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

Bravo Marcello! Grazie Mille

Discovering the symbiotic relationship between wine and food is one of life’s exquisite pleasures. While I’ve always enjoyed eating, I was not always a fan of wine. As a matter of fact, it took me several years to realize that wine could be more than just an inferior substitute for beer or hundred proof vodka. It wasn’t until after I returned from an all-expense paid tour of southeast Asia (courtesy of the US Army) that my plebian palate experienced the alluring, complex and addicting characteristics of wine.

At that time, I was pursuing a graduate degree at WVU, and my wife and I were celebrating a special occasion at the Montmartre – Morgantown’s fanciest restaurant of the day located in the basement of the Hotel Morgan. I had ordered a beer to accompany my filet of beef, but the waiter suggested a glass of red wine instead. I was about to decline until he said that if I didn’t like the wine, I wouldn’t have to pay for it.  I accepted his offer, fully expecting to be disappointed. I was not. The wine by itself was tasty, but in combination with my steak, the dining experience was sublime. That epiphany changed the way I thought about wine – and food. As a result, I’ve been on a life-long mission to find and experience exceptional food and wine pairings.

A couple of weeks ago, I experienced one of those rare times when the entrée and accompanying wine were a perfect match. My wife and I were having dinner in Sarasota, Florida at a small Italian restaurant. Marcello Ristorante is located along a busy highway in small strip mall, and in a non-descript building. The place is the embodiment of the phrase, “looks can be deceiving,” because Marcello is one of the finest Italian restaurants in which I have dined. The owner of the eponymous restaurant, Marcello Aquino, is a self-taught master chef who perfected his culinary skills at his mother’s small Italian eatery in Sarasota, and then later in New York City restaurants.

Marcello is open for dinner service only, and the menu (which changes daily) is featured on a chalkboard that is rolled up to each table for patrons to view and make  selections. There are nine tables in the main body of the restaurant along with a 12-seat table in an adjacent glass enclosed wine room where guests dine next to a wall of bottles. The chef is just a one-man show toiling in a small, open kitchen to create edible masterpieces such as Bahamian Lobster Tail Fra Diavolo, Florida Rock Shrimp with Gnocchi and Sage Cream along with a host of other mouth-watering delights.

The wine list at Marcello is voluminous with bottles from every Italian region, and with a special emphasis on Brunello di Montalcino. The Brunello portfolio alone features more than 300 different labels, making it one of the most extensive lists of that fabled Tuscan wine on the planet. Just as amazing is how reasonably the wines are priced. Most wines can be purchased for what you might pay for that same bottle in a wine shop, and some are actually priced below retail. For the superb quality of the wine list and the exceptional cuisine, Marcello Ristorante has earned the Wine Spectator’s coveted  “Award of Excellence.”

For my entree, I chose a bottle of 2015 Le Potazzine Brunello di Montalcino. The wine was pure silk! With smoky, earthy aromas and spicy, ripe cherry flavors, this velvety wine was a perfect match to the chef’s hand-made pappardelle. The noodles were bathed in a white wine and olive oil sauce with asparagus, and topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano and shaved black truffles. If you would like to dine at Marcello Ristorante, be sure to call well in advance of your planned visit to book a reservation (941-921-6794) at this small, exquisite restaurant.

If you won’t be travelling to Sarasota any time soon, and if my description of the culinary gems at Marcello’s makes you hunger for an Italian food and wine fix, there are several excellent local establishments in the Charleston-Huntington region from which to choose. My go-to Italian restaurant here in Charleston is Ristorante Abruzzi which is adjacent to Go-Mart Ballpark on Morris Street. I also love to “mangia” Italiano at Rocco’s Ristorante in Ceredo-Kenova – just an hour down the road past Huntington.

Ciao Amici!

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book, Augie’s World, is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. Both novels are available in print and audio at Amazon. You can find out more about his novels and wine columns at


Original author: John Brown
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