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

The tonic for the winter blahs? host a wine tasting!

It is the dead of winter and you’re not only sick of the cold, gray and snowy days– you’re weary and listless. You’ve probably tried to amuse yourself and your friends by playing cards, board games and just about anything to make time go faster. You may have even been desperate enough to retrieve that old exercise bike that’s been rusting in the garage for a spin around the TV room.

Well, for those of you who enjoy a glass or two of wine, I’ve got just the restorative tonic to brighten your mood. Why not gather a few friends for wine tasting? And guess what, it’s really pretty simple to do and it’s affordable too, especially if you ask friends to contribute a bottle for the event.

You can taste and evaluate as few as two wines or as many as you wish, but normally a tasting will consist of six or seven wines. You may choose to evaluate a particular wine varietal such as chardonnay or zinfandel, or you may decide to taste wines from a region like the Napa Valley or Bordeaux. You can also just put together a random group of wines and go at it.

The classic tasting begins with lighter-bodied wines (usually whites) and moves to fuller-bodied and dryer red wines. If you’re evaluating sweet wines, you can taste whites at the beginning and reds, such as port, at the end. I usually taste sparkling wines at the beginning of a tasting.

While your main goal in evaluating wine is to judge the taste, you will also want to scrutinize the aroma, and you should use stemware that allows you to observe the color and clarity of the wine in the glass. Be sure to pour tasters about one ounce of each wine so the total amount you sip over the course of the tasting approximates a glass. I’ve been to events where the pours were heavy and, within a short period of time, the tasting devolved into a wine gulping event – and that ain’t pretty.

One of my favorite tastings is designed to get folks out of their wine comfort zone and expose them to bottles they wouldn’t normally try. I conducted just such a tasting before Christmas at Fish Hawk Acres in Buckhannon. Owner Dale Hawkins calls his establishment a “Grocer-Rant” and it is a mecca of epicurean delights, including a superb wine selection, locally farmed vegetables, fresh meats and the best sandwiches I’ve had in West-By-Golly.

The following is an example of how a wine tasting list might be comprised. Incidentally, these are wines which I would also recommend for your sipping pleasure.

Veuve Du Vernay Brut Rose ($15) – This French sparkler is well balanced and fresh with raspberry and bright cherry fruit flavors. Great as an aperitif or try it with brunch-type foods such as omelets, crepes or salads.

2020 Cantina Zaccagnini ($17) Pinot Grigio -From the Abruzzo region of Italy, this wine has a tropical fruit bouquet, flavors of ripe pears and is a refreshing, well-balanced wine. Try it with various antipasti, oysters on the half shell, grilled veggies, or roasted chicken.

2019 Pazo Cillerio Albarino ($22) – From the Galicia region of Spain, this Albarino is influenced by the cool breezes of the Atlantic. Refreshing and clean, the wine is fruit forward with notes of ripe green apples and citrus flavors. Would pair extremely well with delicate seafood dishes like pan sauteed grouper in a lemon butter sauce.

2018 Grayson Cellars Chardonnay ($15) – The 2018 Grayson Chardonnay is rich with a touch of vanilla, but it shows bright, brisk acidity and good minerality with notes of pineapple and apricot. Try this California wine with chicken cordon bleu, pasta with clams or roasted Chilean sea bass.

2018 Sebastiani Pinot Noir (Central Coast) ($18) – The fruit for this 2018 Pinot Noir comes from the Central Coast of California with 60% coming from Santa Rita imageand 40% coming from Monterey County. The wine is ripe and rich with black cherry and spice flavors. This would be lovely with Salmon on the grill or roast pork tenderloin.

2020 Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone ($18) This rich red wine from the southern Rhone region of France is full of spice and plum flavors. Try it with beef pot roast, chili or even lasagna.

2019 Fitch Mountain Merlot ($23) – This Dry Creek Valley wine has a silky mouth feel with flavors of chocolate spice, dark berries, coffee, caramel, and cedar. It has impressive length and a lasting, elegant finish. Try this wine with grilled rib eye steak or rack of lamb.

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at

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