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

Home, home on the range, Where the lamb and the zinfandel play

It's January. Cold, gray, dreary January! Things could get depressing were it not for my penchant to match ugly days with great food and wine. I'm actually thinking about Arizona and the Sonoran dessert. I'm getting inspired! Here it comes...I've got it: Grilled lamb over mesquite coals washed down with a bottle of Zinfandel so big and juicy it'll make your teeth itch! Okay, so I'm taking a few liberties with conventional Southwest cuisine by substituting lamb for beef, but I think you're going to like this.

Thinking of this dish reminds me of an old Johnny Cash song about cowboys and their feelings about shepherds and sheep. These lines say it all: "A sheep herder come once and put up a fence/ We seen him that time, but we ain't seen him since/ But if you're needin' mutton, we got mutton to sell/ 'cause we're cow-punchers and we're mean as hell."

Thatt line is from a mid-1960's album by Cash called "Ballads of the Old West." Goes great with grillin'. But I digress.

Anyway, here are the marching orders (note that marinade time!):
1. Begin with a six-pound boned and butterflied leg of lamb. Make sure you trim most of the fat from the leg and then rub it all over with coarse ground black pepper, finely chopped garlic and ground cumin.
2. Next, make a marinade of one-half cup of extra virgin olive oil, one-third cup of fresh lime juice, one tablespoon of ground cumin, two tablespoons of chili powder, one teaspoon of dried oregano, one teaspoon of salt and seven chopped garlic cloves.
3. Put all the ingredients into a food processor and process until smooth. Cover the meat with the mixture either in a bowl or a gallon freezer bag and allow it to marinate, from 12 hours to 24 hours. Most normal human beings would then place the lamb on a roasting pan and inject it into an oven heated to 375 degrees F, where it would roast for about 45 minutes to one hour. Me? I'm grilling that sucker over a hot charcoal fire onto which I will have liberally sprinkled water-soaked mesquite chips.
4. You want to baste the lamb with the leftover marinade and turn it at least once while grilling. Grilling should be completed in about 30 minutes. Slice the lamb and serve it over grits baked with jalepeno peppers and Monterey jack cheese. This dish will warm the cockles of even the blackest heart!
The absolute best wine for this meal is a big red Zinfandel. Uncork a Marietta Old Vines, Ravenswood, Ridge Lytton Springs or Renwood Old Vines. You might also try Red Truck or Marietta Old Vines Red which are Zinfandel blends.

DEFINING TERMS: (and ‘orgasmic’ is not one of them)

"The nose is quite developed, the tannins are still hard, but the fruit seems overripe and flabby, and the finish is a bit short."


While conducting a wine tasting recently, it was pointed out to me that I had begun to sound a little too 'winesy-cutsey. ' It was a polite reminder I was using wine jargon instead of English to explain attributes of the wine. While I deplore wine snobs and other bores, I must admit to falling into the occasional habit of using "winespeak" to describe the sensory aspects of wine. I guess it comes from reading a great deal from other wine writers or experts who liberally sprinkle around such terms as "tannin, acid, flabby, robust, " even "orgasmic" when describing their tasting experience.

Below, I have listed several terms regularly used in describing wine qualities (but not orgasmic). There are obviously many more, but we'll start with these:

Tannin(s) – A naturally-occurring chemical substance present in wine (particularly red wine) which can allow the wine to age. It manifests itself in the mouth as that sensation which makes you want to pucker.

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Moving Outside Your W.C.Z. (Wine Comfort Zone)

You're probably wondering about my qualifications to write this blog. So here's all I can say about my credentials – such as they are. After a trip to the California wine country in 1981, I was asked to write a wine column for the Charleston Daily Mail. I wrote that weekly column until 1989 and also did a wine commentary gig on West Virginia Public Radio during that same time period.

The commentary, which lasted only a few months and was produced by Mountain Stage's Andy Ridenour, was cancelled when one person wrote to say that Public Radio should not be advocating the use of alcoholic beverages. That was it – one person. Who says a single voice can't make a difference?

Since 1989, I have written a monthly wine column for a weekly West Virginia business publication. I've also conducted hundreds of wine tastings, MC'd countless wine dinners and have traveled fairly extensively to some of the world's most famous wine regions. But before you get too overly impressed with my wine-stained resume, keep in mind that I am also a home wine maker. In other words, I have a great tolerance for mediocre wine. I actually think my wine, which I've been making from California grapes since 1977, is pretty good. If that's not enough to make you stop reading right now, you must really be desperate for wine information.

Okay, so here's what we're going to do: I'm going to write about wine and sometimes food, and hope that you will occasionally respond with your own feelings about the information I impart. Let me say up front that I don't expect you to like every wine I recommend. Wouldn't that be boring?

However, I do taste a pretty substantial number of wines in the course of a year. And I'll bet (unless you're as wine-obsessed as I am) that I might get you to try something other than what you drink regularly. I might even be able to get you to move outside your wine-comfort zone. If so, then I will have succeeded.

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INTRODUCING: Wine and Dine

Welcome to 'Wine and Dine,' a new Charleston Gazette blog about wine selection and advice, along with tips on pairing wine with food. John Brown is a seasoned wine columnist, whose writing on wine will also be seen in the Sunday Gazette-Mail on a regular basis. Also, we will be rolling out some wine tips on video and taking some multimedia journeys in search of the best places to enjoy wine in the West Virginia region. We welcome your feedback on this new blog, either in the 'Comment' section below each post or by sending your comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Douglas Imbrogno | editor