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:

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 ( 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)


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.


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.

Wines of Spain

June 2, 2015 by John Brown

One of the most alluring features of The Block –one of Charleston’s newest eateries – is the availability of a small plate menu where guests can choose the informality of casual dining and still be assured of a quality culinary experience.

These small plate, or tapas-style menus, originated in Spain and have become a pretty common option in American restaurants for the past several years. Spanish native and renowned chef, Jose Andres, introduced the cuisine to America in his restaurants.

Chosen as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2012, Andres owns Jaleo in Washington DC where his tapas menu is spectacular. I visited the restaurant on a recent trip and tasted my way through several lovely courses. And while the food was exceptional, I was equally awed by the amazing selection of Spanish wines, many of which are available by the glass.

Until the last decade, the only Spanish wines any of us knew about were the tempranilo-based reds of Rioja, the Cava’s (Sparkling wines) from the Penedes region and, of course, the fortified wine known as Sherry. Hey, these are wines worth drinking, but fortunately there is now an even greater selection from which to choose.

And they are wines, many from lesser-known appellations  in a country known more for bull fighting, that are worth searching out. For those of you who have limited experience with the wines of Spain, you might want to read on about the great selection of vinous products which are now making their way to our shores.

Jaleo Tapas - too pretty to eat -Not!

Jaleo Tapas – too pretty to eat – Not!

But first it might help to give you a little geographic perspective on where the vines are grown and how that geography is so important to the finished product. To make it as simple as possible (and nothing is simple in the world of wine), northern and central Spain are considered the nation’s best producing regions because of more hospitable weather and the influence of the sea and mountains

In the northwest region of Galicia, the cool Atlantic greatly influences what is produced with the most famous white – albarino- and the red –mencia – being the regions’ most sought after wines. Continuing east, the famous northern wine regions of La Rioja and Navarra produce some of the most sought after reds made predominately with grapes such as tempranillo and grenache.

One of the most exceptional appellations in the north central part of the country is Ribera del Duero where reds produced from tempranillo are among the best wines in all of Spain. Further east toward Barcelona and the Mediterranean, vintners in the Penedes appellation produce arguably the world’s second greatest sparkling wine (called Cava) made in the Champagne style. And in this region, the country’s best cabernet sauvignon is produced (my favorite for years has been the Torres Gran Coronas Reserva).

Among the most important regions of central Spain are the appellations of Priorat which produces consistently good old vine grenache and Rueda where the fruit-forward white made from verdejo is the pick. In southern Spain, the most famous wine is, of course, Sherry but increasingly the roses and whites of the Canary Islands are worth seeking out.

Here are some of my favorite Spanish wines you might try which are available in local fine wine shops:

Castillo Perelada Cava Brut Rosado ($12) -A blend of garnacha, pinot noir and trepat aged for 12 months prior to disgorging, this is a crisp and dry rose’ sparkler you might use as an aperitif or with a manchego cheese and chive omelet.

2013 Lagar de la Santina Albarino ($18) This white from Rias Baixas (pronounced ree-es buy-shez) in the Galicia region of northwestern Spain is crisp, round and full of citrus and mineral flavors. Match it up with cod quickly broiled in beurre blanc.

2010 Rotllan Torra Crianza Priorat ($19)- This silky blend of garnacha, mazuelo, and cabernet is a great introduction to the complexity of wines from the Priorat appellation. Blackberry and cola flavors combine to make this a wine to pair with roasted pork tenderloin that has been basted with a honey-chipotle glaze.

2011Chapillon Cuvee Harmonie ($20) An inky, full-bodied red made from 90% petit verdot in the Calatayud region of north central Spain, this wine is kind of like malbec on steroids. It is, however, a delicious mouthful of wine, particularly if matched up with smoked beef brisket slathered in a Kansas City-style barbecue sauce.

A sip off The old Block

May 11, 2015 by John Brown

Charleston’s newest restaurant – The Block – is an epicurean’s dream come true with a deliciously enticing menu and a wine list that is extensive and well thought out. I had heard good things for years about the wine and food at The Block’s sister restaurant- Wine Valley – located in a shopping mall in Winfield, but I had never taken the time to drive to Putnam County to taste for myself.

 The wine list at the Block does feature some of the usual suspects such as steak house cabernets and big rich chardonnays, but what sets this establishment apart from any other restaurant in the state (except perhaps The Greenbrier) is the focus on wines that are really meant to be enjoyed with the eclectic menu of small plates and full entrees.

Take, for example (as I did) the sampler appetizer that featured Marcona almonds, a crab cake, a  quinoa-feta salad dollop, thinly sliced Genoa salami and Tzatziki (yogurt and cucumber dip) accompanied by toasted pita wedges.  Talk about your opportunity to experiment with a whole host of wines!

I chose Bisci Verdicchio from around the commune of Matelica in the Italian state of Marche. The verdicchio grown and vinted in this part of Italy is much superior to the wine made from the same grape grown closer to the Adriatic Sea. Those wines can be light and almost tasteless. The Matelica region is further inland and in a less fertile area which forces the verdicchio vines to work harder, and the resulting wine to be fuller and richer.

The fact that owner Desislav (Des) Baklarov even found this verdicchio is testament to his impressive wine curiosity and knowledge. And, at $8 for a six-ounce glass, the wine is very reasonably priced. With almost 300 wines by the bottle to choose from and about 50 of them available by the glass, you will find wines from just about every major region on the planet. I know I did.

Owner Des Baklarov at The Block

Owner Des Baklarov at The Block

Perusing the wine list, I almost fell out of my seat when I spied a Spanish red that is extremely hard to find locally and which was the perfect match for the meal I later chose. Most normal people select the menu item before looking for a wine to pair with it.  Not yours truly.  I look for a wine first and then figure out what I am going to eat.

The 2012 Alto Moncayo Veraton Garnacha is a brooding, full-bodied, fruit-forward wine that Des decanted for me into a lovely crystal carafe. This old vine Grenache is grown and produced near the town of Borja in northeastern Spain. I chose the “French Pork Chop” to accompany the wine.  This tender, perfectly seasoned and grilled chop was just the entrée I needed to accompany this full-bodied red wine.  After about 15 minutes and for the next hour, the wine opened up beautifully and alas, like all good wines, the last sip was the best

Hey, but I wasn’t finished.  I could not resist choosing from among the many excellent selections of late-harvest and after dinner wines offered at The Block.  Eventually, I chose an Alvear Amontillado Sherry. For those of you unfamiliar with anything but Harvey’s Bristol Crème, this lovely, caramel and nutty flavored, slightly sweet wine will open your palate to a whole new appreciation of Sherry. The wine list also boasts a number of ports and other late harvest wines to put a nice cap to your meal at the Block.

For a new restaurant opened for just two days prior to my visit, I was shocked at the quality of the food and, particularly, the depth and breadth of the very impressive wine list.  Visit The Block at the Corner of Capitol and Quarrier Streets in downtown Charleston.  If you love good wine and food, you might try a sip off the old Block!

Supporting and consuming local food products

April 6, 2015 by John Brown

My love of just about all things palatable includes, of course, a wide and varied cuisine. I embrace just about every morsel grown, produced and/or cooked by indigenous peoples from all over this globe. I am particularly fond of locally grown or raised food.

The term locavore has entered the lexicon in the past decade to define organized groups that encourage growing, producing and then providing local products to the restaurants, markets and people living nearby. This locavore movement also extends to beverages produced locally which include wineries, distilleries and craft breweries.

And this is a movement with enough room for both vegans and carnivores!

Supporting locally produced edibles has caught on just about everywhere in the US and is being embraced in communities around West Virginia too. Most counties and some towns in our state have established local farmers markets, and many restaurants are purchasing and then featuring these locally grown and produced foods on their menus. For a listing of a local farmers market near you, go to

But there are several other organizations involved in the movement. I am board member of “The Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia” that has (thankfully) been co-named “WVFARM2U.” FARM2U actively promotes cultural and culinary tourism in large measure to connect the people involved such as farmers, restaurateurs, tourism promoters and the general public.

As an example, one of our website pages ( has a listing of “destination dining” restaurants in West Virginia that use locally produced food. These establishments were nominated through a FARM2U survey of people who had exceptional dining experiences. A panel of culinary experts then selected the eventual destination dining restaurants.

But you may recognize the FARM2U organization by one of the state’s signature culinary events – the annual Cast Iron Cook Off. The Cook Off is an event where everyone -from culinary students to chefs, to farmers, to local business people- participates in an Appalachian cooking competition focused on preparing local foods and using traditional cast iron cookware.

Ridge Lytton Springs

Ridge Lytton Springs

Here are a few other organizations in the state that make it their goal to bring locally produced foods to your table. Check out the facebook page for the WV Food and Farm Coalition for information on Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA) organizations. CSA’s put people who want to use local farm-grown products together with farmers that grow them. These farmers provide various locally produced foods for a subscription price.

Two CSA’s were featured in a recent Sunday Gazette-Mail article by Dawn Nolan focusing on the good work being done by the Wild Ramp and Gritts Farm CSA’s. My family has participated in the Fish Hawk Acres CSA run by Chef Dale Hawkins. If you’re interested, check out Fish Hawk Acres’ facebook page for information on how to subscribe.

We also receive regular local food shipments from the Monroe Farm Market ( This farmer coop, located in beautiful Monroe County, provides a variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables as well locally raised and butchered meat. We enjoyed a delicious leg of lamb from the Monroe Farm Market on Easter Sunday.

As someone obsessed with food and wine, I understand the passion and commitment it takes to produce a product you wish to share with those in your local circle. We need to encourage our restaurants and markets to use our home-grown food – along with wine and other beverages (even beer) produced here in West By Golly.

Here is a wine that will (and did) marry exquisitely with a Monroe County boned, butter flied and grilled leg of lamb.

2009 Ridge Lytton Springs ($38) – This blend of 71 percent zinfandel (along with petite sirah, carignane and mataro) is the flagship product from my favorite zinfandel producer. With aromas of teaberry mint, this complex, layered, blackberry and cola flavored wine is full, rich and nicely balanced. It paired superbly with our marinated and grilled leg of lamb.

Aging Wine: how, when and what

March 13, 2015 by John Brown

One of the few benefits of being a long–in-the-tooth wine lover is you probably have squirreled away a few bottles over the years that are finally coming of age. Yes, it can be a sublime experience when you uncork that special wine you’ve allowed to mature for a decade or two in your cellar.

Conversely, the experience can be supremely disappointing and unpleasant when the wine from that coveted bottle smells like dirty socks and tastes like spoiled buttermilk.

Over the years, I have experienced both the ecstasy of sipping liquid silk, and the agony of having to discard a wine that is “over the hill.” If you would like to lay down a few bottles for future enjoyment, there are some important issues to consider.

It may come as a surprise, but the vast majority of wines on the market today are meant to be consumed now, or within a couple of years. In fact, around 95 percent of all wine is ready to be consumed right off the shelf. So what wines can you safely put away for future sipping?

First and foremost, you’ll want to collect wines that have the best chance of morphing into something more pleasurable as they age. That means buying red wines such as Bordeaux, California cabernet sauvignon or other sturdy reds like Chateauneuf Du Pape or Barolo and Brunello Di Montalcino from Italy. Whites such as chardonnay from Burgundy, late harvest sweet wines like Sauternes from France and riesling from Germany can also improve with age.

Barolo has great aging potential

Barolo has great aging potential

The next important step is to determine which vintage years are touted as being the best for long-term aging. You can read periodicals such as The Wine Spectator or the Wine Advocate or go online and search for vintage rating information.

Once you’ve decided on a likely age worthy vintage, read up on the specific wines and what critics are reporting about them. Oftentimes, you’ll see a lot of attention directed at the “superstar” wines such as Chateau Lafite Rothschild from Bordeaux or Opus One from Napa.

But unless you’re a Russian oligarch or a dotcom billionaire, you’ll want to avoid these “trophy” wines and concentrate on ones that share the same zip code or geographic area and are more reasonably priced.

Next, make sure you buy at least three bottles of a particular wine. This will allow you to open a bottle every five or so years to make sure the wine is making “forward” progress. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of finding out that I waited too long to assess the bottle, and the wine had passed its prime.

Storing the wine properly is an absolutely critical issue. You don’t have to buy one of those expensive wine storage closets, but you should age the wine in a dark, vibration and odor-free area where the temperature doesn’t vary more than 10 degrees from summer to winter, and where the humidity is pretty high – around 70 percent.

Get yourself one of those temperature and humidity gauges and check out your designated area to make sure it’s appropriate. If you absolutely want to be sure the storage system is ideal, you can buy temperature-controlled wine cabinets for as little as $300 or as much as several thousand.

If you do the things I‘ve mentioned above, you may be able to experience in a decade or two what I had the pleasure of enjoying at Christmas dinner. That magical night, I opened a 1997 Barolo from the Piedmont region of northern Italy to accompany the traditional bone-in rib roast. Magnificent!

Wine vs. Beer – Throwdown Number 3

February 18, 2015 by John Brown

It’s always gratifying to observe the positive effect our contributions make to the community in which we live. On Saturday, February 28th you will have, shall we say, a tasteful opportunity to do just that by attending the third annual Feastivall celebration at Berry Hills Country Club.

Feastivall, of course, is a fundraiser supporting Festivall – the multi-week entertainment event that brings a plethora of top-notch musical talent to the greater Charleston area each summer. Feastivall is a good old fashion beverage throw down pitting wine versus beer in a five-course gourmet meal.

It is, of course, a unique opportunity for that lesser liquid (beer) to share the spotlight with the most food-friendly beverage (wine) man has ever produced.

Attendees will have the opportunity to vote on the best accompaniment (wine or beer) for each of the five courses prepared by executive chef at Berry Hills and Culinary Institute of America (CIA) graduate Paco Aceves. Paco will be assisted by fellow CIA graduate and Buzz Foods Services corporate chef, Paul Smith.

The event will begin at 6 p.m. with a wine and beer aperitif bar where guests can sip, mingle and bid on items at the silent auction which will include works and performances by local artists, restaurant packages, travel opportunities, including a stay in Italy and more.

The evening will also feature performances by local artists and will be hosted by Mountain Stage’s Larry Groce. Guests will enjoy five courses, each paired with a craft beer selected by my mis-guided pal and fellow columnist Rich Ireland. Of course, yours truly will pick the wines.

Here’s the menu along with our wine and beer pairings:

First course
Seafood terrine, smoked tomato aspic
Wine: 2013 Albert Bichot Chablis Domaine Long-Depaquit – France
Beer: Ayinger Urweisse

Second course
Roasted winter beet salad, artisan goat cheese, micro lettuce and candied pistachio, blood orange vinaigrette
Wine: 2011 Treana White Wine – California
Beer: Saison 1558, Brasserie du Bocq, Belgium

Third course
Venison sausage, parsnip puree, micro bull’s blood
Wine: 2012 Luma Carmenere Reserva – Chile
Beer: Westmalle Dubbel, Brouwerij Westmalle (Trappist), Belgium

Fourth course
Stout braised beef short rib, wild mushroom risotto, reduction sauce (crudité vegetables)
Wine: 2010 Medlock-Ames Red Blend – Napa Valley
Beer: Celebrator Doppelbock, Brauerei Aying, Germany

Fifth course
Toasted coconut meringue and warm winter fruits, spice cake, curried hazelnuts, port ganache
Wine: 2011 NXNW Late Harvest Riesling – Washington State
Beer: Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout, Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery, United Kingdom

After each course, guests will vote for the beverage pairing they like best. By the end of the night, one will emerge the winner. I suppose the beer nuts, buoyed by their 3-2 upset win last year, are feeling their oats… or hops …and think they actually have a chance of besting the fruit of the vine once more.

Ain’t gonna happen, Rich! Swill versus swell, sackcloth versus silk, gruel versus elixir- you get the picture. So plan on joining us for a good cause and an evening of fun, food and your favorite beverage.

Tickets are $110 per person and are partially tax deductible. Get your tickets by going to: or by calling  304-470-0489.