A tasteful exercise: getting the most out of wine

January 25, 2016 by John Brown

A friend of mine approached me the other day with a kind of sheepish look on his weathered brow and asked: “I want to learn how to like wine. I’ve tried it several times and I just don’t like it. Is there some way to learn to like the stuff?”

I must admit I was momentarily flummoxed. Why would anyone want to learn to like something that they have tried and don’t like? I’ve always preached that wine appreciation is a very subjective undertaking, and that you should drink whatever type of wine you choose.

And if you don’t like wine, try something else. There are plenty of options out there. However, it may be that people who claim -like my friend –to have repeatedly tried and failed to enjoy wine, just need to approach the whole wine appreciation process differently.

Let me explain. I asked a few probing questions of my friend and concluded that his problem was mainly related to how and where he tasted wine. He explained that his negative experiences almost always occurred at cocktail parties or bars, and the wine offered or ordered was usually a full-bodied red such as cabernet sauvignon. He also said the wine was almost always tasted without food

Hey, I am an avowed wineaux, but I will not drink any red wine without at least some kind of food. Give me a piece of bread, a hunk of cheese, or some type of fare that has at least a modicum of texture and substance. Drinking red wine without food is like taking a bite of an unripe pear – it’s hard, sour and makes you pucker.

Food and Wine Synergy

Food and Wine Synergy

Further, someone new to wine appreciation should never begin the process by starting with red wine. You should always begin with a light, white, slightly sweet wine such as riesling or chenin blanc. You can accompany these lighter wines with a cracker, some cheese or even a piece of fruit. It’s a good way to introduce yourself to the pleasures of pairing food with wine.

The next step is to graduate to a fuller flavored white wine such as chardonnay and pair it either with a vegetable, chicken or fish dish. At this point, you should be enjoying the white wine experience so it’s time to move up to reds.

Beginning red wine drinkers should always start with light to medium-bodied wines such as pinot noir which is compatible with a variety of foods. Try it with pork tenderloin, grilled salmon or roasted chicken.

Once you’re comfortable with lighter style reds, you’re ready to transition to fuller bodied ones such as zinfandel, syrah, merlot or cabernet sauvignon. However, make sure you accompany these biggies with full-flavored, garlicky or spicy foods such as steak, pasta, stews, chili or some other substantial food.

At this point, I have to assume you’ve discovered the pleasures of wine. So, now that you are an official wineaux, here are some general suggestions for wine and food pairings.

To be successful in finding that perfect match, you need to consider flavor, texture and weight of the food and wine pairing. Lighter-bodied foods go best with lighter style wines while heavier flavored foods are best paired with fuller-flavored wines. Makes sense, right?

For instance, a poached white fish would go best with a lighter styled white wine such as a pinot grigio, white Bordeaux or Albarino from Spain. Conversely, it would take a robust red wine such as cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel to stand up to and enhance the flavors of a well-marbled strip steak.

The addition of sauces or spices to a dish can add a flavor dimension that can also affect the wine you select. For example, sauvignon blanc is an excellent choice with poached salmon in a dill sauce, but grilled salmon that has been dusted with cumin, black pepper and chili powder needs a medium-bodied red such as pinot noir.

So it really is quite simple: to get the most out of that special bottle of wine, pair it with a compatible food partner to discover the real meaning of synergy!

Need a night out? two options for good food and wine

January 5, 2016 by John Brown

Okay, let’s face it. The holidays are in the rear view mirror, the Christmas tree is on the curb and a cold, gray winter is just starting to chill our weary bones. My advice? You need an attitude adjustment and the best way to do that is to treat yourself to some good food and wine.

If you’re a regular reader of these scratchings, you know I will never just give you my impression of a particular wine without mentioning a food that is enhanced by it. Finding a compatible food and wine combination makes the whole dining experience so much more pleasurable.

And while we all love to cook, I suspect that the folks in your household need a break from the kitchen. After a month of chopping, boiling, sautéing, roasting, grilling and cleaning up after a herd of hungry and thirsty holiday celebrants, don’t you think we all deserve a night out?

Well, I do, and so I’m going to share with you today two of my favorite meals and accompanying wines from a couple of excellent local restaurants. We are blessed in this small, but beautiful valley, with several fine dining establishments that deserve your patronage. In future columns, I will tell you about other special culinary experiences I’ve had in and around our community.

Let’s begin with South Hills Market and Café. Chef Richard Arbaugh and wife Anne have done an exceptional job at this small restaurant with an inventive and eclectic menu which also has a Wine Spectator award wining wine list. Here is a three-course menu that I have enjoyed there on a few occasions.

Strip steak with Bordelaise sauce at So. Hills Market

Strip steak with Bordelaise sauce at So. Hills Market

I start with the Roasted Bone Marrow with gherkins, pickled onions, whole grain mustard, and grilled crostini. I love the huge (about eight inch long) caveman-like bone in which the marrow is served. Next, I opt for the Artisan greens with cucumbers, pickled onions, tomatoes and asiago cheese.

And for the main course (especially for you red meat lovers), I recommend the 12-ounce New York Strip Steak with Bordelaise sauce. Make the meal even more special by ordering a glass or a bottle of the Grochau Cellars Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. This medium-bodied wine from Oregon is full of black cherry flavors that can stand up to the meat, and also marry well with the Bordelaise sauce.

Bricks and Barrels across from Appalachian Power Park is not yet a year old, but the upscale restaurant has weathered the slings and arrows of many passionate and discerning local diners. Owners Matt and Nikki Holbert have hung in there and, in the past few months, have made several positive changes, not the least of which is hiring a new chef with excellent credentials.

The improvement in both the quality and consistency of the menu at Bricks and Barrels has been a pleasant surprise. I have always been pleased with the nicely conceived wine list, the classy bar and (don’t tell Rich Ireland)  the extensive selection of West Virginia craft brews.

Here’s a three-course menu at Bricks and Barrels that is worth giving a try. I have always enjoyed Crab Louie Napoleon, but the version at this restaurant is about the best I’ve ever eaten. Baby Bibb lettuce is stacked with layers of jumbo lump crab, a slice of tomato, asparagus, hard-boiled egg and avocado. Yum!

Next, I suggest The Beet and Goat cheese salad which is a delicious combination of roasted beets on a bed of summer greens with warm walnuts all tossed in Italian dressing. For the main course I suggest the melt-in-your-mouth filet of butter-basted salmon served with sweet potato puree, deep-fried Brussel sprouts and parmesan risotto.

To accompany the meal, I chose a glass of Ladera Chardonnay, a Napa Valley wine that has medium intensity, flavors of ripe honey crisp apples and a light kiss of oak that marries especially well with the butter basted salmon. Bravo!

Holiday Wines: ‘Tis better to give AND receive

December 9, 2015 by John Brown

It’s that time of year again! You know what I’m talking about: Rudolph with his nose so bright; Folks dressed up like Eskimos; and Jack Frost nipping (hopefully a sip or two of vino). Yes siree, I’m ready and raring to get my Yuletide on.

So, in the spirit of the Season, I’m going to provide you with some red and white wine recommendations for your holiday gift giving because I believe in the old saying: “Tis better to give than receive. ” This is even better if the giver and receiver is you (or if the recipient is someone who is willing to share).

And depending on your budget, the sky is truly the limit when it comes to finding a wine to give that special person. Shopping for wine any time is a labor of love, but during the holidays it is a lot more fun because wine shop shelves are chock full of a wide and varied selection of vinous products.

The great thing about the holidays – especially Christmas – is that we also have a perfect opportunity to choose wines that pair well with the cornucopia of special foods we’ll be eating. Following that theme, I have selected for your consideration a list of wines below that would make great gifts, and also be excellent accompaniments to some of the more traditional holiday foods we will be enjoying over the next few weeks. So here we go.

Great Holiday Gifts!

Great Holiday Gifts!

For the celebratory sparkling wine aperitif: Taittinger Comptes De Champagne Rose; Nicholas Feuillatte “Blue Label” Brut Champagne; Mumm Napa Cuvee (sparkling); Paul Bara Brut Champagne; Segura Viudas Reserva Cava; Veuve Cliquot Brut Champagne; Roderer Estate Anderson Valley Sparkling Wine; Krug Grande Cuvee Brut; Perrier Jouet Grand Brut; Iron Horse Russian Cuvee (sparkling).

For the traditional Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes, you might search out these lovely bottles: Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Scaia Garganega; d’Arenberg The Hermit Crab Marsanne-Viognier Blend; St, Supery Sauvignon Blanc; Falcor Chardonnay; Castello Banfi Principessa Gavi; Montinore Estate Riesling; L’Ecole 41 Semillon; Cakebread Chardonnay; Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay; and Talley Arroyo Grande Vineyard Chardonnay.

For Christmas Ham or Turkey: Newton Claret; Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee Pinot Noir; Banfi Brunello Di Montalcino; Marques de Caceras Rioja Reserva; Chapoutier Bila-Haut Cotes Du Roussillon; Ferraton Tavel Rose’; Easton Amador County Zinfandel; Raptor Ridge Atticus Vineyard Pinot Noir; and Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti.

For the traditional Prime Rib Roast: Chateau Lynch Bages; Joseph Phelps Insignia; Falcor Le Bijou; Chateau La Dominique; Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve; Chateau Brainaire Ducru; Merryvale Profile; Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon; Chateau Cos d’Estournel; Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon; Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon; Leoville Las Cases; Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; Antinori Tignanello; and Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon;

Have a great holiday season, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Talking Turkey : a fowl (or foul) affair ?

November 9, 2015 by John Brown

It’s that time of year again when all talk turns to turkey. However, I must admit I have mixed feelings about the “national bird.” In my decades long association with Thanksgiving, I have both feasted on spectacular fowl, and, on occasion, have been subjected to very foul experiences.

On the one hand, Thanksgiving is a holiday of which I have very fond sensory memories, particularly of being awakened on that special morning by the delicious redolence of a butter basted turkey roasting in the oven. My mom was artfully adept at marrying the classic all-American recipe for roasted turkey with a nod to her ethnic heritage by creating a bread dressing that featured chestnuts and spicy Italian sausage.

That she was able to bridge this culinary and cultural gulf and please both ardent WASPs as well as charter members of the Son’s of Italy was probably influenced by her desire to please my father – a gentle wood tick from the mountains of West Virginia who, before he met my mother, thought black pepper was an exotic spice.

And to be fair, some of my negative experiences involved positives. Do I speak with forked tongue? Well, not really, because sometimes the turkey would be cooked to perfection and the dressing would be inedible – or vice versa. But why can’t everyone get it right – like my mother.

Well, let’s be honest. Thanksgiving dinner is a complex undertaking (eat too much and you’ll end up in the undertaker’s complex – couldn’t resist this). Anyway, when you consider the degree of culinary minutia involved, it is understandable that something might go wrong.

Paired with Domaine Serene Pinot Noir

Paired with Domaine Serene Pinot Noir

Preparing and properly cooking a large turkey over a period of several hours can be a daunting experience. And when folks choose to try brining or marinating and then grilling or smoking the bird, chances that something bad will happen increase dramatically. Add to that the plethora of choices for dressing along with traditional side dishes and then pumpkin pie for dessert, and about the only thing you can truly count on being good is the wine.

Which brings me to the point of all of this angst over Thanksgiving Dinner: simplify your chores by preparing as many of the courses as possible ahead of time, and then stock up on both white and red wine. That way you will guarantee you’ll have a tasty vinous treat that is bound to match one or more of the items on the Thanksgiving menu.

This is possible because turkey has a variety of flavors, colors and textures that can match just about any wine. Add to this, the manner in which the turkey is prepared (i.e., roasted, smoked, grilled or fried) and of the type of stuffing used, and you have a complex set of flavor components that make matching wine with the meal both easy and fun. Indeed, we should give thanks for this rare opportunity to sample several different wines with the same holiday meal. So here are a few wine recommendations to match your Thanksgiving turkey and associated dishes.

The traditional oven-roasted turkey with sage-flavored dressing does wonderfully well with sauvignon blanc (St. Supery or Ladera), Alsatian riesling (Trimbach or Pierre Sparr) and gewürztraminer (Chateau St. Jean or Navarro). Red wines such as pinot noir (Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee or Freestone Sonoma Coast), Meritages (Falcor Le Bijou or Mercer Canyons Red Blend) and Rhone wines (Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape or Kermit Lynch Cotes du Rhone) will also marry well with oven roasted turkey.

Ridge Lytton Springs

Or Ridge Lytton Springs

For smoked or grilled turkey with spicy dressing, I prefer fuller bodied red wines. Try Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel, Carparzo Brunello di Montalcino or Alto Moncayo Garnacha from Spain. You might also try an intensely flavored chardonnay such as Beringer Private Reserve, Mer Soleil Reserve or Cakebread.

And for dessert, I’m going to suggest a few festive sparkling wines that will pair quite nicely with that pumpkin pie and whipped cream. Try one of these invigorating sparklers: Paul Bara Champagne, Segura Viudas Brut Cava or Domaine Carneros Brut Rose.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Rites of Fall: football,wine and roasted red peppers!

October 13, 2015 by John Brown

I love this time of year. Football season is in full swing, the leaves are painting the mountains with blazing colors and I’m in the process of turning purple grapes into about 70 gallons of home made wine. And just last weekend, I completed the final rite of fall by roasting, peeling and bagging one of the most delightful treats imaginable.

Every autumn for the last three decades, I have waited anxiously with bated anticipation for locally grown green bell peppers to turn large and red. Some years, because of too much heat or too much rain, the harvest can be less than bountiful and replete with small, gnarled red peppers. But even mal-formed, diminutive peppers can be transformed into the delicious Italian antipasto treat my mother lovingly made and passed on to me so many years ago.

This year was- and still is -(at least for the next week or so) a banner year for red peppers of a size and shape that make the sometimes long and arduous task of processing them a lot easier. You can check out the recipe below for the routine detail, but mere words cannot describe the agony (sometimes) and ecstasy (always) associated with turning these red lovelies into edible bliss!

Ready to roast

Let me explain.

The agony is related to working with small peppers which can take two or three times as long to process as larger ones. But even this extra work is validated when you pull a baggie full of sweet red peppers out of the freezer in January, and experience a little taste of summer in the dead of winter.

And while you can get sweet red peppers all year round at just about any super market, I eagerly await the ones I can procure locally. You may have noticed how expensive red or yellow bell peppers can be when purchased at grocery stores (sometimes as much as $2 a piece). I love to support our own Capitol Market where you can comparison shop among the many vendors and select just the right peppers at a very a reasonable price.

I prefer to work with at least a bushel of peppers at a time,  however, you may wish to start with a more modest number for your first effort. As a matter of fact, you can experiment with roasting just one or two on your stovetop and then follow the steps below.

You can serve the peppers with small slices of crusty bread or even crackers, but you will need a medium to full- bodied red wine to make the perfect food and wine marriage. I suggest pairing the peppers with any of the following three wines:  2010 Antinori Peppoli Chianti Classico ($26);  2012 Easton Amador County Zinfandel ($18);  or 2013 Bila-Haut Cotes Du Roussillon Villages ($14). The Bila-Haut is a terrific bargain for a wine rated 91 points by Robert Parker.

What you will need:

Red bell peppers (as many as you wish)
Several fresh basil leaves
Quart size sealable plastic freezer bags
Grill, oven or stovetop
Large grocery paper bags
Dinner plates (such as Fiesta ware, etc.)
A colander with a bowl underneath, a small knife, a large cutting board, a large bowl
One garlic clove, salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil and Balsamic vinegar

How To:

Wash the peppers under cold water and dry
Place on a grill, in the oven or on the stovetop on high heat
Turn the peppers often to expose all surfaces to the heat until the skins are scorched
Place dinner plates in the bottom of the paper bags
Stack the peppers (about five or six) onto the plates and then close bags tightly
Allow the peppers to steam in the bags for at least one hour
Remove them from the bag and place over the colander with the bowl underneath
Cut the peppers from top to bottom and catch the pepper juice in the bowl
Peel the skins from the peppers and cut them into large pieces (about three per pepper)
Fill bags ¾ full, add a couple of pieces of basil, seal and place in the freezer or use
Freeze the accumulated pepper juice for use in sauces

Ready to eat or freeze

Ready to eat or freeze

Final Preparation:

Thaw the peppers and cut them into small strips
Place them in a small bowl
Chop one clove of garlic finely and add to the bowl
Add one teaspoon each of extra virgin olive oil and Balsamic vinegar
Put salt and pepper to taste and stir all ingredients
Allow the mixture to sit for one hour and serve the peppers on bread or crackers

Beam me up, Bacchus!

September 20, 2015 by John Brown

One of the most fascinating aspects of  wine tasting is the way you can almost be instantaneously transported from one part of this planet to another by simply sipping a few different wines.

Beam me up, Bacchus! The first taste of that lovely Italian chardonnay is like being immediately teleported to the hills of Piemonte’ where you find yourself sipping a creamy, fruit forward and exquisitely balanced white from a region more known for big reds like Barolo and Barbaresco.

And moving to the next wine might take you across the world to Oregon or to South Africa. As a matter of fact, the three wines reviewed below are from those three countries I just mentioned. So many wines from so many geographically diverse regions provide us with so many opportunities to literally taste the products of a different culture.

So why not invite a few friends over and conduct your own wine tasting? It’s really easy, fun, inexpensive and very educational. Whether you’re tasting all one varietal, such as cabernet sauvignon, or different types of both whites and reds, it is important to remember to taste lighter, sweeter wines first and then move on to more full bodied ones.

Here is a typical example and order of a tasting of six different white and red varietals: riesling, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot and cabernet sauvignon. The wines are arranged from lighter to fuller bodied to prevent the stronger flavored ones from overpowering and masking the flavors the less intense wines.

Give these three a try

Give these three a try

Since you will want to get the most out of the tasting, you need to learn how to use your senses to fully appreciate wine.  One way of doing this is to use what I call 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 five to ten wines and tasters should receive about one ounce of each wine. Ask each taster to critically examine each wine, and to render an opinion as to what they liked or disliked about a particular bottle.

You can take the tasting to a whole different level by eliminating the bias of seeing the wine labels. This is known as a blind tasting and involves obscuring the wine label by having someone place the bottles in bags before you taste. This will eliminate any possible price or winery bias so that you can truly judge the product on its quality.

Here are three wines that were among my favorites in a recent wine tasting. You might want to give them a try.

2013 Mullineux Old Vines White Blend ($28) – An elegant South African blend of chenin blanc (80%) along with clairette blanche and viognier, this has flavors of ripe pears and melon. Rich, yet very balanced, the wine is one to pair with a whole roasted chicken that has been basted with olive oil, rosemary and a little of the Mullineux Old Vines.

2012 Chehalem Stoller Vineyards Pinot Noir ($45) – This Oregon and Willamette Valley wine is exceptional. Delicious black cherry and cola flavors and excellent balancing acidity are the highlights of this beautifully crafted example of pinot noir from a truly historic vintage. While I would lay this one down for a few years, those unable to wait should decant it for a couple of hours and then serve it with grilled wild salmon or roasted pork tenderloin.

2014 Marco Capra Chardonnay ($20) – More like a very good Pouilly Fuisse from Burgundy, the Marco Capra Chardonnay is a creamy, round yet very balanced wine with scents of anise and citrus. This wine, from the Langhe’ region of Piedmont in northwestern Italy, would make an excellent accompaniment to veal saltimbocca.

A delicious view!

September 1, 2015 by John Brown

We are so fortunate to be living in such a visually beautiful state that sometimes, when I am unexpectedly presented with a magnificent natural scene, I cannot adequately describe in mere words the exhilaration and awe I feel. Combine this stunning scenery with excellent food and wine, and a special person with whom to share it, and you have the makings of a truly memorable experience.

Such was the case a couple of weeks back as I made my way to Canaan Valley for a little rest and relaxation. The usual route I take is up I—79 to US 33 east, through Elkins and then up to Canaan. The trip usually takes about three hours with at least one pit stop.

On this particular evening, my wife and I decided to find a restaurant along the way to break up the trip. A few miles outside of Elkins just off Route 33 at Kelly Mountain Road, we stopped at The Forks Restaurant and Inn. This establishment at almost 3000 feet in elevation has five newly renovated guest rooms and a restaurant that is a true gem.

While the food and wine at The Forks Inn are exceptional, what pushes the experience over the top is the VIEW!

View from the deck at The Forks

View from the deck at The Forks

There are not sufficiently accurate descriptive words or phrases to describe the amazing mountain panorama that is visible from the outdoor dining deck at The Forks. Purple mountain majesty squared might begin to come close. And as amazing as the view was a few weeks ago, I really look forward to visiting again later this month when the leaves on the trees turn the surrounding forest into a blaze of fall colors.

But the real surprise is the culinary excellence of the place. This is a family owned business operated by two brothers and their uncle. Hailing from Buckhannon- Elkins area, the Stalnakers (brothers Trevor and Drew and their uncle Eric) totally renovated the lodging facilities, the restaurant and the bar.

While the restaurant has several tables for indoor dining, the place to be is outside on the porch or deck where the views make the superb dining fare even more enjoyable. The eclectic menu is the province of  Eric Stalnaker whose 30-year culinary resume is comprehensive and impressive.

With a college degree in hospitality management and business along with a two-year culinary apprenticeship through the Hilton Hotel Corporation, Eric has worked all over the world including restaurant stints in Paris and Dijon in France. He has been chef at five Hilton Resorts around the US and has worked at Snowshoe and The Greenbrier here in West By Golly.

My entrée –a flat iron steak au poivre – was grilled to perfection, exactly medium rare and was accompanied by creamy, cheesy dauphinoise potatoes. At $21, this was not only a culinary success, it was a bargain. And the extensive wine list at The Forks is well composed and reasonably priced with selections from all around the wine world.

Forks wine

The Forks is open at 5 p.m. from Tuesday through Sunday for dinner only. While walk-ins are welcome, I recommend you call for reservations (304-637-0932). You can also check out their website at: http://attheforks.com/.

The Forks offers a complete and pleasurable sensory experience where fine food and wine are complimented by spectacular mountain scenery to provide sustenance for both your body and your spirit.

Spicy skirt steak and a BIG red!

August 17, 2015 by John Brown

Vegans and vegetarians take note and be forewarned: I am an unabashed carnivore! Please understand that while I love veggies, fruit, grains and just about everything edible produced or grown on terra firma, I have a special fondness for seared, baked, fried, grilled or broiled animal flesh. And let’s not leave out those creatures that are caught, speared or netted from rivers, lakes and oceans- I love to knosh on them too.

Among the plethora of meats and fish available, I must profess a special fondness for beef. Give me a piece of red meat and I’ll rub that sucker with loads of black pepper, garlic and a little Kosher salt, and then I will build a wood or charcoal fire so big it will create its own micro-climate. Next, I’ll roast the meat until the red inside just starts turning pink, and then I’ll wolf it down with a big, purple wine that will make your lips pucker and your heart sing (and continue to beat too).

This dish needs a BIG red!

This dish needs a BIG red!

According to my own medical consultant (Dr. Feelgood), wine, especially red, has properties that mitigate the rumored negative consequences of eating red meat on a regular basis. So there.

And while there is nothing better in this whole wide world than any type of meat or even fish on a grill, I must admit (are you listening veggie lovers?) that I do enjoy things that are harvested from the soil, too, particularly the goodies I procure from local farmers at the Capitol Market here in Charleston. For the next six weeks, we will have the opportunity to choose from a cornucopia of the region’s most wonderful assortment of vegetables.

I am particularly fond of peppers! Green ones, red ones and especially hot ones. I have prepared peppers in more ways than the normal person can fathom. I roast them, stuff them, fry them, freeze them, can them and, above all, I consume them almost daily. Here is a recipe for a dish I must give credit to my lovely bride for spicing up and improving on one she found in Bon Appetit Magazine a few years back. It combines three of my favorite foods: red meat, peppers and freshly picked corn. And you will need to pair this dish with a substantial red wine like the one suggested below.

While I shop regularly at Johnnies Fresh Meat Market here in Charleston, the beef for this recipe hails from the Monroe Farm Market (www.localfoodmarketplace.com/monroe/). These good folks from Monroe County deliver produce and grass fed, freshly butchered meat weekly to Charleston. Incidentally, Johnnies also has a good selection grass fed beef too. This recipe calls for skirt steak, but you could also use thinly cut flank steak.

Spicy Skirt Steak with Poblano and Corn Salsa (serves four)

Ingredients

Two pounds of skirt steak cut into five inch long pieces
Three medium sized poblano peppers
Three ears of corn shucked
One teaspoon each kosher salt, black pepper, brown sugar and smoked paprika
One-half teaspoon of cayenne pepper (optional)
Three ounces of extra virgin olive oil

How To

Light a gas grill or fire up a charcoal grill
Rub the corn and poblanos with olive oil and grill until both are slightly charred
Peel the skin from the poblanos and then dice them finely
Place half the corn and half the poblanos in a food processor with two tablespoons each of olive oil and water
Puree into a chunky salsa and add salt and pepper to taste
Toss remaining corn and poblanos in a small bowl, add remaining olive oil and season with salt and pepper
Rub skirt steak with olive and rub then with the mixture of pepper, salt, cayenne, brown sugar and paprika
Grill steaks over high heat, turning two or three times until lightly charred (about 7 minutes)
Remove meat from grill and allow to sit for five minutes
Spoon the sauce onto the plate
Slice meat across the grain and place atop the sauce
Spoon the salsa onto the meat and serve immediately

Peter Franus and wife Deanne

Peter Franus and wife Deanne

You will want to pair this dish with a full-bodied red wine and, as luck would have it, I had the pleasure of meeting a very accomplished Napa Valley wine maker who was visiting Charleston a few weeks back. Peter Franus and his wife Deanne were in town to join chef Richard Arbaugh in hosting a dinner featuring Franus’ wines at South Hills Market & Cafe.

While I really enjoyed the 2014 Franus Albarino and 2013 Sauvignon Blanc (both in the $26 to $28 price range), the 2012 Franus Zinfandel Brandlin Vineyard ($45) is the wine to use with the recipe below. Ripe, rich, blackberry and spicy teaberry flavors combine with the full-bodied, moderately tannic texture to make this the perfect accompaniment to the Spicy Skirt Steak recipe.

Enjoy!

Rose’: No one trick pony!

July 19, 2015 by John Brown

I suppose I have always been destined to appreciate the fruit of the vine though I certainly had no inkling when my go-to wine selections were enclosed in half or full gallon screw cap bottles, and where quality took a back seat to price and quantity.

To this day, I remember the first cork-finished bottle of wine I ever purchased to accompany a steak dinner at –believe it or not – the WVU Mountainlair restaurant on the campus of the old U. I was trying to impress a young lass with my savoir-faire by selecting a bottle of Mateus Rose’ to accompany what would turn out to be the leather-like slices of prime rib we had both ordered.

And while the wine and meal were forgettable, my date (and now wife) and I have always had a special fondness for rose’. Remarkably, Mateus is still being produced in Portugal, and remains a very popular aperitif wine with its characteristic fizzy and slightly sweet raspberry and cherry flavors.

Although I continue to buy and use rose’ throughout the year – even sometimes to accompany Thanksgiving dinner– there is no better time to open a bottle than in the heat of the summer. I have recommended a few for your consideration below, but first let’s take a closer look at the “how, where and when” of rose’. It is definitely no one trick pony!

Perfect on the deck with grilled foods

Perfect on the deck with grilled foods

I know that some of you may turn your nose up at this (sometimes) pink wine, or think of rose’ as a one-dimensional, inexpensive and sweet wine like the aforementioned Mateus or even white zinfandel. But most are produced classically dry (which means they have less than one-percent residual sugar).

Well, you may also be surprised to know that rose’ is made in just about every fine wine region using just about every red grape imaginable from cabernet sauvignon to carignan and from pinot noir to malbec. And, while there are some slightly sweet aperitif roses, there are even more that are made to accompany food.

In my view, these wines are especially lovely accompaniments to grilled foods, particularly sausages. Whether you prefer Italian, Polish, Bratwurst or some other pork-encased tube steak, rose’ is a great choice. The wines below are also delicious with baby back ribs slathered in a tangy barbecue sauce.

Here are some roses’ you may wish to try. I recommend serving them slightly chilled.

2014 Grange Philippe “Gipsy” Rose ($12) – This wine from France (region unknown since it is labeled “Vin de Pays” meaning country wine) is a blend of syrah and grenache. Strawberry aromas yield to flavors of spice, cinnamon and cherries. Sip it on the deck with grilled lamb burgers or bratwurst.

Reginato Rose of Malbec NV ($15) – Excellent strawberry and cherry flavors highlight this dry rose’ sparkler from Argentina. Produced from malbec, this wine would be a great accompaniment to jalapeno poppers (cheese stuffed jalapenos) or other spicy foods that are tamed by this sparkling rose’.

2014 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rose ($16) – From South Africa, this medium-bodied wine is almost red and is full of ripe, dark cherry flavors. This would be one to pair with Asian cuisine like Pad Thai.

2014 Elizabeth Spencer Rose of Grenache ($17) – Elizabeth Spencer is one of my favorite pinot noir producers, but with this rose’ she shows her vinous versatility. Delicious, ripe strawberry flavors, with aromas of spice and tea, this Mendocino County wine is one to try with grilled Italian sausages.

Choosing a large format bottle? Size matters!

June 23, 2015 by John Brown

As a young man, I made beverage buying decisions on two factors: price and size. So, it was not uncommon for me to select the cheapest and largest volume container that I could find to assist me in pondering the existential verities, and such critical human questions as: will the Mountaineers defeat Pitt this weekend; and will Mary Lou accompany me to the Toga Party after the game?

Yes, volume and price were an important part of my earlier years, but as I ascend to Old Codgerdom, the terms have taken on a whole different meaning where pain is the price I pay for excessive volume consumption. But I digress.

I got to ruminating about the “good” old days, and those seemingly bottomless jugs of Uncle Frankie’s Purple Passion, as I began to write this column on the various sizes of and monikers for large bottles of wine. It’s actually pretty fascinating – at least to me.

Of course, the standard size bottle of wine is 750 milliliters (ml) or what we Americans call a “fifth” which is 25.360 fluid ounces. All larger wine bottles are therefore designed to accommodate multiples of the 750 ml bottle. But that’s just size, and we all know that size is the least important component of what comprises a pleasant (drinking) experience.

Capitol Market Wine Shop manger Scotty Scarberry with 9 -liter Salmanazar

Capitol Market Wine Shop manger Scotty Scarberry with 9 -liter Salmanazar

For most meals, a 750 ml bottle is perfect for two diners and can sometimes suffice for as many as four. So a table of eight or more folks requires more wine, and most people simply buy a second bottle. The beauty of a larger format bottle is that it not only will serve more guests, it is also one you can keep in your cellar longer. The reason is that wine ages slower in larger bottles, allowing you to uncork that older red wine you’ve been holding for just the right occasion-  like a holiday or birthday.

I’m sure most of you have purchased  a magnum (which is a 1.5 liter bottle and the equivalent of two fifths) when you were hosting six to eight folks for dinner.  But that bottle is a runt compared to several larger format bottles which range in size from three to – are you ready for this- 30 liters! And these larger bottles have all been given the names of Biblical figures, many of whom were kings or wisemen.

So here is the line-up large format bottles to look for in specialty wine shops:

Jeroboam (three liters) – Named after a king in ancient Israel;

Rehoboam (4.5 liters) –King of Judea;

Methuselah (six liters) – According to the Bible, the oldest man;

Mordechai (nine liters) – The uncle of Ester, queen of Persia;

Salmanazar (also nine liters) –King of Assyria;

Balthazar (12 liters) – One of the three Wise Men;

Nebuchadnezzar 15 liters) – King of Babylon;

Melchior (18 liters) – Another Wise Man;

Solomon (20 liters) – King of Israel;

Melchizedek (30 liters) – King of Jerusalem.

To put this in some sort of visual perspective, a Melchizedek is the equivalent of 40 fifths of wine -all in one bottle! It’s as tall as an adult human being, but I don’t think there are any earthly creatures able to lift and pour from that size bottle. But wouldn’t popping the cork on a Melchizedek be a hoot?

So the next time you’re planning a Toga Party for a few hundred of your closest friends, go out and hire a couple of Sumo wrestlers to pour your favorite Melchizedek, and party like it’s 500 B.C.