A friend of mine approached me the other day with a kind of sheepish look on his weathered brow and asked: “I want to learn how to like wine. I’ve tried it several times and I just don’t like it. Is there some way to learn to like the stuff?”
I must admit I was momentarily flummoxed. Why would anyone want to learn to like something that they have tried and don’t like? I’ve always preached that wine appreciation is a very subjective undertaking, and that you should drink whatever type of wine you choose.
And if you don’t like wine, try something else. There are plenty of options out there. However, it may be that people who claim -like my friend –to have repeatedly tried and failed to enjoy wine, just need to approach the whole wine appreciation process differently.
Let me explain. I asked a few probing questions of my friend and concluded that his problem was mainly related to how and where he tasted wine. He explained that his negative experiences almost always occurred at cocktail parties or bars, and the wine offered or ordered was usually a full-bodied red such as cabernet sauvignon. He also said the wine was almost always tasted without food
Hey, I am an avowed wineaux, but I will not drink any red wine without at least some kind of food. Give me a piece of bread, a hunk of cheese, or some type of fare that has at least a modicum of texture and substance. Drinking red wine without food is like taking a bite of an unripe pear – it’s hard, sour and makes you pucker.
[caption id="attachment_1311" align="alignleft" width="219"] Food and Wine Synergy
Further, someone new to wine appreciation should never begin the process by starting with red wine. You should always begin with a light, white, slightly sweet wine such as riesling or chenin blanc. You can accompany these lighter wines with a cracker, some cheese or even a piece of fruit. It’s a good way to introduce yourself to the pleasures of pairing food with wine.
The next step is to graduate to a fuller flavored white wine such as chardonnay and pair it either with a vegetable, chicken or fish dish. At this point, you should be enjoying the white wine experience so it’s time to move up to reds.
Beginning red wine drinkers should always start with light to medium-bodied wines such as pinot noir which is compatible with a variety of foods. Try it with pork tenderloin, grilled salmon or roasted chicken.
Once you’re comfortable with lighter style reds, you’re ready to transition to fuller bodied ones such as zinfandel, syrah, merlot or cabernet sauvignon. However, make sure you accompany these biggies with full-flavored, garlicky or spicy foods such as steak, pasta, stews, chili or some other substantial food.
At this point, I have to assume you’ve discovered the pleasures of wine. So, now that you are an official wineaux, here are some general suggestions for wine and food pairings.
To be successful in finding that perfect match, you need to consider flavor, texture and weight of the food and wine pairing. Lighter-bodied foods go best with lighter style wines while heavier flavored foods are best paired with fuller-flavored wines. Makes sense, right?
For instance, a poached white fish would go best with a lighter styled white wine such as a pinot grigio, white Bordeaux or Albarino from Spain. Conversely, it would take a robust red wine such as cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel to stand up to and enhance the flavors of a well-marbled strip steak.
The addition of sauces or spices to a dish can add a flavor dimension that can also affect the wine you select. For example, sauvignon blanc is an excellent choice with poached salmon in a dill sauce, but grilled salmon that has been dusted with cumin, black pepper and chili powder needs a medium-bodied red such as pinot noir.
So it really is quite simple: to get the most out of that special bottle of wine, pair it with a compatible food partner to discover the real meaning of synergy!
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 friend of mine approached me the other day with a kind of sheepish look on his weathered brow and asked: “I want to learn how to like wine. I’ve tried it several times and I just don’t like it. Is there some way to learn to like the stuff?”
Okay, let’s face it. The holidays are in the rear view mirror, the Christmas tree is on the curb and a cold, gray winter is just starting to chill our weary bones. My advice? You need an attitude adjustment and the best way to do that is to treat yourself to some good food and wine.
If you’re a regular reader of these scratchings, you know I will never just give you my impression of a particular wine without mentioning a food that is enhanced by it. Finding a compatible food and wine combination makes the whole dining experience so much more pleasurable.
And while we all love to cook, I suspect that the folks in your household need a break from the kitchen. After a month of chopping, boiling, sautéing, roasting, grilling and cleaning up after a herd of hungry and thirsty holiday celebrants, don’t you think we all deserve a night out?
Well, I do, and so I’m going to share with you today two of my favorite meals and accompanying wines from a couple of excellent local restaurants. We are blessed in this small, but beautiful valley, with several fine dining establishments that deserve your patronage. In future columns, I will tell you about other special culinary experiences I’ve had in and around our community.
Let’s begin with South Hills Market and Café. Chef Richard Arbaugh and wife Anne have done an exceptional job at this small restaurant with an inventive and eclectic menu which also has a Wine Spectator award wining wine list. Here is a three-course menu that I have enjoyed there on a few occasions.
[caption id="attachment_1304" align="alignleft" width="192"] Strip steak with Bordelaise sauce at So. Hills Market
I start with the Roasted Bone Marrow with gherkins, pickled onions, whole grain mustard, and grilled crostini. I love the huge (about eight inch long) caveman-like bone in which the marrow is served. Next, I opt for the Artisan greens with cucumbers, pickled onions, tomatoes and asiago cheese.
And for the main course (especially for you red meat lovers), I recommend the 12-ounce New York Strip Steak with Bordelaise sauce. Make the meal even more special by ordering a glass or a bottle of the Grochau Cellars Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. This medium-bodied wine from Oregon is full of black cherry flavors that can stand up to the meat, and also marry well with the Bordelaise sauce.
Bricks and Barrels across from Appalachian Power Park is not yet a year old, but the upscale restaurant has weathered the slings and arrows of many passionate and discerning local diners. Owners Matt and Nikki Holbert have hung in there and, in the past few months, have made several positive changes, not the least of which is hiring a new chef with excellent credentials.
The improvement in both the quality and consistency of the menu at Bricks and Barrels has been a pleasant surprise. I have always been pleased with the nicely conceived wine list, the classy bar and (don't tell Rich Ireland) the extensive selection of West Virginia craft brews.
Here’s a three-course menu at Bricks and Barrels that is worth giving a try. I have always enjoyed Crab Louie Napoleon, but the version at this restaurant is about the best I’ve ever eaten. Baby Bibb lettuce is stacked with layers of jumbo lump crab, a slice of tomato, asparagus, hard-boiled egg and avocado. Yum!
Next, I suggest The Beet and Goat cheese salad which is a delicious combination of roasted beets on a bed of summer greens with warm walnuts all tossed in Italian dressing. For the main course I suggest the melt-in-your-mouth filet of butter-basted salmon served with sweet potato puree, deep-fried Brussel sprouts and parmesan risotto.
To accompany the meal, I chose a glass of Ladera Chardonnay, a Napa Valley wine that has medium intensity, flavors of ripe honey crisp apples and a light kiss of oak that marries especially well with the butter basted salmon. Bravo!
It’s that time of year again! You know what I’m talking about: Rudolph with his nose so bright; Folks dressed up like Eskimos; and Jack Frost nipping (hopefully a sip or two of vino). Yes siree, I’m ready and raring to get my Yuletide on.
So, in the spirit of the Season, I’m going to provide you with some red and white wine recommendations for your holiday gift giving because I believe in the old saying: “Tis better to give than receive. ” This is even better if the giver and receiver is you (or if the recipient is someone who is willing to share).
And depending on your budget, the sky is truly the limit when it comes to finding a wine to give that special person. Shopping for wine any time is a labor of love, but during the holidays it is a lot more fun because wine shop shelves are chock full of a wide and varied selection of vinous products.
The great thing about the holidays – especially Christmas – is that we also have a perfect opportunity to choose wines that pair well with the cornucopia of special foods we’ll be eating. Following that theme, I have selected for your consideration a list of wines below that would make great gifts, and also be excellent accompaniments to some of the more traditional holiday foods we will be enjoying over the next few weeks. So here we go.
[caption id="attachment_1296" align="alignleft" width="207"] Great Holiday Gifts!
For the celebratory sparkling wine aperitif: Taittinger Comptes De Champagne Rose; Nicholas Feuillatte “Blue Label” Brut Champagne; Mumm Napa Cuvee (sparkling); Paul Bara Brut Champagne; Segura Viudas Reserva Cava; Veuve Cliquot Brut Champagne; Roderer Estate Anderson Valley Sparkling Wine; Krug Grande Cuvee Brut; Perrier Jouet Grand Brut; Iron Horse Russian Cuvee (sparkling).
For the traditional Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes, you might search out these lovely bottles: Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Scaia Garganega; d’Arenberg The Hermit Crab Marsanne-Viognier Blend; St, Supery Sauvignon Blanc; Falcor Chardonnay; Castello Banfi Principessa Gavi; Montinore Estate Riesling; L’Ecole 41 Semillon; Cakebread Chardonnay; Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay; and Talley Arroyo Grande Vineyard Chardonnay.
For Christmas Ham or Turkey: Newton Claret; Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee Pinot Noir; Banfi Brunello Di Montalcino; Marques de Caceras Rioja Reserva; Chapoutier Bila-Haut Cotes Du Roussillon; Ferraton Tavel Rose’; Easton Amador County Zinfandel; Raptor Ridge Atticus Vineyard Pinot Noir; and Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti.
For the traditional Prime Rib Roast: Chateau Lynch Bages; Joseph Phelps Insignia; Falcor Le Bijou; Chateau La Dominique; Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve; Chateau Brainaire Ducru; Merryvale Profile; Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon; Chateau Cos d’Estournel; Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon; Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon; Leoville Las Cases; Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; Antinori Tignanello; and Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon;
Have a great holiday season, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
It’s that time of year again when all talk turns to turkey. However, I must admit I have mixed feelings about the “national bird.” In my decades long association with Thanksgiving, I have both feasted on spectacular fowl, and, on occasion, have been subjected to very foul experiences.
On the one hand, Thanksgiving is a holiday of which I have very fond sensory memories, particularly of being awakened on that special morning by the delicious redolence of a butter basted turkey roasting in the oven. My mom was artfully adept at marrying the classic all-American recipe for roasted turkey with a nod to her ethnic heritage by creating a bread dressing that featured chestnuts and spicy Italian sausage.
That she was able to bridge this culinary and cultural gulf and please both ardent WASPs as well as charter members of the Son’s of Italy was probably influenced by her desire to please my father – a gentle wood tick from the mountains of West Virginia who, before he met my mother, thought black pepper was an exotic spice.
And to be fair, some of my negative experiences involved positives. Do I speak with forked tongue? Well, not really, because sometimes the turkey would be cooked to perfection and the dressing would be inedible – or vice versa. But why can’t everyone get it right – like my mother.
Well, let’s be honest. Thanksgiving dinner is a complex undertaking (eat too much and you’ll end up in the undertaker’s complex – couldn’t resist this). Anyway, when you consider the degree of culinary minutia involved, it is understandable that something might go wrong.
[caption id="attachment_1002" align="alignleft" width="300"] Paired with Domaine Serene Pinot Noir
Preparing and properly cooking a large turkey over a period of several hours can be a daunting experience. And when folks choose to try brining or marinating and then grilling or smoking the bird, chances that something bad will happen increase dramatically. Add to that the plethora of choices for dressing along with traditional side dishes and then pumpkin pie for dessert, and about the only thing you can truly count on being good is the wine.
Which brings me to the point of all of this angst over Thanksgiving Dinner: simplify your chores by preparing as many of the courses as possible ahead of time, and then stock up on both white and red wine. That way you will guarantee you’ll have a tasty vinous treat that is bound to match one or more of the items on the Thanksgiving menu.
This is possible because turkey has a variety of flavors, colors and textures that can match just about any wine. Add to this, the manner in which the turkey is prepared (i.e., roasted, smoked, grilled or fried) and of the type of stuffing used, and you have a complex set of flavor components that make matching wine with the meal both easy and fun. Indeed, we should give thanks for this rare opportunity to sample several different wines with the same holiday meal. So here are a few wine recommendations to match your Thanksgiving turkey and associated dishes.
The traditional oven-roasted turkey with sage-flavored dressing does wonderfully well with sauvignon blanc (St. Supery or Ladera), Alsatian riesling (Trimbach or Pierre Sparr) and gewürztraminer (Chateau St. Jean or Navarro). Red wines such as pinot noir (Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee or Freestone Sonoma Coast), Meritages (Falcor Le Bijou or Mercer Canyons Red Blend) and Rhone wines (Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape or Kermit Lynch Cotes du Rhone) will also marry well with oven roasted turkey.
[caption id="attachment_1205" align="alignleft" width="160"] Or Ridge Lytton Springs
For smoked or grilled turkey with spicy dressing, I prefer fuller bodied red wines. Try Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel, Carparzo Brunello di Montalcino or Alto Moncayo Garnacha from Spain. You might also try an intensely flavored chardonnay such as Beringer Private Reserve, Mer Soleil Reserve or Cakebread.
And for dessert, I’m going to suggest a few festive sparkling wines that will pair quite nicely with that pumpkin pie and whipped cream. Try one of these invigorating sparklers: Paul Bara Champagne, Segura Viudas Brut Cava or Domaine Carneros Brut Rose.
I love this time of year. Football season is in full swing, the leaves are painting the mountains with blazing colors and I’m in the process of turning purple grapes into about 70 gallons of home made wine. And just last weekend, I completed the final rite of fall by roasting, peeling and bagging one of the most delightful treats imaginable.
Every autumn for the last three decades, I have waited anxiously with bated anticipation for locally grown green bell peppers to turn large and red. Some years, because of too much heat or too much rain, the harvest can be less than bountiful and replete with small, gnarled red peppers. But even mal-formed, diminutive peppers can be transformed into the delicious Italian antipasto treat my mother lovingly made and passed on to me so many years ago.
This year was- and still is -(at least for the next week or so) a banner year for red peppers of a size and shape that make the sometimes long and arduous task of processing them a lot easier. You can check out the recipe below for the routine detail, but mere words cannot describe the agony (sometimes) and ecstasy (always) associated with turning these red lovelies into edible bliss!
Let me explain.
The agony is related to working with small peppers which can take two or three times as long to process as larger ones. But even this extra work is validated when you pull a baggie full of sweet red peppers out of the freezer in January, and experience a little taste of summer in the dead of winter.
And while you can get sweet red peppers all year round at just about any super market, I eagerly await the ones I can procure locally. You may have noticed how expensive red or yellow bell peppers can be when purchased at grocery stores (sometimes as much as $2 a piece). I love to support our own Capitol Market where you can comparison shop among the many vendors and select just the right peppers at a very a reasonable price.
I prefer to work with at least a bushel of peppers at a time, however, you may wish to start with a more modest number for your first effort. As a matter of fact, you can experiment with roasting just one or two on your stovetop and then follow the steps below.
You can serve the peppers with small slices of crusty bread or even crackers, but you will need a medium to full- bodied red wine to make the perfect food and wine marriage. I suggest pairing the peppers with any of the following three wines: 2010 Antinori Peppoli Chianti Classico ($26); 2012 Easton Amador County Zinfandel ($18); or 2013 Bila-Haut Cotes Du Roussillon Villages ($14). The Bila-Haut is a terrific bargain for a wine rated 91 points by Robert Parker.
What you will need:
Red bell peppers (as many as you wish)
Several fresh basil leaves
Quart size sealable plastic freezer bags
Grill, oven or stovetop
Large grocery paper bags
Dinner plates (such as Fiesta ware, etc.)
A colander with a bowl underneath, a small knife, a large cutting board, a large bowl
One garlic clove, salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil and Balsamic vinegar
Wash the peppers under cold water and dry
Place on a grill, in the oven or on the stovetop on high heat
Turn the peppers often to expose all surfaces to the heat until the skins are scorched
Place dinner plates in the bottom of the paper bags
Stack the peppers (about five or six) onto the plates and then close bags tightly
Allow the peppers to steam in the bags for at least one hour
Remove them from the bag and place over the colander with the bowl underneath
Cut the peppers from top to bottom and catch the pepper juice in the bowl
Peel the skins from the peppers and cut them into large pieces (about three per pepper)
Fill bags ¾ full, add a couple of pieces of basil, seal and place in the freezer or use
Freeze the accumulated pepper juice for use in sauces
[caption id="attachment_1280" align="alignleft" width="300"] Ready to eat or freeze
Thaw the peppers and cut them into small strips
Place them in a small bowl
Chop one clove of garlic finely and add to the bowl
Add one teaspoon each of extra virgin olive oil and Balsamic vinegar
Put salt and pepper to taste and stir all ingredients
Allow the mixture to sit for one hour and serve the peppers on bread or crackers
One of the most fascinating aspects of wine tasting is the way you can almost be instantaneously transported from one part of this planet to another by simply sipping a few different wines.
Beam me up, Bacchus! The first taste of that lovely Italian chardonnay is like being immediately teleported to the hills of Piemonte’ where you find yourself sipping a creamy, fruit forward and exquisitely balanced white from a region more known for big reds like Barolo and Barbaresco.
And moving to the next wine might take you across the world to Oregon or to South Africa. As a matter of fact, the three wines reviewed below are from those three countries I just mentioned. So many wines from so many geographically diverse regions provide us with so many opportunities to literally taste the products of a different culture.
So why not invite a few friends over and conduct your own wine tasting? It’s really easy, fun, inexpensive and very educational. Whether you’re tasting all one varietal, such as cabernet sauvignon, or different types of both whites and reds, it is important to remember to taste lighter, sweeter wines first and then move on to more full bodied ones.
Here is a typical example and order of a tasting of six different white and red varietals: riesling, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot and cabernet sauvignon. The wines are arranged from lighter to fuller bodied to prevent the stronger flavored ones from overpowering and masking the flavors the less intense wines.
[caption id="attachment_1267" align="alignleft" width="253"] Give these three a try
Since you will want to get the most out of the tasting, you need to learn how to use your senses to fully appreciate wine. One way of doing this is to use what I call the
“Five S’s” of wine appreciation: (1) sight – observe the wine and judge its clarity, color, etc; (2) swirl- rotate the wine in the glass to unlock the flavor and aroma; (3) sniff – place your proboscis deeply into the glass and smell and try to describe what you are smelling; (4) sip – my favorite part of the tasting where you roll the wine around in your mouth allowing it to touch all the surfaces; (5) swallow – judge the impressions the wine leaves when you swallow it.
Generally, a wine tasting will consist of examining five to ten wines and tasters should receive about one ounce of each wine. Ask each taster to critically examine each wine, and to render an opinion as to what they liked or disliked about a particular bottle.
You can take the tasting to a whole different level by eliminating the bias of seeing the wine labels. This is known as a blind tasting and involves obscuring the wine label by having someone place the bottles in bags before you taste. This will eliminate any possible price or winery bias so that you can truly judge the product on its quality.
Here are three wines that were among my favorites in a recent wine tasting. You might want to give them a try.
2013 Mullineux Old Vines White Blend ($28) – An elegant South African blend of chenin blanc (80%) along with clairette blanche and viognier, this has flavors of ripe pears and melon. Rich, yet very balanced, the wine is one to pair with a whole roasted chicken that has been basted with olive oil, rosemary and a little of the Mullineux Old Vines.
2012 Chehalem Stoller Vineyards Pinot Noir ($45) – This Oregon and Willamette Valley wine is exceptional. Delicious black cherry and cola flavors and excellent balancing acidity are the highlights of this beautifully crafted example of pinot noir from a truly historic vintage. While I would lay this one down for a few years, those unable to wait should decant it for a couple of hours and then serve it with grilled wild salmon or roasted pork tenderloin.
2014 Marco Capra Chardonnay ($20) – More like a very good Pouilly Fuisse from Burgundy, the Marco Capra Chardonnay is a creamy, round yet very balanced wine with scents of anise and citrus. This wine, from the Langhe’ region of Piedmont in northwestern Italy, would make an excellent accompaniment to veal saltimbocca.
We are so fortunate to be living in such a visually beautiful state that sometimes, when I am unexpectedly presented with a magnificent natural scene, I cannot adequately describe in mere words the exhilaration and awe I feel. Combine this stunning scenery with excellent food and wine, and a special person with whom to share it, and you have the makings of a truly memorable experience.
Such was the case a couple of weeks back as I made my way to Canaan Valley for a little rest and relaxation. The usual route I take is up I—79 to US 33 east, through Elkins and then up to Canaan. The trip usually takes about three hours with at least one pit stop.
On this particular evening, my wife and I decided to find a restaurant along the way to break up the trip. A few miles outside of Elkins just off Route 33 at Kelly Mountain Road, we stopped at The Forks Restaurant and Inn. This establishment at almost 3000 feet in elevation has five newly renovated guest rooms and a restaurant that is a true gem.
While the food and wine at The Forks Inn are exceptional, what pushes the experience over the top is the VIEW!
[caption id="attachment_1256" align="alignleft" width="300"] View from the deck at The Forks
There are not sufficiently accurate descriptive words or phrases to describe the amazing mountain panorama that is visible from the outdoor dining deck at The Forks. Purple mountain majesty squared might begin to come close. And as amazing as the view was a few weeks ago, I really look forward to visiting again later this month when the leaves on the trees turn the surrounding forest into a blaze of fall colors.
But the real surprise is the culinary excellence of the place. This is a family owned business operated by two brothers and their uncle. Hailing from Buckhannon- Elkins area, the Stalnakers (brothers Trevor and Drew and their uncle Eric) totally renovated the lodging facilities, the restaurant and the bar.
While the restaurant has several tables for indoor dining, the place to be is outside on the porch or deck where the views make the superb dining fare even more enjoyable. The eclectic menu is the province of Eric Stalnaker whose 30-year culinary resume is comprehensive and impressive.
With a college degree in hospitality management and business along with a two-year culinary apprenticeship through the Hilton Hotel Corporation, Eric has worked all over the world including restaurant stints in Paris and Dijon in France. He has been chef at five Hilton Resorts around the US and has worked at Snowshoe and The Greenbrier here in West By Golly.
My entrée –a flat iron steak au poivre – was grilled to perfection, exactly medium rare and was accompanied by creamy, cheesy dauphinoise potatoes. At $21, this was not only a culinary success, it was a bargain. And the extensive wine list at The Forks is well composed and reasonably priced with selections from all around the wine world.
The Forks is open at 5 p.m. from Tuesday through Sunday for dinner only. While walk-ins are welcome, I recommend you call for reservations (304-637-0932). You can also check out their website at: http://attheforks.com/.
The Forks offers a complete and pleasurable sensory experience where fine food and wine are complimented by spectacular mountain scenery to provide sustenance for both your body and your spirit.
Vegans and vegetarians take note and be forewarned: I am an unabashed carnivore! Please understand that while I love veggies, fruit, grains and just about everything edible produced or grown on terra firma, I have a special fondness for seared, baked, fried, grilled or broiled animal flesh. And let's not leave out those creatures that are caught, speared or netted from rivers, lakes and oceans- I love to knosh on them too.
Among the plethora of meats and fish available, I must profess a special fondness for beef. Give me a piece of red meat and I'll rub that sucker with loads of black pepper, garlic and a little Kosher salt, and then I will build a wood or charcoal fire so big it will create its own micro-climate. Next, I'll roast the meat until the red inside just starts turning pink, and then I'll wolf it down with a big, purple wine that will make your lips pucker and your heart sing (and continue to beat too).
[caption id="attachment_1244" align="alignleft" width="242"] This dish needs a BIG red!
According to my own medical consultant (Dr. Feelgood), wine, especially red, has properties that mitigate the rumored negative consequences of eating red meat on a regular basis. So there.
And while there is nothing better in this whole wide world than any type of meat or even fish on a grill, I must admit (are you listening veggie lovers?) that I do enjoy things that are harvested from the soil, too, particularly the goodies I procure from local farmers at the Capitol Market here in Charleston. For the next six weeks, we will have the opportunity to choose from a cornucopia of the region's most wonderful assortment of vegetables.
I am particularly fond of peppers! Green ones, red ones and especially hot ones. I have prepared peppers in more ways than the normal person can fathom. I roast them, stuff them, fry them, freeze them, can them and, above all, I consume them almost daily. Here is a recipe for a dish I must give credit to my lovely bride for spicing up and improving on one she found in Bon Appetit Magazine a few years back. It combines three of my favorite foods: red meat, peppers and freshly picked corn. And you will need to pair this dish with a substantial red wine like the one suggested below.
While I shop regularly at Johnnies Fresh Meat Market here in Charleston, the beef for this recipe hails from the Monroe Farm Market (www.localfoodmarketplace.com/monroe/). These good folks from Monroe County deliver produce and grass fed, freshly butchered meat weekly to Charleston. Incidentally, Johnnies also has a good selection grass fed beef too. This recipe calls for skirt steak, but you could also use thinly cut flank steak.
Spicy Skirt Steak with Poblano and Corn Salsa (serves four)
Two pounds of skirt steak cut into five inch long pieces
Three medium sized poblano peppers
Three ears of corn shucked
One teaspoon each kosher salt, black pepper, brown sugar and smoked paprika
One-half teaspoon of cayenne pepper (optional)
Three ounces of extra virgin olive oil
Light a gas grill or fire up a charcoal grill
Rub the corn and poblanos with olive oil and grill until both are slightly charred
Peel the skin from the poblanos and then dice them finely
Place half the corn and half the poblanos in a food processor with two tablespoons each of olive oil and water
Puree into a chunky salsa and add salt and pepper to taste
Toss remaining corn and poblanos in a small bowl, add remaining olive oil and season with salt and pepper
Rub skirt steak with olive and rub then with the mixture of pepper, salt, cayenne, brown sugar and paprika
Grill steaks over high heat, turning two or three times until lightly charred (about 7 minutes)
Remove meat from grill and allow to sit for five minutes
Spoon the sauce onto the plate
Slice meat across the grain and place atop the sauce
Spoon the salsa onto the meat and serve immediately
[caption id="attachment_1245" align="alignleft" width="300"] Peter Franus and wife Deanne
You will want to pair this dish with a full-bodied red wine and, as luck would have it, I had the pleasure of meeting a very accomplished Napa Valley wine maker who was visiting Charleston a few weeks back. Peter Franus and his wife Deanne were in town to join chef Richard Arbaugh in hosting a dinner featuring Franus' wines at South Hills Market & Cafe.
While I really enjoyed the 2014 Franus Albarino and 2013 Sauvignon Blanc (both in the $26 to $28 price range), the 2012 Franus Zinfandel Brandlin Vineyard ($45) is the wine to use with the recipe below. Ripe, rich, blackberry and spicy teaberry flavors combine with the full-bodied, moderately tannic texture to make this the perfect accompaniment to the Spicy Skirt Steak recipe.
I suppose I have always been destined to appreciate the fruit of the vine though I certainly had no inkling when my go-to wine selections were enclosed in half or full gallon screw cap bottles, and where quality took a back seat to price and quantity.
To this day, I remember the first cork-finished bottle of wine I ever purchased to accompany a steak dinner at –believe it or not – the WVU Mountainlair restaurant on the campus of the old U. I was trying to impress a young lass with my savoir-faire by selecting a bottle of Mateus Rose’ to accompany what would turn out to be the leather-like slices of prime rib we had both ordered.
And while the wine and meal were forgettable, my date (and now wife) and I have always had a special fondness for rose’. Remarkably, Mateus is still being produced in Portugal, and remains a very popular aperitif wine with its characteristic fizzy and slightly sweet raspberry and cherry flavors.
Although I continue to buy and use rose’ throughout the year – even sometimes to accompany Thanksgiving dinner– there is no better time to open a bottle than in the heat of the summer. I have recommended a few for your consideration below, but first let’s take a closer look at the “how, where and when” of rose’. It is definitely no one trick pony!
[caption id="attachment_1237" align="alignleft" width="170"] Perfect on the deck with grilled foods
I know that some of you may turn your nose up at this (sometimes) pink wine, or think of rose’ as a one-dimensional, inexpensive and sweet wine like the aforementioned Mateus or even white zinfandel. But most are produced classically dry (which means they have less than one-percent residual sugar).
Well, you may also be surprised to know that rose’ is made in just about every fine wine region using just about every red grape imaginable from cabernet sauvignon to carignan and from pinot noir to malbec. And, while there are some slightly sweet aperitif roses, there are even more that are made to accompany food.
In my view, these wines are especially lovely accompaniments to grilled foods, particularly sausages. Whether you prefer Italian, Polish, Bratwurst or some other pork-encased tube steak, rose’ is a great choice. The wines below are also delicious with baby back ribs slathered in a tangy barbecue sauce.
Here are some roses’ you may wish to try. I recommend serving them slightly chilled.
2014 Grange Philippe “Gipsy” Rose ($12) – This wine from France (region unknown since it is labeled “Vin de Pays” meaning country wine) is a blend of syrah and grenache. Strawberry aromas yield to flavors of spice, cinnamon and cherries. Sip it on the deck with grilled lamb burgers or bratwurst.
Reginato Rose of Malbec NV ($15) – Excellent strawberry and cherry flavors highlight this dry rose’ sparkler from Argentina. Produced from malbec, this wine would be a great accompaniment to jalapeno poppers (cheese stuffed jalapenos) or other spicy foods that are tamed by this sparkling rose’.
2014 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rose ($16) – From South Africa, this medium-bodied wine is almost red and is full of ripe, dark cherry flavors. This would be one to pair with Asian cuisine like Pad Thai.
2014 Elizabeth Spencer Rose of Grenache ($17) – Elizabeth Spencer is one of my favorite pinot noir producers, but with this rose’ she shows her vinous versatility. Delicious, ripe strawberry flavors, with aromas of spice and tea, this Mendocino County wine is one to try with grilled Italian sausages.
As a young man, I made beverage buying decisions on two factors: price and size. So, it was not uncommon for me to select the cheapest and largest volume container that I could find to assist me in pondering the existential verities, and such critical human questions as: will the Mountaineers defeat Pitt this weekend; and will Mary Lou accompany me to the Toga Party after the game?
Yes, volume and price were an important part of my earlier years, but as I ascend to Old Codgerdom, the terms have taken on a whole different meaning where pain is the price I pay for excessive volume consumption. But I digress.
I got to ruminating about the “good” old days, and those seemingly bottomless jugs of Uncle Frankie’s Purple Passion, as I began to write this column on the various sizes of and monikers for large bottles of wine. It’s actually pretty fascinating – at least to me.
Of course, the standard size bottle of wine is 750 milliliters (ml) or what we Americans call a “fifth” which is 25.360 fluid ounces. All larger wine bottles are therefore designed to accommodate multiples of the 750 ml bottle. But that’s just size, and we all know that size is the least important component of what comprises a pleasant (drinking) experience.
[caption id="attachment_1231" align="alignleft" width="278"] Capitol Market Wine Shop manger Scotty Scarberry with 9 -liter Salmanazar
For most meals, a 750 ml bottle is perfect for two diners and can sometimes suffice for as many as four. So a table of eight or more folks requires more wine, and most people simply buy a second bottle. The beauty of a larger format bottle is that it not only will serve more guests, it is also one you can keep in your cellar longer. The reason is that wine ages slower in larger bottles, allowing you to uncork that older red wine you’ve been holding for just the right occasion- like a holiday or birthday.
I’m sure most of you have purchased a magnum (which is a 1.5 liter bottle and the equivalent of two fifths) when you were hosting six to eight folks for dinner. But that bottle is a runt compared to several larger format bottles which range in size from three to – are you ready for this- 30 liters! And these larger bottles have all been given the names of Biblical figures, many of whom were kings or wisemen.
So here is the line-up large format bottles to look for in specialty wine shops:
Jeroboam (three liters) – Named after a king in ancient Israel;
Rehoboam (4.5 liters) –King of Judea;
Methuselah (six liters) – According to the Bible, the oldest man;
Mordechai (nine liters) – The uncle of Ester, queen of Persia;
Salmanazar (also nine liters) –King of Assyria;
Balthazar (12 liters) – One of the three Wise Men;
Nebuchadnezzar 15 liters) – King of Babylon;
Melchior (18 liters) – Another Wise Man;
Solomon (20 liters) – King of Israel;
Melchizedek (30 liters) – King of Jerusalem.
To put this in some sort of visual perspective, a Melchizedek is the equivalent of 40 fifths of wine -all in one bottle! It’s as tall as an adult human being, but I don’t think there are any earthly creatures able to lift and pour from that size bottle. But wouldn’t popping the cork on a Melchizedek be a hoot?
So the next time you’re planning a Toga Party for a few hundred of your closest friends, go out and hire a couple of Sumo wrestlers to pour your favorite Melchizedek, and party like it’s 500 B.C.
One of the most alluring features of The Block –one of Charleston’s newest eateries – is the availability of a small plate menu where guests can choose the informality of casual dining and still be assured of a quality culinary experience.
These small plate, or tapas-style menus, originated in Spain and have become a pretty common option in American restaurants for the past several years. Spanish native and renowned chef, Jose Andres, introduced the cuisine to America in his restaurants.
Chosen as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2012, Andres owns Jaleo in Washington DC where his tapas menu is spectacular. I visited the restaurant on a recent trip and tasted my way through several lovely courses. And while the food was exceptional, I was equally awed by the amazing selection of Spanish wines, many of which are available by the glass.
Until the last decade, the only Spanish wines any of us knew about were the tempranilo-based reds of Rioja, the Cava’s (Sparkling wines) from the Penedes region and, of course, the fortified wine known as Sherry. Hey, these are wines worth drinking, but fortunately there is now an even greater selection from which to choose.
And they are wines, many from lesser-known appellations in a country known more for bull fighting, that are worth searching out. For those of you who have limited experience with the wines of Spain, you might want to read on about the great selection of vinous products which are now making their way to our shores.
[caption id="attachment_1224" align="alignleft" width="300"] Jaleo Tapas - too pretty to eat - Not!
But first it might help to give you a little geographic perspective on where the vines are grown and how that geography is so important to the finished product. To make it as simple as possible (and nothing is simple in the world of wine), northern and central Spain are considered the nation’s best producing regions because of more hospitable weather and the influence of the sea and mountains
In the northwest region of Galicia, the cool Atlantic greatly influences what is produced with the most famous white – albarino- and the red –mencia – being the regions’ most sought after wines. Continuing east, the famous northern wine regions of La Rioja and Navarra produce some of the most sought after reds made predominately with grapes such as tempranillo and grenache.
One of the most exceptional appellations in the north central part of the country is Ribera del Duero where reds produced from tempranillo are among the best wines in all of Spain. Further east toward Barcelona and the Mediterranean, vintners in the Penedes appellation produce arguably the world’s second greatest sparkling wine (called Cava) made in the Champagne style. And in this region, the country’s best cabernet sauvignon is produced (my favorite for years has been the Torres Gran Coronas Reserva).
Among the most important regions of central Spain are the appellations of Priorat which produces consistently good old vine grenache and Rueda where the fruit-forward white made from verdejo is the pick. In southern Spain, the most famous wine is, of course, Sherry but increasingly the roses and whites of the Canary Islands are worth seeking out.
Here are some of my favorite Spanish wines you might try which are available in local fine wine shops:
Castillo Perelada Cava Brut Rosado ($12) -A blend of garnacha, pinot noir and trepat aged for 12 months prior to disgorging, this is a crisp and dry rose’ sparkler you might use as an aperitif or with a manchego cheese and chive omelet.
2013 Lagar de la Santina Albarino ($18) This white from Rias Baixas (pronounced ree-es buy-shez) in the Galicia region of northwestern Spain is crisp, round and full of citrus and mineral flavors. Match it up with cod quickly broiled in beurre blanc.
2010 Rotllan Torra Crianza Priorat ($19)- This silky blend of garnacha, mazuelo, and cabernet is a great introduction to the complexity of wines from the Priorat appellation. Blackberry and cola flavors combine to make this a wine to pair with roasted pork tenderloin that has been basted with a honey-chipotle glaze.
2011Chapillon Cuvee Harmonie ($20) An inky, full-bodied red made from 90% petit verdot in the Calatayud region of north central Spain, this wine is kind of like malbec on steroids. It is, however, a delicious mouthful of wine, particularly if matched up with smoked beef brisket slathered in a Kansas City-style barbecue sauce.
Charleston’s newest restaurant – The Block – is an epicurean’s dream come true with a deliciously enticing menu and a wine list that is extensive and well thought out. I had heard good things for years about the wine and food at The Block’s sister restaurant- Wine Valley - located in a shopping mall in Winfield, but I had never taken the time to drive to Putnam County to taste for myself.
The wine list at the Block does feature some of the usual suspects such as steak house cabernets and big rich chardonnays, but what sets this establishment apart from any other restaurant in the state (except perhaps The Greenbrier) is the focus on wines that are really meant to be enjoyed with the eclectic menu of small plates and full entrees.
Take, for example (as I did) the sampler appetizer that featured Marcona almonds, a crab cake, a quinoa-feta salad dollop, thinly sliced Genoa salami and Tzatziki (yogurt and cucumber dip) accompanied by toasted pita wedges. Talk about your opportunity to experiment with a whole host of wines!
I chose Bisci Verdicchio from around the commune of Matelica in the Italian state of Marche. The verdicchio grown and vinted in this part of Italy is much superior to the wine made from the same grape grown closer to the Adriatic Sea. Those wines can be light and almost tasteless. The Matelica region is further inland and in a less fertile area which forces the verdicchio vines to work harder, and the resulting wine to be fuller and richer.
The fact that owner Desislav (Des) Baklarov even found this verdicchio is testament to his impressive wine curiosity and knowledge. And, at $8 for a six-ounce glass, the wine is very reasonably priced. With almost 300 wines by the bottle to choose from and about 50 of them available by the glass, you will find wines from just about every major region on the planet. I know I did.
[caption id="attachment_1215" align="alignleft" width="225"] Owner Des Baklarov at The Block
Perusing the wine list, I almost fell out of my seat when I spied a Spanish red that is extremely hard to find locally and which was the perfect match for the meal I later chose. Most normal people select the menu item before looking for a wine to pair with it. Not yours truly. I look for a wine first and then figure out what I am going to eat.
The 2012 Alto Moncayo Veraton Garnacha is a brooding, full-bodied, fruit-forward wine that Des decanted for me into a lovely crystal carafe. This old vine Grenache is grown and produced near the town of Borja in northeastern Spain. I chose the “French Pork Chop” to accompany the wine. This tender, perfectly seasoned and grilled chop was just the entrée I needed to accompany this full-bodied red wine. After about 15 minutes and for the next hour, the wine opened up beautifully and alas, like all good wines, the last sip was the best
Hey, but I wasn’t finished. I could not resist choosing from among the many excellent selections of late-harvest and after dinner wines offered at The Block. Eventually, I chose an Alvear Amontillado Sherry. For those of you unfamiliar with anything but Harvey’s Bristol Crème, this lovely, caramel and nutty flavored, slightly sweet wine will open your palate to a whole new appreciation of Sherry. The wine list also boasts a number of ports and other late harvest wines to put a nice cap to your meal at the Block.
For a new restaurant opened for just two days prior to my visit, I was shocked at the quality of the food and, particularly, the depth and breadth of the very impressive wine list. Visit The Block at the Corner of Capitol and Quarrier Streets in downtown Charleston. If you love good wine and food, you might try a sip off the old Block!
My love of just about all things palatable includes, of course, a wide and varied cuisine. I embrace just about every morsel grown, produced and/or cooked by indigenous peoples from all over this globe. I am particularly fond of locally grown or raised food.
The term locavore has entered the lexicon in the past decade to define organized groups that encourage growing, producing and then providing local products to the restaurants, markets and people living nearby. This locavore movement also extends to beverages produced locally which include wineries, distilleries and craft breweries.
And this is a movement with enough room for both vegans and carnivores!
Supporting locally produced edibles has caught on just about everywhere in the US and is being embraced in communities around West Virginia too. Most counties and some towns in our state have established local farmers markets, and many restaurants are purchasing and then featuring these locally grown and produced foods on their menus. For a listing of a local farmers market near you, go to http://wvfarmers.org/.
But there are several other organizations involved in the movement. I am board member of “The Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia” that has (thankfully) been co-named “WVFARM2U.” FARM2U actively promotes cultural and culinary tourism in large measure to connect the people involved such as farmers, restaurateurs, tourism promoters and the general public.
As an example, one of our website pages (www.farm2u.org) has a listing of “destination dining” restaurants in West Virginia that use locally produced food. These establishments were nominated through a FARM2U survey of people who had exceptional dining experiences. A panel of culinary experts then selected the eventual destination dining restaurants.
But you may recognize the FARM2U organization by one of the state’s signature culinary events – the annual Cast Iron Cook Off. The Cook Off is an event where everyone -from culinary students to chefs, to farmers, to local business people- participates in an Appalachian cooking competition focused on preparing local foods and using traditional cast iron cookware.
[caption id="attachment_1205" align="alignleft" width="160"] Ridge Lytton Springs
Here are a few other organizations in the state that make it their goal to bring locally produced foods to your table. Check out the facebook page for the WV Food and Farm Coalition for information on Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA) organizations. CSA’s put people who want to use local farm-grown products together with farmers that grow them. These farmers provide various locally produced foods for a subscription price.
Two CSA’s were featured in a recent Sunday Gazette-Mail article by Dawn Nolan focusing on the good work being done by the Wild Ramp and Gritts Farm CSA's. My family has participated in the Fish Hawk Acres CSA run by Chef Dale Hawkins. If you’re interested, check out Fish Hawk Acres’ facebook page for information on how to subscribe.
We also receive regular local food shipments from the Monroe Farm Market (www.localfoodmarketplace.com/monroe/) This farmer coop, located in beautiful Monroe County, provides a variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables as well locally raised and butchered meat. We enjoyed a delicious leg of lamb from the Monroe Farm Market on Easter Sunday.
As someone obsessed with food and wine, I understand the passion and commitment it takes to produce a product you wish to share with those in your local circle. We need to encourage our restaurants and markets to use our home-grown food – along with wine and other beverages (even beer) produced here in West By Golly.
Here is a wine that will (and did) marry exquisitely with a Monroe County boned, butter flied and grilled leg of lamb.
2009 Ridge Lytton Springs ($38) - This blend of 71 percent zinfandel (along with petite sirah, carignane and mataro) is the flagship product from my favorite zinfandel producer. With aromas of teaberry mint, this complex, layered, blackberry and cola flavored wine is full, rich and nicely balanced. It paired superbly with our marinated and grilled leg of lamb.
One of the few benefits of being a long–in-the-tooth wine lover is you probably have squirreled away a few bottles over the years that are finally coming of age. Yes, it can be a sublime experience when you uncork that special wine you’ve allowed to mature for a decade or two in your cellar.
Conversely, the experience can be supremely disappointing and unpleasant when the wine from that coveted bottle smells like dirty socks and tastes like spoiled buttermilk.
Over the years, I have experienced both the ecstasy of sipping liquid silk, and the agony of having to discard a wine that is “over the hill.” If you would like to lay down a few bottles for future enjoyment, there are some important issues to consider.
It may come as a surprise, but the vast majority of wines on the market today are meant to be consumed now, or within a couple of years. In fact, around 95 percent of all wine is ready to be consumed right off the shelf. So what wines can you safely put away for future sipping?
First and foremost, you’ll want to collect wines that have the best chance of morphing into something more pleasurable as they age. That means buying red wines such as Bordeaux, California cabernet sauvignon or other sturdy reds like Chateauneuf Du Pape or Barolo and Brunello Di Montalcino from Italy. Whites such as chardonnay from Burgundy, late harvest sweet wines like Sauternes from France and riesling from Germany can also improve with age.
[caption id="attachment_1199" align="alignleft" width="300"] Barolo has great aging potential
The next important step is to determine which vintage years are touted as being the best for long-term aging. You can read periodicals such as The Wine Spectator or the Wine Advocate or go online and search for vintage rating information.
Once you’ve decided on a likely age worthy vintage, read up on the specific wines and what critics are reporting about them. Oftentimes, you’ll see a lot of attention directed at the “superstar” wines such as Chateau Lafite Rothschild from Bordeaux or Opus One from Napa.
But unless you’re a Russian oligarch or a dotcom billionaire, you’ll want to avoid these “trophy” wines and concentrate on ones that share the same zip code or geographic area and are more reasonably priced.
Next, make sure you buy at least three bottles of a particular wine. This will allow you to open a bottle every five or so years to make sure the wine is making “forward” progress. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of finding out that I waited too long to assess the bottle, and the wine had passed its prime.
Storing the wine properly is an absolutely critical issue. You don’t have to buy one of those expensive wine storage closets, but you should age the wine in a dark, vibration and odor-free area where the temperature doesn’t vary more than 10 degrees from summer to winter, and where the humidity is pretty high – around 70 percent.
Get yourself one of those temperature and humidity gauges and check out your designated area to make sure it’s appropriate. If you absolutely want to be sure the storage system is ideal, you can buy temperature-controlled wine cabinets for as little as $300 or as much as several thousand.
If you do the things I‘ve mentioned above, you may be able to experience in a decade or two what I had the pleasure of enjoying at Christmas dinner. That magical night, I opened a 1997 Barolo from the Piedmont region of northern Italy to accompany the traditional bone-in rib roast. Magnificent!
It’s always gratifying to observe the positive effect our contributions make to the community in which we live. On Saturday, February 28th you will have, shall we say, a tasteful opportunity to do just that by attending the third annual Feastivall celebration at Berry Hills Country Club.
Feastivall, of course, is a fundraiser supporting Festivall – the multi-week entertainment event that brings a plethora of top-notch musical talent to the greater Charleston area each summer. Feastivall is a good old fashion beverage throw down pitting wine versus beer in a five-course gourmet meal.
It is, of course, a unique opportunity for that lesser liquid (beer) to share the spotlight with the most food-friendly beverage (wine) man has ever produced.
Attendees will have the opportunity to vote on the best accompaniment (wine or beer) for each of the five courses prepared by executive chef at Berry Hills and Culinary Institute of America (CIA) graduate Paco Aceves. Paco will be assisted by fellow CIA graduate and Buzz Foods Services corporate chef, Paul Smith.
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 and performances by local artists, restaurant packages, travel opportunities, including a stay in Italy and more.
The evening will also feature performances by local artists and will be hosted by Mountain Stage’s Larry Groce. Guests will enjoy five courses, each paired with a craft beer selected by my mis-guided pal and fellow columnist Rich Ireland. Of course, yours truly will pick the wines.
Here’s the menu along with our wine and beer pairings:
First course Seafood terrine, smoked tomato aspic Wine: 2013 Albert Bichot Chablis Domaine Long-Depaquit - France Beer: Ayinger Urweisse
Second course Roasted winter beet salad, artisan goat cheese, micro lettuce and candied pistachio, blood orange vinaigrette Wine: 2011 Treana White Wine - California Beer: Saison 1558, Brasserie du Bocq, Belgium
Third course Venison sausage, parsnip puree, micro bull’s blood Wine: 2012 Luma Carmenere Reserva - Chile Beer: Westmalle Dubbel, Brouwerij Westmalle (Trappist), Belgium
Fourth course Stout braised beef short rib, wild mushroom risotto, reduction sauce (crudité vegetables) Wine: 2010 Medlock-Ames Red Blend – Napa Valley Beer: Celebrator Doppelbock, Brauerei Aying, Germany
Fifth course Toasted coconut meringue and warm winter fruits, spice cake, curried hazelnuts, port ganache Wine: 2011 NXNW Late Harvest Riesling – Washington State Beer: Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout, Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery, United Kingdom
After each course, guests will vote for the beverage pairing they like best. By the end of the night, one will emerge the winner. I suppose the beer nuts, buoyed by their 3-2 upset win last year, are feeling their oats… or hops …and think they actually have a chance of besting the fruit of the vine once more.
Ain’t gonna happen, Rich! Swill versus swell, sackcloth versus silk, gruel versus elixir- you get the picture. So plan on joining us for a good cause and an evening of fun, food and your favorite beverage.
Tickets are $110 per person and are partially tax deductible. Get your tickets by going to: http://festivallcharleston.com/ or by calling 304-470-0489.
If you are like most of the wine drinking world, you probably regularly drink cabernet sauvignon , pinot noir, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, zinfandel, syrah, pinot grigio or other readily available varietals. And that’s fine.
But today, I’m going to suggest you spice up your palate by trying wines that are comprised of combinations of grapes blended into a single bottle. In my humble opinion, these blended wines (some call them cuvees or meritages) are superior to single varietals because they offer layers of complex flavors and are usually more supple than those made from one grape variety.
And there are literally thousands of individual grape varieties produced on virtually every continent, including Antarctica, where a wine maker is actually growing riesling. I suppose that gives a whole new meaning to the term: “ice wine.”
Anyway, with so many grapes to choose from, wine makers over the millennia have settled on just a few hundred varietals to use in producing their particular bottlings. Specific geographic regions called appellations have been designated around the world and some governments have even regulated what grapes can be used and identified to denote being from a particular place.
Red Bordeaux, for example, must be made from only a select number of grapes such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec that are produced from grapes grown in that specific area of France. Chianti Classico must use at least 70 percent sangiovese with an allowance made for a few other varietals.
And while there are incredibly superb single varietal wines, I’m convinced that those made from combinations are better and more food friendly. Take the wines from the southern Rhone Valley for instance. Growers of Cotes Du Rhone can use of up to 13 different red grapes, and even a couple of white varietals to make up their blend.
Rhone and Rhone-like wines produced in other countries are usually comprised of grenache, syrah and mourvedre – sometimes referred to as “the holy trinity” - and can run the gamut from fruit forward easy drinking brunch type wines to full-bodied and tannic offerings, like Chateauneuf-du-Pape, that pair up wonderfully well with red meat.
[caption id="attachment_1186" align="alignleft" width="225"] Two Really Good Blends
The Aussies have for decades understood the beauty of blending. One of my favorite wines produced by D’Arenberg and known as The Laughing Magpie is comprised of 90 percent shiraz and 10 percent viognier – a white wine.
White blends are worth trying too, offering some of the same complex attributes as their red brethren. In Italy, Soave is a region where the primary white grape –garganega – gains weight and flavor from the addition of chardonnay. In Bordeaux, the classic white wine is comprised of sauvignon blanc and semillon.
In California, a wine must contain 75 percent or more of a grape to be called by that varietal’s name which provides a good bit of latitude for the wine maker to add other grapes to the blend. Ridge Vineyards (my favorite zinfandel producer) almost always blends grapes such as petite sirah, carignane and mourvedre in their vineyard designated reds.
And more and more California cabernet fans are trying “Bordeaux” style blends or meritages which can soften up and smooth out the sometimes hard tannins found in this famous varietal. Here a couple of my favorite blended wines that make my point pretty effectively. Give them a try and see.
2013 Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Scaia ($14) This lovely, silky smooth white from the Veneto region of Italy is comprised of 80 percent garganega and 20 percent chardonnay. Ripe apple and citrus flavors are balanced by ample acidity to make this the perfect match to pasta carbonara or Alfredo.
2012 Luma Red Blend ($14) Aged for a year in small oak barrels, this Chilean red is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and petit verdot. Round and rich with hints of chocolate, ripe plums and spice, this wine is perfect to pair with a roasted pork tenderloin sliced and served with a Dijon mustard, rosemary and crème sauce.
Let’s play Jeopardy.
The answer: Comfort food and hearty wine!
The Question: What do you need to ward off that psychological malady brought on by gray skies, cold weather, a general lack of sunshine and the end of football season?
Clinically known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), Doctor Feelgood (that’s me) has just the over-the-counter prescription for what ails you when the cold wind whips, the skies turn dark and football is almost in the rearview mirror.
Of course you could fire up a pot of three-alarm chili, layer a pan of lasagna with four pounds of noodles, cheese and meat sauce, or even jazz up a crock of file’ gumbo with Cajun chicken, andouille sausage and a mahogany roux. But those dishes are not turning my crank today.
No, I’m in the mood for some serious Italian grub that features beef slowly cooked in a fiery (optional) red sauce which is then ladled over penne pasta. My Happy (and hearty) cure for SAD? Braciole (pronounced brah-she-oh–luh) or Italian beef roll-ups slow cooked in a delicious bath of spicy tomato sauce.
I call it “Brash Braciole cause this dish will get right in your face like a blitzing linebacker! As a matter of fact, you might consider making this the centerpiece of your Super Bowl celebration.
After preparing and consuming the dish - accompanied by a lovely full bodied red wine - your outlook on the world will definitely be brighter. So here’s the recipe along with a couple of copacetic wine suggestions that will lift your spirits and help get you through these gray days.
[caption id="attachment_1175" align="alignleft" width="179"] Sangiovese grapes at Castello di Bossi in Tuscany
Brash Braciole!Two pound beef rump roast cut into one-half inch thick slices
One pound of penne pasta
Three large cans of San Marzano crushed tomatoes
Two links of Italian sausage
One half cup of grated parmesan cheese and Italian bread crumbs
Four ounces of extra virgin olive oil
One large onion, chopped
Four cloves garlic, chopped finely
One red pepper and one carrot coarsely chopped
One tsp. each of kosher salt, black pepper, dried oregano and red pepper flakes
Two sheets each of plastic wrap and several tooth picks or pieces of butcher string
One-half cup of dry red wine
Take one half of the veggie mixture and sauté in large pot or dutch oven
Put the San Marzano tomatoes and half the wine into the pot with the veggies simmer sauce for two hours
Place meat pieces between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound to one-quarter inch thickness
Make a dry rub of the spices (a tsp. of the garlic) and rub into both sides of the meat
Cook the Italian sausage and chop finely
Sauté the remainder of onions, garlic and carrots in the sauté pan and set aside
Allow the meat and vegetables to cool to room temperature
NOW OPEN SOME WINE AND HAVE A SIP –YOU DESERVE A BREAK!
Combine the veggies, cheese, sausage and bread crumbs into a mixture in a bowl
Spread the mixture on each piece of beef, roll up and affix with toothpicks or string
Sauté the roll-ups in a skillet using some of the olive oil
Deglaze the skillet with a couple splashes of the red wine and place braciole in the tomato sauce in the dutch oven
Cover and cook in the oven for two hours at 325 F
Cook the penne in boiling water until al dente and combine with the tomato sauce
Ladle the spicy sauce over the braciole and penne and serve on the same plate.
2010 Castello di Bossi Chianti Classico ($24) –Infused with dark cherry flavors and hints of spice and blackberry, this predominately sangiovese-based wine is full-bodied and rich. It would be a great match to the racy red sauce and the braciole.
2013 Columbia Winery Columbia Valley Merlot ($17) – Merlot with Italian food? Actually yes. This silky, full-bodied and spicy Washington State wine also has a nice zing of acidity to balance it out and make it an excellent match to braciole.
My maternal grandparents landed at Ellis Island in the late 19th Century, following others from their home state of Calabria to West Virginia. After more than 15 years working in the mines, my grandfather built a bakery in the North View section of Clarksburg that, to this day, my cousins continue to operate.
Sunday family dinners at my grandparents’ home, replete with dozens of cousins, aunts and uncles, are happily and indelibly seared in my memory. Those Calabrian-inspired feasts, washed down with jugs of home made red wine, would begin shortly after noon and proceed until early evening.
I think of those family gatherings, particularly this time of the year, as I peruse the family reunion cookbook to select the menus for the holidays to come. Italian-American families can eat and drink like elite athletes run and jump, and the multi-day Christmas season is truly the Olympiad of all gustatory holiday celebrations.
[caption id="attachment_1165" align="alignleft" width="300"] Feast of the Seven Fishes
I know this because as a youngster, growing up in my little corner of north-central West Virginia, I learned from the accomplished eaters and drinkers in my large family the difference between a sprint and a marathon. You had to be in it for the long haul to enjoy it, so it was essential to savor the feast in moderation, a term with an elastic definition - kind of like spandex.
This was particularly important given the family’s tradition of visiting each other’s homes beginning Christmas Eve and extending through New Year’s Day. In a one- hundred yard block, there were eight separate homes or apartments where my grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins lived.
Five of the eight surviving adult brothers and sisters conceived by my grand parents, along with three married cousins lived, loved, argued and (especially) ate with one another in this small space.
It all began with a visit to Grandma’s home where you risked bodily harm (from Grandpa) if you refused to eat something. It really didn’t matter what you ate – an olive, a piece of cheese or a crust of bread - just that you ate it and had something to drink – usually wine.
Then it was off to visit each family abode and that could take several days to accomplish since we were hosting family visitors in our own home during that same time frame. And while each family’s dining room table was heaped with the edible bounty of the season, certain family members were noted for the special dishes they “owned.”
For example, no one would dare prepare squid lasagna. That was one of Aunt Notie’s culinary masterpieces –her piece de resistance - and it would have been considered a serious affront for some other family member to feature the dish, particularly on Christmas Eve when everyone cooked their version of the “feast of the seven fishes.”
That’s not to say that our family was shy about claiming superiority in the preparation of just about any other traditional Italian dish. To suggest to Uncle Frankie, for instance, that your stuffed artichokes could in any way compete with the ones he prepared was to elicit an epithet-laced tirade that could shatter crystal.
Oh, yes, we would argue – and on just about anything! But food topped the list. Who had the most unique dish? Was it Aunt Katie’s braised rabbit in red wine… Uncle Johnny’s home made Italian sausage… cousin Gloria’s spinach and cheese stuffed leg of lamb…?
By the end of the day on January 1st, most of us required the Italian version of Alka-Seltzer – Brioschi - which was prescribed to the rest of us by the women in the family who practiced a form of moderation less elastic than the rest of us.
It is traditional in the holiday season to give, receive or sip Bordeaux (also known as Claret), Cabernet Sauvignon or a Bordeaux-style blend. Here are a few Christmas Clarets for your consideration:
2009 Chateau Palmer; 2012 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon; 2011 Joseph Phelps Insignia; 2010 Chateau La Dominique; 2010 Spring Mountain Cabenet Sauvignon; 2009 Chateau Montrose; 2010 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve; 2000 Chateau Brainaire Ducru; 2010 Merryvale Profile; 2010 Chateau Cos d’Estournel; 2010 St. Supery Elu Red; 2010 Cain Five Cabernet Sauvignon; 2010 Pontet Canet; 2005 Leoville Las Cases; 2009 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; and 2010 Guado al Tasso.
With Thanksgiving just a few days away, it is time to select the wine for this distinctly American feast. And while I will always use a wine or two from the good old US of A among those I uncork, the Thanksgiving meal can accommodate a diverse variety of both whites and reds from all around the globe.
The reason is that turkey is blessed with meat that has a variety of flavors, colors and textures which present opportunities for us to try with a variety of different wines. And, when you add the dishes that traditionally accompany Thanksgiving dinner, things really get interesting.
It is always safe to use a white wine for the main course. Whether you use a light, slightly sweet German riesling, Alsatian pinot gris, a fruit forward Gruner Veltliner, an herbal sauvignon blanc or even a rich and full-bodied chardonnay, you will find that traditional oven- roasted turkey will pair nicely with each of these white wines.
The type of stuffing you use adds a whole other flavor dimension which — depending upon the spices and ingredients used in the dressing — opens up even more wine possibilities.
But what really surprises some folks (particularly those who adhere to the rigid view that you should only pair white wine with white meat) is how well turkey matches up to red wines. In fact, the “national bird” can go quite well with even fuller bodied red wines, particularly when the bird has been grilled or smoked. We’re talking cabernet sauvignon, Chateauneuf Du Pape, zinfandel, syrah, malbec and even Barbaresco can be an excellent match to turkey prepared in this manner.
[caption id="attachment_1147" align="alignleft" width="288"] Grilled turkey needs fuller-bodied wines
While the traditional oven-roasted turkey with sage-flavored dressing does wonderfully well with the whites mentioned above, lighter to medium bodied red wines like Beaujolais, Chianti Classico or cabernet franc are also good choices and do not overpower turkey prepared in this manner.
My mother would oven-roast her turkey, but her dressing recipe excluded the use of sage. Rather, she would season with salt, pepper and garlic and then add roast chestnuts and Italian sausage to her bread dressing. In years past, I have used a full, rich chardonnay or a medium-bodied pinot noir to accompany this meal, and both have worked exceptionally well.
But this year, I’m going to place the bird on the grill and concoct a stuffing with southwestern flavors. Here’s how:
One 15-pound turkey
One large container to hold turkey and brine
One cup each of kosher salt, brown sugar and one gallon of water, one quart each apple cider and/or beer for the brine
One large package of corn bread stuffing
Two 12-ounce cans of turkey or chicken broth
Two rehydrated and diced dried ancho peppers (optional)
One tablespoon each of cumin and chili powder
Two finely chopped chipotles in adobo sauce (available in small cans)
Eight ounces of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
One-half pound of cooked and chopped chorizo sausage
One-half stick of butter
Mix brine (water, beer, apple cider, salt, sugar) and place turkey in brine
Allow turkey to soak in brine for at least four hours or overnight
Mix stuffing (cornbread stuffing, sausage, broth, spices, etc)
Pat turkey dry, rub butter over all turkey inside and out
Stuff turkey or place stuffing in a separate pan to cook in oven
Light charcoal fire, place coals to either side of grate,
Place a pan of water on the grate in between coals
Put grill over the grate, place turkey over water, affix lid to grill and cook
Add charcoal to grill as necessary to maintain heat
Grill for three to four hours or until turkey reaches 165 degrees
This grilled turkey and spicy dressing would overpower lighter styled wines and requires varietals that can stand up to intense flavors. And while I plan to use red wines this year, I could easily have chosen an Alsatian gewürztraminer or riesling to tame and complement the spice and smoke in the dish.
So here are the wines that will complement my Thanksgiving dinner this year. To toast the holiday before dinner, I plan to open a bottle of Domaine Carneros Brut Rose. With the main course, I will uncork two different red wines: 2002 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel and a 1998 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf Du Pape. And at the conclusion of dinner, we will pair the pumpkin pie dessert with a bottle of Chateau St. Jean Late Harvest Riesling.
Then it’s off to the recliner for football and a tryptophan-induced nap.
The abrupt change in weather from relatively comfortable – if wet - days to frigid,
windy conditions has prompted me to adjust my consumption of that elixir we all love from lighter wines to fuller bodied whites and reds.
[caption id="attachment_1137" align="alignleft" width="279"] Hearty foods = full-bodied wines
I also need an attitude adjustment due to the almost depressing diminution of daylight. So here’s what I’m doing to lift my spirits and alter my mood - without a prescription.
My over the counter solution involves selecting wines that go with the types of hearty meals that late fall and early winter demand. With stews, soups and casseroles along with roasted meats accompanied by potatoes, squash and root vegetables on the menu, you will need wines that stand up to and enhance these heavier dishes.
The wines I am suggesting below should meet the requirements of this culinary transition quite nicely and also allow you to smoothly segue into the even more substantial foods and wines of the holiday season to come.
2011 Jean Sigler Gewurztraminer ($21)- From Alsace, this gewürztraminer is a full-bodied wine with a complex flavor profile showing tropical fruits and spices like anise. Very aromatic with hints of flowers and melon, this gewurztraminer pairs beautifully with spicy dishes and strong cheeses. It is particularly good with Vietnamese, Thai and Indian cuisines.
2012 La Bastitde Cotes du Rhone Blanc ($17)– Comprised of mostly viognier and marsanne, this southern Rhone white is medium to full bodied. Citrus and apricot flavors are buttressed by good acidity and make this wine a great match to Bouillabaisse or other hearty fish stews.
2012 Steele Cuvee Chardonnay – ($22) This medium-bodied chardonnay has everything – fruit, oak and acidity - in balance. From three different vineyards in three distinct appellations (Sonoma, Mendocino and Santa Maria Valley), you should pair this baby with Chilean Sea Bass basted with a beurre blanc sauce and roasted in the oven.
2011 Easton Monarch Mine Cabernet Franc ($19) – Cabernet franc has not been a very successful wine in California with a few exceptions and this is one of them. Grown in the Sierra Foothills at about 2500 feet, this wine has peppery, ripe plum flavors, a slight hint of vanilla from the oak and good balancing acidity. I would serve it with roast pork tenderloin in a mustard crème sauce.
2010 Mercer Estates Columbia Valley Merlot ($22) – Full-bodied, but very balanced, this Washington State merlot is more akin to the Right-Bank wines of Bordeaux than to anything in the new world. Ripe dark cherry and minty cola flavors combine to make this a good match to a spicy Chicken Cacciatore dish.
2012 Penfolds Hyland Shiraz ($16) –From the Barossa, McLaren Vale and Upper Adelaide regions of Australia, this shiraz is not at all like some of the high alcohol versions of the syrah grape produced Down Under. The wine is made in a fresh style with juicy berry flavors, soft tannins and just a touch of oak. Oven slow -cooked beef brisket slathered with a spicy red barbecue sauce is just what the gourmand ordered for this shiraz.
2011 Frescobaldi Nipozzano Vecchie Viti ($31), Produced from old vines in one of the best regions of Chianti, this silky red is rich, yet structured, with black cherry, tea and cola flavors. Just enough tannic background to justify additional aging, I would allow it to breathe in a carafe for a couple of hours and serve it as an accompaniment to roasted rack of lamb that has been brushed with a mixture of olive oil, garlic, coarsely ground black pepper, Kosher salt, Dijon mustard and lemon.
So this week, warm your body, lift your spirit and adjust your attitude with some hearty food and really good wine!