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

WINEBOY: Decoding European labels

WINEBOY: Decoding European labels

If you’re not a Romance language specialist, you probably have trouble understanding the gibberish on the label of a bottle of European wine. Join “WineBoy” webcast host John Brown in show 23 as he deciphers the information so you can make better buying decisions.

The show also features cameos by two of WineBoy’s alter egos — Sir Reginald Winesot Clydesdale and the Marcrazi Umberto Lupini — not to mention, a solid wine recommendation or two. Watch it at the WineBoy blog at thegazz.com.

WINEPICK: 2003 Monticello Crianza ($12)

WINEPICK: 2003 Monticello Crianza ($12)

Map of Rioja region of Spain from www.cellartours.com I have always been a fan of Rioja (pronounced Ree-OH-hah). It's a famous wine region in north-central Spain that produces red wine in a style similar to the more famous reds of Bordeaux. The connection with Bordeaux grew out of a vine disease which devastated those world-renowned French vineyards in the 1800's. Faced with having to completely replant their vineyards, many Bordelais ventured over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain to grow grapes and make wine unaffected by the blight.

Settling in Rioja, the French passed along their wine-making techniques to the Spanish. While the grape varieties comprising Bordeaux red are completely different from the main Rioja grape (tempranillo), the Spanish vintners began adopting many of French viticultural practices, including using oak barrels to finish their wines. Today, the Rioja wine makers use French and American oak extensively to soften and age their wines.

The 2003 Monticello Crianza was aged in oak for 18 months. The government requirement for a wine to be called Crianza (which loosely translated means “age-ing of wine") is that it must be aged in oak for at least one year. The Monticello is round and richly flavored with hints of ripe cherries and anise, along with a toasty oak component which adds complexity to the wine. It is an excellent value, too! Pair it with cheeses such manchego or asiago or have it with grilled and marinated flank steak.

If you haven’t uncorked a bottle of Rioja red lately or ever , I highly recommend this wine for your sipping pleasure.

How to buy (good) cheap wine

How to buy (good) cheap wine

If you could afford to pay $100 or more for a “trophy” wine, wouldn’t you expect that bottle to be memorable? I had a friend who recently plunked down $125 for a bottle of cabernet that, indeed, was memorable, but for the wrong reasons. He described it as “rancid, overbearing and lacking character.”

Since that description could fit a plethora of animate organisms, including cheese, over-the hill rock stars and the entire French Parliament, my friend assured me that he was describing wine.

I suppose the lesson here is that expensive does not always mean quality when it comes to buying wine -which is why I always do a little research (usually online) before I spend more than $20 for a bottle.

Conversely, inexpensive wines are not always inferior. As a matter of fact, in my never-ending quest for excellent wine at bargain prices, I am often pleasantly surprised by the quality of wines I did not expect to be very good.

The point here is that often our expectations are colored by the price of wine.

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WINEBOY 22: Be Sure to Read the Label

WINEBOY 22: Be Sure to Read the Label

The latest edition of "WineBoy," our 5-minute Web show on the art and craft of wine appreciation, features part one of two programs on deciphering wine labels. Host John Brown first takes a look at what you can learn from a close look at California wine labels. A future program will take a gander at European wine labels, an entirely different read. Click here to view the program.

EVENT: Cast-off this weekend for a cast-iron good time

Hey foodies and... um, wine-ies (wine-o's?): Want to spend a cold winter's weekend eating, drinking and living large in the lap of luxury? If so, you might want to cruise up I-79 to Stonewall Resort and take in the festivities known as the Cast Iron Cook-off this weekend.

This third annual Cast Iron Cook-off is an opportunity to not only sup on gourmet delights and sip a vast array of great wines, it's also a chance for you to pick up a few culinary pointers from some of this state and region's most accomplished chefs who will be competing for the grand prize (What else? A commemorative cast iron skillet). Here's a rundown of what you can expect at the event:


Friday, Jan. 25 6:30 p.m.: Dinner reception with several wines and hors d'oeuvres that feature Stonewall Resort Executive Chef Dale Hawkins's New Appalachian Cuisine.

Saturday, Jan. 269:30 am until 2 pm.: Cast Iron Cook-off Teams spend 1 1/2 hours preparing and then one hour in actual competition. Start times are staggered, so cook-off competitors and their guests can observe other teams when they are not competing. Interspersed with all these activities are wine and food tastings along with an event where you can actually have your cast-iron ware appraised.
6 p.m.: Sparkling wine reception with entertainment provided by Colleen Anderson in concert.
7 p.m.: Dinner features a 5-course gourmet meal with accompanying wines. An awards ceremony will celebrate the day's work and include the presenting of The West Virginia Pioneer Award.

Sunday, January 27A true country breakfast with your favorite goodies completes the weekend.

If you're interested in attending, contact Stonewall Resort (304-269-7400) for rates and packages.

WineBoy Recommends: ‘05 Newton Napa Valley Claret

WineBoy Recommends: ‘05 Newton Napa Valley Claret

WINEBOY RECOMMENDS: 2005 Newton Napa Valley Claret ($25)Claret (pronounced Clair-it) is the term the British use to refer to the red wine of Bordeaux. The Newton Claret is a Napa Valley blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot and syrah. It is a rich, chocolaty, minty, mouthful of wine that -- while it should benefit from a few more years in the bottle -- is ready to enjoy now. I matched it with thick, oven-broiled pork chops glazed with a delicious, roasted raspberry chipotle sauce. (I must confess – the glaze is from a bottle, Fischer & Wieser, and I ordered it from www.jelly.com.) The ’05 Newton Claret is a pleasure to enjoy over a long winter’s dinner with someone special.

Vintage Assessment: Reading Between the Vines

The headline on a November, 2007 press release from the (California) Wine Institute states: “California vintners praise high quality 2007 wine grape harvest.” While I don’t doubt the veracity of the winemakers assessing the vintage, it is very difficult to make broad generalizations regarding the harvest of any geographically large and diverse region such as the state of California.

To their credit, the Wine Institute folks then interviewed vintners from most of the major growing regions for their individual assessment of the harvest in their particular areas or appellations. Reading these individual reviews provides a better gauge of how the wines will actually show when they are released in the next few years.

I bring this to your attention so you will be better equipped to sort through the marketing hype regarding the various vintage assessments around the world, and so you can make better decisions regarding wine selection in the future.

As the resident wine guy (boy?) for our fair state, I am often asked for my assessment of various vintages as in: 'How was the 2004 vintage for cabernet sauvignon?' I usually fire right back with a few questions of my own like: to which country -- and which wine region or sub- region of that country -- are you referring?

I’m not trying to be difficult, but there really is no simple answer to the vintage date question as there is so much variability from wine region to wine region. As a matter of fact, there are usually significant differences among wine-producing regions from within the same small geographic area. Take Sonoma County in California for example.
Sonoma has about 10 distinct
appellations or wine growing regions within its boundaries. Each of these regions has different soils, elevations and climates, and specific grape varieties are planted to take advantage of these horticultural, topographical and meteorological vagaries.

The Carneros, Russian River and Sonoma Coast appellations of the county are very cool regions where morning fog gives grudgingly away to warm afternoons with a return to cool evenings. Therefore, the grapes that seem to do the best in these areas are the ones which like cooler weather such as chardonnay and pinot noir. In the Knights Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley appellations, the afternoon sun blazes and the warm weather varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and merlot abound.

Add to this the effect of soils, which range from volcanic to chalky, as well as the influence of elevation, which rises from sea level to more that 1,500 feet, and you can see how many different influences can affect a particular vintage. And this is just for Sonoma County, California.

Remember that infamous wine word terroir (pronounced tare-WAH)? Terroir, which is a combination of all of the above, may actually be the most important factor affecting a vintage. Terroir’s meaning in the wine lexicon is so loosey-goosey (now there’s a good non-word for you) that defining it as “all-encompassing” would be too restrictive.

Okay, so what does it mean? Well, as near as I can tell, terroir starts with the place where the grapes are grown. The vineyard location, its slope, topography and angle toward the sun, and its longitude and latitude are all part of terroir. So is the soil type, the climate, rainfall and other precipitation in the vineyard, as well as the type of vine or clone of the vine used.

And what about the ability of the winemaker? Trust me when I tell you (from personal experience) that even an excellent vintage can be ruined by an incompetent winemaker.

So where are we? Well, since I was asked about the quality of the 2004 vintage for cabernet sauvignon, I suppose I would have to research all of the vineyards of the world that grow the variety and then apply the above-mentioned rating criteria to come up with an answer. However, in the interest of time, I could simply advise you to consult one of the hundreds of vintage charts which are available in magazines, online and in books that have already done this for you.

Checking my vintage chart, I find that 2004 proved to be an excellent vintage in northern California and produced very high quality cabernet sauvignon, which could be drunk now. But it will probably benefit from several additional years of bottle aging.

So the next time you wish to know about the quality of a particular vintage, consult one of the many vintage charts available, but be aware that these guides can be general in nature and somewhat misleading. In the end, it’s really up to you and your trusty palate.

WineBoy 21: Does Oak Make Wine Taste Better?

WineBoy 21: Does Oak Make Wine Taste Better?

CLICK HERE TO VIEW the latest 5-minute "WineBoy" webcast. Gazz wine blogger John Brown is often asked about whether he supports adding a flavor dimension to wine by aging it in oak barrels. Does the oak actually improve the taste? His answer to that question goes all the way back to his grandfather's wine cellar. View the latest "WineBoy" webcast -- and see Brown's own oak barrel-- at the "WineBoy" blog at thegazz.com. For more ruminations on the art of oak and wine, see the "WineBoy" post below.

To oak or not to oak - that is the question, dear Bacchus

To oak or not to oak - that is the question, dear Bacchus

I ‘m often asked about the relative merits of using oak barrels to add a flavor dimension to wine. Does the oak do anything to actually improve the taste? Doesn't using oak just inject an artificial element into a naturally produced product? Can oak be used to age both red and white wine? These are just a few of the more commonly asked questions regarding the ancient relationship between wine and oak which I will explore for you today. (Also, see my own oak wine barrel at my house and on-camera musings on this subject on the latest 'WineBoy' webcast, online this Wednesday).

While historians can't pinpoint when the first wooden barrel was produced (some credit the Celts in ancient Burgundy in 1300 BC), those ancient vessels were simply a utilitarian method of storage and were not seen as adding any complexity or nuance to the wine. However, for the past century or so, vintners have been using different types of oak barrels to influence the flavor of the wine inside them. Today, oak trees grown here and abroad are used to make the barrels holding some of the world's greatest wines.

Limousin and Nevers are famous types of French oak which are used to make very expensive barrels in which cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are aged. American white oak from Missouri, Kentucky and Arkansas is also used by wine makers around the world to age their wines. In fact, wine makers have discovered that certain types of oak impart pleasant taste and smell characteristics to wine, particularly when the inside of the vessel is charred over a fire burning the same wood used to make the barrel. These barrel makers (or coopers) are very skilled in charring the inside of the vessels with either a light, medium or heavy toasting – depending on the wishes of the wine maker.

Incidentally, the use of oak also comes with a price since most wines, particularly ones aged in French oak, are more expensive. The cost to produce a 60-gallon Limousin barrel can exceed $2,000. That hint of vanilla in a fine Bordeaux or cabernet or that toasty, buttery bouquet in a good chardonnay are examples of how the proper application of oak aging can positively influence winemaking.

So where do I stand on the issue of oak aging? Well, if you’ll bear with me a few more paragraphs, I think a short digression will answer the question. When I was a child (sometime after the Korean War but before John Kennedy became president), my grandfather would regularly direct me to fetch a jug of wine from the earthen cellar he had dug in the basement of his home. It was in this dark and dank room where he made strong, red wine that was aged in large oak barrels. Illuminated by a single hanging bulb, the room was cast in an eerie half-light and smelled of damp earth, pleasantly sour fruit and old wood. It was a mysterious place -- a solemn enclave where the fruits of my grandfather's labor lay in serene harmony within the old oak barrels.

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Wine-stained reflections for the New Year

Wine-stained reflections for the New Year

As the New Year dawns, and as my weary palate rests for a few days, I want to share with you some of my favorite wines (in no particular order) of the past year. Most of these little lovelies are still available in state wine shops or on the Internet. As is my practice, I’ll also recommend a menu item to go with these special wines.So here’s wishing you a happy, prosperous and wine-stained New Year!

2005 Melville Estate Pinot Noir ($30): Melville is a small producer in the Santa Rita Hills area in the cool Pacific Ocean-influenced Santa Ynez Valley. You may recall this area from the movie “Sideways” or from your own personal experience with the delicious Pinot Noirs produced here. The bright red color of the ’05 Melville may mislead those expecting a lighter-styled version of Pinot Noir. However, once you put the Pinot Noir in your mouth, you realize this is a much more complex wine that features layers of flavor. The nose is a combination of cinnamon spice with nuances of caramel and the flavors are of black cherries, spice and just a hint of earth. This wine begs for roasted pork tenderloin in a slightly sweet sauce made from dried cherries or cranberries.

2005 Tomassi Pinot Grigio Le Rosse ($14): From Northeastern Italy, this straw-colored beauty may surprise you with its supple and round flavors of ripe pear and melon. The Le Rosse single vineyard wine is produced in the normally red wine area of Valpolicella -- which may account for why its flavors are so much more intense. Unlike the majority of Pinot Grigio produced in northern Italy, this wine is a spicier, rounder version with more depth of flavor and yet still well balanced. This would be a wonderful accompaniment to linguine and mussels in a garlic and white wine sauce (use about 2 ounces of the Le Rosse).

2004 Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir ($50): What a delicious mouthful of wine! This Pinot Noir is a symphony of flavors and aromas with a nose of dark fruit, spice, vanilla and tobacco, and tastes of black cherries, blueberries, cinnamon and earth. If you wish to consume the wine now, you should definitely decant it into a carafe for at least one hour prior to drinking to allow the flavors to open up. And while the wine is approachable now, you will be rewarded if you wait a few more years before drinking it. Drink this wine with roasted filet of salmon that has been dusted with Kosher salt, black pepper, cumin, brown sugar and cayenne pepper.

2005 Altos de Luzon ($15): Until the last few years, the only Spanish wines any of us knew about were the Tempranilo-based reds of Rioja , the Cava’s (Sparkling wines) from the Penedes region and, of course, the fortified wine known as Sherry. More recently, some very good wines from previously unknown wine appellations have been making their way to our shores. The 2005 Luzon is produced in a region of southeastern Spain called Jumilla and is a blend of 50 % Monastrell (Mourvedre) and 25% each Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranilo. This full-bodied and rich wine has dark fruit flavors with just a hint of black pepper spice. Round and ripe, the wine also has excellent balance and would be a great match to barbecue dishes like baby back pork ribs dry-rubbed with black pepper, garlic, cumin and kosher salt.

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WINEBOY 20: Some Sparkling Suggestions

WINEBOY 20: Some Sparkling Suggestions

WATCH: 'WineBoy, Show 20:"WineBoy" closes out the year with show No. 20 devoted to one of host John Brown's favorite holidays -- New Year's Eve. He serves up some instruction and guidance in the art of picking Champagne and sparkling wines, including where the wines come from and how the traditional Champagne method is undertaken. If you've not yet picked up something bubbly for New Year's Eve, watch "WineBoy" first.

WineBoy 19: A Wine-centric Gift Guide

WineBoy 19: A Wine-centric Gift Guide

On the first day of Christmas, WineBoy gave to me: one Umberto Lupini ... Actually in the latest episode of the five-minute webcast, The Marcrazi Lupini opens the show and introduces host John Brown, who regales us with several non-wine suggestions for holiday gift giving.

Our spirited host also recommends a wine to please even the most bah-humbugger among us. Get some good information and have a little fun — tune in to episode 19.

WineBoy’s holiday credo: It is better to give AND receive

WineBoy’s holiday credo: It is better to give AND receive

RELATED: See "Beers to Us" blogger Rich Ireland's beer-centric gift ideas. As the holiday season approaches, I would like to suggest a semantic change to the old adage “It’s better to give than receive." Let's deleting the word “than” and insert the word “and.” In other words, it’s better to both give and receive – in this instance, to receive a nice bottle of wine or special wine-related gift- to celebrate the upcoming holiday festivities. Depending upon your budget, the sky is virtually the limit when it comes to finding a wine to give (or receive from) that special person. Securing a quality selection of top wines for holiday gift giving is a labor of love and over the next few weeks, I’ll share my top picks for this holiday season.

Today, though, I’ll provide a listing of some of my favorite non-wine gifts along with a couple of vinous goodies that would make a wine lover very happy. (note to my friends: please feel free to pass this along to my wife) So, before I get to the wine recommendations, here are a few of my favorite wine-related gift ideas for you to consider.

I’ve noted it several times before, but the absolutely best wine reference book is the “World Atlas of Wine” by Hugh Johnson. It is a compendium of everything you need to know about wine, including information on specific wines and regions. Check for it at your local bookshop or online at Amazon or Borders. This is a coffee table book that finds its way to my office when I need to find out some arcane tidbit about anything to do with wine. This book retails in the $30 to $35 range.Here are a couple of stocking stuffers for under $25:

For the wine klutz that always struggles with a cork screw, the new and improved “Screw Pull” is just the item to take the difficulty out of un-corking your bottle. The new version of the old standard Screw Pull is the Trilogy Pocket Model Corkscrew and it sells online for $20. Check it out at wineenthusiast.com.

I also recommend the Vacu Vin vacuum wine saver for those of you who wish to preserve the freshness of your wine (for several days) once the bottle has been opened. For around $15, this little ditty is a way to insure the freshness of your unconsumed wine. You can find the Vacu Vin at department stores, grocery stores and wine shops.

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Tasting Wines Blind: A real eye-opener

Tasting Wines Blind: A real eye-opener

The Wine Shop at Capitol Market recently held their annual Claret tasting. Claret is a term the British have used for centuries to describe the red wines of Bordeaux. And while this Claret tasting usually features a Bordeaux wine or two, it is also expanded to include cabernet-based wines from around the world. The neat thing about this tasting is that the wines are tasted blind. Now, I know what some of you reprobates are thinking, but no -- this is not a wine-chugging contest where the object is to achieve a state of blindness.

This is a tasting where the bottles are put in paper bags so the labels are not visible and so tasters can evaluate them objectively and not be unduly influenced by “pedigree” or price. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the tasting, but the results are published below by the Wine Shop’s Ted Armbrecht (who, I might add, has an excellent palate.) The tasting was conducted by expert taster Andy MacQueen, who was featured on last week's WineBoy webcast.Ted’s descriptions of the wines and their attributes reflect the comments of tasters who rated each of the wines. I hope this provides you with another tool when shopping for that special gift this coming holiday season.

Also, many of these wines in the tasting are available at wine shops throughout the Kanawha Valley and the state.In Ted’s words: “We chose seven wines from around the world that are Cabernet Sauvignon-based and spread across the price range. We brown bag them and taste them blind, thus no bias based on price or label recognition. The results are usually surprising and inevitably reveal a winner that might otherwise go overlooked.

"This year, as in last year, we did have a clear favorite and it was the older vintage Napa Cabernet that did not disappoint. The Raymond Generations Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 from Napa Valley showed why this appellation is so highly regarded. The Raymond showed nice fruit layered over typical Cabernet aromas of green olive and cassis. The nose continually evolved and showed layer after layer of tar, mint, etc. Great nuance and a beautiful finish. This one really stood out, and it should because it was the oldest vintage we tasted and the most expensive at $56.99.

The biggest surprise of the day had to be the Infinitus Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 from Spain. This wine had aromas of deep, rich, black fruit and eucalyptus. Fruit forward in style with medium tannins, this wine is crafted to please. Opulent and nicely textured, this wine is a bargain at $8.99/btl. Behind the Raymond, this cab ran away with a number of votes!

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TURKEY WINE: Which wines goes with whcih parts of a turkey feast

TURKEY WINE: Which wines goes with whcih parts of a turkey feast
See the companion post at Rich Ireland's 'Beers To You' blog on adding the right kinds of beer to a Thanksgiving feast.

For many of us, the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are fowl affairs because the turkey will once again be the centerpiece of these traditional holiday feasts. Thanksgiving is also the beginning of the 40-day holiday season, which includes Chanukah and Christmas, culminating with the New Year’s celebration.

It is also a time of year when you will spend about 70 percent of your yearly wine budget, purchasing bottles for parties, gifts and holiday dinners. For me, it’s the most exciting time of the year. I’m like a kid in a candy store! The shelves of local wine shops are overflowing with bottles of every type and pedigree.
Turkey will once again be the featured main course for Thanksgiving and Christmas in my house. In year's past, I have written about the culinary versatility of turkey which can be successfully paired with red or white (as well as light or full-bodied) wines. The reason is that the bird is blessed with meat that has a variety of flavors, colors and textures, which present opportunities for us to try a lot of different wines.
The type of stuffing you use adds a whole other flavor dimension which -- depending upon the nature of the dressing -- opens up even more wine possibilities. Thus, the holidays also offer we wine hedonists a rare opportunity to sample a virtual sea of wines.
Here are a few wine recommendations to match your holiday turkey and associated culinary accoutrementa. The traditional oven-roasted turkey with sage-flavored dressing does wonderfully well with sauvignon blanc, especially the wines that exhibit herbal characteristics (Kenwood or Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc).
Alsatian wines, such as riesling or even gewürztraminer, will also work well with this more traditional treatment (Pierre Sparr, Trimbach and Zind Humbrecht are some of my favorite producers). If you prefer red wine, you can try any number of California or Washington State cabernet sauvignons (Louis Martini, Hedges, or Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernets are excellent choices).
My mother would oven-roast her turkey, but her dressing had no sage flavoring. Rather, she would season with salt, pepper and garlic and then add roast chestnuts and Italian sausage to her bread dressing. I have used full, rich California chardonnay (Falcor, Cakebread or Talley) to accompany this meal and it has worked exceptionally well.
I also have used full-bodied Sonoma or Amador County zinfandel (try Ridge Lytton Springs or Renwood Old Vines Zins). On those occasions that I smoke or charcoal grill the “national bird,” I’ll usually create a stuffing of ancho peppers, chili powder along with chipotles (smoked jalapenos), corn bread, corn, chorizo sausage and cheddar cheese. This dressing will get your attention and it demands wines that can stand up to the more intense flavors.
My favorite wines with this spicy, smoky meal are pinot noir from either California or Oregon, or French Rhones such as Chateauneuf Du Pape (try Domaine Serene or Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir from Oregon, Cambria or Rochioli Pinot Noirs from California and Beaucastel (photo at right) or View Telegraph from Chateauneuf Du Pape).
And how about dessert (or as we call it in my home “prelude to the couch”)? Whether it’s pumpkin pie and whipped cream or some other belly-buster, you’ve got to try some late harvest riesling or moscato with the final course (Ch. St. Jean Late Harvest Riesling or Nivole Moscato D’Asti are excellent choices).
See the companion post at Rich Ireland's 'Beers To You' blog on adding the right kinds of beer to a Thanksgiving feast.

Here’s to drinking what you cook with

Here’s to drinking what you cook with

I must take issue with my friends Tara and Rob who, in a recent “Main Ingredient” column for the Sunday Gazette-Mail, suggested there is a double standard at play when it comes to wines for drinking and wines for cooking:

“If we’re going to pay a lot for a bottle of bliss that’s been coaxed to perfection by some grape guru, the last thing we want to do is watch as medium-high heat scrambles its molecules,” they state in the November 4,” Main Ingredient .”In other words, they seem to be saying, it’s not worth wasting good wine to flavor a dish. And, you don’t have to like a wine to cook with it.Believe me when I say I applaud anyone who can find good, bargain-priced wine for any use. As a matter of fact, my wine mission in life is to locate wines that meet those criteria. But why would you want to cook with a wine (cheap or expensive) that you wouldn’t want to drink?

And I really must take exception to this statement: “Any dry white of your choosing will keep for at least a month in the fridge, giving you the flexibility to deglaze at a moment’s notice.” I checked with the Main Ingredient team just to verify that statement and was assured by them that, in fact, an inexpensive white wine they use to cook with on a regular basis does not seem to deteriorate over time nor does it adversely affect the dishes they prepare.

I’ve had different experiences. While you certainly don’t need to spend more than $5 or $10 on a wine you will use for cooking, I think it does matter that the wine is both sound (meaning that it has not developed any off tastes or odors as a result of being opened for more than a couple of days) and that it is pleasant tasting. If not, any flaws in the wine will be manifested in the dish.In my experience, no wine that has been opened – particularly a white - will keep for a month in the refrigerator unless you take steps to prevent oxidation. Once opened, unused wine, especially whites, will begin to go bad fairly quickly unless you pour them into a smaller container and stopper them. This eliminates the air space and preserves the wine.

One other method of preserving your partially used wine is to pump the air out of the bottle by using something like a Vacuvin Wine Saver. Vacuvin employs the use of a rubber stopper that is placed in the bottle opening and then a device which is placed on the stopper to pump out the oxygen. These are widely available at wine shops and grocery stores for around $15.

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WINETIP: Crystal stemware is, clearly, wine’s best friend

WINETIP: Crystal stemware is, clearly, wine’s best friend

ED. NOTE: We've got a blogfecta (blog + trifecata) of posts on the dining/drinking experience. After reading this one, check out Rich Ireland's "Beers To You" post on how restaurants routinely ruin good beers. And food blogger Brooke Brown weighs in with a plaintive cry about servers manhandling the glassware.Over the years, I’ve sipped wine from a variety of vessels, some of which, I must admit, were not exactly made of fine crystal. In fact, in my younger days, I occasionally drank the stuff from coffee cups, beer mugs, plastic containers, water glasses, wine skins, canteens and even (I’m reluctant to admit) from the jug...er bottle.

Like many males of my generation, I also spent a considerable amount of time back then in a ' 57 Chevy, a fraternity house and a foxhole. Consequently, many of the finer elements of wine appreciation, such as selecting the appropriate stemware, were subordinated to more mundane, yet practical considerations such as finding a couple of dollars to buy a jug of Lake Country Red.

Even today, I'll take a sip from a paper cup if I forget to bring my glassware to the picnic or tailgate. But there really is no substitute for using clear glass stemware (preferably crystal) to showcase and enjoy your wineWhy? Well, first of all, there is the aesthetically pleasing quality of using fine stemware. One of the elements of wine appreciation which is often overlooked is the visual aspect. Remember that the first “S” of wine appreciation is sight? Being able to assess the true color of wine, its shades and hues, can only be critically observed and enjoyed when the liquid is displayed in clear glassware.

There are many shapes and sizes of clear stemware that are appropriate for wine display and sipping. Generally, white wine is poured into a more narrow, sometimes tulip-shaped glass while the red wine glass is larger and rounder.Champagne glasses are called flutes and are long and narrow tube-like vessels about eight inches from the stem to the top. These differ greatly from the round and shallow vessels that most people erroneously assume are the traditional Champagne or sparkling wine glasses.Both red, white and Champagne glasses should have at least three to four inch stems so you can hold the glass (by the stem) without getting smudges on the bowl that obscure the wine. Another important reason for not holding the glass by the bowl is that your hand will transfer body heat to the wine.

There are actually glasses produced specifically for wine tasting and appreciation. One of my favorites is something called the INAO wine tasting glass developed by the French to help tasters evaluate wine. The bowl of this glass is egg-shaped and the top is tapered to direct and concentrate the aroma of the wine. The glass is approximately six inches tall with a relatively short stem.I found a Web site (“Artisans on the Web 888-216-6399) where the INAO glasses are priced at $30 for a set of six. You may find better pricing by doing a more comprehensive Web search.My favorite purveyor of fine hand blown crystal is located in Jane Lew, W.Va. Masterpiece Crystal (http://www.masterpiececrystal.com/ or 800-624-3114) produces hand-blown and excellent non-lead stemware at very reasonable prices. They also produce a line of wine tasting glasses similar in size and shape to those produced by INAO. I love the glasses produced by Masterpiece and use them as my everyday stemware.You might also check online for the best prices on world-famous stemware producers such as Reidel or Spiegelau. They make both hand-blown (extremely expensive) and machine-made products.While I’ve occasionally sipped wine from lesser vessels, there is no better way to enjoy that liquid elixir we all love than from clear, crystal stemware. It even makes my homemade wine look good. Still, I hope they’ll develop a glass that will do something about the taste.

EVENT: Wine Tailgate at WVU-Louisville game in Morgantown

Going to the WVU-Louisville game next week? Go a day early and join the fine folks at the “Slight Indulgence” wine shop in Morgantown for a special tasting and dinner at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7.  Joe Elchik from Francis Ford Coppola Vineyards will lead the tasting and guest chef Jason Blosser will prepare special dishes to match each of six wines from Coppola. Cost for the event is $65 per person. Seating is limited, so call (304) 599-3402 for reservations. Slight Indulgence is located at 3200 Collins Ferry Road in Morgantown.

WineBoy13: Making Wine in West Virginia

WineBoy13: Making Wine in West Virginia

Join host John Brown as WineBoy, Episode 13, visits Wilson Ward’s Fisher Ridge Winery in Putnam County to explore the art of making wine in West Virginia. You’ll get the inside scoop on how wine is created — from the vineyard to the fermenting vats to the press and into the barrel. And you won’t want to miss WineBoy’s unique brand of trick-or-treating in version 13 of the batty, weekly Webcast on wine appreciation.

Repelling Vampires: Just one of the benefits of healthy living

Repelling Vampires: Just one of the benefits of healthy living

With Halloween just a week away, I thought it would be good to share some ghoulishly delicious information with you on things related to blood and wine. Over the years, I have reported on the French Paradox -- a research study that demonstrated a link between wine consumption (particularly red wine) and a reduced risk of coronary artery disease. The subjects of the study (French men and women who consumed large amounts of fatty foods such as butter and cheese), had a low incidence of cardiac disease which was attributed to their daily consumption of red wine.

Another study of red wine consumption back then added an interesting culinary twist to the equation. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison released findings of a study demonstrating that red wine, in conjunction with the consumption of garlic, is even more effective in helping reduce the risk of heart disease.

Now we've all read reports of garlic's healing powers. From heart disease to hypertension, garlic is touted far and wide as a panacea for just about everything, including some supernatural afflictions like vampirism. In addition to its alleged power in repelling vampires, garlic will also repel most human beings who must be in close proximity to those of us who ingest the stuff. The study does not suggest how red wine and garlic should be consumed in order to achieve the desired result. However, I would assume that garlic cloves would be used to flavor vegetables or meat and not just popped in a glass of red wine like olives in a martini.

The scientists at Wisconsin-Madison found that: Red wine is two times more effective than white wine or beer in protecting against heart disease.• Red wine and garlic in combination work better than either does alone.• Compounds in wine known as flavonoids or polyphenols, rather than alcohol, are what produce the beneficial results.• Wine reduces the risk of heart disease by reducing blood-clotting.This study substantiates the growing body of scientific evidence linking moderate wine consumption (defined as two to four 4-ounce glasses with meals each day) to good cardiovascular health.

The research is also good news to many of us who view culinary Nirvana as a place where sturdy red wine is matched with garlic-flavored dishes each and every day. It just so happens I have had the pleasure of sipping a couple of very good red wines recently that should, when combined with the requisite garlic-enhanced dish, result in a deliciously healthy repast:

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