charge of Christmas Eve while she prepares the Christmas Day feast.

So today, I’m going to recommend wines to accompany a Christmas Eve seafood dinner as well as vinous goodies to pair with Christmas day meals featuring prime rib, turkey or ham. Oh, and since New Year’s Eve is also rapidly approaching, I’ll suggest some sparklers to help you celebrate 2018.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian culinary tradition that many Americans observe. In my home, we sometimes exceed the seven fishes, but we always have at least calamari, cod, shrimp, smelts, oysters, mussels and salmon on the menu. Since many of these sea creatures will be deep fried, it’s best to pair them with wines that are medium bodied, refreshing and even thirst quenching

Italian whites: Arneis: Cortese di Gavi: Greco di Tufo; and Falanghina; California Chardonnay: Cakebread Cellars; Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains; Far Niente; and Dutton-Goldfield.

On Christmas day, if you’re preparing oven-roasted turkey as the main course, these wines will pair nicely: Chateauneuf Du Pape; Brunello Di Montalcino; Rioja; California zinfandel (I love the ones from Amador) or Chianti Classsico Riserva.

For baked ham with a sweet glaze, give red, white and rose these wines a try: Tavel Rose; Alsatian Riesling; Oregon or Sonoma Coast pinot noir; Malbec from Argentina; Teroldego (red) from northern Italy.

For the Christmas meal at Chez Brown, my wife will dry rub a bone-in prime rib roast with garlic, kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper. Then she’ll roast it in the oven until it’s medium rare. Here’s what I’m considering for a wine accompaniment: 10-year or older Bordeaux Red; Meritage from Napa Valley; Northern Rhone Red (syrah from Cote Rotie); or an Italian Super Tuscan Blend.

There is nothing quite like Champagne or sparkling wine to ring in the New Year. Give one or more of these Champagnes a try: 2005 Charles Heidsieck Brut Millésime; Krug Grande Cuvee Brut; Nicholas Feuillatte “Blue Label” Brut; Veuve Cliquot Brut; and Piper-Heidesieck Brut Cuvée.

Sparkling wine (from regions other than Champagne): Mumm Napa Cuvee; Segura Viudas Reserva (Spain); Roderer Estate Brut Anderson Valley; La Marca Prosecco; Gruet Blanc de Noirs (New Mexico); Iron Horse Russian Cuvee; and Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace.

Have a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah and a prosperous New Year’s Eve!

Holiday gifts for your wine lover

Right about now, you’re probably scratching your head and fretting over what special wine or related gift to give your favorite wine lover this holiday season.
Well, fret no more! You’re intrepid wino has a few recommendations for your consideration and I’m sure one or more of these vinous gift ideas just might work.

Wine BooksIn my opinion, the absolute best wine reference book is the World Atlas of Wine by Janis Robinson and Hugh Johnson. It’s a compendium of everything you need to know about wine, including information on specific grapes, wines and regions, as well as label descriptions, and the culture and history of wine. Check for it at your local bookshop or online.

How about a little wine and intrigue? Get yourself a copy of Wine and War by Don and Petie Kladstrup. This page-turner deals with the lengths to which French wine makers went to protect their precious products from the Nazis in WWII.

Wine StorageFinding a place to store your special wine is always a challenge. One pretty neat option is the Wine Enthusiast Six -Bottle Touch screen Wine Refrigerator. This adjustable, temperature- controlled wine refrigerator is a great gift for those who don’t have a lot of storage space, but want a reliable place to keep their special bottles. Check it out at: $130 with free shipping.

Wine StemwareThe aesthetics of sipping wine in crystal is oftentimes a very expensive proposition, but it’s nice to occasionally break out (probably not the best choice of words) the special stemware for that celebratory event. Riedel, Schott Zweise and Spiegelau are probably the best options for really fine crystal. You can find them at wine shops, department stores and online. 
Stocking Stuffers- How would you like to turn that special bottle of wine into a beautiful candleholder? Adam Morton of Bridgeview Candles, Accessories and Designs will do it for you. Check out his Facebook page (Bridgeview Candles) to peruse his work. You can also call him at 304-610-1553 or email him This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Adam’s studio is located at 139 South Court St. in Fayetteville, across the street from the Cathedral Café.

- For the manual dexterity challenged wine drinkers in your life, you might slip a container of Wine Away in that Christmas stocking. Wine Away is a red wine strain remover that cleans up a clears out those stains that so often appear on your clothes or carpet when people like me are attempting to sip and speak at the same time. Shop for it locally or simply Google “Wine Away” and find it online for about $10.

- Name It Wine Glass Markers are cool and colorful pens you can use to write on wine glasses, bottles or any glass surfaces. Great for signing that special wine gift and priced under $10. Amazon or other online sellers have it stocked for the Holidays

- I like to keep track of the truly special wines I have consumed, but getting the labels off the bottles is a real pain. So I recommend using Label Off. This product is an easy way to remove and collect those special wine labels. Label Off splits the printed surface of the paper from the adhesive backing leaving a laminated label to place into your wine catalog. Find it online at around $10.

Special Holiday WinesThe last several vintages (2012 through 2015) of cabernet sauvignon and red blends (meritages) from Napa and other northern California wine regions have been excellent. So you might consider these opulent, full-bodied, rich and balanced cabernets and meritages for that special red wine lover.

Meritages: Anderson’s Conn Valley Right Bank; Cain Five; Vineyard 29 Aida; Newton Claret; Joseph Phelps Insignia; Beringer Knights Valley Meritage; Artesia Meritage and William Hill Benchmark Meritage.

Cabernet Sauvignon: Shafer Stags Leap; Franciscan Napa Valley; Robert Mondavi Reserve; Rudd Mount Veeder; Beaulieu Georges De Latour Private Reserve; Joseph Heitz Martha's Vineyard; Cliff Lede Vineyards; Stags Leap Wine Cellars; Caymus Special Selection Cabernet and Siler Oak Napa.