Vines & Vittles

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.

 

Thanksgiving Starters
Appetizer goodies such as deviled eggs, smoked salmon, cocktail meatballs, veggies and dip or even bacon wrapped scallops can go with just about any dry and/or slightly sweet wine. My favorite is always Beaujolais Nouveau which is released on the third Thursday of November each year. Beaujolais Nouveau is always fresh and full of bright red fruit flavors. Try the 2021 Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais Nouveau with your starters. Alternative wines to consider: Trimbach Pinot Gris and d’Arenberg The Hermit Crab (viognier and marsanne) both whites; and Grange Philippe ”Gipsy” Rose’.

 

Main Course -One
Both the traditional oven-roasted and/or deep-fried turkey do equally well with medium-bodied red or white wines. My favorite white wines for these two cooking methods are ones from Bordeaux which are combinations of sauvignon blanc and semillon. These are crisp and dry whites that have herbal and mineral flavors. Try Chateau Graville Lacoste or Chateau Villa Bel-Air. Italian reds such as Banfi Brunello di Montalcino or the Chianti Classico Riserva from Castello di Bossi also pair well with oven-roasted or fried turkeys.

Main Course – Two
Since many of you will smoke or grill your turkey this Thanksgiving and accompany it with more full-flavored dressings (like cornbread and chorizo), I’m providing you with medium to full-bodied red wine suggestions that will pair better with the “national bird” prepared using these cooking methods. My first choice is Oregon pinot noir. Try the pinot noir from either Domaine Drouhin or St. Innocent. In addition, the zinfandel-based wines from Ridge Vineyards in California are also exceptional accompaniments to smoked or grilled turkey. Two of my favorites are Ridge Geyserville and Ridge Lytton Springs.

Dessert
In our home, Thanksgiving dessert is always pumpkin or pecan pie (or both) with a dollop of whipped crème on top. You won’t go wrong with either of these two accompanying dessert wines: Chateau St. Jean Late Harvest Riesling from Sonoma County or G.D. Vajra Moscato d’Asti from Italy.

Happy Thanksgiving!

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com.

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.

2017 Handley Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($22) – From Mendocino County in northern California, this is a ripe, medium-bodied wine that has spicy red and black cherry flavors. Mendocino is one of my favorite pinot noir appellations and the Handley pairs seamlessly with the richness of the stuffed peppers.

2017 Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem ($33) – Occultum Lapidem translated from Latin means “hidden gem” which more than aptly describes this red. From the southern French region of Languedoc- Roussillon, this is a blend of 60% grenache, and 40% syrah. It is full-bodied, but well balanced with plum-like, dark fruit flavors and a peppery finish. An appropriate companion to the “Not Your Mama’s Stuffed Bells.”

Not Your Mama’s Stuffed Bells

Ingredients:

-Four large red bell peppers
-Two cups of chicken stock
-One-half sweet onion
-Two slices of thick cut bacon
-One cup of farro
-Two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
-Two cloves of garlic.
-One cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
-Two tablespoons of chopped parsley
-Four leaves of fresh basil
-One-half yellow bell pepper
-One hot banana pepper (optional)
-One medium sized cooking pot and sauté ‘pan
-One large bowl and one casserole dish
-One large sheet of plastic wrap
-Two paper towel sheets, one sheet of aluminum foil
-One teaspoon each salt and pepper

Preparation

Roast peppers on stove top, oven or grill until peels are scorched
Place roasted peppers in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap for half hour
Use a small paring knife to remove scorched pepper skins
Cut a circle into the top of each pepper and discard stem
Pour farro into colander and rinse thoroughly in cold water
Bring chicken stock to a boil, add farro
Turn heat to low and cook farro until al dente (approximately 20 minutes)
Dice bacon and sauté until slightly brown in one tablespoon of olive oil
Remove bacon with slotted spoon and place on paper towel
Add remaining olive oil to pan and saute’ diced onion, garlic, yellow and banana peppers
Mix cooked farro, sauteed vegetables, parsley, bacon and cheese to large bowl
Stuff each pepper with mixture, place in casserole and cover with foil
Bake in a 350-degree F oven for 50 minutes, uncover and cook for 10 more minutes
Serve and accompany with a green salad in a vinaigrette dressing

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com

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).

The midweek evening dinner
Food: Oven Roasted whole chicken, green beans with onions and bacon and scalloped potatoes.
Wine: 2019 Bisci Verdicchio di Matelica ($23) -Lovely white from the Marche region of Italy. Crisp and fresh with flavors of ripe green apples. This wine is an excellent choice with chicken.
Music: The Yellow Jackets, Diana Krall, Frank Sinatra, The Bob Thompson Unit, Miles Davis

Picnic on the deck
Food: Hamburgers, hot dogs, red and yellow bell peppers, and onions all grilled; macaroni salad and baked beans
Wine: 2019 Elizabeth Spenser Rose’ of Grenache ($22) – From Mendocino County CA, this pink wine is full of fresh raspberry and strawberry flavors and has the body to stand up to grilled foods such as the menu above.

Music: John Prine, Susan Tedeschi, Emmy Lou Harris, Lake Street Dive, Alison Krauss, Steve Earle, Kathy Mattea

Sunday Supper
Food: Fettucine with porcini mushrooms and Italian sausage in a marinara sauce; green garden salad with tomatoes and onions in a viniagrette dressing

Wine: 2017 Allegrini Palazzo Della Torre ($23) – From the Veneto region in northern Italy, this rich red is spicy and has flavors of blackberries and cola with nuances of vanilla from moderate oak aging. Pairs perfectly with spicy marinara.
Music: The Three Tenors, Andrea Bocelli, Dean Martin, Louis Prima (for kicks and giggles)

So, if you’re looking for a way to rekindle your passion for wine, you might try and add a little music to the experience.

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com

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.

Balance – A wine is balanced when the sugar or alcohol and the acid are in harmony with no one element overwhelming the other.

Complex – Layers of flavor components that combine to achieve harmony.

Crisp – Refers to the acidity in the wine as in a “crisp” white wine.

Corked – A wine that has an unpleasant “wet cardboard” taste or smell. Reason is thought to be chemical changes in the wine caused by inadequately sterilized corks.

Creamy- Refers to the “silk-like” feel in the mouth of wines as opposed to the “tart/crisp” taste component.

Finish – Describes a wine that has a pleasant aftertaste and feel.

Flabby – A wine which is overly-full bodied, has too much alcohol and is out of balance. (Could also be descriptive of the image I see in the mirror every day)

Fruity – Wines which exhibit fruitiness either in the aroma or in the taste. Wine is sometimes described as tasting like a specific fruit (i.e., apples, apricots, etc.).

Mellow – An absence of harshness or tannin and a smooth wine.

Nose – A general term that describes the aroma and bouquet of the wine.

Oak – A wine is correctly “oaked” when the “nose” carries a whiff of vanilla from being aged in oak barrels. Oak flavors can overpower some wines though.

Rich – Wine is rich when it is mouth–filling, smooth and luscious.

Robust – Describes a full-bodied or possibly heavy wine.

Tannin – A naturally occurring chemical substance in grapes, particularly noticeable in red wine. Tannin can allow wine to age gracefully.

Terroir – French term for all the characteristics of the vineyard site thought to be imparted to a particular wine. It includes the vineyard site, the soil, climate and other attributes that can affect the vineyard and resulting wine.

I hope some of the words and phrases above will increase your understanding and enjoyment of wine. You might even be able to come up with a few new descriptors of your own. And hopefully, my summaries of the two wines below are understandable, appropriate and encourage you to give them a try.

2019 J. Lohr Arroyo Seco Chardonnay ($18) – This Monterey County chardonnay has aromas of just baked bread and ripe green apples. It is a creamy, but well balanced wine with flavors of ripe peaches and citrus followed by nuances of vanilla from this lightly oaked wine. Would be a lovely pairing with Chilean sea bass or chicken cordon bleu.

2017 Markham Napa Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($45) – Juicy and rich with chewy tannins, this full bodied cabernet from Napa is a wine you’ll want to decant an hour or two before consuming. Dark fruit like plumbs and black cherries, along with cola and tea flavors highlight this wine that would make a great accompaniment to grilled beef or lamb chops. It’s also a wine that will benefit from aging for a decade or more.

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com

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

Ingredients:

-One pork tenderloin (one to two pounds)
-Three garlic cloves peeled
-One medium red bell pepper diced
-One-half cup of freshly squeezed orange juice
-Two tablespoons of freshly squeezed lime juice
-One tablespoon each of kosher salt and ground cumin
-One-half teaspoon each of dried oregano, black pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper
-One teaspoon of neutral oil – like grape seed or canola
-Eight small red and yellow bell peppers or two large ones quartered
-One orange and two ripe avocados quartered; and one lemon sliced into 1/8 inch rounds
-One small bunch of green onions cleaned

Preparation:

Combine garlic, orange and lime juice, diced pepper, salt, cumin, black pepper, paprika and cayenne pepper in a blender
Process ingredients until smooth and pour into a large zip lock plastic bag
Place pork in the bag and marinate for 12 hours or overnight
Prepare a charcoal or gas grill
Remove pork from marinade and pat dry and rub with the neutral oil
Grill peppers, avocados, green onions, lemon and oranges until seared and put aside
Grill pork until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees F
Allow pork to rest for 10 minutes and then carve it into quarter inch thick slices
Place pork on a platter with avocados, oranges, peppers, lemon slices and onions around it

We accompanied the pork mojo with a side dish of spicy Cuban black beans and rice, and I opened two red wines to pair with the meal that worked exceptionally well. Both wines really enhanced the nuanced citrus notes in the grilled pork mojo. Give one, or both of these wines a try:

2010 Beronia Gran Riserva Rioja ($32) – One of the advantages of drinking Rioja is the ability of the wine to age well for a decade or more. This Spanish red is composed mainly of tempranillo and was aged in oak for three years before bottling. It is full of dark fruit flavors and just a touch of vanilla from the oak.

2016 Luigi Righetti Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico ($37) – From the Veneto region of northern Italy, this Amarone is chock full of bright cherry fruit with an undercurrent of mocha and spice. It is an exceptionally well made wine with the requisite acidity to balance the richness of the oak enhanced flavors.

So fire up the grill and try this recipe. You’ll find your Mojo with this Moho!

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com

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. And then I tasted the Mouton. Tannic, tight and a bit of sour grape flavors predominated. Heck, there are more vibrant aromas and flavors in grape Kool-Aid than in this wine, I remembered thinking. 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.

But it’s amazing what a few decades of bottle age in proper storage conditions will do to allow wine from a good vintage to shine. This time the wine was everything I had expected it to be when I opened the first bottle – way too early. Aromas of tack room, mint and toast were followed flavors of dark berries, muted mocha, licorice and spice. In my experience with older wines, full flavored foods can sometimes overwhelm them, but we took a chance anyway and paired the wine with a perfectly grilled bone-in ribeye.

The result was spectacular! Remarkably, the wine is also still slightly tannic so I assume it will continue to age gracefully for at least another decade and I would love to taste it again. Surprisingly, the wine is still available for purchase, but I probably won’t find it at the $50 dollar a bottle futures price I paid back in 1983. The lowest price I could find online for the wine was $1750.

As an interesting aside, Mouton Rothschild has commissioned many famous artists and celebrities through the years to design their labels. For the ’82 Mouton, the winery asked Academy Award winning director and artist, John Huston, to paint something for the label. His watercolor painting depicts a ram leaping in joy with the sun and a bunch of grapes in the background. Inscribed under the painting is a note from Huston to his friend and winery owner Baron Phillipe Rothschild which reads: “In celebration of my beloved friend Baron Philippe’s sixtieth harvest at Mouton.”

Word to the wise: If you really love the wines of Bordeaux, ask your wine merchant about purchasing Bordeaux futures. You’ll definitely get the best price possible. And then resist the temptation to drink the wine before its time!

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com

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.

Hot dogs and Sausages: I’m an advocate of splitting my dogs and sausages long-ways in order to get as many surfaces of the meat grilled and crisp. The saltiness and spice of these hearty tube steaks makes them a perfect match with refreshing and thirst-quenching dry roses’ from producers like Elizabeth Spenser (California) Domaine Tempier Bandol Rose (France) and Mulderbosch Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon (South Africa).

Rib eye or strip steak: Nothing is more hedonistically appealing to me than beefsteak grilled to perfection. I’ll have my beef purveyor cut my steak into one and one-half inch thick pieces and then I’ll rub them with a clove of garlic, kosher salt, coarsely ground black pepper and olive oil before placing the meat on the grill and cooking them until medium-rare. No wine is more appropriate to serve with this lovely grilled meat than cabernet sauvignon, particularly ones from northern California. Here are some of my favorite labels: Provenance, Franciscan, Shaffer, Alexander Valley Vineyards, Silver Oak, Heitz, St. Supery and Clos Du Val.

Marinated Vegetables: As an accompaniment to any meat or fish dish or as a stand-alone meal, you must try grilling vegetables. You can use any combination of the following: lengthwise pieces of red and yellow bell peppers; peeled and sliced zucchinis and yellow squash; a large onion cut into quarter inch circles; asparagus spears; hot banana peppers sliced lengthwise; a bulb of sliced fennel; a head of radicchio halved; and Portobello mushrooms cut in half. Make a marinade of extra virgin olive oil, minced garlic, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and basil. Mix and then immerse the vegetables in the marinade for about an hour before grilling. Pair the grilled veggies with sauvignon blanc from La Crema and St. Supery (California) or Whitehaven and Kim Crawford (New Zealand).

Salmon: I love me some salmon on the grill! Brush two eight ounce, skin-off salmon filets (or a whole side of salmon) with a glaze composed of minced garlic and jalapenos, soy sauce, honey, cumin and olive oil. Brush on before grilling and then again when you turn the salmon. Salmon likes smoke and just loves sweet and heat. The perfect wine accompaniment to the dish is pinot noir. Try one of these beauties: Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve and Lange Estate (Oregon); Melville Santa Rita Hills, Domaine Carneros and Etude (California).

Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend and happy summertime grilling!

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com

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 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.

I suggest pairing this with Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. This medium bodied, rich and well-balanced red wine is full of ripe cherry flavors and hails from the Abruzzi region. It is a very compatible partner to the Bolognese.

Wild Mushroom Sagnarelli – This is a lovely blend of wild porcini mushrooms, pancetta and sun-dried tomatoes in a light cream sauce. Sagnarelli is a type of rectangular, flat ribbon-like pasta which holds the sauce perfectly. My vinous choice for the dish is Mer Soleil Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay. From California’s central coast, the wine is round, rich and earthy which makes it a perfect choice to accompany and compliment the wild mushroom Sagnarelli.

1010 Bridge is a restaurant born in the middle of last year’s Covid pandemic. Huh? To say that owners Aaron and Marie Clark were bold might be an understatement. But with their decades of working in the restaurant and catering businesses and with the able assistance of Chef Paul Smith, that confidence to move forward in such a challenging year has been rewarded. And we wine and food lovers are the beneficiaries of their success.

1010 occupies the same physical space as the former restaurant, The Market, in South Hills on Bridge Road. Aaron Clark describes the menu as Appalachian with Low Country influences. I’ve visited the restaurant several times and I believe it is among the best eateries in the state. Here are two of my favorite menu items with recommended wines.

Cast Iron Seared “1010 Cut.” The cut of beef used is terres major and it’s about the size of a pork tenderloin. It is also the second most tender piece of meat on the whole cow – second only to the tenderloin. The dish is sauced with a cabernet Bordelais jus and accompanied by lobster mac & cheese, candied brussel sprouts and a foie-gras truffle butter. Sounds like a weird hodge-podge of ingredients, but it is succulent and delicious.

This complex menu item needs an equally complex wine. I chose Terre Rouge Tete-A-Tete which is a Cote Du Rhone-like red from the Sierra Foothills of California. Tete-A-Tete is a blend of 43 percent each of Grenache and mourvedre and 14 percent syrah and it can stand up to and enhance the flavors of the terres major cut.

Pan Seared Sea Scallops. Perfectly pan seared sea scallops with a sherry-chive pan sauce are atop Hernshaw Farms mushroom risotto and along a side of sautéed spinach. Such an opulent entrée needs a chardonnay that offers richness, but which also has contrasting and refreshing acidity to keep the dish in balance. The St. Supery Oak Free Chardonnay is the perfect choice to pair with this superb entrée.

The restaurant industry is such an important part of our community so I hope you’ll go out to support them and celebrate the end (hopefully) of a very trying time.

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com

 

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.

2018 Trimbach Reserve Pinot Gris ($24)– From the region of Alsace in eastern France, this crisp white has aromas of freshly cut ripe apple and tastes of nuts, citrus and honey. It would marry particularly well with Seder chicken, matzo ball soup and gefilte fish.

Many other American households will feature baked ham or roasted lamb as the centerpieces of their Easter meal. If that’s your choice, I have a couple of wine suggestions to share with you.
Most hams you’ll find at the local supermarket are pre-cooked and only require you to bake them at a low temperature (usually ten minutes per pound at 325 degrees) before serving them. You’ll probably want to brush on a brown sugar -or some other type of sweet glaze -before baking the ham. I really love to pair these pre-cooked hams with rose’.

Here’s one for you to try: 2019 Vin de Prairie Rose’ ($17) -From Provence in southern France, this pale, salmon-colored wine has flavors of ripe strawberries with just a touch of citrus. This rose’ is also refreshing and thirst-quenching which makes it an especially good match with the (sometimes salty) baked ham.

A boned and butterflied leg of lamb will be the featured entrée at my home on Easter Sunday. Some of you may prefer a rack of lamb or even lamb chops. These are exceptional cuts of meat.

And yet, I know many people who won’t even give lamb a try – they think it has a baaad taste (sorry, I couldn’t resist). But I think just about every carnivore would enjoy the leg of lamb I’ll be preparing. I’ll rub the leg with coarsely ground black pepper, minced garlic and Kosher salt, and then marinate it overnight in a bath of olive oil, red wine, the juice and rind of three lemons along with more garlic and rosemary. Then I’ll roast that sucker to perfection on my trusty old charcoal grill.

Here are two recommendations for Easter lamb:

2016 Allegrini Palazzo Della Torre ($23) – This wine, from the Veneto region of northern Italy, features notes of dried cranberries with hints of dark chocolate and cola. It’s a medium-bodied red that has nice balancing acidity and will make a delicious accompaniment to the lamb.

2017 Provenance Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($38) -Dark cherry and berry flavors are rounded out by a kiss of oak in this rich and full-bodied Napa cabernet that will marry seamlessly with the spicy, grilled leg of lamb.

Happy Passover and Easter!

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com

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.

Pot Roast is a great wintertime dish. Slow cooked with onions, potatoes and carrots, I love the hearty beef flavors that can be greatly enhanced when the dish is accompanied by a full-bodied red wine like zinfandel. Among my favorites zins, Easton from Amador County and Seghesio from Sonoma pair wonderfully well with pot roast.

Chicken and dumplings are also on the menu at our home in the colder months. I just love the light and fluffy dumplings and tender breast meat all immersed in rich chicken broth. You will need a white wine with sufficient acid to pair well with this dish. Try these two sauvignon blancs from New Zealand: Kim Crawford and/or Whitehaven.

Pan fried pork chops are a staple in many kitchens, but the dish can be significantly elevated when paired with a simpatico red wine. Seasoned simply with salt and black pepper and dusted with flour, this all-American dish goes exceptionally well with Cotes Du Rhone from producers like Saint Cosme and Guigal. These supple reds from the Rhone region of southern France have black pepper aromas and dark fruit flavors.

Chili, with or without beans, is a hearty, spicy dish that would seem to pair better with that other (frothy) beverage more than it would from the fruit of the vine. But I’m going to suggest that you trade that hoppy carbonated brew for an upgrade to a scintillating, effervescent and delicious alternative – sparkling wine. And you don’t have to plunk down big bucks either! I suggest you try these inexpensive, but excellent sparklers with your pot of chili: Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava from Spain and Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noir Rose from Sonoma County.

So, there you have it: wines for the meals you’ll fix on just about any day of the week – even Saturday. But make something special for Uncle Homer and pour him a nice glass of wine. There weren’t many food and wine pairings in the Big House.

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com