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

Mountaineers are Always Free - to choose wine in them thar hills

When Joseph H. Diss Debar came up with our state’s slogan- Montani, Sempar, Liberi (“Mountaineers are Always Free”) in 1872, he kind of left it up to us to decide what we are “always free” to do. Taken to its literal and extreme conclusion by some mountaineers, those historic Latin words on the West Virginia State Seal have lead to incarceration.

My application of the slogan is much less dramatic. I take it to mean that I’m free to visit and experience all areas of the state, and then raise a glass to its vast and majestic beauty. Of course, unlike the aforementioned mountaineers, I choose to toast the state with a glass of wine instead of  a jug of John Barleycorn.

Hey, I’m not picking on those who prefer lesser beverages, but nothing compares with the experience of enjoying good food and wine in the lodge of one of our glorious state parks, or in one of our exceptional resorts while observing Mother Nature’s artwork.

I wax poetic only because I have visited some incredible places over the past several months where food and wine were the central theme around which visitors could enjoy and experience the beauty of nature right here in West –By-Golly.

Most recently, Stonewall Resort hosted their 8th annual Culinary Classic (held each March) where chefs from all over the state were able to showcase their gourmet wares and share them with the attending guests. More than 250 people attended this year’s event and sampled not only excellent cuisine, but also wines to match the delicacies.

Some of the restaurants and other food purveyors participating were: Bridgeport Conference Center, Waterplace Restaurant, Bridge Road Bistro, The Greenbrier Resort, Huntington Prime, The Ember Restaurant (at Snowshoe Resort), Graceland Inn, WV Northern Culinary School, Mountain State university Culinary School, Carver College, Columbus Culinary Institute, Gordon Foodservice, Green Mountain Coffee, Good Golly Ms. Molly Restaurant, Beverage Distributors and, of course, Stonewall Resort.

Chef Paco Aceves, along with food and beverage director Chris Steffich, deserve kudos for again making this one of the signature food and wine events of the year. The dishes sampled on one of the evening events were eclectic, creative and scrumptious! They ranged from smoked salmon to pork belly (prepared four different ways), to pulled pork and barbeque chicken tortillas, to duck and rabbit terrines, to tiny crepe cones stuffed with various foams, seafood and meats.

Incredibly enough, many of the culinary schools participating created elaborate and sometimes very large ice carvings.

And the wines were picked to match the culinary delights. My favorite combo was a 2008 Frei Brothers Zinfandel and duck terrine that was infused with figs and topped with sun-dried tomatoes. This delight was prepared by the culinary team at Stonewall.

And in the "I hate to admit it department"  (are you reading this Rich Ireland?),  one of the most interesting pairings was Yuengling Porter and chocolate covered espresso beans. Beer with gourmet food ?? Well, I declare !!

All in all, this was a great event and a testament to the quality of cuisine in West Virginia.

Wine Recommendations: 2008 Banfi Centine Rosso ($12) From Italy’s Tuscan region, this sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot blend is an excellent burger, pizza and red sauce pasta wine. Centine is well-made and nicely balanced and could benefit from decanting to release the flavors.

2009 Acrobat Pinot Gris ($13) - Acrobat from King Estate in Oregon is medium-bodied with ripe apple, pear and white peach flavors. It is crisp with a nice finish. Try the wine as a porch-sipper or pair it with brunch type food or fresh fruit.

The Prescription for Wine Boredom
Washington State wines: everything in balance !