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

Oregon Feeds the Beast!

My name is John and I am a hedonist!

This is a declaration I feel compelled to make after attending – for the second consecutive year - the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC). The event is held annually the last weekend of July in the heart of Oregon’s Willamette Valley - the acclaimed American Viticultural Area (AVA) where pinot noir is king.

While my affection for pinot noir and its versatility was the primary catalyst for the return trip, I must admit that memories of the “incredible edibles” prepared by a host of talented chefs from all over the northwest made the decision easy.

In fact, in a few short days we participated in and consumed wine and food at three multi-course dinners, two luncheons (all outdoors in perfect weather conditions) and a Champagne brunch featuring food almost too visually appealing to eat – almost! In addition, we attended and sipped wine at four seminars and two evening receptions, featuring more than 100 wineries from Oregon, Burgundy, New Zealand and California.

Now, before you get the impression that this was an out-of-control bacchanalian orgy, let me emphasize that the more than 400 people attending this event were under control. I saw no evidence of stumbling, bumbling or slurring. I did, though, observe many people spitting wine into Styrofoam cups or pouring their wine into dumping vessels. (By the way, spitting is an acceptable practice in wine tasting, particularly when the taster must evaluate multiple wines.)

Continue reading

Wines From ‘Down Under’

Wines From ‘Down Under’

A few decades ago, in another life, I spent a week “Down Under” courtesy of the US Army. What I remember of that R&R week in Sydney is a bit fuzzy, but one aspect of Australian life was crystal clear: those folks liked their adult beverages! While my beverage of choice that week was beer - (which came in 10W-40-like cans or large mugs called “Schooners”), years later I came to appreciate another consumable liquid ably produced by the Aussies – wine.

Over the last 20 years, I have seen the Australian wine market grow from a few recognizable quality brands like Penfolds, to hundreds of excellent wineries from several growing regions in that vast country. Of all the wine regions in the country, the Barossa Valley in southeastern Australia is the most prestigious and -- meteorologically speaking -- is very much like northern California with vintages that are consistently very good.

While Australia is known mainly for its shiraz (which the rest of the world calls syrah) along with cabernet sauvignon, the Aussie wine makers also produce excellent chardonnay, riesling, semillon and grenache. I particularly enjoy the old vine Australian grenache. While Australian grenache is sometimes made as a single varietal, it is most often blended with shiraz and sometimes mourvedre, a deeply purple grape used to provide color and weight to the finished wine.

I’ve often wondered if the cultural diversity of Australia has played a role in the ubiquitous practice by wine makers from “Down Under” to blend different varieties of grapes to produce their wine. Whatever the reason, I’m glad they continue to blend because the resulting wines are not only very good, they provide complex tasting experiences. Here are some Australian wines you might try along with food suggestions to pair with them.

One of my favorite wineries is d’Arenberg whose wines go by some very strange and humorous names such as The Lucky Lizard Chardonnay, Dead Arm Shiraz (photo at right - click to enlarge) and The Hermit Crab Viognier, just to name a few. Try the old vine grenache from d’Arenberg called The Custodian ($15). This wine is from ancient vines – some more than 100 years old – and yet it is soft, approachable and full of spicy blueberry flavors. It would be a wonderful accompaniment to grilled baby back ribs.

D’Arenberg also makes a delicious blended wine comprised of shiraz with just a small amount of viognier (that’s right, viognier – a white wine) called The Laughing Magpie ($25). This wine has excellent aging potential and is full of dark plum and blackberry flavors that emerge after about one hour in a carafe. Try it with marinated and grilled top sirloin.

An absolutely delicious white is the aforementioned Hermit Crab Viognier ($14), which is a Rhone-like blend of viognier and marsanne. This wine is very will balanced and chock full of ripe pear flavors with a pronounced minerality. Its great as a porch-sipper or with lighter fish dishes such as flounder and sole plainly cooked and sauced with lemon and butter.

Another of my favorite shiraz’ is one produced by Torbreck called The Woodcutter’s Red ($22) This is a spicy, elegant wine with hints of blackberries that is pulled together by excellent balancing acidity. Grilled salmon with a southwest seasoning would be a good choice with the Woodcutter’s.

Hewitson’s Miss Harry ($24) is another great blend of grenache, mourvedre and shiraz that is a stunning wine full of complex dark fruit flavors. It is a full-bodied, round and rich wine that will definitely benefit from two or three years in the bottle, and would be a superb accompaniment to grilled rack of lamb that has been basted with garlic, rosemary olive oil and lemon.

Australia also does a wonderful job with non-traditional white wines like semillon. Semillon originated in the Graves region of Bordeaux and is blended there with sauvignon blanc to produce an austere and dry wine that is a great match with simply prepared seafood dishes.

In Australia, semillon (which, often as not, is blended with chardonnay or sauvignon blanc) is made in a much richer style, yet it exhibits a mineral quality that allows it to go quite well with oysters on the half shell as well as pasta dishes with a pesto or asparagus sauce. Try the Semillon from Simon Hackett, Rosemount and Peter Lehmann all of which retail for under $20 a bottle.

Riesling is also a good choice from Down Under and the following wines are in the $10 to $20 range: Pikes Clare Valley Riesling, Wolf Blass Adelaide Gold and Grant Burge. Slightly sweet, these are great aperitif wines or good matches to lighter foods like seafood salads or brunch grub such as omelets.

Wine and Roses Event: Sipping for a good cause

As you know, I really enjoy the sensory aspects of wine appreciation. Observing the beautiful hues and shades of wine and the myriad aromas and tastes of the fruit of the vine is truly a blessing. I also love trying to match a specific wine with a complimentary dish because, in my estimation, a good combination provides greater enjoyment than either the food or wine by itself. I count my self 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.

One such agency is the Roark-Sullivan Lifeways Center (RSLC) with facilities in Charleston and St. Albans. RSLC and other such organizations exist because of state and federal programs funded by your taxes and through your generous personal contributions.

As a board member of RSLC, I can tell you this is a 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. 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. RSLC is also building a Veterans Transitional Center adjacent to the Giltinan Center that will be completed later this year.

Wouldn’t it be great to help programs like Roark-Sullivan and enjoy good wine and food, too? Well, you can. Join me and about 100 other thirsty wine lovers at the third 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 17. Partnering with RSLC is the Capitol Market, Soho’s and the Wine Shop at Capitol Market.

There will be wines from all over the world which are once again being donated by area wine distributors. I’ll be there to answer your wine questions (even if I don’t know the answers). If you find a wine you like at the event, you can purchase it immediately from the nice folks at the Wine Shop.

Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door. You can call RSLC at 414-0109 and give them your credit card or send a check to: RSLC, P.O. Box 8957, South Charleston, WV, 25303.

I hope to see you there.

August 8-10: Taste of the Mountains Food, Wine & Jazz Festival
Looking for a great getaway wine and food weekend? Travel up to Snowshoe in August, take in the cool mountain air and partake of great wine, food and music. This wine and food weekend (Aug. 8-10) offers wine tastings, excellent food and live jazz entertainment. I’ve attended a couple of these festivals in past years and can tell you it’s a whole lot of fun. Bring your palate ready to taste some of the area’s finest foods complimented by wines from around the world.

The highlight of the weekend for me has always been Saturday’s Grand Tasting from 2-6:30 p.m. You’ll have access to 100 different wines from around the world matched with delicious edibles and you’ll hear some great jazz too. Prices for tastings, receptions, etc., can be purchased individually, or you can purchase a two-night all-inclusive package. Call Snowshoe for pricing and more information: (877) 441-4386

You Might want to dock at this PORT!

You Might want to dock at this PORT!

It may seem odd , but this fine summer day we’re going to examine the qualities of Port - that sweet Portuguese nectar which is usually consumed after a hearty meal or by a roaring fire to ward off the chill of winter. Why? Well, the other night after a special meal on the patio, I decided to open a tawny port to complete this lovely evening. As I sipped and enjoyed  a relatively inexpensive version of this sometimes very expensive wine, I was inspired to tell you about the pleasures of Port. Sotoday, we’ll look at the wonderful world of port.

First a little history lesson. Back in the 1700s, the English dearly loved the wines of Bordeaux, but because of their constant wars with the French, our British cousins were forced to look to Portugal for vinous sustenance. As they began to import red wine from Portugal, some enterprising folks added brandy to the barrels so the wines would be fortified to survive the arduous sea journey.

The practice of “fortifying” the wine was refined by the Portuguese wine makers who began to add distilled spirits to their wine during fermentation. This had the effect of stopping the fermentation and leaving the wines sweet. It also made the wines higher in alcohol. The British loved the sweet, high alcohol wines and the Portuguese were more than happy for the significant trade that ensued. Since that time, port has been exported all over the world and has become the staple after dinner drink for many wine lovers.

Some would suggest that port, like scotch, is an acquired taste. I can assure you that, from my perspective, port is a lot easier to enjoy than Scotch. True, there is a “baked” quality to the taste of this sweet wine that some folks take a while getting accustomed to, but once you try the stuff with a good blue cheese or a handful of walnuts, you’ll be hooked.

Port or 'porto' (as it is called in Portugal) is made from a variety of (unpronounceable) grapes grown along the steep slopes of Douro River. The river flows toward the town of Oporto, where the wine is sold to companies (called” Shippers”) who age it, label it under their house name and then export it all over the world.

Continue reading

The Willamette Valley’s WVU connection

What do WVU, pinot noir and Oregon have in common? Read on and you’ll find out.

So there I was on the campus of Linfield College in Oregon last summer, rushing to get to class on time. I had to chuckle at the irony of it all. Me, worried about being tardy for class? Any of my former WVU professors –if they’re still breathing – would certainly need to “suspend disbelief” in order to accept the absurdity of that image.

Well, I have to admit this was not your ordinary boring lecture by some pedantic, patch-on-the-sleeve liberal arts lecturer. Rather, it was a seminar which required the class to assess the various taste characteristics of pinot noir produced in Oregon and Burgundy. This “class” was one of many such explorations of pinot noir as part of the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) held in the heart of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

So what’s so special about pinot noir produced in Oregon? Simply put, it’s about location. The vast Willamette Valley begins near the Columbia River Gorge on the Washington border and stretches about 100 miles south to the city of Eugene. It is approximately 60 miles across at its widest point, and is an incredibly fertile area which produces a virtual cornucopia of fruits and vegetables, including wine grapes.

The valley lies between the coastal mountains on the west and the Cascade Range to the east. The weather in this area consistently produces long growing seasons with warm days and cool nights which is what is needed – meteorologically speaking – to grow good pinot noir.

Continue reading

Give your wine a little breathing room

Give your wine a little breathing room

To breathe or not to breathe? That is a question I am often asked by perplexed wine lovers. No, I’m not referring to the actual act of breathing, but rather to a term used in the wine lexicon to describe the somewhat controversial practice of aerating or decanting wine to improve both the aroma and taste of the stuff.

While it is undoubtedly true that 99 percent of all wine produced is ready to be drunk when it becomes available in the market place, what you won’t know until you try it is whether or not the wine will actually drink better if you allow it to “breathe.” Yet some people think that merely removing the cork will suffice in allowing enough oxygen to aerate the wine. Unfortunately, removing the cork allows only a miniscule amount of air into the bottle. Properly aerating a wine in this manner would take about two weeks.

Knowing when and how long to aerate a wine is a matter of judgment and experience. The idea is to decant the wine into a larger, more open container to allow a generous amount of oxygen to aerate the liquid and release the aromas and flavors that have been locked up in the bottle.

In reality, oxygen can be both friend and enemy to the wine we drink, depending upon the varietal type and age of the product. For example, I believe that young red wines always benefit from aeration. The process of decanting and letting these wines  breathe for an hour or so can transform them from virtually tasteless and inert liquids into delicious beverages with pleasing aromas. On the other hand, aeration will also expose and magnify any flaws in the way a wine will taste or smell.

For older wines (20 years plus), my rule of thumb is to stand the bottle upright for a day before opening to allow the sediment -- which is a natural by-product of the aging process --  to settle on the bottom of the bottle. Then the question is: should I decant it and, if so, how long should I allow the wine to “breathe” before consuming it?Most times, I decant older wines right before serving to preserve the delicate flavors and complexity that have been bottled up over time. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of allowing a 30-year old California cabernet (which tasted wonderful right after decanting) to sit in a carafe for an hour before drinking it only to find that it had turned into something akin to Drano.

Continue reading

A Heartfelt Ode to Mixing Red Wine and Chocolate

A Heartfelt Ode to Mixing Red Wine and Chocolate

When I was growing up in an ethnic family back in the 1950s, wine was considered an appropriate beverage to be consumed with meals on a daily basis. However, conventional thinking back then held that only reprobates or winos regularly drank wine. These were the moral police of the time whose idea of moderate drinking consisted of consuming three martinis at lunch. Thankfully, things have changed.

Even so, I’m always looking for ways to justify (my wife would say rationalize) my indulgences and wine is always at the top of the list. Years ago, a study known as “The French Paradox” suggested that regular and moderate consumption of wine (especially red) with meals was the reason the French experienced significantly fewer heart attacks than Americans. This despite the fact that the French diet is extremely high in fat.

We Americans eat a lot fat, too, but we don’t consume enough wine to mitigate the negative effects. Therefore, our rates of cardiac calamities are significantly worse than the French. So while you may disagree, I think there is a pretty strong correlation between regular consumption of wine and cardiac health - and I believe in taking care of my heart!

Continue reading

RECOMMENDATIONS: Affordable Wines Worth a Taste

RECOMMENDATIONS: Affordable Wines Worth a Taste

So, back to the “written” version of my wacky world of wine (see post below on the whereabouts of "WineBoy, the Webcast"). I’ve been cleaning out my recent tasting notes and have come up with several goodies that should provide you with a blend of red, white and rose wines for your consideration. Here are some goodies:2005 Vincent Giardin Cuvee Saint Vincent Bourgogne Rouge ($25) – The 2005 vintage in Burgundy was a sensational success for both red (pinot noir) and white (chardonnay) wines. It is very rare for Burgundian pinot noir to have both finesse and richness, but the ’05 Cuvee Saint Vincent is a wine that should please both the European and American palate as it is light-bodied, yet round with sweet fruit flavors. This beauty blends the vinification styles of both Burgundy and California to produce a wine with aromas of It would make a superb accompaniment to roasted pork tenderloin in a light mustard crème sauce.

2006 Gramona Gessami ($18) – This unique Spanish wine (from Catalonia) is a blend of 70 percent muscat and 30 percent sauvignon blanc. With aromas of spice and ripe pear, this golden wine is chock full of slightly sweet citrus and apricot flavors that are balanced out by good acidity. It would be a delicious match to spicy oriental foods like Thai curry.

2007 Sierra Cruz Carmenere ($10) -As a member of the cabernet sauvignon family, carmenere (pronounced car-men-yare) originated in Bordeaux as one of the grapes permitted for use in the red blends of that storied region. While it is not now used in France, Chilean winemakers have embraced it and several wineries in that country produce it as a single varietal. The ’07 Sierra Cruz is a very pleasant, soft, medium-bodied wine that has fresh cabernet-like aromas and flavors of spice, dark fruit and black pepper. It is a great value and also would be a nice match with marinated and grilled skirt or flank steak.

2007 Marques De Caceres Rose ($12) – A lovely, fruit-forward and bone dry rose from the famous Rioja region of Spain. The '07 Marques De Caceres is a blend of tempranillo and grenache and has aromas of strawberry and hay. In the mouth, this wine has a dried cherry and spice flavor profile that gives it a richness that is balanced by crisp acidity. Great for a picnic and it is especially simpatico with grilled chicken.

2007 Sierra Cruz Sauvignon Blanc ($10) This Chilean sauvignon blanc just oozes with bright citrus flavors and a nose of herbs and grass. Stylistically, it is a cross between the herbal, grassy wines so prevalent in Sonoma County and the riper, more fruit forward products of New Zealand. Match it with pasta sauced with arugula, pine nuts, mushrooms and parmesan.

Continue reading

Wherefore Art Thou, WineBoy (the Webcast)?!

Let me address a question I’ve gotten from a whole lot of you regarding the status of WineBoy – the webcast. As many of you have noted, it has been quite a while since we’ve abused the Internet with the rantings of Spud Dumplin, Umberto Lupini and Sir Reginald Winesot Clydesdale. The simple reason is resources. It takes considerable time to shoot, edit and present these exquisite productions and my good friends at the Gazette must prioritize how these resources are allocated.

In the larger scheme of producing a daily newspaper, WineBoy takes a back seat to the need for the Gazette to produce news-related video. I hope at some point we’ll be able to resume a somewhat regular schedule of Webcasts in the future, but that depends on a whole lot of considerations out of my control.

In the meantime, you can still catch some of the WineBoy webcasts at the links in past posts. After all, most of the shows have timeless content related to the world of wine. We might even index the shows we’ve already produced and make them available at the WineBoy website. Let me (and the Gazette) know what you think.

Remembering Robert Mondavi

Remembering Robert Mondavi

Robert Mondavi’s enthusiasm for all things related to wine and his own winery was both heartfelt and infectious.

One of the icons in the world of wine died last week. Robert Mondavi, 94, passed away at his home in the Napa Valley after a lifetime of literally and figuratively toiling in the vineyard to insure the growth of wine appreciation around the world. Wine to Mondavi represented more than just a pleasant beverage to enjoy with friends and family around the dinner table.

In his 1998 autobiography, “Harvests of Joy,” Mondavi said: “My passion for bringing wine into the American culture was motivated by a desire to plant deep into the soil of our young country the same values, traditions and daily pleasures that my mother and father had brought with them from central Italy: good food, good wine and love of family.”

He was born to Italian immigrant parents in Virginia, Minnesota, in 1913 where his father had a business supplying wine grapes to other immigrants who worked in the iron ore mines of the region. The family moved to Lodi, California and then later to the Napa Valley. During this time, Robert worked with his father and brother at the Sunny St. Helena Winery. In 1936, he graduated from Stanford University with a degree in marketing.

During World War II, he and his brother Peter convinced his father to purchase the Charles Krug Winery. At Krug the brothers managed the moderately successful winery until family differences forced Robert to establish his own winery in 1966.

Continue reading

Evaluating Wine: Your Mood Does Matter!

Evaluating Wine: Your Mood Does Matter!

One of my favorite blogger/columnists is Eric Asimov of the New York Times. He has a weekly blog called The Pour, where he explores broad issues relating to the fruit of the vine. One of his recent blogs dealt with the premise of a new book, "The Wine Trials" by Robin Goldstein.

The introductory paragraph to Asimov’s April 11 blog reads: “In yet another anti-intellectual effort to take fancy-schmancy wine down a peg or two, a new book purports to demonstrate that price bears little relation to quality and that the experts don’t know what they are talking about. The evidence? Blind taste tests of 540 wines by 500 volunteer tasters.”

That blog and the comments it elicited got me thinking about how we all make choices regarding the wines we select for every day drinking and for special occasions. Certainly, we can all agree that quality wines that offer great value are worth seeking out. So how do we determine what is not only an acceptable wine, but one that is exceptional? Well, let me take a crack at it.

Some of us depend upon rating systems (such as Robert Parker's 100 point scale). Others depend on buying wine from exceptional vintages and from specific wine regions like Bordeaux. Still others focus on the wineries that consistently produce exceptional wine or (heaven forbid!) on the supposed relationship between ascending price (of wine) and quality.

How do you judge the quality of a wine? I’ve advised people to taste them blind. In other words, cover the label (by placing the bottles in plain brown bags) to take away any possible price or winery bias so that you can truly judge the product on its quality. Blind tastings are something I do regularly so I can objectively evaluate the aroma, taste and visual qualitative elements that are the basis for whether I recommend a wine or not.

Continue reading

W.Va. Wines: There’s grapes in them there hills!

W.Va. Wines: There’s grapes in them there hills!

Each year about this time, I join a group of West Virginia wine lovers who are called upon to select the best wines produced by state wineries in seven different categories (e.g., dry red; semi-sweet white; dry white; dessert, etc.). This annual tasting gives me a pretty good indication and historical perspective on the quality of Mountain State wines since we've been judging the competition for about 15 years. I'm happy to report that West Virginia-made wine has improved steadily over the past decade. I'm also happy to report that the number of wineries has increased from just a few to 17 in the past ten years.

While many of these wines can be good to exceptional, wine makers in the state face very difficult growing conditions that force them to use vines that can limit their ability to make great wines. Why? There are many key elements to producing a good bottle of wine, including soil, climate, geography and wine making competence. But the most essential component is the grape itself, and the family of vines to which it belongs.

The world's most famous wine grapes such as cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, pinot noir, riesling, sauvignon blanc, zinfandel and a thousands of others belong to a class known as vitus vinifera. Two other classes of wine grapes are vitus labrusca, native American vine-producing grapes such as concord and catawba, and French-American hybrid grapes such as seyval blanc, vidal blanc and chambourcin.

Labursca can make decent, but distinctly flavored wines while French-American hybrids (which are French vines grafted onto American rootstock) produce wines significantly better than labrusca but not as fine as vinifera vines.

Continue reading

RECIPE: Doin’ the Spicy Chicken!

RECIPE: Doin’ the Spicy Chicken!

Inspiration is a wonderful thing! After attending a spectacular wine dinner at the Bridge Road Bistro recently, I was inspired by the culinary virtuosity of chef Paco Aceves to create my own plebeian version of gastronomic heaven. It's a dish I’ll call “Doin the Spicy Chicken.”

If you’re old enough, you probably remember doing the “Funky Chicken.” While that dance required a few nimble moves, laying down steps for the Spicy Chicken is a lot easier, and today I’m going to tell you how. I’m also going to suggest a few wines that will not only tame that chicken, but also enhance the flavors of this nifty little dish. If you haven’t done so already, it is definitely time to dust off the old grill and get ready to barbeque some de-feathered edibles! Here’s how:

Doin' the Spicy Chicken Recipe 1. Buy two frying chickens, remove those unspeakable parts from the cavity and cut off any excess chicken fat.

2. Then work a long, thin, boning knife under the skin of the chicken (all over if possible) and create pockets between this skin and the meat.

3. Now mix together a teaspoon each of chili powder, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cumin. Add to this mixture three tablespoons of olive oil and three finely chopped garlic cloves. This should have a pasty consistency.

Continue reading

The Whites of Spring

The Whites of Spring

Photo (at right): Arneis, which is produced in the Piedmont region of Italy, is a crisp white with green apple flavors and a sprightly touch of fizz A note to “Red Wine Nation:” White wines are good and getting better!

I feel the need to make this declarative statement because there is a growing sentiment among some wine drinkers (mostly those who are new to the fold) that white wine is an inferior product and, except for the occasional bottle of chardonnay, is not to be considered seriously.

Those of you who read my words on wine know that I will never tell you what you should drink. If you want to match that hunk of filet mignon with a jug of Vito’s Thunder Mountain Red, so be it. However, if you think Vito’s elixir has no peer, you might want to buy a bottle of witch hazel which is probably slightly better. The point is: if you think you’ve found wine Nirvana, you haven’t because there are always pleasant surprises to be discovered in the world of wine.

That’s why I get upset when someone claims to be a “red wine only” advocate. For instance, these folks are happy to slurp down a bottle of full-bodied, high alcohol, young California cabernet sauvignon (without food ) as a pre- dinner cocktail. They revel in their “trophy” wines and rationalize their overindulgence by proclaiming the healthful effects of drinking red wine (their credo: if a little bit of red wine is good for you, then a lot of it must be even better).

Health issues aside, if you’re limiting yourself to just red – or just white – or just cabernet… well, you’re missing out on one of the most important, enjoyable and enlightening aspects of wine appreciation: the exploration and discovery of new wines.

Continue reading

WINE EVENT: Cinnabar Bistro Bash, April 20

This is definitely the season to enjoy special wine dinners hosted by some of the best chefs in our state. I just returned from an excellent wine and food event at Canaan Valley Resort, where Chef Nemat Odeh worked his culinary magic. I’m happy to report that your next opportunity to sup and savor is on April 20, at Bridge Road Bistro in South Hills.

The Bistro is the culinary brain child of renowned chef Robert Wong, who seems to be on an evangelical mission to bring good food and wine to West Virginians in just about every hamlet and holler in this wild and wonderful state. (In addition to the Bistro, he has opened restaurants at Snowshoe, Glade Springs, Charleston, Beckley and Morgantown.) The April 20 event will feature a specially prepared menu by Bistro chef Paco Aceves and the wines of Cinnabar Vineyards in California. Rob Crandall, representing Cinnabar, will provide commentary on the wines selected for the dinner. If you’re interested in attending, contact Amy Sue Gates at the Bistro at 720-3500 for pricing and reservations. Here is the menu with accompanying wines.

Appetizers: Cinnabar, Mercury Rising Blanc, California, 2006Smoked Salmon, Avocado & Sprouts with Wasabi Aioli Lemon-Dijon Tuna Tartare , Kiwi Citrus Grilled Scallop and Mini Crab Cake on Toasted Focaccia1st Course: Cinnabar, Chardonnay, Monterey County, 2005Soft Shell Crab wrapped in Prosciutto, Morgan Country Honey and Lavender Aioli Baby Celery

2nd Course: Cinnabar, Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains, 2005 Vanilla Apple Brined Muscovy Duck Breast, Plum Tart, Baby Lettuces Blackberry Vinaigrette

3rd Course: Cinnabar, Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains, 2003Cappuccino Crusted Venison Loin, Smoked Forest Mushroom and Leek Flan, Tomato Relish & Black Truffle Risotto stuffed Baby Squash

Continue reading

The French: You don’t have to like their attitude to like their wine!

The French:  You don’t have to like their attitude to like their wine!

French wine map from this website. Click for more info.I often poke fun at the French for their superior attitude when it comes to anything having to do with wine and other gastronomic treats. In fact, some of our Gallic friends seem to think the term connoisseur (which is a French word after all) should only be used to describe their fellow countrymen.While these traits could be described as arrogance, I prefer to give the French the benefit of the doubt ( even though my sometimes guest on the WineBoy webcast -- Pierre N’Cest Pas -- seems to embody the snobby, overbearing French wine bore that we all love to hate. Check out the latest WineBoy (episode 26) and you’ll see what I mean.

But to be fair, we should acknowledge the tremendous contributions the French have made to wine. Their innovations in the vineyard and cellar for the past several hundred years have been the foundation and catalyst for the dynamic growth of the wine industry in the rest of the world. And their many world famous wines continue to command the greatest respect of wine lovers everywhere.

So today, we’ll take a quick look at the major wine -producing regions in that land of vines and tell you about the principal grape varieties that produce some of the world’s greatest wine. There are ten distinct wine appellations in France and hundreds of smaller sub-regions within those broader areas.

Bordeaux In this most famous of all wine regions in the world, you’ll find the most sought after wines anywhere. The reds are usually blends of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec while the whites are comprised of sauvignon blanc and semillon.

BurgundyIn days of yore, we thought Burgundy was a big red wine in a big green jug. Of course, Burgundy is a very renowned wine region where some of the greatest red and white wine is produced. In the northern part of Burgundy, the red wine is pinot noir and the white is chardonnay and just a small amount of pinot blanc. In southern Burgundy in the Beaujolais region, the red grape is gamay.

Continue reading

WINEBOY 26: Decoding the wine regions of France

WINEBOY 26: Decoding the wine regions of France

Remember when you thought Burgundy was a red wine that came in big green jugs? Watch WineBoy 26 and you'll get the skinny on Burgundy (a place in France where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay rule) and the other distinct wine appellations in that country that some Americans love to hate -- except when they order wine.Brown will also tell you about the principal wines in each of those regions after which WineBoy nemesis, Pierre N'Cest Pas, will offer his scathing critique of his performance. Tune in and be both educated and entertained.

RECOMMENDED: Palate-pleasing goodies you may wish to try…..

RECOMMENDED: Palate-pleasing goodies you may wish to try…..

I’ve had the pleasure of sipping a lot of really good wines lately, some of which I’ve recommended on the WineBoy Webcast. So, as your ever- accommodating wineaux, here are some vinous goodies for your consideration:

2006 Falesco Vitiano ($14)From the Italian state of Umbria, this blend of sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, is a medium-bodied red with loads of bright cherry flavors and nice balancing acidity. Year in and year out Vitiano is one of my favorite value-priced Italian wines. It should pair well with roasted meat dishes or pasta dressed in a light tomato sauce.

2006 Rombauer Napa Valley Chardonnay ($30)In recent years, I must admit to avoiding what I perceive to be “over-done and over-oaked” California chardonnay. It’s not that I don’t occasionally appreciate over-ripe, high alcohol chardonnay that has been aged in heavily toasted oak barrels. Well…. yes it is. And so when I put a glass of Rombauer Chardonnay to my lips recently I was expecting to dislike it. After all, it was from Napa and had been aged in oak for an extended period of time.

Surprise! It is a well-balanced chardonnay with -- yes -- a toasty oak component. Yet the wine is also full of ripe tropical fruit flavors that are balanced by excellent acidity. As a matter of fact, we drank this wine with pasta tossed in a sauce of scallops, arugula and pine nuts, and the combination was heavenly. This wine, produced from the cooler growing region of Carneros in southern Napa, has restored my faith in fuller-flavored chardonnay. Say hallelujah!

2004 Ferrari-Carano Sonoma Merlot ($25)I know it’s popular now to bash merlot, but I’ve never been one to kick a good wine when it’s down, particularly when the stuff is as good as this. First of all, 2004 was a very good vintage year for northern California reds. The Ferrari-Carano folks selected merlot from several different appellations in Sonoma County, including Alexander Valley, Russian River and Dry Creek, to make its wine. The result is a round, rich, full-flavored wine full of spicy, chocolate flavors with medium tannins that is enjoyable now, but will get better over the next five or so years. This baby just begs to be married to a large slab of grilled, peppercorn encrusted red meat!

Continue reading

WineBoy 25: Vote for Change in Your Wine

WineBoy 25: Vote for Change in Your Wine

Change is good. That's all the more reason to check out the latest five-minute Webcast of "WineBoy," where host John Brown recommends tasty alternatives to the same old red wines you've been sipping for, like, ever. Says Brown: "These purple lovelies will reinvigorate your palate and clue you in to the fact that there's more to wine than pinot noir, cabernet and merlot."

The Greatest Bordeaux ever? I thought it was Zinfandel!

The Greatest Bordeaux ever? I thought it was Zinfandel!

The estate of Château Cheval Blanc in St Emilion. Home of one of the greatest wines ever? From Bordeaux is perhaps the most storied region in all of winedom. Perched in southwestern France and close to the Atlantic Ocean, this famous appellation produces wine that is the benchmark upon which all great red wine, particularly cabernet sauvignon, is measured.

In 1855, the wines of Bordeaux were classified according to quality by a ranking that still exists today. The best of these wines are called "Grand Crus" and are categorized into five classifications or “growths.” The greatest are called “First Growths” and they include Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Ch. Latour, Ch. Mouton Rothschild (which was added in 1973), Ch. Margaux and Ch. Haut Brion.

Two other wines, Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau Petrus, were not rated in the 1855 classification, but are also considered First Growths. The thousands of Bordeaux wines not rated among the first five growths are called Crus Bourgeois, Crus Artisans, St. Emilion and Graves.

Bordeaux is a region that inspires great debate among wine lovers. Most recently, that discussion has focused on the stratospheric price of recent vintages, particularly those wines made in 2005. That vintage is considered great by wine critics around the world and, if you can afford them, the cream of the 2005 crop can range from several hundred to thousands of dollars a bottle. Since there are more than 7,000 Chateaux (wineries) in the Bordeaux region, it is possible to find an ample supply of good wines in the $20 to $50 a bottle range, but the ones with the best reputations are prohibitively expensive. And, while some of the lesser known Bordeaux are beginning to appear on wine shop shelves, most of the expensive wines have not arrived yet. In fact, most of the “best of the best” or First Growths, have been purchased as “futures” by well-heeled collectors who hope to get them at prices significantly less than when they hit the shelves later this year.

My experience with First Growths is limited and has not been particularly successful (with one notable exception which I’ll tell you about later). My problem has been discovering the optimum time to drink them. So far, each of the wines I’ve tasted has been too young and tannic, and has not reached full maturity. However, my experience with other highly classified wines has been, for the most part, wonderful.

Continue reading