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

Sippin’ and suppin’ in Italy - Part II -

Sippin’ and suppin’ in Italy - Part II -

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

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

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

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

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

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Wine and food events in November

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

Spanish Wine Dinner

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

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

 Canaan Valley Resort Wild and wonderful Wine and Food Weekend

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

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My trip to Italia - Part I

My trip to Italia - Part I

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

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

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

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

 Vineyards above Cascina Del Monastero

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Back from Italia!

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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Wine and food events

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can I make such a claim?  Read on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pushing the envelope: white wine and barbecue

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


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


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

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A dream come true: chocolate and wine are good for you!

I fell in love with chocolate decades ago and throughout the intervening years I have tried desperately to avoid becoming a full-fledged chocoholic.  My battle with this sweet addiction has caused me much angst, but over the past few years researchers have touted the healthful attributes of chocolate - or at least dark chocolate.

This research came as shocking, yet welcome, news and seemed a repudiation of what a whole generation of moms preached to us.  Remember  when your mom would scare you with horror stories about how too much chocolate would result in rotten teeth, pimples and obesity?

Your parents probably also warned you about drinking wine.  Just a few of decades ago, people who drank more than just an occasional glass were considered reprobates or wino's by the moral police of the time whose idea of moderate drinking with meals was the three martini lunch.


While moderate wine consumption is considered acceptable now, chocolate had still been considered a somewhat decadent extravagance by health-conscious individuals.

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Stuffed poblanos with quinoa and chorizo: A Zinful meal

      I’ll admit it, I am consumed each day by lengthy ruminations over what I’m going to eat and drink.  Conversations with my long-suffering spouse almost always involve planning the evening meal and sometimes precipitate disputes that are usually amicably, but sometimes loudly, settled.Then one or both of us will venture out to search for the freshest ingredients and the wine to accompany the agreed upon meal. These almost daily forays inevitably lead to the farmer’s stands at Capitol Market to peruse and then purchase the just picked veggies that are so appealingly displayed.     Like many of my contemporaries, I am trying to eat a healthier diet in the hope that doing so will undue decades of abuse ladled into my arterial system by the constant ingestion of the three most important central Appalachian food groups: lard, red meat and fried potatoes.Therefore, recently I went in search of poblano peppers that would be the centerpiece of a (almost) vegetarian meal.  Poblanos, when dried as they often are, become ancho peppers and are sometimes ground to make chili powder. Anchos can also be re-hydrated and used in sauces.  I found the  poblanos at the Purple Onion inside Capitol Market and, while they  do have a slight measure of heat, they are nowhere near the potency of a jalapeno.     So today, I’m  going to tell you about  a one-course meal that is guaranteed to spice up your day and in a very healthy way. And when you accompany this meal with one of the  juicy zinfandels  I’m going to suggest, you’ll have the perfect summer time repast. You’ll need one large poblano for each adult you’re serving.  For purposes of this recipe, we’ll use the stuffing for two peppers.     Stuffed Poblanos , Quinoa with (or without ) Chorizo.  Okay, here goes.

Shopping list:- Two large poblanos- One clove garlic diced- One quarter medium onion diced- One-quarter cup finely chopped cilantro- Four ounces Monterey jack cheese- One- quarter pound ground chorizo sausage(optional)- Two ounces of vegetable oil- One-half cup quinoa or brown rice- Salt and pepper to taste     For those of you unfamiliar with quinoa  (pronounced keen-wah), it is supposedly the perfect food. It fluffs up like rice and is gluten free with a protein content of 12%. It can also be used as a substitute for pasta and white rice and is very low in carbohydrates.  It tastes good too. If you can’t find it (The Purple Onion usually stocks it), use brown rice as a low-carb substitute or just use white rice if you wish.Preparation:1. Place poblanos  directly  on the stove top  and char the skin, turning often until most of the surface of the pepper is charred.2. Place the peppers in a paper or plastic bag for about 20 minutes, remove and peel the skin3. With a small, sharp knife, cut a slit in top of the pepper large enough to spoon in the   stuffing.4. Dice the garlic, chop the onion and cilantro and sauté in two ounces of vegetable oil until the veggies are translucent.5. Sauté’ the chorizo and drain off the fat6. Combine the quinoa, vegetables, chorizo and shredded cheese in a bowl and allow to cool.7. When cool, add one egg to the mixture and stir, then stuff the peppers  and add more cheese to the top of each pepper.8. Place on aluminum foil and on an oven pan and heat through for 30 minutes at 325  degrees (F).

Wine Recommendations:     Spicy, juicy red zinfandel is the perfect accompaniment to this meal.  Try the 2006 Wild Hog Zinfandel ($25) or the 2007 Castle Rock Mendocino Zinfandel ($14 ).  While both have the requisite blackberry juiciness and spice component in spades, the Wild Hog is a fuller-bodied version of Zin while the Castle Rock shows more acidity and is a little less in your face.

WV restaurants wine Wine Spectator awards

We all have our favorite restaurants around the state and even beyond the borders of this land of “purple mountain majesty.”  Good food should be accompanied by good wine and those eateries that understand this rudimentary principle should be recognized.  It’s one thing for this back-water wino to say nice things about a grubbery, but when a prestigious international magazine does…well that, to use the local vernacular, is “spay-chull.”

Therefore, wine lovers and foodies in our state should know that the annual Wine Spectator restaurant awards were just announced and the Mountain State has 13 establishments that received honors.  

According to the magazine, “Wine Spectator’s restaurant wine list awards program recognizes restaurants 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, accurate wine information. 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. “  Nearly 3000 restaurants across world have received the “Award of Excellence,” including eleven restaurants in WV.  Two WV restaurants, the Bavarian Inn and the Greenbrier’s Main Dining Room, received “Best of Awards of Excellence” and that’s quite an honor since only 800 restaurants achieved that distinction.   Only 72 restaurants around the world received the highest honor and none were in West By-god  -- yet.

The state restaurants receiving “Awards of Excellence are:  Bridge Road Bistro, Charleston; The Chop House, Charleston; Ember,  Snowshoe Mountain Resort ; The Glasshouse Grille, Morgantown; La Bonne Vie, Chester (at Mountaineer Racetrack); Provence Market Café, Bridgeport;  Sam Snead’s, While Sulpher  Springs (The Greenbrier); Sargasso, Morgantown;  Savannah's, Huntington; Soho’s, Charleston; and Spats, Parkersburg (in the Blennerhassett Hotel).

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Sipping for a cause: Fourth annual Wine and Roses Event

I am a board member of the Roark-Sullivan Lifeways Center (RSLC).   This is a very special organization with a great group of dedicated employees and volunteers. The center assists individuals experiencing homelessness with services that help them become self-reliant.
For the past several years, RSLC has been hosting a fund raising event at Capitol Market called “Wine and Roses.” Wouldn’t it be great to help programs like Roark-Sullivan and enjoy good wine and gourmet food, too?
Well, you can!  Join me and other wine lovers at the fourth annual Roark-Sullivan Lifeways Center Wine and Roses event. Wine and Roses will be held indoors at the Capitol Market from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 16. Partnering with RSLC is the Capitol Market, Soho’s, the Thomas Health System, A Travel Agent in WV and the Wine Shop at Capitol Market.  
Area wine distributors and locally owned Napa Valley winery, Falcor, are donating the wines.  And believe me, there will be exceptional wines available for your sipping pleasure from all over the world.  In addition, there will be an assortment of gourmet appetizers you can pair with the wines.   
I’ll be there to answer your wine questions and chat about the tasty treats we’re sipping. And, hey, if you find a wine you like, you can stroll right over and purchase it immediately from the nice folks at the Wine Shop.
I count myself fortunate to have the time and resources to engage my passion for good wine and food. Others in our town, state and nation are not so fortunate. Each day is a challenge for them. Many of our fellow citizens are dealing with debilitating physical, emotional and mental issues that make each day a struggle to survive. Their goal is simply to find food to eat and a place to sleep. Fortunately, there are agencies in our communities that exist solely to assist these people, many of whom are homeless.
RSLC operates the 60-bed Giltinan Center on Leon Sullivan Way (formerly the Charleston Men’s Emergency Shelter) and the 16-bed Twin Cities Center in St. Albans and provides comprehensive services such as healthcare maintenance; substance abuse and mental health assistance; outreach; and transitional and aftercare services. Last year, RSLC constructed and opened a Veterans Transitional Center adjacent to the Giltinan Center that provides services to homeless veterans.
The Roark-Sullivan Lifeways Center and other such organizations exist because of state and federal programs funded by your taxes, and through your generous personal contributions.  Please join me and raise a glass for a great cause!  
 Tickets are $30 in advance or at the door. You can call RSLC at 304-414-0109 and use your credit card or send a check to: RSLC, P.O. Box 1707, Charleston, WV, 25326.
I hope to see you there. 

Pairing wine and food

Boy have I been sipping some excellent wines this summer.  I’ve also been pairing them up with some yummy culinary treats – which is the equivalent of a gustatory double whammy!  I’ve also found that cooking the family meal is a great way to get out of yard work, and that’s reason enough for me to do my sweating in the kitchen.

I’ll be the first to admit that finding the appropriate food and wine match can be tricky. But I have acquired a lot of experience over the years, mainly through trial and error, and I’ve come up with some pairings that work for me and just might work for you too. 

Like all rules in wine appreciation, there are really no rules. In other words, if you enjoy filet mignon with Uncle Fred’s Rhubarb Red, then go for it. However, the overwhelming school of thought when it comes to finding the best food and wine pairing is to pick flavors that are complimentary. There are times, though, when it is best to find wine that has some contrasting elements  to the edibles.

And just like a good old West Virginia ward healer, I can go in either direction - depending on the circumstances, the mood or which way the wind is blowing. Okay, so here are some common sense principles to follow.

Lighter-bodied foods go best with lighter style wines while heavier flavored foods are best paired with fuller-flavored wines.  For instance, a poached white fish would go best with a lighter styled white wine such as a white Bordeaux or Albarino from Spain. Conversely, a well-marbled strip steak would be a great match with a robust red wine such as cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel.

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Slow down and relax with some bargain wines

I hope that I’m preaching to the choir, but there are few things more pleasurable than sipping a glass of wine with dinner, particularly after a long day of toiling in the vineyard – so to speak.

Wine not only enhances the dining experience, it also relaxes the mind and spirit and fosters friendly conversation among diners. Sound like a commercial for slow food?  Well, I am a disciple of this reemerging philosophy, and I would argue that wine is a key component in the slow food movement.
Unfortunately, many of us rush around trying to fit too much life in too little time and, consequently, many of us view wine as a special occasion beverage.  In my humble opinion, just making it through another day in this crazy, complex world is reason enough to celebrate with a glass or two of your favorite wine.
But, in these rough economic times, can I afford to drink wine each day? Ah ha, that’s what I hope to impart to you  here today. The fact is that most regular wage earners can afford a glass or two of wine each day. In fact, there are thousands of inexpensive and quality wines  now available from which to choose.  

The demand for good, affordable wine is at an all time high, and producers are responding with a sea of new products from all around the world. In addition to the recognizable tried and true wine producing countries such as the US, France, Italy, Germany and Australia, other nations, less known for their viticultural acumen, are now making very good wine.

Recently, exceptional wine has been produced  in such geographically diverse nations as  South Africa, Spain, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Portugal and Austria, just to name a few. Whether you’re looking for red, white, sparkling or rose, you’ll find excellent wines in every country I’ve mentioned.
So how do I learn about these wines (in addition to this erudite and eminently understandable blog/column)? Just ask your wine purveyor or simply take a chance and try the new wines you see on the shelf.
Another great way to learn about wine, in addition to periodicals and magazines (The  Wine Spectator, The Wine Enthusiast and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate are a few  of my favorite sources), is to go online and use a search engine such as Google, or Yahoo to request information on wine reviews or wine blogs like this one.

So, to give you a push in the right direction, here are a few eminently affordable wines to try with your everyday “slow food” meal whether it is filet mignon or mac and cheese.

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Collecting wine: patience and will power rewarded

You’ve probably read from time to time about the superb quality of this or that particular vintage in some part of the wine world.  In California, wine makers have had almost a decade of pretty good to excellent vintages, particularly for cabernet sauvignon. In Bordeaux, wine made in 2000 and 2005 have been hailed as the “greatest vintages” of the century (of course the century is less than a decade old now). And the silky wines made from Brunello Di Montalcino have also had a string of exceptional vintages recently. 

I’ve sampled some of the aforementioned wines and have concluded that, hyperbole aside, these are excellent vintages and you would be wise to purchase them - if you can afford them. Even in this troubled economy,  people will pay excessively for highly rated wines.

But where do you age these vinous gems if you don’t have a special, temperature controlled wine cellar or wine cabinet?

Finding an appropriate place to store your bottles requires paying attention to a few key details that will ensure your wines emerge from their Rip Van Winkle-like sleep mature and ready for you to enjoy. Since everyone knows that aging wine in a cool place is desirable, why not just store your bottles in the refrigerator?

Well, for wines you’ll be consuming in the short term – both red (particularly) and white – the refrigerator is fine as a short term storage alternative. However, for those wines you hope to age for several years, it is both impractical and ill advised to store that wine in the refrigerator.

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Barbecue 101: grill meets (wine)boy

With summer gaining on us pretty quickly, you’ll be spending more time in the great outdoors grilling all manner of animals, vegetables and fish.  This American tradition, often referred to as barbecuing, really originated in prehistoric times and even before cavemen knew how to start a fire.  So, how could they enjoy barbecue delicacies if they didn’t know how to start a fire?  They would simply wait for the conclusion of a lightning-induced forest fire, and then gingerly roam the charred woods to feast on the roasted remains of various animals. Can you imagine any other way to barbecue a tyrannosaurus rex?        Anyway, many of us will soon be dusting off the old grill, laying in a good supply of charcoal (or propane for you gas grillers) and purchasing all manner of animal parts to roast in the great outdoors. And the good news is you won’t have to wait on a lightning-induced forest fire! Regardless of what cut of meat, fish or even vegetable you intend to barbecue, preparing the food before grilling is crucial to achieving success with the finished product.  Many people make the common mistake of firing up the grill, laying on the meat and immediately inundating the food with commercial barbecue sauce. Wrong move.    The problem is that when you add sauce to meat over a hot grill the food catches on fire and turns the stuff into crispy, unidentifiable, blackened hunks of formerly organic matter. And I don’t have anything against purchased sauces even though I’ve never bought one without adding other ingredients. However, I know you can do better with your own concoction.Here are few recommendations (from BarbecueBoy) for avoiding a disaster and for turning your grilling experience into a rousing success.  Let’s deal today with two of the most popular cuts of meat: chicken and pork ribs. I like to begin by trimming a portion of fat from both cuts of meat.  Next, I always apply a dry rub of spices or powders to impart flavors to the meat during grilling.Try using different combinations of dry rubs.  A good one for ribs is a teaspoon each of black pepper, chili powder and cumin.  Or try these other store-bought rubs on either chicken or ribs: Cajun seasonings; lemon pepper; Indian curry spices; or Jamaican Jerk spices.I generally cook the meat, particularly ribs, very slowly (by closing the lid and adjusting the air vents on the top and bottom of the grill) and I use the indirect method of grilling.  To use the indirect method, simply move the charcoal to either side of the grill and placing the meat in the center of the rack.  For indirect grilling with gas, simply turn one or more of the burners off and move the meat to that side. You can even add water to an aluminum pie pan directly under the meat to catch any drippings and to keep the meat moist during cooking.Sometimes, I will simply slow roast the meat with just the dry rub and serve it that way without any sauce, or other times I’ll serve the sauce on the side.The key, however, is not to add the sauce to the meat until the very end - for the last five minutes or so. If you wish, you can take the ribs or chicken off the grill, add more sauce to the meat and cover the dish in a warm oven for a while longer.So now I suppose you want my barbecue sauce recipe?  Okay, I’ll share this one with you:  one cup of ketchup; 3 oz. of orange juice; two table spoons of Tabasco; one teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce; 3 oz. of white vinegar; and one teaspoon of brown sugar.  Bring this concoction to a boil and let simmer for about 15 minutes.  This is particularly good on ribs.Now what about wine for the above mentioned dishes?  I am a great believer that rose’ is the perfect barbecue wine, particularly ones that are dry or just slightly sweet. Here are two that would be especially nice with the barbecued chicken or ribs mentioned above. 2007 Masciarelli Rose’ d’Abruzzo ($12) This delicious dry pink Italian rose’ has aromas of spice, strawberry and freshly mown hay. In the mouth it is full of delicate cherry flavors with just a touch of cinnamon and enough acidity to make it a special match to barbecue. 2008 Las Rocas Rosado ($14) This Spanish rose’ is a deeper color of pink than the Masciarelli and the flavors are more intense. On the nose, the wine has a berry and floral character and on the palate has rich cherry and spicy tones with excellent balance.  The wine starts off slightly sweet and then finishes dry. Try it with heavier, spicier barbecue sauces or dry rubs. 

Some really good wines with WineBoy menu suggestions

So friends, how about some new WineBoy recommendations that will titillate your palate, soothe your weary psyche and free your spirit? 

Okay, I know, that’s a little over the top.  So how about this:  the following wines are real good (especially with food), reasonably priced and will likely knock your socks off!

Now that’s more like it, right?  Okay, so here goes.

2007 Patient Cottat Sauvignon Blanc ($13) – This lovely, delicate wine is grown in and around the world famous vineyards of Sancerre in France’s Loire Valley.  Sprightly and lively enough to be an aperitif (or porch- sipper), this baby has lovely citrus and melon notes with just a hint of anise and would make a superb accompaniment to pasta with asparagus and prosciutto.

2007 Domaine Matrot Bourgogne Blanc (Chardonnay) ($20) – White Burgundies from even bad vintages can cost as much (or more) than a digital camera.  So, when you find one that is good – and also reasonably priced – grab that sucker (and forget about the camera). The beauty of this chardonnay, which was produced near the esteemed vineyards of Mersault, is its subtle flavors of apricot, butterscotch and minerals along with perfect balancing acidity.

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On the menu: roasted sea bass on pastina with an arugula salad

 Today, I’m going to tell you about a great warm weather meal beginning with a simple salad, followed by a light, spicy, yet rich, seafood entrée.  Oh, and by the way, I’m going to suggest a couple of complementary wines that will make this a meal to remember.  
Some years back, a good friend was kind enough to present me with some arugula seeds which had somehow found their way into his luggage on his return from a trip to Italy. This was about 15 years ago and arugula was an exotic, rare and highly prized salad green.  I planted the seeds and fortunately the arugula flourished.  
Consequently, each spring and early summer we have enjoyed this aromatic, peppery and nutty tasting perennial vegetable in salads and in pasta dishes. Nowadays, you can find arugula in many grocery markets and from smaller fruit and vegetable vendors (The Purple Onion in Charleston’s Capitol Market usually has a good supply). The following recipe feeds four. 
The Salad                       
You'll need: one-half pound of arugula cleaned and dried ; one-half Vidalia or Osso Sweet onion thinly sliced; one bulb of thinly sliced fennel; one seedless orange, peeled and sectioned; two ounces of shaved Parmigiano Reggiano; three ounces of extra virgin olive oil  and the juice of one lemon; Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. 
To make this salad, simply clean the arugula, dry it and then dress it with olive oil, fresh lemon, sweet onions and salt and pepper. To this mixture, add thinly sliced fennel (from the bulb), sectioned seedless oranges and top the salad off with thinly sliced (one inch long) pieces of Parmigiano Reggiano.  
The Fish  I visited my favorite seafood purveyor -Joe’s Fish Market in Charleston - and purchased four six-ounce fillets of Chilean sea bass.  For those of you who have not experienced the exquisite flavor of truly fresh fish, I suggest you travel to Joe’s and let the experts there tempt you with their deep sea goodies. While this entrée would work just as well with grouper, halibut or some other firm, yet mildly flavored fish, this dish works best with Chilean Sea Bass.  
1.  Pre -heat your oven to 400 degrees  
2.  Dredge the sea bass in a dry mixture of flour, salt and pepper and sauté in two ounces of extra virgin olive oil for about two minutes a side and remove from the pan. 
3.  In the same sauté pan, add more olive oil and lightly brown  (until translucent) a  teaspoon of freshly chopped garlic, one-half cup diced sweet onions along with one diced sweet yellow pepper.
4.  Add to this mixture one cup each of freshly cored and peeled sweet tomatoes (canned tomatoes will do in an emergency) and one-half cup of dry white wine (preferably the stuff you will be drinking with the entrée).  
5.  Cook vigorously for another three minutes then add pitted and chopped Greek or Italian black olives, and two teaspoons of capers. Remove from the heat and cover the mixture.  
6.  At the same time, boil one cup of pastina (the tiny pasta that is about half the size of a grain of rice) in two quarts of water until cooked al dente,  drain and add a teaspoon of butter, salt and pepper to taste and set aside.     
7.  Place the fish in a shallow oven pan (rubbed with olive oil) and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes until it is firm, but not overdone.   
 8.  Spoon the pastina onto a plate and put the fish on top of it. Then ladle the pepper and tomato mixture over top the fish and Viola (that’s pronounced Vie-ole-la where I come from), and you’ve got yourself some good eating. 
This is a dish which needs a light to medium-bodied white and I’ve got a couple of recommend ions for you.  

 2007 Clos Du Bois Sauvignon Blanc ($14)   This wine has very balanced flavors of melon, herbs and citrus that meld beautifully with the dish   

2007 Geyser Peak Chardonnay ($15) Ripe apple flavors and a creamy mouth feel highlight this well-balanced chardonnay that has just a kiss of oak. Matches very well with the richness of the sea bass. 

Beyond Chateauneuf Du Pape: the other wines of Provence

Ask a Francophile to describe the outstanding attributes of France’s southern Rhone region known as Provence, and you’ll likely get responses that heap praise on it’s striking mountains, fields of lavender, delicious Mediterranean cuisine, Roman ruins and Papal Palace in Avignon.

Ask an oenophile (or just some wine geek like me) about Provence and we'll quickly tell you it is home to Chateauneuf Du Pape, the most famous and expensive wine of this southern Rhone River region. As a matter of fact, I had the pleasure of spending some time in Provence in the summer of 2002, and visited Chateuneuf Du Pape as well as many of the other wine villages and towns of that picturesque region.  

While Chateauneuf  Du Pape can produce truly exceptional wines, particularly from producers such as Fortia, Beaucastel, Vieux Telegraphe, Chapoutier, Paul Autard and Rayas, there are a plethora of other exceptional wines being made in Provence that are very reasonably priced. And, while there are some good white wines made in Provence, the emphasis here is on red, and that’s what we’re examining here today.

There are 13 grapes that can be used to make red Chateauneuf Du Pape and other wines of the region, but most wineries blend a combination of syrah with the ubiquitous grenache and a touch of mourvedre to produce these lovely, full-flavored wines.

First, understand that there have been a series of exceptional to superlative vintages in the Southern Rhone region over the past decade. With the exception of 2002, when many vineyards were inundated by torrential rain and flooding, every vintage that has been released  since 1998 is rated over 90 (in a 100 point scale).

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Sprintime pasta and sauvignon blanc: ramping up the menu

Ramps!  Like snails, single malt scotch or sweet breads, you either love ‘em or hate ‘em.

Maybe it’s because of my familial ties to the ramp capitol of the world – Richwood, West Virginia - but I really do love those little odiferous lilies that dot the mountains of our wild and wonderful state this time of year.

The stories about Richwood and ramps are many, outrageous and sometimes true. The late Jim Comstock, publisher of the now defunct West Virginia Hillbilly, chronicled many of them in his newspaper. He is also responsible for literally creating a national stink when he added ramps to the printers ink for one edition of the newspaper. The US Postal service was not amused, but it sure did put his town and ramps on the map.

My paternal grandparents hailed from that little mountain village fast by the shores of the Cherry River, and I spent many happy summers there, escaping the heat and humidity of Clarksburg in the days before air-conditioning. I don’t remember ever having been exposed to the little lilies back then, but I do remember my first experience with them.

I was in the US Army at the time and home on leave, enjoying a few days with my family before heading off to Southeast Asia to defeat communism. One evening, my next door neighbor brought over a six pack (or so) of beer and a mess of ramps.  He suggested the best way to enjoy the little veggies was to sprinkle them with salt and eat them raw – which we did until the wee hours of the morning

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