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

ROUNDUP: Mucho Cash for Jefferson’s (maybe) Stash

ROUNDUP: Mucho Cash for Jefferson’s (maybe) Stash

Is it Real or is it Really Vito’s Thunder Mountain Chablis?New Yorker Magazine’s Patrick Radden Keefe in his “Reporter at Large” column recently explored the rarified world of collecting ancient bottles of wine (read article here). Specifically, Radden focused on bottles purchased at auction by multi-millionaire Bill Koch which were purported to be from Thomas Jefferson’s private collection and dated from the late 1700s. The column reads like a mystery novel and attempts to shed some light on the murky and imprecise science of verifying the true age of older wines, some of which are purchased at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars. In this particular case, Mr. Koch goes to great lengths to prove (or disprove) the age of the wines he supposedly purchased from Jefferson’s stash.

In addition to real-life intrigue, the piece has a cast of characters that reads like a who’s who of the wine world, including Robert Parker, Michael Broadbent, Serena Sutcliffe and a whole host of other wine personages that only the wine-obsessed would recognize. Check it out.

Falcor UpdateLawyers and winery owners Mike Bee and Jim Peterson have a place for Napa Valley visitors to sip their stable of premium wines. Their new 11,000-square foot winery complex will have the capacity to produce 45,000 gallons of wine, or about 20,000 cases, according to Ryan Bee (son of Mike) who is the assistant wine maker and general manager. Ray Coursen, owner of Elyse Winery, is the winemaker.

Falcor produces a line of wines in small quantities from 200 to 500 cases for each varietal at prices from around $20 to $50 a bottle. Current releases include two Chardonnays and a Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Syrah and Cabernet Franc sourced from top Napa Valley Vineyards. Most of the wines are available at fine wine shops and a select few grocery stores such as Kroger’s Ashton Place.

The Yellow Brick BankI had the pleasant occasion to dine at Shepherdstown’s Yellow Brick Bank recently and, while the food is still as good as ever, the wine list has improved dramatically. The list is not particularly long, but it is definitely well-selected and very eclectic with offerings from around the wine world.

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WineBoy6: ‘Getting the Dish on Bridge Road Bistro’

WineBoy6: ‘Getting the Dish on Bridge Road Bistro’

In episode 6 of "WineBoy," host John Brown heads ups to Robert Wong's Bridge Road Bistro for a tasty pairing of wine and food. Executive chef Paco Aceves shares with Brown a chicken penne pasta dish from the Bistro's recently revised menu. Brown pairs it with a French red wine from a new wine list by general manager Amy Sue Gates. You'll be hungry before it's all over. And wait for those credits to roll...

Barbecue Defined a la Wineboy

In my hedonist’s mind, almost everything has a relationship to food and wine. In the summertime, my thoughts turn to cool refreshing white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Prosecco and Pinot Grigio, or spicy reds like Zinfandel, Syrah or Pinot Noir.

As far as food is concerned, to yours truly summertime means grilled foods or barbecue. Barbecue, though, means different things to different people. For some, it’s a verb as in: “I’m going to barbecue some hamburgers.” For others, barbecue is a noun and refers to a type of cooked pork or beef rib meat that is immersed in various sauces, chopped and served on a bun. Since I love to grill out, barbecue means a style of cooking to me. You’ll find just about every kind of food on my grill, including (but not limited to) pork, chicken, beef, lamb, fish, vegetables and sometimes even fruit.

In my estimation, barbecuing also requires a grill that uses “real” charcoal. Gas grills – no matter how fancy – simply do not measure up. The biggest problem with them is they don’t heat evenly, and it’s very difficult to add wood chips such as apple, mesquite or hickory to the fire. Using these chips or chunks adds a wonderful flavor dimension to grilled foods.

Plus, there is something compelling and almost ritualistic about setting charcoal on fire, and then using the coals to sear animal flesh or things that grow. I’m not sure I want know why this practice is so appealing to me - but it is. So, in the interest of making barbecue believers of you, I’m going to share a simple recipe for barbecued pork ribs that is easy to prepare and delicious to eat. I prefer to use baby back ribs that have been trimmed of excessive fat and scored with a fork.

Whether you use large slab ribs or baby backs, this recipe begins with a dry rub. What’s a dry rub? Well, first of all, let me assure you it does not require a masseuse. However, it does involve a massage – of the ribs with spices -that is. One of my favorite dry rubs consists of one tablespoon each of cumin, chili powder, kosher salt, coarsely ground black pepper, brown sugar and cayenne pepper (optional for those faint of heart). Stir this mixture and then rub it onto both sides of the ribs. If time permits, let the ribs sit in the refrigerator for a few hours allowing them to absorb the flavors.

At this point, I often grab a handful of hickory or apple wood chips (available at some grocery stores and home improvement stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot) and immerse them in warm water and allow them to soak for at least half an hour. This is optional, but I think really gives the meat a great smoky flavor.

Now, fire up the charcoal and when the coals turn white/gray, move them to each corner of the grill, leaving space in the middle for the ribs to cook indirectly. Then add the wood chips to the charcoal. I have a large oblong, kettle-type grill which allows me to put about three slabs of ribs on the grill side by side. Make sure that the air vents on the grill are closed to about one-eighth of an inch. In this manner, you’ll be able to keep the temperature relatively cool – approximately 275 to 300 degrees F. Check the vents regularly to adjust the heat if necessary and turn the ribs once during grilling. It usually takes between 1 to 1 ½ hours to slow cook the ribs.

Once off the grill, I cut the ribs into bite-size pieces and then either serve them as is or immerse them in a tangy sauce.

WineBoy Recommends

Here’s one of my favorite barbecue sauces:

- a cup of ketchup
- a half -cup of white vinegar
- a 12-ounce beer
- two ounces of orange juice
- a tablespoon each of molasses and brown sugar
- (optional) a teaspoon of cayenne.
Bring the mixture to a boil and then allow it to thicken for about half an hour.

Wines for your barbecue? All of these retail from between $12 and $20 a bottle:

- Zardetto Prosecco (a sparkler from northern Italy)
- Renwood Old Vines Zinfandel
- San Angelo Pinot Grigio
- Alan Scott New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
- Argyle Pinot Noir
- Longview Shiraz

WineBoy 5: The last and best of ‘The Five ‘S’ Words of Wine’

WineBoy 5: The last and best of ‘The Five ‘S’ Words of Wine’

"WineBoy" episode 5 is now online-- click to watch. Host John Brown wraps up his introductory series, "The Five 'S' Words of Wine" with one that counts the most: 'Swallow.' The four-minute web show's setting includes John Crihfield's food stall at the Capitol Market, a wine recommendation from Down Under where they name their wines funny, as well as John Brown's signature off-the-basement-wall antics.

Watch for a new 'WineBoy' each Thursday morning online at (peek in Wednesday afternoon and it's likely to already be online). The next one -- online Sept. 4 -- features a Bridge Road Bistro wine and food pairing. Executive chef Paco Aceves shows off a new dish from the recently revised menu at owner Robert Wong's restaurant, paired with a white wine from a fresh new wine list by general manager Amy Sue Gates. You'll be both thirsty and hungry after viewing.

Cellar Tales: How I became ‘WineBoy’

Cellar Tales: How I became ‘WineBoy’

John Brown's grandparents, Saverio and Catarina Iaquinta, are seen at center above in this photo from the couple's 50th wedding anniversaryA friend recently asked how I came to be such a fanatic about wine. Good question and I get it often, especially now that I have a wine blog and "WineBoy" weekly podcast. As a matter of fact, I did a little self analysis on that question years ago and I think I’ll share it with you right here and now.

When I was growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s, I had the privilege of being raised in a culture distinctly different from most of my contemporaries of that time, and light years away from how kids grow up today. Back in those times, my world almost exclusively revolved around home and family. My mother was Italian and my father was Irish, but since I was raised with my mother’s family, it was the Italian influence and ethnicity into which I was absorbed. My maternal grandparents were both immigrants who spoke heavily accented English and who provided their nine children and 23 grand children with the elements of Italian culture and values that have molded our extended families to this day.

Take wine, for example. As a child, I can remember scurrying down to the cellar with an empty milk jug to fetch a quart of wine from one of my grandpa’s barrels. That dark and dank room, dug deep into the earth off the main cellar, is an endless source of fond, enduring and, I hope, never-fading memories. I can still smell that musty, grapy, earthen room, see grandpa and my uncles working the giant press and taste the frothy, sour new wine as it was being put into giant oak barrels.Wine was an ordinary feature of meals in my grandparent’s home. No less important than bread, butter or pasta, it was simply considered a necessary accompaniment to meals. It was not revered, nor would it ever have been the subject of any lengthy discourse. Simply put, the wine was good, it was usually red and it was always there.

I am sure my grandfather scratches his head in wonderment each time he looks down from heaven to check on me and notices that I spend an inordinate amount of time writing and talking about wine. I can just hear his gruff, heavily accented voice saying: “Hey John, why you spending so much time with all this wine stuff? Do something important. Dig a garden, help your brother can his peppers or throw the ball with your kids.”

Well, Grandpa, you’re probably right. I do spend a lot of time on wine, but I think I’ve finally figured out why. Wine provides me with a cultural link to my past and to my heritage. It also keeps me in touch with my ancestors, long gone, and allows me to dust off their values when I need to apply them (which is often) in this crazy world. Just as importantly, it gives me the opportunity to pass along these values and this heritage to my children who, I hope, will find some way to do the same with their kids, who in turn will do the same, and so on……

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WineBoy Episode 4: At last, it’s time to sip…

WineBoy Episode 4: At last, it’s time to sip…

We've reached Episode 4 in the WineBoy webcast series "The Five 'S' Words of Wine.'" In this one you finally get to -- 'S' word! -- sip. John Brown also serves up an affordable and classy Chardonay recommendation plus his signature off-the-wall, free association commentary. To view prior episodes:Episode 3: 'Sniff'Episode 2: 'Swirl'Episode 1: 'Sight'

Check out WineBoy’s Vino-Vignettes

If you haven't yet seen my alter-ego on the big screen, you need to tune in by clicking on the WineBoy webcast list below. This is the fourth in a series of five shows dealing with the five S's of wine appreciation. So far, I've told you about Sight, Swirl, Sniff and now Sip (my favorite) and next week we'll feature the last "S" swallow. The webcasts feature about two-thirds wine education and one-third complete and utter foolishness from the depths of my diseased brain.

On this episode four, I'm recommending you try a lovely and inexpensive chardonnay. In the past three episodes, I've also recommended specific wine for your drinking pleasure. You'll have to view the webcasts to find out. Let me know what you think about WineBoy and how we can improve these little vino-vignettes for you.

Prudence and moderation can co-exist with everyday wine consumption

I am convinced that a great number people who would like to enjoy wine with everyday meals are discouraged from doing so by a concern for both prudence and moderation. Prudence dictates that one should not be profligate and purchase a perishable (and sometimes expensive) product that cannot be consumed before it goes bad, while moderation demands that we drink alcoholic beverages responsibly.

So here’s the paradoxical question: how can you drink wine in a responsible manner everyday without wasting the majority of an oftentimes expensive bottle? In other words, how do we preserve the freshness and drinkability of wine over several days once it has been opened?

Now, this is not a problem for spirits drinkers since the level of alcohol in a bottle of hootch is enough to preserve the stuff through the next millennium. And beer drinkers are not confronted with this dilemma either since the 12-ounce bottles which contain that frothy amber fluid are easily consumed at one sitting.

Wine, on the other hand, is usually bottled in a 25-ounce glass container with an average alcohol content of between 10 and 15 percent. This amount of alcohol serves to protect the wine from spoilage in the first few hours after the bottle is opened, but it is not sufficient to keep the stuff fresh over an extended period.

So what can you do to keep the wine fresh if the unthinkable occurs and you don’t finish the entire bottle in the first couple of hours after it is opened? Unlike chili, beef barley soup or meatloaf, fine wine, especially the white varieties, does not improve over several days in the refrigerator. In fact, a partially full bottle of wine will deteriorate rather quickly if you don’t take certain precautions.

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Pinot Envy: Once you read this, you’ll have it!

The International Pinot Noir Celebration event I attended a couple weeks ago was a marvelous exploration of Oregon wine, the region’s wonderfully fresh produce and the various meats and seafood harvested from the area’s woods and waters.

The event was held at Linfield College – a small institution located in an idyllic setting in McMinnville, Ore., which was wine central for Oregon pinot noir that weekend and hosted the many alfresco lunches, tastings and dinners. My wife and I stayed at the lovely and romantic Mattey House B&B (503-434-5058) situated on a seven-acre farm and vineyard outside McMinnville. We were hosted by Jack and Denise Seeds, the wonderfully accommodating owners, who demonstrated an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the Willamette Valley’s wines, wineries and people.

Here’s the agenda for a typical day at the IPNC: alfresco breakfast with fresh berries, croissants/breads, mini-omelets, juices and espresso/coffee/tea; visit to a winery with an extensive tasting of pinot noirs from Oregon and the world and a Q&A with winemakers; lunch in the winery prepared by a chef from the region and paired with that winery’s wines; back to Linfield for afternoon seminars on such topics as “pinot lab” (learn how the stuff is made and play winemaker for a day) and “old vines vs. young vines” (how does vine age make a difference?); and a two-hour tasting of dozens of pinot noirs before an outdoor dinner.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: how can any normal human being survive all this food and wine for two and one-half days without either (a) exploding or (b) calling “Ralph or Buiiiick”? Well, it wasn’t easy (particularly for yours truly) but the key was moderation and a willingness to spit out the wine after rolling it around in your mouth for a quick taste impression.

Yes, the same activity that is normally viewed as uncouth and barbaric in polite society (and even where I am domiciled) is totally acceptable and, indeed, necessary if one is to attempt to taste and evaluate hundreds of wines. So, I was able to get through the days by eating lightly (the hardest thing to do) and expectorating into cups.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘WineBoy’ Web Show Debuts at

EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘WineBoy’ Web Show Debuts at

Click here to view the debut of 'WineBoy, a new weekly 5-minute gazzTV web show hosted by gazz wine blogger John Brown. “WineBoy” is what some friends tagged him as he came to be known as a wine expert. Each five-minute episode features a mix of serious, sometimes silly webcasting on the art of wine along with wine recommendations from local retail outlets. This first episode is part one of a five-part series on “The Five ‘S’ Words of Wine,” beginning with “sight.”

WANDERING WINO: Willamette Valley is Pinot Noir

I had never been to the Oregon wine country. So this past spring as I searched the internet for “Oregon wine events,” the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) popped up and, after reviewing the program, I immediately registered for what turned out to be a spectacular wine and food extravaganza.

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting some of the world’s most heralded wine regions but, until last week, I had never ventured to Oregon’s Willamette Valley where the pinot noir produced there is considered among the best being made anywhere. While superb wine and food was the centerpiece of this educational weekend, Oregon is also a feast for the eyes with incredible natural beauty that actually rivals our own right here in “West By Golly.”

But the goal of this trip was to immerse myself ('Come on in, the wine’s fine... ') in Oregon pinot noir and the wonderfully fresh local foods prepared by an all-star lineup of chefs from some of the region’s most highly regarded restaurants.The wine makers and presenters at the event were among the most accomplished at what they do, yet their approach - to what can be a very technical and daunting subject- was very laid back and devoid of the usual wine jargon. (They actually had a session called “International Wine Jargon Jeopardy” where participants were encouraged to match their wine-geek wit against a panel of experts). If this sounds like fun, it was!

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 . That's what is needed – meteorologically speaking – to grow good pinot noir.

The northern Willamette Valley (about 60 miles south of Portland) is where the most famous Oregon wineries are located within several American Viticultural Area (AVA’s) including Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, and Yamhill Carlton. Within these AVA’s, wineries such as Domaine Serene, Argyle, Elk Cove, Ken Wright, Patricia Green Cellars and more than 200 others produce pinot noir in styles distinctly different from wines made from the same grape grown in different parts of the world. Surprisingly, pinot noir from the Williamette Valley seems to have more in common with Burgundy than it does with wine produced from the same grape in California.

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WINEBOY: Watch John Brown’s new wine webcast at


A wine glass and computer is a good image for this announcement: You can now catch John Brown's wine advice on his new web TV show at called "WineBoy." Find the show at: "WineBoy" is what some friends have called Brown (along with some other names) as he has come to be known as a wine expert.

Each 5-minute episode of "WineBoy" features a mix of serious, droll and sometimes silly webcasting on the art of wine along with wine recommendations from local retail outlets. This first episode is part one of a five-part series on "The Five 'S' Words of Wine," beginning with 'sight.' The show will be produced online every week.

Tell us what you think of the show and suggest future topics in the 'Comments' section of this blog.

Travel Notes From Your Wandering Wino

So here I am sitting in this neat coffee bar in McMinneville, Oregon - the heart of the Willamette Valley - sipping coffee instead of pinot noir, and trying to clear my head enough to post this little ditty.  And, although I've certainly slurped my share of pinot noir, I have never ventured to this neck of the wine woods where they produce some of the best pinot on the planet. 

I arrived in town last night from Portland via the Oregon coast  (a round about,  but visually satisfying way, to get here) and enjoyed a superb  meal at the Joel Palmer House - one of Oregon's most famous restaurants  where the emphasis is on wild mushrooms and - what else - Pinot Noir.

Owner/chef Jack Czarnecki actually wanders the hills of Oregon searching out and picking wild mushrooms, and then creates spectacular menu items using these little fungi as the centerpiece. He and his wife Heidi bought the historic Joel Palmer House in 1996 and began to create one of the most unique restaurants in the US. According to local lore, Joel Palmer was a pioneer who settled in the area in the mid-1800’s after supposedly ascending Mount Hood in the winter wearing moccasins (and I assume other clothing). He later built the house in which the restaurant is now housed.
The goal of Jack and Heidi was to match their passion for mushrooms with their love of wine – particularly pinot noir -to which the earthy nuances of the wine marry incredibly well with the woodsy flavors of all manner of mushrooms. They have succeeded and here is a case in point: my appetizer course consisted of wild morels in a rich brown sauce with flecks of chili pepper flakes accompanied by a clump of crispy Phyllo dough strings (my apologies to the chef - my clumsy description of this course does not do it justice).
The wine – suggested by a very knowledgeable (and unpretentious) sommelier – was a delicious accompaniment. With earthy, dark cherry fruit flavors and perfectly balanced, the 2004 Methven Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir is a special bottle of wine. While this wine is unavailable in West Virginia, you may call the winery (503-580-1320) and order it, but keep in mind that it is very limited. Also, while the wine is drinking well now, it should continue to improve for another decade.
Suffice it to say that the remainder of the meal was terrific and I am looking forward to sharing with you in coming posts what promises to be an interesting and tasteful weekend here in Oregon.

State restaurants lauded for their wine lists

Each year, Wine Spectator Magazine singles out restaurants which it rates as having the best wine lists around the country and world. The 2007 Wine Spectator "Best Restaurants For Wine" this year includes 10 West Virginia eateries.

Eight of the state establishments received an "Award of Excellence" and two others -- The Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown and the Greenbrier Main Dining Room -- received the even more prestigious "Best of Award of Excellence" rating. Only 76 restaurants, of the more than 4000 rated by the magazine worldwide, achieved the highest ranking "Grand Award" designation.

Obviously, each of the award-winning restaurants must also produce exceptional cuisine to go along with their well-conceived wine lists. The recognition is a tribute to the culinary skills of the winners in the Mountain State, and we lovers of the vine should do our best to patronize these restaurants. We should also encourage our other favorite restaurants to upgrade their lists and to submit them to the magazine in the future for consideration.

The Bavarian Inn (304-876-2251) has always placed an emphasis on fine wine to go along with their excellent German-inspired menu, but they have taken the list to a new level under innkeeper and wine director, Christian Asam. Christian follows in the footsteps of his mother and father who have been leaders in the hospitality industry in our state for decades. When I served a sentence as State Commerce Commissioner in the early '90s, I had the pleasure of meeting the Asam's on several occasions, and have always been impressed with their dedication to providing guests with superb accommodations as well as great food and wine.

What more can anyone say about the crowning jewel of the state's tourism industry - The Greenbrier - except they have been consistently focused on improving, not only the food and wine at this world-class resort but also the accommodations. The resort recently embarked on a major renovation and facilities upgrade program which included additional dining facilities. I'm looking forward to sampling the fare and liquid nirvana at their new restaurant - Hemisphere (800-453-4858) - where diners will have the opportunity to choose from three tasting menus of either five or seven courses.

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Serving wine: Room temperature ain’t what it used to be!

Here is a universal and unfortunate truth: White wine is served too cold and red wine too warm.

When summer temperatures soar, many discerning beverage consumers choose cooling liquids to soothe their heat-induced misery and slake their mighty thirsts. Personally, after hydrating with water, I prefer sipping (surprise) wine. However, my vinous choices are decidedly lighter whites and reds which I cool to a pleasing temperature before drinking.

So today’s sermon, boys and girls, deals with the absolute necessity of serving both red and white wine at the proper temperature. This is so they will be not only pleasantly cool to the taste, but also to insure that the wine will provide a pleasing counterpoint to the heat of the food with which it is paired.

Here is a universal and unfortunate truth: White wine is served too cold and red wine too warm. In my estimation, the culprits are refrigeration and the propensity on the part of wine drinkers and restaurants to be confused by the definition of “room temperature,” particularly as it relates to serving red wine.

Let’s start with white wine and the almost fervent belief that if we have the capability to make something cold, then we should therefore serve our liquids – including white wine - at Arctic temperatures. I’ve had whites served to me at temperatures so frigid they’ve needed a de-icing truck to render them drinkable. The good news here is that if you wait 10 or 15 minutes, the wine will warm to the proper temperature.

Drinking wines that are served at just above freezing will not only give you a headache, you will be unable to taste them. I’m sure that many flawed wines benefit from this chilling effect, but the delicate flavors and nuances of taste in a say, Riesling, Gavi or Chardonnay, will be absolutely neutered by excessive chilling.

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RECIPE: Pesto Pasta and Sauvignon Blanc

When my herb garden begins to yield bunches of fragrant and delicious sweet basil, I know it's time to prepare one of my favorite summertime meals. With this lovely herb as the centerpiece, I created a wonderful -yet simple- meal that you may want to try sometime soon. Not surprisingly, I also have a few wine suggestions for these basil-infused dishes. So here goes. Many folks use basil as a seasoning for salads and one of my favorites is an old family recipe. Today, I'll provide you with this salad recipe and also with one of my favorite summertime culinary masterpieces: pesto pasta.

First the salad.

1. Start with six or so sweet and ripe tomatoes which should be cut into one-inch wedges.

2. Prepare the basil: I had picked a small basket full of basil leaves, being careful to snip the larger of them with my fingers at the base of the plant in order to insure continued growth. (You can buy basil at most grocery stores, but it's a lot cheaper to grow your own.)

3. Next, finely mince one garlic clove, chop one medium-sized sweet onion into one-inch pieces and add this to the tomatoes. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste) to the tomatoes and onions and then pour about three ounces of extra virgin olive oil to the dish. Now take a hand-full of sweet basil and chop it into small pieces and add this to the mixture. If you have fresh oregano, put the leaves from one sprig into the salad.

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WINE TALES: Falcor Building “Boutique” Winery in Napa

When Napa Valley lawyers and winery owners Mike Bee and Jim Peterson wanted to start their own winery in the valley, a lot of folks scoffed at the idea. After visiting Napa and talking to many people in the trade, the men were encouraged to modify their idea of building a full-fledged winery and decided to take a more modest approach.

First, they set about finding the right wine maker which led them to Ray Coursen, then the winemaker at Napa Valley's Whitehall Lane. Coursen, a giant of a man with a prodigious appetite for red wine (more about this later), was not only a fine winemaker, but had worked many years in the vineyards so he was aware of where the best grapes were being grown. After some coaxing, Coursen took on the task of producing Falcor wines and produced the first vintage in 1996 with a Burundian-style Napa Valley Chardonnay.

Mike and Jim were very pleased with the result. That led to a stable of limited production wines (about 500 cases for each varietal) including two Chardonnays, Sangiovese, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Le Bijou ( a Bordeaux-style blend) and a Rose. Mike's son, Ryan, is Falcor's general manager and works out of a small Napa office. In addition to his duties, which include criss-crossing the country to open new markets, Ryan is overseeing the building of Falcor's small winery and upscale tasting room which is scheduled to open in August in the southern portion of the Napa Valley.

I had the pleasure of visiting with Mike, Jim and Ryan a few years ago in Napa and tasted through their line of wines with wine maker Ray Coursen. After tasting the Falcor wines, Ray opened a bottle of his Elyse Morisoli Vineyards Zinfandel which we proceeded to empty in short order. Ray then took me next door to a long metal building chock full of Elyse wines, many of which were in l.5 liter bottles. When I asked what his plans were for this fortress of wine, he looked at me and said, "I plan to drink it all myself." I don't think he was kidding. Later, we took a few l.5 liter bottles of Falcor and Elyse to accompany a wonderful leisurely, three-hour lunch at Bistro Jeaunty in Yountville. You can find the entire line of Falcor wines at fine wine shops around the state. The best way to purchase Elyse wines is through the winery online or by searching the Internet for merchants that will ship it to you.

Whine-ing about beer

A reader asked me where he could find the wines I had suggested in the June 24 Gazette-Mail "Main Ingredient" piece. Good question. The majority of wines I recommend for your sipping pleasure can be found either in local wine shops or grocery store wine areas. When I'm reasonably sure the wines are not available in the area, I will let you know that fact. In that case, you have a couple of choices to get the particular wine.

First, you can ask your local wine merchant to order the wine for you. State wine distributors (wholesalers who sell the wine to your retail outlet) have access to thousands of labels and can probably get the wine to your wine shop. If you don't want to wait the weeks (or possibly months) it will usually take to get the wine, you have the option of ordering it - via phone or Internet - from a wine shop or winery out of state.

Yes, West Virginia is one of the more progressive states when it comes to wine laws. Thanks to some wine-bibbing legislators several years back who passed a good consumer-oriented law, you are legally permitted to order up to two cases of wine per month from out of state retailers or wineries. Simply "Google" the wine in question and voila! (that's pronounced 'Vi-ole- lah!' where I come from), a dad-gum passel of opportunities to purchase the stuff will be presented to you.

In defense of a beverage which truly needs no defense ( when it comes to tastefully matching just about every known edible food), I feel compelled to respond to my good friend and fellow blogger, Rich Ireland, who has once again made less than flattering (dare I say disparaging?) statements regarding the fruit of the vine.

I've let the snide comments slide in the past, but no more. See if you agree that I must defend the honor of Bacchus after what Rich had to say in a recent "Beers To You" blog regarding people who don't seem to like beer - and don't want to give "craft" beer a try:

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Que Syrah, Syrah …

Syrah grapes on the vine. Wine made with the same grapes is designated Shiraz in Australia.
Most grape varieties, regardless of where they are grown around the world, produce wines that have a defining aroma or taste that are universally recognizable. Take Cabernet Sauvignon, for example. Cabernet, produced in such geographically diverse regions as the Napa Valley in California, Bordeaux or the Barossa Valley in Australia, share varietal characteristics with which most wine drinkers can identify.
The same is true of Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc's sensory attributes. Sauvignon Blanc produced in New Zealand seems to emphasize more of a melon or ripe fruit component while those made in California can exhibit more of a citrus nuance, yet both seem to share an herbal or grassy quality

WINE TERMS: 'Varietal' --(in U.S. winemaking) designating a wine made entirely or chiefly from one variety of grape. (from
Zinfandel is another wine that is pretty easy to identify if you drink the wine on a regular basis. I am a "zin-fanatic" so I tend to obsess over the variety and I can usually identify (in a blind tasting) not only that the wine is indeed zinfandel, but sometimes the area of California where the grapes were grown.The list could go on and on with the majority of wines - at least the ones we seem to consume on a regular basis - sharing one or more common characteristics regardless of their viticultural appellation. However, there is one wine that, for me anyway, proves the exception to the rule.

Shiraz, which is the name the Aussies have given to Syrah, shares no common bond with the wine produced in the most famous place the grape is grown - which is the Rhone Valley of France. Ditto, the Syrah produced in the US: it bears no resemblance to French wine made from the same grape.

Australia has been making Shiraz for over a hundred years. As a matter of fact, one of the greatest wines of Australia, Penfold's Grange Hermitage, is made from Syrah and pays homage to the Rhone by its very name. But that's where the similarities end.
In the Rhone, Syrah is the most highly valued of all the red varietals. The most famous wine of the Rhone is Chateauneuf Du Pape. Grown in the very southern area of the Rhone, this wine is a blend of as many as 13 grape varieties with Syrah added to give it character and aging potential.
Surprisingly, the most sought after Syrah is produced in the northern Rhone and particularly around the towns of Cote Rotie, Hermitage and Cornas. The wine produced here is a tannic "full throttle" whopper with black pepper, tar and leather aromas and ripe plum and other dark fruit taste characteristics.

Nowhere on the label will you see the word Syrah, but any red wine from the above-mentioned villages will be predominately made from the grape. Some of the best producers are E. Guigal, Paul Jaboulet Aine, M. Chapoutier, J. Vidal-Fleury and Delas Freres.

So how do Syrah from the Rhone and the Shiraz from Australia differ? While the Rhone can be a backward and very tannic wine in its youth, Shiraz is full-bodied, but usually very forward and easy to drink when it is young. With rich, ripe berry flavors, Shiraz, to me at least, has more in common with zinfandel than the Syrah grown in France. The best of these wines are grown and produced in the Barossa Valley of southeastern Australia. Some of my favorite Shiraz producers are: Longview, Clarendon Hills, D'Arenberg's Laughing Magpie, Greg Norman's Limestone Coast, Torbreck Woodcutter's Red, Elderton; Fox Creek Reserve; Kay Brothers Hillside and Rosemount Balmoral.
Syrah produced in California is just as rich and unctuous as the stuff made Down Under. As a matter of fact, these wines can be "fruit bombs" with sometimes stratospheric alcohol levels. Many of the most sought after are produced along California's central coastal areas such as the Santa Maria Valley and Santa Barbara County. These latter two wine regions were featured in the movie "Sideways."
To be sure, California Syrahs
share more common taste components with the Aussies than with the French, yet there are still some differences. Here are some of my California favorites: Melville, Qupe; Babcock; Blackjack Ranch; Sanford; Fess Parker; RH Phillips; Alexander Valley Vineyards; Beckman; Frei Brothers; and, locally owned, Falcor.
I guess you'll just have to pick your favorites. As the French say: "Que Syrah, Syrah..."

West Virginia Wine Events This Summer

Below are a couple of worthy wine events around West Virginia this summer that combine vino and victuals.

THURSDAY, JULY 19: "Wine and Roses"

Join me and about 100 other thirsty wine lovers at the third annual Roark-Sullivan Lifeways Center (RSLC) Wine and Roses event. Wine and Roses will be held indoors at the Capitol Market from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 19. Partnering with RSLC is the Capitol Market, Soho's and the Wine Shop at Capitol Market.

I'll be selecting a whole passel of wines which are once again being donated by area Wine Distributors. If you find something you like, 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 304/414-0109 and give them your credit card or send a check to: RSLC, P.O. Box 8957, South Charleston, WV, 25303

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.

Come out and sip for a good cause.

JULY 27-29: Taste of the Mountains Food, Wine & Jazz Festival

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