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

Wines for Caprese

I don’t know about you, but after a particularly good meal accompanied by a glass or two of fine wine, I can become pensive, reflective and downright hillbilly profound. One evening last week after such a repast, I came to the happy realization that, despite the troublesome distractions of the times, including wars, natural disasters, pandemics and global warming, it’s less than two months until the Backyard Brawl.

Perspective is important. For example, it has taken me several decades to accept these absolute truisms: there aren’t many things that I can control; and there are even fewer things I can depend on. So, it’s important to concentrate on the things we do have some ability to control -like the food we eat and the wine we drink.

We are blessed here in West Virginia with a substantial agrarian economy which produces a cornucopia of vegetables, fruits, meats and grains through the state’s many farmers’ markets. Here in Charleston, we have easy access to these local products at the Capitol Market. The Capitol Market’s outdoor vendors’ stalls are now overflowing with produce, and it’s prime time to take advantage of their bounty.

I’d like to share a simple, but delicious, recipe composed of ripe tomatoes, herbs, extra virgin olive oil, fresh mozzarella, basil, salt and black pepper. The Italians call this delectable concoction Caprese, and I’m sure many of you have consumed this delicacy. But you’re probably confused as to which, if any, wine can be appropriately paired with the dish.

Today, I’m going to recommend several wines that will complement and enhance this simple salad. Unlike other vegetable-centric dishes -like roasted peppers, squash, onions or broccoli- that can stand up to medium-bodied reds, Caprese is best enjoyed with crisp, dry white wines.

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Wines to Toast the Fourth of July

Independence Day is just around the corner, so I’ve been thinking about wines I’ll use to toast Uncle Sam on his 246th birthday. At the risk of sounding provincial, I’m going to stick with wines from the good old US of A to celebrate the Fourth of July. And since most of us will be consuming picnic-type fare this coming holiday weekend, I’m going to suggest an All-American lineup of wines to pair with your Independence Day meals.

I must (grudgingly) admit, though, that the best wines this country produces are made from European vines (vitis vinifera) like cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and zinfandel, etc. Unfortunately, native American vines (vitis labrusca) produce better grape juice (concord) and waterfalls (Niagara) than they do wine.

However, there is one European vine, zinfandel, that is commonly thought of as “America’s grape”- even though its original home has been the subject of heated debate. Zinfandel vine cuttings were brought to California and planted in the 1850’s near the town of Sonoma. For years, experts argued that zinfandel is really an Italian grape known as Primitivo. More recent DNA research of the vine, though, indicates that zinfandel is really a Croatian varietal. The true name of the grape is Crljenak – a word that is not only unpronounceable but has also been banned from use in international spelling bee competitions.

I hope you won’t be disappointed, but I think it’s time to move on from this enthralling examination of vine etymology to the slightly less interesting topic of today’s column. So, for your consideration, here are some All-American wine pairing ideas to accompany the foods most of us will be consuming this Fourth of July.

Aperitif

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For wine lovers: Milo’s in Davis

Many of you have ventured to the Canaan Valley and the towns of nearby Davis and Thomas. I have written about some of my favorite eating and sipping establishments there such as Sirianni’s Café, Stumptown Ales and The Billy Motel in Davis, along with Farm Up Table Restaurant, Riverfront Wood Fired Pizza and Tiptop Coffee in Thomas. I’m also excited about the renewed emphasis on food and wine at Canaan Valley Resort with the recent hiring of an internationally trained executive chef. From a culinary perspective, things are looking up in Tucker County.

I’ve been privileged to have had a second home in that mountain county for the past three decades. I am still in awe of the physical beauty of the place, but I’m even more blissfully affected by the almost mystical ambiance of the mountains to produce feelings of well-being and peace. And those pleasant feelings are enhanced by sipping a glass of wine while meditating on Mother Nature’s bounty.

Don’t worry, though, I’m not going to launch into Deepak Chopra-speak and suggest mindfulness, meditation and chanting. But like that Indian mystic and alternative medicine advocate, I have always touted the healing powers of the naturally produced elixir we all love. And when I find an establishment in a location like Tucker County, where you can sip and sup in a such an inspirational physical environment, well, I’ve got to tell you about it.

The newest and most wine-centric of all the eateries in the county is Milo’s Café & Restaurant in Davis. Located on the first floor of the Bright Morning Inn B&B, Milo’s features an excellent and reasonably priced menu with an emphasis on locally grown and produced food. The cafe also features the most extensive wines by the glass list of just about any restaurant in the state! Oh, and the staff at Milo’s is first class, providing excellent service and in-depth knowledge of both the menu selections as well as the wine list. The restaurant is open for breakfast and dinner Thursday through Monday, has weekly musical entertainment and has a very good selection of craft beers. When the weather warms a bit, you can also enjoy your meal and/or beverage outdoors in Milo’s side yard

It’s evident that owner Brent Markwood (who also owns Bright Morning Inn) has spent a tremendous amount of time ruminating about wines to accompany his restaurant menu because he has succeeded in compiling an eclectic and regularly changing list of international bottles. And he has priced the wines exceptionally well with 18 of the 25 wines by the glass under $10. Only four of the more than 30 wines on the list are by the bottle only. Six bottles are from California while the international offerings come from Australia (3), Germany (2), France, (8) Italy (5), New Zealand (2) and one each from Chile, Argentina, South Africa and Spain.

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Aunt Notie’s Leg (of lamb)

Leg of lamb is always the featured entrée in our home on Easter Sunday. I must admit, however, that my first experience with lamb could have been my last. That inedible dish was prepared in the time-honored and assertively bland tradition of English gastronomy. It was roasted in its own pungent juices, devoid of any spices and then served with huge dollops of mint jelly to obscure the gamy taste.

Unfortunately, we Americans do not often eat lamb because of this gaminess. When it comes to meat, we prefer beef, chicken or pork, and we are unaccustomed to gamy-flavored meat, except for venison. But venison is usually made palatable by the addition of flavoring spices and/or marinating – which is what we’re going to do in the recipe I’m sharing with you below.

Thank goodness that one of my Italian aunts later shamed and nearly force fed me into trying her version of lamb. Her rendition featured a boned and butterflied leg of lamb marinated in a heavenly bath of olive oil, wine and lemons with copious amounts of garlic and other spices happily swimming in the liquid.

So, in honor of my late Aunt Notie, who never met a garlic clove she didn’t covet, I’ll share her recipe for the absolutely best leg of lamb you will ever prepare! And to truly elevate this transcendent culinary experience, I’m going to suggest two round, rich and supple red wines to accompany the dish.

I’ve eaten lamb raised in the U.S. and from other countries such as Italy, France, Australia and New Zealand. I’m convinced the folks from the two Down Under nations produce the best tasting lamb, especially from the leg and rack of lamb cuts. The leg of lamb I used for this recipe was raised in New Zealand.

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Spring wines and a Toast to Moldova

Just recently, I had the pleasure of sipping three wines I think you might find enjoyable, especially when paired with the dishes I’m also suggesting.

2019 St. Supery Dollarhide Sauvignon Blanc ($32) – The Dollarhide vineyard is nestled in the mountains on the eastern slopes of the Napa Valley. Cool evening temperatures allow this sauvignon blanc to develop flavors of citrus and anise with nuances of vanilla from oak aging. It is a rich, but well-balanced wine, that will show best when paired with one of my favorite springtime dishes: pasta with sauteed ramps and asparagus sauced with a half cup of the sauvignon blanc, olive oil, and sprinkled liberally with parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes.

2019 J. Lohr Seven Oaks Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($18) – From Paso Robles along California’s Central Coast, the Seven Oaks cabernet is full of dark cherry and cola flavors. It is deep and rich with noticeable tannin, but it’s still very drinkable right now. I paired the wine with grilled pork tenderloin brushed with a cumin and honey glaze.

2019 Martin Ray Vineyards Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($21)) – This medium-bodied, silky smooth wine has flavors of ripe, red cherries with hints of Asian spices. It also has a lovely balance of richness and acidity which makes it an excellent match to foods with some sweet and heat notes such as Pad Thai or barbecue chicken mopped with a sriracha infused sauce.

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Drunken Short Ribs

You like to drink wine or you would not be reading this column, right? I’ll presume my assumption is correct, and I will also venture to guess you enjoy pairing the fruit of the vine with wine’s best friend – a compatible meal. But what about using wine as an ingredient in cooking your meal?

The most common questions I get from folks regarding the use of wine in cooking relate to: the type of varietal to select; the quantity of wine to use; and the quality of the bottle -which usually relates to price. The main concern people have, though, is that the wine they choose might not work with their menu item, and the meal will be ruined. And sometimes their fears are realized when they assume it’s okay to use that half bottle of Three Buck Chuck’s that’s been sitting on a shelf in the refrigerator for two weeks.

The first rule when using wine in cooking is to make sure the bottle you choose is sound – as in fresh. It should also be something you would enjoy drinking. It doesn’t have to be an expensive wine, but it should be one that has been recently opened (like in the last day or so) and is still tasty. And always bypass those bottles labelled “cooking wine” in the vinegar and oil section of the grocery store unless you want to add a cod liver oil or other medicinal nuance to the meal.

Regarding the amount wine to use in cooking, the best advice is to follow the recipe. Generally, recipes will call for a cup or less of wine. But if you aren’t following a specific recipe, remember the goal is to enhance the dish not to overwhelm it. And don’t worry that cooking with wine will add alcohol to the meal. The reality is that after a few seconds in a heated pan or pot, all the alcohol is dissipated, and only the flavor of the wine is retained by the food.

So, what are some of the foods that are positively influenced by the addition of wine? I would say most foods, but I still haven’t found the perfect wine pairing for cereal. Anyway, there are a plethora of great recipes out there that rely on wine to enhance the finished dish. You can open any cookbook or Google recipes online, but if you can’t wait, check out the hearty wintertime wine-enhanced dish I’ve detailed for you below.

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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.

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Holiday gifts of Wine

I don’t know about you, but I’m a “last minute” kind of person. My modius operandi: why complete a task or fulfill an obligation now when you can wait until the warning lights start flashing red? Procrastination is my middle name. Ask my wife…no don’t do that!

Anyway, it’s almost Christmas and I haven’t yet purchased the first gift. In years past, that was not much of a problem thanks to the plethora of stores at our large indoor shopping mall – that last bastion of gifts for the tardy. But now, with the demise of the mall I‘m in panic mode. Thankfully, most of the gifts I purchase this year will be of the liquid variety, so I’ll just pop into my local wine shop to find that special bottle.

And for those of you who, like me, are looking for that last minute gift of wine, I have a whole cornucopia of vinous suggestions for your consideration. This list should enable you to find just the perfect bottle for that special person regardless of their wine preferences.

Let’s start with Champagne and sparkling wines with which you can toast Christmas and Hannukah as well as, the coming New Year. Then I’ll follow with recommendations for those white and red wine lovers respetctively.

Champagne:
Moet et Chandon White Star Brut, Nicholas Feuillatte “Blue Label” Brut, Paul Bara Brut, Veuve Cliquot (The Widow) Brut, Krug Grande Cuvee Brut, Perrier Jouet Grand Brut and Taittinger Comptes De Champagne Rose.

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WINES FOR THANKSGIVING DINNER

This year we really do have a lot for which to be thankful. First and foremost, the insidious pandemic that has haunted us all for the past two years seems to be under control, and we’ll now be able to join our friends and family for Thanksgiving dinner. And if you love food and wine, there’s another good reason to be thankful because we’re about to enter a period full of holiday celebrations that begin next Thursday and continue right through the New Year.

As a matter of fact, we will purchase and consume more good wine and food during the next six weeks than we have for the previous ten months. The only people happier than us will be the business owners of health clubs, diet centers and clothing alteration shops who depend on first quarter sales to survive for the rest of the year.

I know I’ve said this before, but of all the upcoming celebrations, my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving! That’s because the Thanksgiving meal features a wide variety of foods that can accommodate just about any red, white, rose or sparkling wine. And it all starts with the turkey.

Turkey is blessed with meat that has a variety of flavors, colors and textures which present opportunities for us to try with a variety of different wines. And, when you add the dishes that traditionally accompany Thanksgiving dinner, things really get interesting. So today I’m going to present you with a typical Thanksgiving menu accompanied with wines that pair seamlessly with each course. Here goes.

The Aperitif
In our home, the first bottle we uncork for Thanksgiving is a sparkling wine to toast each other and the holiday. My suggestions for your Thanksgiving toast are one of these effervescent sippers: Iron Horse Brut; Segura Viudas Brut Reserva; Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noir Rose; Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve Champagne; and Pierre Sparr Cremant d’Alsace Brut Reserve.

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Not Your Mama’s Stuffed Bells

I must have been conceived in a pepper patch because I’m obsessed with all types of peppers. From mild bells to near thermonuclear Scotch Bonnets and just about everything in between, I am simply addicted to these little devils, especially ones with a hefty dose of capsaicin. That’s the stuff that makes peppers hot.

I also love the fall! Football season is in full swing, the leaves are painting the mountains with vibrant colors and I’m in the process of fermenting a blend of red grapes that will produce about 70 gallons of homemade wine. With sunny days, cool temperatures and the harvest season upon us, it’s also time to transition from the lighter wine and food choices of summer to more flavorful fare.

Autumn in these parts also means you still have access to the last vestiges of the harvest, including one of my favorite foods-the red bell pepper. While red bells are not at all spicy or hot, they become sweet, smoky and richly flavored when you roast them to the point where the pepper skin is scorched and blackened.

Every autumn for the last several decades, I’ve waited anxiously for locally grown green bell peppers to turn large and red. Then I roast, peel and slice them into strips, cover them with good olive oil, minced garlic and balsamic vinegar and devour them with crusty bread and a glass or two of my homemade wine.

Just last week, I decided to take four of those roasted red bells and stuff them with a mouth-watering concoction of farro, (the low carb barley look-alike grain) bacon and mozzarella cheese along with diced and sauteed onions, yellow bells and one hot banana pepper. You will need a red wine that is both rich and able to compliment these spicy roasted peppers so you might try the ones below.

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Wine, Food and Music

Where, when and how you enjoy your regular glass of wine is, of course, a personal choice. Most of us sip the fruit of the vine with dinner, as an aperitif before the meal or even as a cocktail at our favorite watering hole. And while most of you are probably not as wine-obsessed as I am, I suspect you may get bored with the same old wine routine. There’s no question that the adage “too much of a good thing” can certainly apply to even the moderate consumption of wine. So, the challenge is to keep things interesting.

One of the most common complaints I hear from folks is they are tired of sipping the same types of wine day in and day out. Whether it’s cabernet sauvignon with beef, chardonnay with seafood or some other “safe” wine choice, it can certainly be boring to consistently drink the same thing. That’s why I focus on providing information on the variety of wines that are available to you from different vineyards all over the world. But even if you are a consummate wineaux (like me) who has experienced bottles from the greatest wine regions, it’s still exciting to find new ways to enjoy the elixir we all love.

Well, as a decades-old codger who has probably had more wine caress his palate than anyone not named Robert Mondavi, Earnest Gallo or W.C. Fields, I have found a new way to enhance the appreciation of wine – to keep it fresh and make it even more enjoyable. Of course, we all know how important food is to wine and vice-versa. That’s why I always provide you with a complimentary food choice whenever I recommend a particular wine.

But there’s another sensory element that elevates the wine and food experience to a whole other level: music. Whether it’s Vivaldi, Tony Bennett or Hank Williams Jr., I love to pair up my wine and food with a complimentary selection of tunes. I’m sure many of you add music to special dinner occasions at home like birthdays, anniversaries or date nights with your significant other, but probably only on an episodic basis. I’m suggesting you increase the inclusion of music on a regular basis to see if that pleasant auditory element enhances the overall wine and food experience.

Whether we’re eating in or cooking out, there’s always a musical play set with which to match our meals. It doesn’t need to be a special occasion or a five-course dining extravaganza either. And there are a number of ways to select your play list: CD’s, records, the radio or from music streaming services like Spotify, or Pandora. The fun is finding a musical theme that seems to match your evening meal, picnic or brunch. Here are three examples of how you might wish to combine wine, food and music (taken from the Brown family dining archives).

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WineSpeak: sorting the wheat from the chaff

The wine lexicon is full of more cryptic and confusing words than a software “Terms of Agreement” statement. You know, the one with the electronic box we’re all required to check before using the software (even though no one who reads the fine print, understands it).

Winespeak can be full of bombastic, hyperbolic, thesaurus-busting synonyms, as well as bizarre and outrageous phrases that are not only confusing, but also many times inappropriate. I’ve read words like flamboyant, ethereal or orgasmic to describe a wine. Or, incongruous phrases like “liquefied charcoal,” “wet dog,” or “mesmerizing texture” used to define the characteristics of a particular bottle. Descriptions like these do more to discourage folks from drinking wine than any fire and brimstone spouting, snake-handling preacher ever could.

So, brothers and sisters of the vine, I’m going to help you “sort the wheat from the chaff” when it comes to the language of wine. Below is a list of some of the most commonly used (and appropriate) words and phrases to describe the various attributes of the beverage we all love.

Common Wine Descriptors

Acid – Refers to the sharpness in the taste of wine. Good acid is balanced by alcohol, sweetness or both.

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Pork Mojo with Vino

I know it’s weird to feel a sense of loss and to grieve for an inanimate object. Nonetheless, I nearly shed a tear when I felt compelled to euthanize my rusty old grill by burying it on Mount Trashmore – our local landfill.

However, on the way back from the malodorous burial mound, I stopped at the local hardware store and purchased a brand, spanking new Weber Performer Charcoal grill. I’ve been using Weber grills for decades because they can accommodate everything from burgers and steaks to large roasts and even 20 pound Thanksgiving turkeys. As soon as I got this shiny – but soon to be grimy- new grill assembled on my deck, I put it immediately to task. And, as it’s name so aptly suggests, the Weber “performed” flawlessly.

Today, I’m going to share a meat, vegetable and fruit recipe my wife concocted and I grilled to perfection on the new Weber. Of course, I’m also going to suggest a couple of special wines to pair with the meal that will greatly elevate this whole dining experience. And while I prefer to use charcoal, the following recipe can also be successfully prepared on a gas grill.

The origin of this dish is Cuba where a wide variety of foods are marinated in – or basted with – a sauce called “mojo” (pronounced “moe-ho” in Spanish). Here in the US, mojo is pronounced just the way it looks and it’s defined as a trait that involves a bit of magic or good luck. In the recipe that follows, you won’t need to use any mojo to make this exceptional “moho” dish.

Grilled Pork Mojo with Seared Avocados and Oranges

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Wine of the Century

I’m not a “save it for a rainy day” type of guy so sometimes being disorganized and even, forgetful, can be a blessing. Case in point: A few decades back- before my receding hairline and tavern tumor made their unwelcome appearance -I was a true gourmand. When I had the opportunity to taste a special wine (even one way before its time), I did so with reckless abandon and then just, literally, swallowed my disappointment.

Such was the case with a very storied wine, the 1982 Chateau Mouton Rothschild. The ’82 Mouton was widely considered the best wine of that fabulous vintage in Bordeaux. And then the most esteemed wine critic of the time (Robert Parker) declared that bottle to be the best Bordeaux of the entire 20th century -up to that point!

A few years before the wine was available for sale on the open market, I had purchased two bottles as part of a Bordeaux Futures program. Once a particular Bordeaux vintage is evaluated (usually in the spring following the harvest), prices are established and wine shops offer consumers the opportunity to buy Bordeaux wines at steep discounts. Keep in mind, though, that you don’t receive the wine for at least two years after you make your purchase.
So, you might imagine my surprise and elation to discover that the two bottles of 1982 Mouton that I had purchased as futures were now rated as the best wines of the century. In a fevered rush to experience the other worldly flavors of this exquisite wine, I immediately opened a bottle of the Mouton and carefully decanted it into crystal carafe. I let wine breathe for an hour before pouring it into our best stemware and then swirled the Mouton to help release the aroma.

I put my nose into the glass and sniffed…. and sniffed again…nothing! No ethereal aromas of black currants, toasted oak, underbrush, or mint either. Just a vague and understated red fruit smell. Heck, there were more vibrant aromas in grape Kool-Aid than in this wine, I remembered thinking. And then I tasted the Mouton. Tannic, tight and a bit of sour grape flavors predominated. My wife and I were both disappointed, but we persisted and drank the whole bottle over a couple of hours, hoping those two hours would coax the wine of the century to show up. It didn’t.

Over the next few decades and through a couple of moves, I misplaced and eventually forgot about the remaining bottle of Mouton. As a matter of fact, I assumed it had gotten lost or that one of my children had poached it during a raid on the old man’s wine stash. But earlier this year, I found the remaining bottle of ’82 Mouton. I decided that my wife and I would open it on our anniversary where we had booked a weekend at a very lovely southern resort. I contacted the resort sommelier and asked if he would open the wine for us, decant it and let it breathe for a couple of hours before serving it to us at dinner. Keep in mind, the ’82 Mouton is 39 years old so my concern before sipping the wine was whether or not it would still be drinkable.

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Grilling favorites with paired wines

My wife can really turn a phrase. She claims I avoid work as if it was a “four letter” word. I will admit, though, there are certain tasks – like cleaning out the garage or doing the dishes – which I do not willingly seek out. But give me something to cook and I am a diligent, energetic and enthusiastic laborer; give me something to grill and I’m in Nirvana!

And since the upcoming Memorial Day weekend is the official kick-off for summertime, that means we will be enjoying more of our meals in the great outdoors. That also means I can use my grill more frequently and that’s the type of work I truly love.

Over the years I have espoused the virtues of charcoal over gas grilling, but whatever your preference, nothing beats the flavor of outdoor cooking. Whether you’re searing a hunk of red meat, slow roasting a rack of baby backs or smoking a filet of salmon, grilling improves the flavor of just about any food – even vegetables. And there are myriad wine choices to pair with the foods we enjoy this time of year.

Here are a few of my favorite warm weather on-the-grill dishes, and the wines I think will pair especially well with them.

Hamburgers: I love to chop a few slices of bacon into small pieces and add them to a pound and a half of ground chuck. After pressing them into quarter pound burgers, I shake a generous portion of McCormick’s Montreal Grillmates Seasoning on them before placing them on the grill. Try pairing the burgers with zinfandel from producers such as Frank Family, Edmeades or Dry Creek. These California zins are all medium-bodied wines with delicious dark berry flavors that will accentuate the beefy goodness of the bacon-enhanced burgers.

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Restaurants Reopening: a time for celebration

With most of the restrictive, covid-related regulations now lifted on state restaurants, gourmands, including yours truly, are smiling like Cheshire cats. And, with facial masks secured, we’ve also begun to once again to sup and sip at our favorite dining establishments.

That’s great news! In fact, I’ve been patronizing some of my favorite local eateries and I can happily report that the quality of the food is as good as ever. Today, I’ll tell you about two restaurants I visited and share my favorite menu items from each establishment. I’ll also suggest reasonably priced wines to pair with the menu items chosen from each of the restaurants’ “by the glass” list. In future scribblings, I’ll review my favorite dishes and wines from other area establishments. So, let’s get started.

Ristorante Abruzzi, located at 601 Morris Street in the building adjacent to Appalachian Power Park, is a culinary gem. Owned by Mark and Libby Chatfield, Abruzzi features a fine cross-section of menu selections many of which are inspired by dishes from the eponymous Italian region.

Mark’s family (on his mother’s side) hails from Abruzzi and, while he is a college professor during the day, he has always dreamed of owning a restaurant that focuses on offering many of the same foods he relished growing up. Here are two pasta dishes and accompanying wines you might like to try the next time you visit Ristorante Abruzzi:

Radiatore Bolognese – Bolognese is a thick meaty sauce that is a combination ground beef, veal and pork with just a little tomato paste to color it slightly. The radiatore are small, squat pasta that kind of look like tiny radiators and they really absorb the Bolognese quite nicely.

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Wines for Passover and Easter

It’s beginning to look a lot like ….Easter. That’s right friends, it’s officially springtime and we’re about to ring in this season of rebirth by observing two of our most cherished holidays. Over the next few weeks, Passover and Easter will share the calendar and both holidays will feature special foods. I’ll tell you about those edibles and suggest a bevy of compatible wines to pair with them.

Passover and Easter, of course, are religious holidays and, in addition to their spiritual significance, they remind us that wine has always played an important role in our Judeo-Christian traditions and culture. And today, I’ll provide you with some vinous choices to pair with these important celebrations.

The Seder meal, which occurs on the first day of Passover, can consist of everything from brisket to chicken as well as gefilte fish, potato- type casseroles and other specific Jewish foods. And, if you’re like me, you’ll especially love the Seder tradition requiring each adult to sip four cups of wine with the meal. The problem is finding a diverse selection of Kosher wines in our state.

If you wish to sip only Kosher wines for Seder, you might be able to find a few at your local wine shop, but make sure they indicate they’re “Kosher for Passover.”  However, you’ll probably have better luck by ordering from online retailers like kosherwine.com. If you are able to choose from non-Kosher wines, I recommend either – or both – of these two wines:

2018 Willamette Valley Vineyards ($26)– This Oregon pinot noir is a very versatile wine with earthy, black cherry flavors and excellent balance. Should pair well with a variety of Seder foods, especially brisket.

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Wine for everyday meals

If you’ve followed my scribblings over the years, you know that I’ll never tell you about a wine without recommending specific foods with which to pair that particular bottle. However, a friend of mine (who is less than subtle) recently admonished me for always seeming to suggest wine compatible foods that she referred to as “Saturday night” or celebratory meals. You know, special dinners you might prepare for birthdays, anniversaries, or when Uncle Homer gets out of prison.

And you know what? She may be correct. So in an effort to dispel a myth which I may have been unintentionally espousing (that wine is only for special occasions), I want to offer you a sincere Mea Culpa. Let me also make this clear: wine could and, in fact, should be a part of your everyday meals!

I know that most of you don’t drink wine every night of the week. But when you do open a bottle on say, a Monday or Wednesday, you shouldn’t feel like you need to whip up some elegant repast like Beef Wellington or Peking Duck. So today, we’ll concentrate on some of the foods that comprise our everyday meals, and I’ll suggest wine pairings for them.

Meatloaf is a menu mainstay that some families enjoy regularly. Instead of boring yourself with diet cola or iced tea, you might open a bottle of inexpensive and medium-bodied red wine to spark up that meatloaf entrée. Marietta Old Vines, which is a blend of zinfandel and other red varietals, would be a good pick. Or, you might also pair it with malbec from Argentinean producers such as Susana Balbo or Catena.

Macaroni and cheese still graces our table as a main dish at least once a month. Sometimes, we’ll add roasted red peppers or jalapenos to the dish to spice it up. This is a meal that can be paired well with both white and red wine. For plain mac & cheese, try a medium bodied white such as Soave from Allegrini or pinot gris from Oregon’s King Estate. For spicy versions of the dish, I recommend pinot noir from producers such as Cline Family Cellars in Sonoma County or Erath in Oregon.

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A wine for every holiday taste

I’m really looking forward to this Holiday Season! Many of us have suffered and all of us have had to hunker down and endure a year unlike any other. And one of the ways I plan on enjoying the spirit (s) of the season is to give a gift of wine to family and friends as we celebrate Christmas and the New Year, and as we look forward to a much better 2021.

One of the greatest attributes of wine is the almost limitless variety of grapes from vineyards around the world that produce bottles with an incredible diversity of aromas and flavors to please the palates of just about everyone. Whether you’re just an occasional sipper, someone who drinks a glass or two each day or a wine-obsessed individual, you’re probably always on the lookout for a good bottle, especially this time of year.

With that premise in mind, I’m going to suggest several bottles of wine you might consider giving to family or friends that fall into the classifications I mentioned above. I’ll suggest red, white and sparkling wines for each of the groups so you’ll have a variety of purchasing choices and prices. And keep this snarky thought in mind: giving the gift of wine, particularly to someone close to you, can have an ancillary benefit since there is a chance you’ll be invited to sip along once that particular bottle is uncorked.

For the occasional sippers: White: Martin Codax Albarino (Spain); Anselmi San Vincenzo (Italian, Soave-like); and Hess Select Monterey Chardonnay (California). Red: Allegrini Valpolicella Classico (Italy); Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (California); Foris Rogue Valley Pinot Noir (Oregon); and Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel (California); Sparkling: Chandon Brut (California); Nicholas Feuillatte Blue Label Champagne (France); and Dibon Cava Brut (Spain).

For the daily wine drinker: White: Chalk Hill Chardonnay (California): Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc (Australia); and Pierre Sparr Pinot Blanc (France); Red: Easton Amador County Zinfandel (California); Franciscan Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (California); Torbreck The Woodcutter’s Shiraz (Australia); and Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape (France). Sparkling: Iron Horse Brut (California); Segura Viudas Reserva (Spain); and Veuve Cliquot (The Widow) Brut Champagne (France).

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Thanksgiving 2020: Scaling back, but still celebrating

Thanksgiving is next Thursday! Under normal circumstances, our family would be gathering to stuff ourselves with all manner of goodies including, of course, a varied selection of wines to pair with – not only the “National Bird” – but with the multitude of delicious side dishes such as chestnut dressing and pumpkin pie.

But this year, Mother Nature has morphed into the “Wicked Witch of the Earth” with a dark and catastrophic menu of her own. She’s been conjuring up hurricanes, floods, wild fires and other global weather anomalies as side dishes to accompany the main course, Covid 19.

So, what can we do to celebrate Thanksgiving  this year, and still stay safe and virus free? Well, in our family that means limiting the number of guests at the holiday table to two: my wife and I. Oh, we’ll probably Face-Time with our kids and grandkids, but we will not be able to share food and wine or have any physical contact with them.

 

But the biggest problem for many of us in similar circumstances will be how to scale back on the Thanksgiving meal. Creating meals for two is not difficult under normal circumstances, but preparing the menu for the best food-centric holiday of them all will be a challenge, especially with regard to the main course – turkey.

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