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

Wine and ramps: a tonic for springtime

We’ve had an earlier spring than normal which has prompted me to lighten up on the body of the wines I’m drinking now. For the time being – at least – I am switching to lighter textured wines that fit more with the increased activity level the nice weather has precipitated for even a lummox like me.

 While I am not one to forgo use of my charcoal grill even when snowflakes are falling, I find it much more comfortable to stoke up the old Weber Performer when Mother Nature smiles on us. Lately, I have been grilling a wide variety of animal parts and also as many veggies as possible, including that lovely little lily of the mountains – ramps.

 Yes, I said ramps.

 Most folks smother the flavor of these wild leeks by covering them up in dishes like pinto beans or fried potatoes, but not this mountaineer. No siree, Jim Bob. I simply toss them in a little olive oil, sprinkle them with salt and pepper and throw them on the grill being careful not to set them ablaze.

 Then, I use them to spark up whatever grilled meat or vegetable comprises the main entrée for the meal. It may surprise the uninitiated, but cooked ramps, like their leek and onion cousins, shed a lot of their eye-watering pungency.

West Virginia's Mountain Treasure

I am not suggesting that ramps become sweet when cooked or grilled, but they sure are tender and marry really well with roasted meat. Cooking them will also eliminate the rather odoriferous effects of consuming the little buggers raw.

 If you ever do eat them in their natural state, make sure the people who live within a mile of you have fair warning. This is to prevent them from: a) losing consciousness; b) murdering you; or c) calling in an airstrike on your home. The first time I consumed ramps, I was still living with my parents. Home from college for the weekend, I ate a mess of ramps raw and washed them down with several cold ones.

 For once in my post adolescent years, my mother allowed me to sleep in (she actually locked me in my room) while she proceeded to fumigate the premises. She was not amused and when I emerged stealthily from my bedroom window, she was waiting with hose in hand. After de-lousing me, she sent me packing, back to torture my classmates at WVU.

 So what wine goes with cooked or grilled ramps? That largely depends on what main course with which you accompany them. Actually, sauvignon blanc is an excellent pairing for ramps, especially if you are mixing them with veggies like asparagus, green beans or broccoli and pasta.

 Regardless, here are a few lighter styled wines for you to sip with your springtime meals. Enjoy!

 2010 Remy Pannier Vouvray ($15) – This lovely chenin blanc from the Loire region of France can be enjoyed as an aperitif or with brunch foods such as omelets, roasted vegetables or creamy salads. It has just a touch of sweetness and is very well-balanced with flavors of tropical fruits.

 2010 Buil & Gine’ Joan Gine Blanco ($26) – This rustic white wine from Spain’s Priorat region is round and ripe with just a touch of (good) funkiness. How’s that for a descriptor? Anyway, this blend of mostly grenache blanc is a complex wine with orange rind and lemon peel flavors, and great minerality to balance the finish. Excellent accompaniment to roast cod or Chilean Sea Bass in a lemon butter sauce – with a few sautéed ramps on the side.

 2011 Domaine Sorin Cotes de Provence Rose ($15) – What a delicious strawberry and cherry flavored wine from the southern Rhone. Excellent fruit, slightly orange color and ripe – yet dry – flavors, this wine will make a great porch sipper or a nice match with grilled sausages.

 2010 Santa Rita 120 Carmenere (($12) – This semi-obscure red from Chile is a smooth, medium-bodied alternative to cabernet sauvignon or merlot. Blackberry flavors and mocha tones give this wine just enough body to marry well with roasted pork tenderloin.
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