Columns by John

John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

Wine 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.

I am happy to say they continue that passionate commitment and have transformed the town into a Mecca for spa enthusiasts who descend upon the community seeking the healing waters and a good massage. The Winter Festival of the Waters is the last full weekend in February and is truly a fun event in a lovely little eastern panhandle town.

Anyway, I enjoyed tasting many fine waters from around the world that long ago weekend, but I must declare, that for all its benefits, water is still an incomplete liquid! Fermented grape juice (or wine) is the perfect beverage, providing not only life-sustaining hydration, but also qualities that can transform an ordinary meal into something special or a dullard into a poet.

One liquid that is not incomplete is cabernet sauvignon – particularly this time of year when we’re looking for a wine with warmth, depth and body to accompany the hearty dishes of winter.

I recently had the pleasure of tasting the new release of the 2005 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley. Silver Oak Cellars produces only cabernet sauvignon and its two wines are produced from grapes grown in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma County and from those grown in Napa Valley. The 2005 vintage for cabernet in California is highly touted and the Alexander Valley clearly demonstrates the quality of this wonderful year.

Silver Oak wines are aged in American oak barrels for about 30 months and then bottled and aged for another 15 to 27 months before being released for sale. The 2005 Alexander Valley cabernet was released last summer to rave reviews and you can count me among those touting the wine.

The Napa, however, is a different wine. It will be released next month and is usually a more backward wine in its youth than the Alexander Valley. The Napa, if it follows tradition, will be fuller-bodied, deeper wine and should continue to improve in the bottle over the next decade.

The Alexander Valley retails for about $65 a bottle and while that’s a hefty price to pay for any wine, this one is worth it for that special occasion. Wines of this quality from the 2005 vintage are (believe it or not) fetching two and three times this price.

If you’re looking for wines that have some of the same type flavors for a more reasonable price, try these cabernet sauvignon-based wines: 2006 Franciscan Vineyard Napa Cabernet ($25); 2006 Sebastiani Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon ($18); 2007 Marques De Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon ($19); and 2007 El Portillo Cabernet Sauvignon ($14).

Tasting Cabernet Blind!
Bubbles for the New Year!

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