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

Tasting Cabernet Blind!

From time to time, I have the opportunity to attend or conduct a tasting where the wines are evaluated before anyone is shown what they’re tasting. These events are known as “blind” tastings.

Don’t get the wrong idea. We’re not talking about drunken parties where the tasters are blind from overindulgence. Rather, since the identities of the wines are kept hidden from the participants, the wines are being tasted “blind.”

Why? Well, tasting wines blind takes away the bias you may have toward a particular label because of past experience with the wine, or because of the reputation or price of a specific product. Without any idea of the wine’s identity, you’ll find you’re also better able to concentrate on the qualitative aspects of the wine such as color, aroma and taste.

I encourage you to attend one of these events or, better yet, conduct your own blind tasting with a few friends at home. It’s pretty simple. Just ask everyone to bring a bottle of wine which has been covered with a paper bag (be sure to tape the bag around the neck of the bottle).

I suggest using a specific type of wine such as zinfandel or sauvignon blanc so that you’re comparing different wineries’ versions of the same varietal. Most grape varieties, regardless of where they are grown around the world, produce wines that have defining aroma or taste characteristics that are universally recognizable.

Take cabernet sauvignon for example. Cabernet produced in such geographically diverse regions as the Napa Valley in California, Bordeaux in France or the Barossa Valley in Australia share varietal characteristics with which most wine drinkers can identify.

Some of the aroma and taste characteristics I find in cabernet are cola, leather, eucalyptus, tobacco, mocha, currants, green pepper and green olives. I don’t mean to suggest that every cabernet sauvignon has all of these components, but I can usually detect one or more of them in this world famous wine.

I had the pleasure of conducting just such a tasting recently where cabernets and cabernet blends were tasted blind. The blends are wines with cabernet and/or other traditional Bordeaux blending grapes (merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec).

This tasting consisted of six wines hailing from California, Bordeaux, Chile, Argentina and Australia. To make sure I was unaware of the order of the wines, I asked a person not in the tasting to bag and number the ones we were going to sip.

The wines ranged in price from around $11 to $35 a bottle and I asked the assembled group of wine lovers to taste each wine against all of the others and then to rate them. You may be surprised to know that the number one rated wine was far from the most expensive. In addition, I can honestly say that I would buy any of the wines we tasted and be happy with them.

So what were the wines and the results? Well, I’ll list the wines, but you’ll have to conduct your own tasting to determine which you prefer. After all, that’s what wine appreciation is all about – your preference after careful consideration. Incidentally, all the wines are readily available in wine shops around the state.

The wines tasted blind (in alphabetical order): 2007 El Portillo Cabernet – Argentina ($14); 2003 Falcor Le Bijou – Napa Valley ($32); 2007 Guenoc Victorian Claret – California ($15); 2006 Larose De Gruaud – St. Julien, Bordeaux ($35); 2006 Marques De Casa Concha Cabernet - Chile ($19); 2007 McWiliams Hanwood Estate Cabernet – Australia ($11).

Let me know what you think of the wine (s).

Wine is an acceptable water substitute !

Over the millennia, wine has proved to be an able and essential substitute for water. The Romans would regularly send troopers to plant vines and make wine years in advance of their invading armies to insure that they would have a safe and plentiful supply of wine (which is comprised mainly of water).

Remember the Biblical parable about the wedding feast where the attendees very quickly drank up all the hooch and one very special guest saved the day by changing large vats of water into wine?

Well, several years ago , I was a judge– now get this – at a water contest. Seven hours of drinking and judging municipal tap water, bottled water and sparkling water left my indelicate stomach even more distended than normal. Between frequent trips to the restroom, I longed for a miracle similar to the one performed 2000 years ago.

But really folks…. the town of Berkley Springs in the Eastern Panhandle puts on a first-class event that not only showcases waters from around the world, but also provides visitors with a hospitable experience second to none.

In a former life where I had the privilege of promoting West Virginia tourism, the good folks of Berkley Springs were a passionate group, always touting the virtues of the town, the springs and water that have made the place a magnet for weary travelers for hundreds of years.

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Bubbles for the New Year!

It’s almost 2010 wine lovers! As you get ready to toast the New Year, I have some last minute sparkling suggestions to help you celebrate the end of the first decade of the new millennium in style.

Sparkling wine and Champagne are delicious and appropriate wines to sip as you bring in the New Year and today I’ll share with you some of my favorite bubbly picks. While many sparkling wines are made in the Champagne method, none can be called by that famous moniker unless they are produced from grapes grown in region of Champagne in northern France.
If you recall, the Champagne method (or methode champenoise) is a process where still wines (traditionally pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier) are blended and then put in a bottle to which yeast and a small amount of sugar are added. This causes the wine to go through a secondary fermentation and the result  is a bubbly wine like Champagne.While Champagne is regarded as the gold standard, many other countries produce excellent sparkling wine using this method.
So here are a few of my favorites you might consider sipping New Year’s Eve and any time you get a hankering for a little bubbly:
Champagne under $40:  Perrier Jouet Grand Brut; Moet & Chandon Imperial; Veuve Clicquot Brut; and Michel Arnould Grand Cru Brut.
Sparkling wines under $25: 2005 Domaine Carneros Brut; Vigna Dogarina Prosecco; Roderer Anderson Valley Brut; 2005 Vilarnau Brut Nature (Spain); Parxet Cuvee 21; Domaine Chandon Brut Rose; and Gloria Ferrer Brut.

Happy New Year!!

Some wines (and stuff) for your holiday gift giving


Well, here we are again faced with that most enjoyable of all dilemmas: what wine to get for that loved one, friend or you this holiday season.

 

Normally, the pressures of holiday shopping are both frustrating and exceedingly difficult for me, but not when it comes to wine gifting!  Why?  Well, for me, securing a quality selection of top wines for the holidays is a labor of love and today I’ll share my top picks that should meet just about every budget.  

 

Let’s start, though, with some non-vinous gift recommendations for those in need of wine accoutrements (that’s French for “stuff”), or other goodies that are not liquid.   

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Sippin’ wine older than Howdy Doody!

Sippin’ wine older than Howdy Doody!

After rummaging around my very disorganized cellar for a suitably mature wine to pair with a celebratory meal, I came upon a bottle  which had obviously been lying in repose for quite some time. After blowing the dust off the label, I was incredulous to discover that the wine was a 1947 Borgono Barolo!

 

Say what?  That’s older than … Howdy Doody! (By the way, there is no truth to the rumor that Howdy Doody was the illegitimate result of a union between Little Orphan Annie and Pinocchio).

 

Anyway, it turns out my brother, who had prompted me to look in that particular area of the cellar and with whom I share a passion for the fruit of the vine, had years before slipped the Barolo into a nook instead of a cranny, and I was unaware I possessed this museum piece.   

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Thanksgiving WineBoy Picks


When I was growing up, one of our faithful family traditions involved enthusiastic discourse around the holiday dinner table. To the rare outsiders who were infrequently invited to our large family repasts, the decibel level of this “enthusiasm” must have been a bit disconcerting.

 

No subject was too grand, obscure or off limits. We would debate everything from presidential elections to the color of Aunt Agnes’ moustache, and those who prevailed usually did so through din rather than  eloquence.

 

So in keeping with family tradition, my brother and I have debated for decades the best wines to pair with Thanksgiving dinner. After exhaustive and sometimes heated discussions, we have come to the conclusion that almost every wine can marry nicely with some part of the Turkey Day meal.   Why? Listen up.

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How to conduct a wine tasting and FAQ’s on wine

One of the small pleasures of my life is conducting wine tastings. I really enjoy imparting information to eager learners, and wine lovers are perfect students. You ask good questions, are usually very attentive and truly want to learn more about the wine you drink.

My tastings go something like this: I’ll usually give you a short history of wine and then demonstrate how to get the most out of the tasting by teaching you how to use your senses to fully appreciate wine.  

Think in terms of the ‘five S.’s of wine appreciation: (1) sight – observe the wine and judge its clarity, color, etc; (2) swirl- rotate the wine in the glass to unlock the flavor and aroma; (3) sniff – place your proboscis deeply into the glass and smell and try to describe what you are smelling; (4) sip – my favorite part of the tasting where you roll the wine around in your mouth allowing it to touch all the surfaces; (5) swallow – judge the impressions the wine leaves when you swallow it.

Generally, a wine tasting will consist of examining six or seven wines beginning with lighter and sweeter wines and moving to fuller-bodied and dryer ones. Tasters should receive about one ounce of each wine so the total amount you drink over the course of the tasting approximates one full glass of wine.  

Tasters are encouraged to critically examine the color as well as the aroma and taste of each wine, and to render an opinion as to what they liked or disliked about a particular bottle.

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Sippin’ and suppin’ in Italy - Part II -

Sippin’ and suppin’ in Italy - Part II -

Our wine and food exploration of Italy continued in the Piemonte region and later included a brief, but memorable, stay in Tuscany where we were treated to a delicious multi-course lunch with accompanying wines at a renowned Brunello Di Montalcino producer.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Back at base camp (La Cascina Del Monastero), Velda Grasso and her winemaker husband Pepe (short for Giuseppe) not only provided us with excellent accommodations and spectacular dining recommendations, they also prepared and served us (and eight other lucky guests) a seven - course, seven wine gourmet dinner one evening.

Pepe’s wines, which include Arneis, Dolcetto, Barbera, two Barbaresco’s, Barolo and a delicious Moscato with dessert, were lovely accompaniments to the food. Velda’s menu consisted of:  antipasti with local cheeses and salami, bruscetta with fresh tomatoes and herbs, lasagna with four cheeses, Italian wedding soup, sautéed rice balls with fontina, porchata (roast pork) with porcini mushroom sauce and hazel nut cake with a poached pear.

(Check out the Cascina's website at  www.cascinadelmonastereo.it. You can also get great advice on lodging, restaurants and wineries on your next trip to Italy by going to www.italybestsecrets.com).After dinner, our intrepid group moved to the terrace to watch the stars and sip Pepe‘s Grappa. For those of you unfamiliar with Grappa, it is the Italian equivalent of “moonshine” that is made from the pomace (pressings) of fermented grapes.  While Pepe’s elixir was smooth and (too) easy to drink, I’ve had the misfortune of sipping Grappa that could have been used as rocket propellant.Groggy, but undeterred, we set off the next morning for a visit to one of Piemonte’s most respected wineries, Prunotto.   Prunotto was established by the family of the same name in the 1920’s and sold to the Tuscan Antinori Winery in 1989. Prunotto‘s winery is located in the hub town of the Barolo and Barbaresco region – Alba.

Cellars at PrunottoWhile Prunotto features the full line of Piemonte wines, two that are worth seeking out are the 2005 Barbera D’Asti and the 2004 Bric Turot Barbaresco.  The former is bursting with bright cherry fruit,  is well balanced and would be a wonderful partner to pasta with a putanesca sauce (featuring tomatoes, garlic, olives and red pepper flakes). The Barbaresco is a single vineyard wine that has aromas of dried flowers and sour cherries with loads of rich, ripe black currant flavors that beg to be paired with roasted pork.

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Wine and food events in November

Before I regale you with more juicy details of my Italian trip, I thought I’d let you know about some upcoming wine and food events you may wish to get on your calendar.

Spanish Wine Dinner

The Wine Shop at Capitol Market and the Bluegrass Kitchen are teaming up to present a Spanish-themed gourmet wine dinner. The event will be held at the Bluegrass Kitchen on Monday, November 2 and will feature food prepared by Chef Gary Needham.    Wines will be introduced and presented by Felipe Gonzales Gordon who will be representing his family's winery Gonzales Byass.

With its origins dating back to 1835, Gonzalez Byass has no shortage of rich history in wine making.  In addition to the five course, five wine meal, guests will be served a sparkling wine aperitif and appetizer and will be entertained throughout the evening by classical Latin guitarist Eduardo Canelon.  Seating is limited for this meal and reservations must be made in advance through the Wine Shop.  Call for prices and reservations at 304.343.9463

 Canaan Valley Resort Wild and wonderful Wine and Food Weekend

Once again, I will be working with the fine folks at Canaan Valley Resort for another Wild and Wonderful Wine Weekend in the Mountains next month.  Join other wine and food revelers on November 13-15 for an entertaining and educational gourmet extravaganza. I’ll select wines from around the world that will be paired with a cornucopia of culinary delicacies prepared Canaan Valley Resort’s executive chef Nemat Odeh classically trained in Europe.

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My trip to Italia - Part I

My trip to Italia - Part I

I’ve travelled a few times to that ancient and venerable land of vines and wines we call Italy, but I had never explored one of that country’s most heralded regions, Piemonte. In the next two blogs, I will recount my visit to Piemonte as well as my short stay in the region of Tuscany. 

Nestled in the northwest corner of the Italy and in the shadow of the Alps, Piemonte is home to perhaps the most revered of all Italian wines – Barolo.  It is also the region where the equally esteemed Barbaresco is produced, as well other excellent reds such as barbera and dolcetto.  The main white of the region is the delicate arneis, a grape producing  a delightfully fresh and dry wine which  sometimes has just a touch of frizzante or sparkle. Some wineries also produce chardonnay in a style reflecting Burgundy more than the new world.

After a flight from Rome to Milan, we rented a car and travelled the 100 miles toward the village of La Morra where we had booked rooms in an “agriturismo.”   An agriturismo is a farm or historical edifice that has been restored and converted into a lodging facility. The one we chose, Cascina Del Monastero, is actually a working winery.

This  16th Century farm house was inhabited by Benedictine friars for three centuries and now has ten large suites which are tastefully decorated.  The farm became a winery in 1926 when the current owner’s grandfather purchased it.  Giuseppe and Velda Grasso were our hosts for our four day stay and are really warm and accommodating folks.

 Vineyards above Cascina Del Monastero

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Back from Italia!



Hey friends and neighbors, WineBoy here.  Just back from ten days in Italia where I tried to break the Garibaldi Book of World Records for consumption of food and wine.  One look at my dirigible-like countenance and you will agree I must have been a finalist in this gustatory competition.

Anyway, I hope to have a few words to share with you soon on my travels and the spectacular array of wine and food I experienced in both Piemonte and Tuscany. As you may know, Piemonte (which is in northwest Italy) is known for its famous Barolo and Barbaresco while Tuscany is home to Chianti and Brunello Di Montalcino among other fine wines.

Both regions boast some of the best foods prepared anywhere on Mother Earth and I did my best to sample them with flagons of the local wines. In fact, I arrived in Piemonte in the middle of the red wine harvest and at the beginning of white truffle season.

 So stay tuned over the next few days for a report on my travels to wine and food heaven!

 

Spicy turkey roll-ups, big reds just the right meal for fall


Fall is a time of transition and I’m going to get a head start on autumn food and wine by preparing one of my all time favorite fall meals.

 

 It is no real surprise, then, that most of us move from the light wines of summer such as riesling, rose’, sauvignon blanc, and pinot grigio to fuller-bodied red varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and syrah.

          

My idea of culinary Nirvana, as I have noted in this space before, is to match full-flavored, spicy foods such as stews, pot roasts and stuffed meats with big, juicy reds.  Today, I am going to share a recipe with you that will be enhanced by any of the above-mentioned wines.  Oh, by the way, this dish is absolutely delicious, particularly if you can tolerate a good dose of garlic and a little heat.  

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Wine and food events


Wine friends mark your calendars and start your palates for the following food and wine events around our fair state.

 Tamarak

The Tamarack Foundation Gala, “Hats Off to the Arts!” at the Tamarack Conference Center in Beckley on Saturday, Sept. 19, from 6 to 9 p.m. will feature West Virginia foods on its extensive menu.

Tamarack Chef Jamie Henderson and his team of Greenbrier-trained chefs are saluting West Virginia’s protein, produce and food products from hors d’oeuvres at the reception to the dessert bar at the end of the evening.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to showcase West Virginia’s creative small businesses and entrepreneurs,” said Tamarack Foundation Executive Director Sally Barton.  “It’s great for us to give guests at the gala an opportunity to discover some wonderful local foods as well as fine arts and crafts.”

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A tasting of 30 year old zinfandel. What’s the verdict?

A tasting of 30 year old zinfandel. What’s the verdict?
Benjamin Disraeli was famously quoted as proclaiming: "The magic of first love is our ignorance that it can never end."

With all due respect to the late and esteemed Mr. Disraeli, I must say that I disagree, particularly when it comes to wine. The first grape I ever had the pleasure of making into wine more than 30 years ago was zinfandel.  And even though the resulting  liquid  was so over-oaked that it resembled toasted wood more than  it did wine, I still love zinfandel (made by professionals)  to this day.

As I have noted in this space before, zinfandel is the Rodney Dangerfield of red wines. It certainly doesn’t get any respect and even though many enjoy it, very few people want to take it home to dinner.  Why?  Well, the truth is that zinfandel has an identity problem.  In fact, it has multiple identities.  Are you listening, Dr. Freud?

The grape is so versatile that winemakers make it in a variety of styles. From white to blush, from light    to  medium -bodied, from  full-bodied to purple monster, zinfandel can be a confusing wine to buy and, unless you are familiar with the style made by a particular winery, it is difficult to match it with food.

The other problem comes from some wine critics who have declared that, while zinfandel  has some utility and can be a pleasant quaff, it really cannot be taken seriously because it does not age gracefully.  Since it does not benefit from extended cellaring (they proclaim), it should be drunk within the first few years after bottling.

I won’t deny that zinfandel – and almost every red and white wine produced on this planet – is best consumed within a few years after being made. However, I can attest to the fact that zinfandel does indeed age well and can be gracefully transformed into a multi-layered, subtle and complex wine - descriptors which are customarily reserved to describe revered  old Bordeaux.

How can I make such a claim?  Read on.

To honor this much maligned varietal and to test just how well (or not) zinfandel can age, some zin- fanatics (and yours truly) put together a vertical, blind tasting of zinfandel produced from 1974 through 1982.

There were 11 wines in the tasting (ranging in age from 27 to 35) and all were placed in paper bags to hide their labels. The zinfandels were:  1974 through 1980 Sutter Home (Amador County);   1980 Grgich Hills (Alexander Valley); 1980 Burgess (Napa); and 1981 and 1982 Grgich Hills (Sonoma County).

While the cellar conditions where the wines were stored could not be described as perfect, they were reasonably good. My wines had been aged on their sides in a dark and vibration free area of the cellar that has consistent temperature and humidity.   My good friend and wine aficionado, Andy MacQueen, had contributed wines too and his cellar conditions were similar to mine.

 
The wines had been allowed to sit upright for a week prior to the tasting to make sure all the sediment would fall to the bottom.  Just before the tasting, I carefully decanted the wines one by one into a carafe and immediately poured them back into the bottles which had been quickly rinsed to dispose of the sediment.  I also inserted the corks back in the bottles to prevent any further oxidation.

So with an assembled group of anxious and anticipatory wine geeks all fired up and ready, we got down to some serious sipping and evaluating.  Of the 11 wines, four were deemed by the group to be “over the hill” and virtually undrinkable. Those were the 1980 Burgess and 1976, 1978 and 1980 Sutter Home.  The remaining seven wines were all very drinkable and a couple of them were amazingly complex.

Some of the notes from the tasters described these varied and diverse attributes:  ‘tack room and teaberry mint aromas; coffee, cola and spicy cherry flavors; licorice, mint and tea notes;  silky, rich, subtle; and  minty, sweet fruit, layered flavors.’

The consensus favorite was the amazing 1974 Sutter Home Amador County. I described it as “a wine with leather and teaberry mint aromas, silky tannins, rich, sweet cola flavors and remarkable length – a wine with another five or more years of life.”  The 1975, 1977 and 1979 Sutter Home along with the 1980 Grgich Hills were also delicious examples of how well zinfandel can age.

No,  I’m not suggesting that you wait 30 or more years to replicate my tasting to determine if zinfandel can age as well as Bordeaux.   You just need to go out and experience today’s zinfandel, a wine  that is chock full of spicy, minty, jammy, blackberry flavors . And you’ll be amazed at how well zin goes with just about any full-flavored dish.

However, I have to admit it does my hillbilly heart good to prove that the prevailing view among the wine cognoscenti (regarding zinfandel’s inability to age well) is just one more de-bunked myth!

Pushing the envelope: white wine and barbecue


Do you find yourself burdened with a plethora of outdoor chores this weekend? With the heat index reaching Death Valley levels, those grass cutting, weed eating honey-do’s will sap the last lick of energy from your seriously dehydrated body. Thirst is a terrible thing and so in weather like this, one needs – above all else – to force fluids (I’m pretty good at this), limit outdoor activities (golf and fishing don’t count) and spend as much time as possible indoors.

 

The fact that I won’t be leaving the house, though, doesn’t mean I won’t be preparing a delicious barbecue meal. In fact, I plan on doing a brisket of beef that I will slather with some of wineboy’s own sweet and sour barbecue sauce or “mop” (see recipe below). I’ll accompany the barbecue with creamy cole slaw and  a baked macaroni and (four) cheese casserole that’s flavored with chipotles in adobo sauce (you’ll find cans of these fiery little goodies  at many supermarkets).

 

So, how will I accomplish this feat without beating feet outdoors?  Simple.  I’ll use a pre-cooked and smoked brisket that you can find at some grocery stores or at Sam’s Club. I know, I know…It’s almost un-American to call this shortcut barbecue, but it is a pretty good alternative to subjecting my feeble bones to the very real possibility of heat stroke.

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A dream come true: chocolate and wine are good for you!

I fell in love with chocolate decades ago and throughout the intervening years I have tried desperately to avoid becoming a full-fledged chocoholic.  My battle with this sweet addiction has caused me much angst, but over the past few years researchers have touted the healthful attributes of chocolate - or at least dark chocolate.

This research came as shocking, yet welcome, news and seemed a repudiation of what a whole generation of moms preached to us.  Remember  when your mom would scare you with horror stories about how too much chocolate would result in rotten teeth, pimples and obesity?

Your parents probably also warned you about drinking wine.  Just a few of decades ago, people who drank more than just an occasional glass were considered reprobates or wino's by the moral police of the time whose idea of moderate drinking with meals was the three martini lunch.

           

While moderate wine consumption is considered acceptable now, chocolate had still been considered a somewhat decadent extravagance by health-conscious individuals.

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Stuffed poblanos with quinoa and chorizo: A Zinful meal

      I’ll admit it, I am consumed each day by lengthy ruminations over what I’m going to eat and drink.  Conversations with my long-suffering spouse almost always involve planning the evening meal and sometimes precipitate disputes that are usually amicably, but sometimes loudly, settled.Then one or both of us will venture out to search for the freshest ingredients and the wine to accompany the agreed upon meal. These almost daily forays inevitably lead to the farmer’s stands at Capitol Market to peruse and then purchase the just picked veggies that are so appealingly displayed.     Like many of my contemporaries, I am trying to eat a healthier diet in the hope that doing so will undue decades of abuse ladled into my arterial system by the constant ingestion of the three most important central Appalachian food groups: lard, red meat and fried potatoes.Therefore, recently I went in search of poblano peppers that would be the centerpiece of a (almost) vegetarian meal.  Poblanos, when dried as they often are, become ancho peppers and are sometimes ground to make chili powder. Anchos can also be re-hydrated and used in sauces.  I found the  poblanos at the Purple Onion inside Capitol Market and, while they  do have a slight measure of heat, they are nowhere near the potency of a jalapeno.     So today, I’m  going to tell you about  a one-course meal that is guaranteed to spice up your day and in a very healthy way. And when you accompany this meal with one of the  juicy zinfandels  I’m going to suggest, you’ll have the perfect summer time repast. You’ll need one large poblano for each adult you’re serving.  For purposes of this recipe, we’ll use the stuffing for two peppers.     Stuffed Poblanos , Quinoa with (or without ) Chorizo.  Okay, here goes.

Shopping list:- Two large poblanos- One clove garlic diced- One quarter medium onion diced- One-quarter cup finely chopped cilantro- Four ounces Monterey jack cheese- One- quarter pound ground chorizo sausage(optional)- Two ounces of vegetable oil- One-half cup quinoa or brown rice- Salt and pepper to taste     For those of you unfamiliar with quinoa  (pronounced keen-wah), it is supposedly the perfect food. It fluffs up like rice and is gluten free with a protein content of 12%. It can also be used as a substitute for pasta and white rice and is very low in carbohydrates.  It tastes good too. If you can’t find it (The Purple Onion usually stocks it), use brown rice as a low-carb substitute or just use white rice if you wish.Preparation:1. Place poblanos  directly  on the stove top  and char the skin, turning often until most of the surface of the pepper is charred.2. Place the peppers in a paper or plastic bag for about 20 minutes, remove and peel the skin3. With a small, sharp knife, cut a slit in top of the pepper large enough to spoon in the   stuffing.4. Dice the garlic, chop the onion and cilantro and sauté in two ounces of vegetable oil until the veggies are translucent.5. Sauté’ the chorizo and drain off the fat6. Combine the quinoa, vegetables, chorizo and shredded cheese in a bowl and allow to cool.7. When cool, add one egg to the mixture and stir, then stuff the peppers  and add more cheese to the top of each pepper.8. Place on aluminum foil and on an oven pan and heat through for 30 minutes at 325  degrees (F).

Wine Recommendations:     Spicy, juicy red zinfandel is the perfect accompaniment to this meal.  Try the 2006 Wild Hog Zinfandel ($25) or the 2007 Castle Rock Mendocino Zinfandel ($14 ).  While both have the requisite blackberry juiciness and spice component in spades, the Wild Hog is a fuller-bodied version of Zin while the Castle Rock shows more acidity and is a little less in your face.

WV restaurants wine Wine Spectator awards

We all have our favorite restaurants around the state and even beyond the borders of this land of “purple mountain majesty.”  Good food should be accompanied by good wine and those eateries that understand this rudimentary principle should be recognized.  It’s one thing for this back-water wino to say nice things about a grubbery, but when a prestigious international magazine does…well that, to use the local vernacular, is “spay-chull.”

Therefore, wine lovers and foodies in our state should know that the annual Wine Spectator restaurant awards were just announced and the Mountain State has 13 establishments that received honors.  

According to the magazine, “Wine Spectator’s restaurant wine list awards program recognizes restaurants whose wine lists offer interesting selections, are appropriate to the cuisine and appeal to a wide range of wine lovers.  To qualify for an award, the list must present complete, accurate wine information. It must include vintages and appellations for all selections, including wines by the glass…”

The three categories of awards are:  “Awards of Excellence”; “Best of Awards of Excellence”; and the “Grand Award. “  Nearly 3000 restaurants across world have received the “Award of Excellence,” including eleven restaurants in WV.  Two WV restaurants, the Bavarian Inn and the Greenbrier’s Main Dining Room, received “Best of Awards of Excellence” and that’s quite an honor since only 800 restaurants achieved that distinction.   Only 72 restaurants around the world received the highest honor and none were in West By-god  -- yet.

The state restaurants receiving “Awards of Excellence are:  Bridge Road Bistro, Charleston; The Chop House, Charleston; Ember,  Snowshoe Mountain Resort ; The Glasshouse Grille, Morgantown; La Bonne Vie, Chester (at Mountaineer Racetrack); Provence Market Café, Bridgeport;  Sam Snead’s, While Sulpher  Springs (The Greenbrier); Sargasso, Morgantown;  Savannah's, Huntington; Soho’s, Charleston; and Spats, Parkersburg (in the Blennerhassett Hotel).

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Sipping for a cause: Fourth annual Wine and Roses Event

I am a board member of the Roark-Sullivan Lifeways Center (RSLC).   This is a very 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.
For the past several years, RSLC has been hosting a fund raising event at Capitol Market called “Wine and Roses.” Wouldn’t it be great to help programs like Roark-Sullivan and enjoy good wine and gourmet food, too?
Well, you can!  Join me and other wine lovers at the fourth annual Roark-Sullivan Lifeways Center Wine and Roses event. Wine and Roses will be held indoors at the Capitol Market from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 16. Partnering with RSLC is the Capitol Market, Soho’s, the Thomas Health System, A Travel Agent in WV and the Wine Shop at Capitol Market.  
Area wine distributors and locally owned Napa Valley winery, Falcor, are donating the wines.  And believe me, there will be exceptional wines available for your sipping pleasure from all over the world.  In addition, there will be an assortment of gourmet appetizers you can pair with the wines.   
I’ll be there to answer your wine questions and chat about the tasty treats we’re sipping. And, hey, if you find a wine you like, you can stroll right over and purchase it immediately from the nice folks at the Wine Shop.
I count myself fortunate to have the time and resources to engage my passion for good wine and food. Others in our town, state and nation are not so fortunate. Each day is a challenge for them. Many of our fellow citizens are dealing with debilitating physical, emotional and mental issues that make each day a struggle to survive. Their goal is simply to find food to eat and a place to sleep. Fortunately, there are agencies in our communities that exist solely to assist these people, many of whom are homeless.
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. Last year, RSLC constructed and opened a Veterans Transitional Center adjacent to the Giltinan Center that provides services to homeless veterans.
The Roark-Sullivan Lifeways Center and other such organizations exist because of state and federal programs funded by your taxes, and through your generous personal contributions.  Please join me and raise a glass for a great cause!  
 Tickets are $30 in advance or at the door. You can call RSLC at 304-414-0109 and use your credit card or send a check to: RSLC, P.O. Box 1707, Charleston, WV, 25326.
I hope to see you there. 

Pairing wine and food

Boy have I been sipping some excellent wines this summer.  I’ve also been pairing them up with some yummy culinary treats – which is the equivalent of a gustatory double whammy!  I’ve also found that cooking the family meal is a great way to get out of yard work, and that’s reason enough for me to do my sweating in the kitchen.

I’ll be the first to admit that finding the appropriate food and wine match can be tricky. But I have acquired a lot of experience over the years, mainly through trial and error, and I’ve come up with some pairings that work for me and just might work for you too. 

Like all rules in wine appreciation, there are really no rules. In other words, if you enjoy filet mignon with Uncle Fred’s Rhubarb Red, then go for it. However, the overwhelming school of thought when it comes to finding the best food and wine pairing is to pick flavors that are complimentary. There are times, though, when it is best to find wine that has some contrasting elements  to the edibles.

And just like a good old West Virginia ward healer, I can go in either direction - depending on the circumstances, the mood or which way the wind is blowing. Okay, so here are some common sense principles to follow.

Lighter-bodied foods go best with lighter style wines while heavier flavored foods are best paired with fuller-flavored wines.  For instance, a poached white fish would go best with a lighter styled white wine such as a white Bordeaux or Albarino from Spain. Conversely, a well-marbled strip steak would be a great match with a robust red wine such as cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel.

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