Vines & Vittles

Wines for your holiday shopping

It’s beginning to look a lot like… time to go holiday shopping for wine. And in an effort to assist you in your search for that perfect vinous gift, I have listed some of my favorite wines from the past year with, of course, food pairing suggestions. I wish you all a very happy holiday! Here you go.

2017 Izadi Blanco Rioja ($20) –From Rioja in northern Spain, this white, comprised of 80% Viura and 20% Malvasia, was barrel fermented for three months in French oak and features flavors of ripe apples and citrus. Round and ripe, it would be excellent paired with Paella or grilled monk fish.

2014 Collefrisio Confronto Bianco ($36) – This Italian white from Abruzzo is a chardonnay-like blend of pinot grigio and pecorino (the grape not the cheese) that is a rich and round, medium to full bodied wine. With almond and brioche nuances, this white would be a perfect match to veal saltimbocca.

2015 Mer Soleil Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay ($30) This is a rich, yet perfectly balanced, chardonnay that has hints of vanilla on the nose and a creamy mouth feel with ripe apple flavors and refreshing acidity. This would be lovely paired with chicken cordon bleu.

2016 Mastroberadino Fiano di Avellino ($30)- One of the characteristics of this white wine from the Campania region of Italy (in the hills above Naples) is the nutty, round and rich flavors of Fiano. It also has some citrus and mineral notes and should be a perfect match to the complex flavors of rigatoni with peas and Italian sausage in an alfredo sauce.

2014 Montefalco Sagrantino ($40) – From Umbria just north of Rome, Sagrantino is a rich, medium-bodied red wine and is also the name of the grape from which it is made. Ripe black cherries, tea and hints of smoke characterize this tannic red. This would be a delicious accompaniment to veal osso buco.

2015 Ridge Geyserville Zinfandel ($44) – This wine, with flavors of blackberries, cola and spice, is round, rich and silky. It’s an elegant zin that would be heavenly paired with a butterflied leg of lamb that has been rubbed with coarsely ground black pepper, kosher salt and garlic, and then marinated overnight in a bath of red wine, olive oil, lemons and rosemary before being grilled over a charcoal fire.

2013 Sant’Antonio Paradiso ($30) – From Italy’s Veneto region, this medium-bodied red is full of ripe cherry flavors with just a touch of oak on the finish. Try it with barbecued baby back ribs that have been dry-rubbed with black pepper, kosher salt, brown sugar and cayenne pepper.

2013 Luna de Esperanza Super Premium Malbec ($39)- This malbec from the Mendoza region of Argentina has hints of blackberries and coffee. The medium tannins mask the silky texture of this lovely bottle that would be a perfect accompaniment to grilled hanger steak with a green chimichurri sauce.

2015 Anderson’s Conn Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – ($60) –Rich, ripe and chock full of chocolate, mocha and cola flavors, this wine is a keeper. The wine offers aromas of currants and spice with hints of toasty oak. Decant the wine for at least an hour and then serve it as a delicious accompaniment to roasted prime rib.

2015 Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir ($75) – My all-time favorite Oregon pinot noir, the Evenstad Reserve is consistently excellent year after year. Ripe dark cherries, spice and tea combine on the palate and are enhanced by a kiss of oak. Drink this wine with a Christmas ham or roasted turkey.

Wines for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of our most cherished national holidays. It is a time to remember the sacrifices and contributions of the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock nearly 500 years ago. We’ll celebrate our national heritage with a feast like no other replete with foods that are produced or grown in the good old USA.

With turkey (our “National Bird”) as the centerpiece of the meal, we will consume, among other culinary delights, a cornucopia of uniquely American dishes such as sweet and/or mashed potatoes, cornbread or chestnut stuffing, cranberry relish and pumpkin pie.

So you might be surprised to know that the first wine I’ll lead off with to toast Thanksgiving dinner this year will be from … France!

Why, you might ask, would I not celebrate this uniquely American meal with wine produced in our own country? Well, before you get your red, white and blue undies in a tangle, please know that I will be using American wines too – just not to begin with.

You see, there is another date – Thursday, November 15 -that should have particular significance for wine lovers everywhere. That’s when Beaujolais Nouveau – the first wine of the 2018 vintage – was released in France and is now available in the US- even here West Virginia.

Beaujolais Nouveau is a fun sipper full of fresh strawberry and cherry flavors that is produced from the gamay grape, and it’s only two months old when it arrives in wine shops and cafes around the world. I plan on using the nouveau this year as an aperitif before our Thanksgiving dinner.

After the Beaujolais Nouveau I plan to open a bottle of Trimbach pinot gris from Alsace for those at my dinner table who prefer white wine. I will also open an Oregon pinot noir for those who would like red. (I’ll have a little of each). For dessert, I will chose a bottle of Chateau St. Jean Late Harvest riesling to accompany the pumpkin pie, and then I’ll plop down on the couch to watch some NFL team hand the Detroit Lions THEIR lunch.

You can really have fun selecting wines for Thanksgiving because the meal can be successfully paired with white or red, as well as light or full-bodied wines. That’s because turkey is blessed with meat that has different flavors, colors and textures. Add to this the manner in which it is cooked – from traditional oven baking, to deep frying, to grilling, to smoking (with hardwood such as apple) -and you have even more wine choices from which to select. Stuffing for the turkey adds a whole other flavor dimension which, depending upon the nature of the dressing, opens up even more vinous pairing possibilities.

Here are a few wine-pairing suggestions, based upon cooking methods, for your Thanksgiving Day feast:

The traditional oven-roasted turkey with a mild sage dressing is very nicely accompanied by whites such as Alsatian riesling, California sauvignon blanc or a steely chardonnay like Chablis. For reds, you might try a Washington State merlot, Brunello Di Montalcino from Tuscany, or a Bordeaux blend from Napa.

For those intrepid souls who choose to smoke or charcoal grill the National Bird, I suggest pairing this spicy, smoky meal with pinot noir from either California or Oregon, petite sirah or zinfandel from California or Chateauneuf Du Pape from France.

And with dessert – whether it’s pumpkin pie and whipped cream or some other belly-buster- you might select a California late harvest riesling or a moscato from the Piedmont region in northern Italy.

Here’s wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Malbec – better than ever!

I had never been a great fan of malbec, a grape that traditionally served as one of the five vinous components in red Bordeaux. Malbec is used to add weight and color to the Bordeaux blend, which may also be comprised of varying amounts of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and petit verdot.

But, in the past few decades, malbec has helped put Argentina on the world wine map as a single varietal. Malbec was first planted there in the late 1800’s, but it languished for decades as just another red wine. However, in the 1990’s vintners began to adopt better vineyard practices and started using up-to-date wine making equipment to produce a malbec that quickly became an international favorite.

But I had never been fond of the wine. It seemed to me to be a bit over done, too rough around the edges and too tannic for my palate. I tried several different producers’ wines, but most of what was being made was just “too in your face” for me.

But a few years back, things began to change for the better. Some producers, particularly those in the high altitude Mendoza region of Argentina, began to make malbec that was significantly more drinkable. For me, the improvement can be expressed in one word: balance.

That had always been the missing ingredient in Argentinean malbec. In the Mendoza region where vineyards are planted at altitudes exceeding 3000 feet, malbec benefits from not only warm sunny days, but also from very cool nights that give the grapes enough natural acidity to balance the ample sugar, and assist in producing a very drinkable wine.

But of all the good Malbec I‘ve had in the past couple of years, none compares with three wines I had the pleasure of sipping recently at one of the JQ Dickinson Salt-Works’ farm to table dinners. The dinner, exquisitely prepared by Chef Paul Smith of Buzz Food Service, paired three Argentinean courses with three malbecs from Luna De Esperanza, a small American-owned winery.

Luna De Esperanza is located in the Uco Valley of Mendoza at more than 3700 feet above sea level. The tiny three-acre vineyard produces three wines that are deep, rich, full-bodied and age worthy. They are also wonderfully balanced and definitely show their best when paired with complementary foods such as the dishes prepared at the JQ Dickinson dinner. The three wines are available at the Wine Shop at Capitol Market.

2014 Luna De Esperanza Grand Blend ($49) – This blend of 70 percent malbec along with 10 percent each of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and syrah is aged for 18 months in new French oak. With flavors of mocha and spice and nuances of licorice and cola, this is a very tannic, but well-balanced, wine. The Grand Blend was deliciously paired with two types of grilled sausages.

2013 Luna de Esperanza Super Premium Malbec, Uco Valley ($39)- Slightly lighter in texture than the Grand Blend, this malbec (90 percent) along with equal parts of cabernet franc and syrah has hints of blackberries and coffee. The medium tannins mask the silky texture of this lovely bottle. Paul Smith matched this wine with grilled hanger steak with a green chimichurri sauce.

2013 Luna de Esperanza Barrel Fermented Malbec, Uco Valley ($69) –This massive, 100 percent malbec was fermented in older oak barrels before spending 24-months in new French oak. With decadent flavors of rich dark chocolate and toasty oak, the wine paired seamlessly with Dulce de Leche – a bitter sweet chocolate and heavy crème concoction that was truly over the top!

Grandma’s Marinara

It’s almost Columbus Day and in a tribute to that intrepid (if flawed) explorer, and to all things Italian, I will share with you a simple, but exquisite, recipe for making the perfect marinara sauce.

But first, let’s take a candid look at Christopher Columbus. Columbus spent most of his adult life trying (unsuccessfully) to convince the Italian government to underwrite a voyage to India where he promised to procure all manner of exotic spices. Undaunted, Columbus then went to Portugal where he lobbied King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

He pestered the king and queen so relentlessly that they finally gave in, secretly hoping that he, along with the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, would sail out of their lives and off the end of the world – which, of course, was flat back then.

You have to give it to Columbus, though. He was persistent and ultimately successful. But you also have to admit he was directionally challenged. Here’s a guy who traveled west to find a quicker route to the east and ended up discovering north…. AMERICA? But thanks to Columbus, my Italian grandparents also took the voyage from Europe to America, and I exist because of them – and him.

I have a multitude of wonderful memories of my Italian-American family, and of growing up in the North View section of Clarksburg. One of my most cherished and enduring recollections, though, is of my Grandma in her kitchen, lovingly making her delectable marinara sauce. The recipe below is a close approximation of her simple, yet delicious, creation.

One quick note about wine pairings with pasta marinara: You don’t necessarily need to use Italian wine. Any medium to full-bodied red will marry nicely with the spicy tomato sauce featured below. Here are two wines – one from Italy and one from France, you might consider.

2015 Domaine Lafage Bastide Miraflors Rouge ($17) – Composed of 70% syrah and 30% old vine grenache, this southern French red has loads of ripe blueberry and blackberry flavors. It is also spicy and a perfect match to the flavors in the marinara.

2014 Castello Di Albola Chianti Classico Riserva ($22) –This medium-bodied red has scents of new oak, and is an elegant and ripe sangiovese-based wine. Paired with Grandma’s marinara, the combination is truly simpatico.

Grandma’s Marinara

Two 28-ounce cans of San Marzano Italian whole tomatoes
One medium onion diced
One red bell pepper and one carrot diced
One hot Hungarian banana pepper diced (optional)
Four cloves of minced garlic
Two ounces each of fresh chopped basil and Italian parsley
One tablespoon of kosher salt
One teaspoon of coarsely ground black pepper
One-half teaspoon of ground cayenne or red pepper flakes (optional)
One-quarter teaspoon of dried oregano
One-quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil
One medium sized Hollywood pork boneless rib
One-quarter cup of Balsamic vinegar
One pound of linguini or fettuccine pasta
One half cup of grated pecorino romano cheese
One cup of grated parmesano reggiano cheese

How to:

Sauté the pork rib in olive oil in a large pot until browned on all sides
Remove pork from pot, add onions, peppers, carrots and sauté until translucent
Add garlic, salt, black pepper and dry oregano to pot
Open cans of tomatoes, add to pot and use a large fork to break up tomatoes
Add the fresh basil and parsley along with cayenne or red pepper flakes
Add Balsamic vinegar, pork rib and pecorino romano to the sauce
Cook over medium heat for 1/12 hours, stirring regularly
Place pasta in boiling water, cook until al dente and drain in a colander
Add half the marinara and all the pasta to a large sauté pan
Over low heat toss the pasta in the marinara to mix completely
Plate immediately adding more marinara sauce
Top the pasta marinara with grated parmesano reggiano

Lovely Fall Wines

It’s Labor Day weekend and I’m smiling ear to ear.

Why? Well, it’s almost fall and that means football season has arrived, leaves on the trees will soon be painting our beautiful mountains with a palette of autumn colors and, best of all, the harvesting of wine grapes is in full swing.

In my little corner of the world, the harvest also means a few hardy souls will join me in transforming some of those grapes into wine right here in West-By-Golly. As a matter of fact, this old geezer has been making wine each fall since 1977.

Since I’m not a formally trained wine maker or a chemist, I have learned from other more experienced amateurs how, for example, to use my eyes, nose and taste buds to determine how to coax the best from the grapes or juice I’m fermenting. I’ve also come to the conclusion that a good home wine maker is, first and foremost, a good steward (i.e., keep equipment clean, the barrels topped up, don’t use too much sulfite, etc.).

 

Over the years, I have used a number of different varietals to make wine, including cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, syrah, petit sirah, grenache, zinfandel and sangiovese. And yes, I am an amateur, but I’m also serious about trying to capture the best possible flavors from the grapes or juice I buy. So, assuming that I acquire reasonably good grapes, I can usually produce a very drinkable wine.

And while I’ve made a lot of good wine over the years, I know most of you will never engage in the process of producing your own wine. So, today I’m going to recommend several wines that will complement your enjoyment of fall. Whether you’re tailgating before that big game, enjoying a hike in our majestic mountains or picnicking in your back yard, you might give these vinous lovelies a try.

2017 Chateau Ferry Lacombe Mira Rose’ ($18) – Ripe strawberry flavors highlight this dry rose’ from Provence in southern France. Pale orange in color, this wine is round, yet has excellent balance and would be a superb accompaniment to a cheese soufflé’.

2017 Izadi Blanco Rioja ($20) –From Rioja in northern Spain, this white, comprised of 80% Viura and 20% Malvasia, was barrel fermented for three months in French oak and features flavors of ripe apples and citrus. Round and ripe, it would be excellent paired with Paella or grilled monk fish.

2014 Collefrisio Confronto Bianco ($36) – This Italian white from Abruzzo in Italy is a chardonnay-like blend of pinot grigio and pecorino (the grape not the cheese) that is a rich and round, medium to full bodied wine. With almond and brioche nuances, this white would be a perfect match to veal saltimbocca.

2015 Zenato Valpolicella Superiore ($17) – From the Veneto region in northern Italy, this Valpolicella is a delicious quaff with flavors of ripe cherries and spice. This medium-bodied red would make a great accompaniment to chicken grilled and basted with a sweet barbecue sauce.

2015 Domaine Lafage Bastide Miraflors Rouge ($17) – This blend of syrah (70%) and grenache (30%) is a ripe, inky, purple mouthful of wine with smoky, blackberry flavors. Silky and smooth, this French red from Languedoc needs to be paired with a full-flavored meat dish such as smoked beef brisket.

2015 Argiolas Costera Cannonau di Sardegna ($20) – From the island of Sardinia, this ripe grenache has fruit-forward flavors of dark cherries and black pepper. Aged in French oak, drink it with grilled Italian sausage and fried (sweet) bell and (hot) banana peppers.

In my last column, I listed eight West Virginia restaurants that received special recognition from the Wine Spectator Magazine for their exceptional wine lists. It turns out, though, that there were eleven.

The three I left out are the Bavarian Inn in Shepardstown (which received a “Best of Awards of Excellence”) along with Savannah’s Restaurant and Bistro in Huntington and Final Cut Steakhouse in Charles Town- both of which received “Awards of Excellence.”

One of the most important Latin phrases I learned as an altar boy at St. James Catholic Church in Clarksburg some 60 years ago was “mea culpa.” Strictly translated into English mea culpa means “through my fault.” In a prayer called the “Confiteor” at the beginning of the Catholic mass, parishioners repeat, “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa” as a way of repenting for their sins.

During a lifetime full of embarrassing blunders, I’ve had to invoke that phrase much too often, and I was about to use it today to beg forgiveness for the egregious error I made in my last column. But before I dawn my sackcloth and ashes and seek your forbearance, there is more to the story.

When I went online to the Wine Spectator site to determine which WV restaurants achieved the award designations, only eight eateries were listed, and those are the ones I wrote about in my last column. However, the print edition of the magazine, which must have come out after the online story, lists eleven.

So yes, I screwed up, but I had some help. And while I’ll say mea culpa, mea culpa, I ain’t saying mea MAXIMA culpa!

                                                                                  ***
I have tasted some excellent wines recently that you may wish to seek out. The first two wines listed below are from the Languedoc region of southern France and were presented at one of the Capitol Market Wine Shop’s recent tastings. Trying to pronounce theirlong names will make you thirsty – but that’s a good thing.

2016 Chapoutier Bila-Haut Cotes du Roussillon Blanc ($14) – This blend of grenache blanc and grenache gris has some surprising heft to it. The wine has aromas of citrus and slate-like minerality with flavors of ripe pears, anise and toasted almonds. This would be a treat to pair with a grilled, rich, white fish like grouper or Chilean sea bass.

2017 Chateau Coupe Roses Bastide Minervois ($16) – This was a total and very pleasant surprise! Zinfandel-like, this blend of grenache and carignane is full of ripe blackberry flavors with spicy black pepper notes. It is round and rich, yet has a nice dollop of balancing acidity. Try this with barbecued baby back ribs slathered with a Kansas City-style sauce.

2014 Montefalco Sagrantino ($40) – From Umbria just north of Rome, Sagrantino is a rich, medium-bodied wine and is also the name of the grape from which it is made. Ripe black cherries, tea and hints of smoke characterize this tannic red. I would advise decanting it for at least an hour before drinking. This would be a delicious accompaniment to veal osso buco.

State Wine Spectator Award Winners

I spend a considerable amount of time cruising around our town and state in search of the perfect dining experience. Of course, an essential component of any excellent meal is an appropriately matched wine that is reasonably priced.

We are blessed in the Kanawha Valley to have several fine dining establishments with very good wine lists. I am always on the lookout for those eateries that understand the importance of wine and attempt to craft a list that complements their specific menu.

So today, I’ll report to you on the best wine restaurants in West Virginia as rated annually by The Wine Spectator magazine. Wine and food lovers in our state should be proud to know that eight West Virginia establishments are among those receiving the lofty honors in 2018.

According to the magazine, Wine Spectator’s restaurant awards program recognizes places whose wine lists offer interesting selections, are appropriate to the cuisine and appeal to a wide range of wine lovers. To qualify for an award, the list must present complete and accurate wine information and it must include vintages and appellations for all selections, including wines by the glass.

The three categories of awards are: “Awards of Excellence;” “Best of Awards of Excellence;” and the “Grand Award.” Only 2453 restaurants across world have received the “Award of Excellence,” including six restaurants in our state. Two other WV restaurants received “Best of Awards of Excellence. ” That’s quite an honor since only 1215 restaurants on the planet achieved that distinction. And only 91 restaurants around the world received the highest honor. Unfortunately, none are located in our state – yet.

The state restaurants receiving “Awards of Excellence” are: Bridge Road Bistro; The Chop House; and The South Hills Market and Café – all in Charleston; The Wonder Bar Steakhouse in Clarksburg; Provence Market Café in Bridgeport; and Sargasso in Morgantown. The two restaurants that received “Best of Awards of Excellence” designations are: The Greenbrier’s Main Dining Room in White Sulphur Springs and Spats Restaurant in Parkersburg (at the Blennerhassett Hotel).

The Wine Spectator recognition is a special tribute to the winners in the Mountain State, and we lovers of wine should do our best to patronize these restaurants. We should also encourage our other favorite eateries to upgrade their lists and/or submit them to the magazine for future consideration.

Here in Charleston, one restaurant that should considering entering their wine list for a Spectator award is Laury’s. Not only do they have some of the best food in the city, but they also have the most comprehensive and reasonably priced wine list too. Other restaurants in town that should consider submitting their lists are: The Block; Paterno’s At the Park; Noah’s Restaurant and Lounge; Bricks and Barrels; and The Barge Restaurant.

Restaurants wanting to have their wine lists evaluated by The Wine Spectator for a possible award should contact the magazine at www.winespectator.com on the criteria for each award level. Applications must be submitted Dec. 1, through Dec. 31, 2018 for consideration.

Pappardelle for Papa’s Day

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads and grand dads everywhere! And since I qualify in both categories, I put in my request for a Father’s Day meal a few weeks back. As a matter of fact, I actually cooked the delicious dish I am sharing with you today back then. I want it again!

I know, I know… most of you guys out there in father land are probably going to be celebrating our day by eating a large piece of cow meat. And while I might just fire up the grill this afternoon for an accompanying rib eye, I’m definitely going to make my mushroom and pea pappardelle pasta dish the centerpiece of this hallowed holiday.

So if it’s too late for your chef de cuisine to change the meal plan today – or to add to the holiday menu – hang on to the recipe below because it is a WINNER! But whenever you decide to try the dish, be advised that while I would opt for a full-bodied white wine to pair it with, you could also accompany it with a silky red.

Here are my white and red wine suggestions for this exquisite pasta dish.

2016 Mastroberadino Fiano di Avellino ($30)- One of the characteristics of this white wine from the Campania region of Italy (in the hills above Naples) is the nutty, round and rich flavors of Fiano. It also has some citrus and mineral notes and should be a perfect match to the complex flavors in the pasta dish. If you can’t find Fiano, you can substitute it with a white like friulano or even a rich chardonnay.

2016 Allegrini Valpolicella Classico ($17) – This lighter-styled, silky red is full of fruit forward and ripe cherry flavors. It is perfectly balanced and refreshing with enough acid to be a counterpoint to the richness of the pasta.

Mushroom and Peas Pappardelle

One pound of pappardelle pasta
One half pound of mixed mushrooms (shitake, oyster, baby portabella, etc.)
Three ounces of extra virgin olive oil
One tablespoon of butter
One small Vidalia onion and one clove of garlic
Four ounces of green peas (preferably fresh spring peas)
One-half cup of chicken stock
Three ounces of dry white wine
Three tablespoons of heavy cream
One tablespoon each of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
One tablespoon of chopped Italian parsley
One teaspoon of red pepper flakes (optional)
Eight or ten cherry tomatoes

Grate one-half pound of Parmigiano Reggiano (or other good grating cheese)
Slice tomatoes in half and thinly slice the onion and garlic
Shuck fresh peas or thaw out frozen green peas
Clean mushrooms with a damp cloth and slice into quarter inch pieces
Sauté onions in olive oil and half the butter until translucent
Add peas, mushrooms and garlic to sauté pan and cook for about three minutes
Pour in chicken stock and white wine and cook for about five minutes
Turn heat down to simmer
Add pappardelle to boiling water and cook until al dente
Drain pappardelle reserving one-half cup pasta water
Add pasta to the simmering mushrooms and peas
Add the remaining butter and pour in heavy cream and pasta water
Sprinkle in the salt, pepper and red pepper flakes
Add the cheese and toss the mixture until it’s all integrated
Sprinkle parsley and more cheese on each plate of pasta
Serve immediately

Buon Appetito!

Wines for picnic meals

Can anyone find spring? I think Mother Nature must have benched spring this year for not showing up with more energy and intensity. It seems like we have sprung directly from winter to summer.

Anyway, Memorial Day weekend is upon us and, while this is a solemn holiday, it also heralds the official start of the picnic and barbecue season. And it’s also time to transition from the heavy wines of the cooler months in favor of lighter-styled whites, roses’ and reds.

Of course, you’ll need to pair these vinous lovelies with appropriate hunks of protein like red meat, chicken, fish and pork as well as fresh garden vegetables. And the best way to enjoy warm weather food is to cook it in the great out-of-doors on your trusty charcoal or gas grill. So let’s talk about the most common picnic type foods you will be preparing this summer and which wines are most compatible with them.

If you’re like me, you don’t mind wolfing down an occasional (less than healthful) food product. I cherish those increasingly infrequent times when I toss caution to the wind and select hot dogs, Italian sausage, chorizo, kielbasa or smoked meats like ham for the grill. I love to match these humble offerings with lighter styled reds like Beaujolais, cabernet franc or grenache-based wines such as those found in the southern Rhone. I also love to pair them with chilled, fruit-forward and dry rose’.

For our vegetarian friends – or anyone else who wants to go meatless – there are wines for you too. Try using a crisp, herbaceous sauvignon blanc or a fresh and fruity pinot grigio with grilled veggies like asparagus, broccoli or with sweet, or with multi-colored bell peppers. You might whip up a cold penne pesto pasta salad -composed of basil, minced garlic, pecorino romano, and extra virgin olive oil – and pair it with albarino from Spain or picpoul de pinet from southern France.

How about scallops or lobster tails on the grill? You’ll want a rich, but well-balanced, chardonnay or a full-bodied and round white like friulano. This lovely wine from northeastern Italy is not well known, but it is worth searching out because it’s a delicious substitute for the ubiquitous (and sometimes over-used) chardonnay.

Sangiovese and pinot noir are my favorite red wines in the warm months, particularly when matched with dishes like barbecued baby back ribs or spiced up (cumin, ancho, cayenne, etc) skirt steak. These reds should be served slightly chilled and are particularly simpatico with spicy foods.

But the sine qua non of all warm weather dishes is red meat. And guess what? You don’t need to forego using full-bodied reds just because the ambient outdoor temperature is sizzling. Simply pop that big cabernet, zinfandel or petite sirah into the fridge for a half-hour or so before you’re ready to eat. Then enjoy that rib eye steak, rack of lamb or filet mignon with the full-flavored wines that were meant to be paired with them.

A sutble ramps recipe ?

If you’re a fan of ramps and willing to forego the traditional Mountain Mama recipes for this less than delicate lily, then boy do I have a culinary treat for you to consider.

Right now, many towns in the state are holding ramp feeds. However, I am not a fan of the traditional manner in which ramps are prepared at these dinners. Most folks fry them in lard or bacon grease and then add them to potatoes or pinto beans. I think they’re prepared in this manner to cover up their rather pungent taste and smell.

My favorite way to consume these babies is to grill them, particularly over charcoal, and feature them as an accompaniment to protein like beef, pork or chicken. I will also sauté ramps in olive oil with just about any vegetable dish from broccoli to green beans to zucchini.

But today’s recipe includes the use of ramps to help spark up the rather bland flavors of white fish such as grouper, cod or halibut, and demonstrates that these odiferous little lilies, if applied prudently, can actually have a subtle influence on a dish.

And this lovely rendition of ramps-enhanced seafood really marries well with
crisp, yet rich, white wines such as verdicchio from around the commune of Matelica in the Italian state of Marche. The verdicchio in this region is much superior to the wine made from the same grape in other parts of Italy.

Here’s my choice to pair with the following recipe:

2016 Bisci Verdicchio de Matelica ($18) – Round, ripe and crisp, this wine has the depth and freshness to enhance the flavors of the dish while also providing a refreshing and thirst-quenching attribute.

 

The Recipe

Two six ounce filets of firm white fish (grouper, cod or halibut)
Six to eight cleaned and ramps
Two ounces of extra virgin olive oil
One-half teaspoon of salt, black pepper and hot pepper flakes (optional)
Four ounces of dry white wine (I would use the verdicchio above)
One-half teaspoon of minced garlic
One half pound of asparagus cut into half inch pieces

Sauté in olive oil the ramps, asparagus, garlic until translucent
Add the white wine and sauté along with the ingredients above for 30 seconds
Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes
Remove sauté pan from heat
Sauté the fish -three minutes a side until firm
Reheat the sauté pan with the ramps and asparagus
Plate the fish and pour the ramp and wine sauce over the fish
Serve immediately