Vines & Vittles

Summertime Red Wine

Even though temperatures are approaching meteorological hell, I refuse to give up the pleasures of sipping red wine with the foods of summer.

Sure, I drink more refreshing whites and rose’s this time of year than I do of those purple monsters, but I still open and enjoy red wines. I just modify that old (and hackneyed) adage that red wine should be served at room temperature. Of course, when the Medieval wine snob who offered that advice did so, room temperature was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

I simply put my red wine in the refrigerator for about a half hour before opening it and then keep it in an ice bucket after pouring a glass or two. I do, though, usually prefer lighter styled reds such as pinot noir and Valpolicella this time of year. The beauty of these two varietals is that – while they are not full-bodied like cabernet or zinfandel- they do stand up to and pair well with picnic foods like sausages, ribs and foods with spicy heat.

Pinot noir like those produced by Elouan and Erath from Oregon, J. Lohr, Buena Vista and Cline Family Cellars from California, Kim Crawford from New Zealand and Cono Sur from Chile are all priced around or below $25 a bottle and make very nice accompaniments to the foods of summer.

However, one of the best warm weather reds is Valpolicella. Produced from a combination of the relatively obscure corvina, rondinalla and molinara grapes, this red wine can be a very pleasant sipper, as well as an excellent accompaniment to barbecue and other warm weather foods.

Producers to look for are Allegrini, Masi, Zenato, Bertani, Tommasi, Farina, Righetti and Mazzi. I am especially fond of Allegrini Valpolicella Classico, but all of the above mentioned wines are exceptional summertime and picnic food accompaniments, and they are mostly priced under $20 a bottle.

Valpolicella becomes something more, though, when the grapes are planted in select vineyard sites and when a process called ripasso is employed during wine making. To make ripasso, new Valpolicella wine is re-fermented by combining it with the pressed skins or pomace from Amarone (which is essentially Valpolicella on steroids).

The resulting ripasso wine is considerably darker and fuller bodied than Valpolicella, but not as powerful as Amarone. And while a ripasso is definitely a step up in weight and intensity from regular Valpolicella, it is still a very nice complement to your favorite summertime dishes.

In the past, I have written about my affection for Palazzo Della Torre – one of Allegrini’s Valpolicella red wines that is made in the ripasso method. Several years ago, I visited the Allegrini estate in the Veneto region of Italy. The winery is located on property where an actual medieval palace – Palazzo Della Torre – has been restored and is used as a tasting facility. On that particular day, I tasted through several vintages of that lovely wine.

Today, you will find the 2016 Palazzo Della Torre ($22) for sale at area wine shops. It is medium-bodied, almost zinfandel-like and chock full of ripe blackberry and cola flavors. It is, simply put, Molto Bene (that means ‘durn good’ in American).

Perfect Wines for Summertime

I will admit that summertime is a great season to enjoy refreshing and thirst quenching beverages, particularly ones that are in sync with the picnic style foods that grace our tables in warmer weather.

While some of you may choose that frothy option as a suitable quaff for hot dogs, hamburgers and ribs, my preferences for those same type foods – and just about any others that we enjoy this time of year – is the fruit of the vine. That probably doesn’t surprise you since, after all, I am a certified winophile. So today, I’m recommending two categories of wine for your summertime sipping pleasure.

My first recommendation is that you open up a style of wine that most of us only uncork on special occasions. I’m suggesting sparkling wines to go with the foods of summer. And since we’re patriotically observing the Fourth of July, you’ll have a celebratory red, white and blue reason to pop the cork and toast this great – if troubled – nation we all call home.

Hey, and you don’t need to limit your sparkling choice to Champagne. Champagne is the most famous and most expensive of all sparklers and is only produced in that eponymous region of France. No, that’s the beauty sparklers where almost every wine-producing region on the planet makes their version of bubbly. And sparkling wine pairs especially well with picnic foods that are spicy, salty or rich.

It might come as a shock, but you really do have a wide variety of reasonably priced domestic and international wines from which to choose. There is Cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy and Champagne-like wines from the US, Australia and Germany too.

The next category of summer wines I’ll suggest you open this summer is Rose’. I’m sure some of you may have a jaundiced view of this (sometimes) pink wine, harkening back to a time when Rose’ was bottled in heavy clay-like crocks (remember Mateus?) and tasted like strawberry soda. Or you may think of Rose’ as a sweet white zinfandel type wine.

Today, Rose’ is made in nearly all fine wine regions using just about every red grape imaginable from cabernet sauvignon to carignan and from pinot noir to mourvedre. While there are many slightly sweet aperitif Rose’s, there are even more that are produced to accompany food, and they are a perfect match to summertime meals.

Rose’ is really compatible with grilled foods, particularly sausages. Whether you prefer Italian, Polish, Bratwurst or some other pork-encased tube steak, Rose’ is a great choice. They’re also delicious with dry-rubbed (cumin, black pepper, salt and brown sugar) baby back ribs brushed with barbecue sauce.

Want the best of both the sparkling wine and Rose’ worlds? Two of the wines listed below under Sparklers – Anna de Codorníu Brut Rosé and Gustave Lorentz Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rosé – combine sparkling wine’s effervescence with bottles produced from Rose’.

So now that your mouths are watering, here are several of my favorite sparkling wines and Rose’s for you to try. These wines are widely available and priced from about $12 to a little more than $50 (for some of the Champagnes).

Champagne: Moet & Chandon Imperial; Veuve Cliquot (Yellow Label); Nicolas Feuillatte Brut; and Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut.

Other Sparklers: Saint Kilda Brut Cuvee-from Australia; Schramsburg Brut (Napa); Domaine Carneros (Sonoma); Gruet Sauvage Blanc de Blancs (New Mexico); Anna de Codorníu Brut Rosé (Cava from Spain); Roederer Anderson Valley Brut (Mendocino); Gustave Lorentz Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rosé (France); and Zardetto and Lamarca Prosecco from Italy.

Rose’: Lucashof Pinot Noir Rose (Germany); Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rose (South Africa); Elizabeth Spencer Rose of Grenache (California); MiMi en Provence Rose (France); Reginato Rose of Malbec (Argentina); and Pico Macario Rosato (Italy).

A hidden gem from Friuli

As I have stated many times before, Italy is a boot full of wine. Each of its 20 regions have multiple wine appellations within them where an incalculable number of distinct grape vines are harvested each year and produce mind boggling amounts of vino.

When Americans think of Italian wine, most of us conjure up visions of Tuscany where the wines of Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino take center stage. Some of us know about the Veneto region where Soave, Valpolicella and Amarone are the principle wines, or in the Piedmont where Barolo and Barbaresco are highly prized bottles.

Today I’ll tell you about a wine in the little known region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia (pronounced Free-ull-ee Ven-eat-see-uh Julia) in the far north eastern section of Italy bordering Slovenia to the east and Austria to the north. The capitol city of the region is Trieste located across the Adriatic Sea from Venice.

The two most respected wine appellations of Friuli are the Colli Orientali and the Collio both of which are located in the north eastern part of the state. While some red wine is produced in Friuli such as merlot and refosco, the region is known primarily for whites, the most notable of which are Friulano, ribolla gialla, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot grigio

I recently tasted a wine from Colli Orientali that took my breath away, especially when paired with (in this case )the appropriately compatible dishes. This bottle is produced by a family better known for its exceptional Italian restaurants than for its wines. If the name Bastianich sounds familiar, you’ve probably seen the public TV shows hosted by Lidia, the chef and founder of the family’s restaurant empire.

And if you’ve been to any of the Eataly establishments located in Chicago, Las Vegas or other major US cities, or if you’ve had the pleasure of dining at Dell Posto or Felidia in New York, you understand that the Bastianich name is synonymous with great Italian cuisine. Lidia’s son, Joe Bastianich, founded the eponymous winery in 1997 in the very region of Italy where his mother was born.

The 2016 Bastianich Vespa Bianco ($30) is a medium to full bodied white that has ripe pear flavors with hints of honey and almonds. It is round and rich, yet crisp, with balancing acidity that should allow it to age gracefully for several more years. If you can’t locate it in your favorite wine shop, simply ask your purveyor to order it for you. The wine is a blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and a local Friulian grape – picolit.

While this wine was a match made in heaven when we paired it with grilled Chilean Sea Bass, it blew us away when we sipped the last few ounces with our salad! My wife created a salad of arugula, thinly sliced fennel and Vidalia onions, fresh orange slices in a dressing of DiTrapano Extra Virgin Olive oil, some freshly squeezed orange juice and just a touch of aged Balsamic vinegar.

Oh My!! Can you say serendipity? I know it was just dumb luck because I probably would never have thought of intentionally pairing the wine with a salad, but I’m glad we had a sip or two remaining when we finished the Chilean Sea Bass. Goes to show you, it pays to be adventurous (or at least save a little wine for salad or dessert).

You might ask your wine shop folks to show you the bottles they have from Friuli. These are wines worth searching out.

Chimichurri with a Twang!

We’ve been hunkering down in the mountains for the past few weeks trying to avoid crowding other human beings and doing our best to social distance. It’s not hard to do because there just aren’t that many people wandering around in the forest.

That’s the good news. The challenge, of course, is to maintain some semblance of sanity through our self-imposed isolation. It’s easy for me because I’m naturally lazy and content to just lounge around watching reruns of the Beverly Hillbillies or reading the works of authors like Elmore Leonard, Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut.

My wife, on the other hand, spends an inordinate amount of time cleaning, and then re-cleaning, the house. Our home is so immaculate now that she doesn’t seem to mind when I dirty up the kitchen or when I crumb-bomb the carpet. In these strange times, I’m finding that being slovenly might actually serve a higher purpose.

Anyway, like many of you, we also pass the time cooking – especially recipes of dishes that have been in the “on deck” circle for decades. So today, I’m going to share one of those on-deck recipes that should enhance just about any protein dish you wish to prepare. And I’ve added a special West Virginia ingredient I’ll call a “twang” to the recipe that will intensify the flavors even more.

Chimichurri has been variously described as a piquant sauce or a condiment; while others use it as a marinade. Argentina is given credit for originating the dish, and the ingredients can vary according to the style of chimichurri you want to concoct. I’m going to provide you with my take on chimichurri that includes the addition (or Twang) of that odiferous West Virginia lily known as the ramp. I actually harvested the ramps for this recipe in the woods near our home during one of our regular social distancing hikes.

In Argentina, Chimichurri is used as an accompaniment to grilled beefsteak, but it works equally well with pork, chicken and even fish. I love to use it with cuts of beef like chuck or skirt steak grilled over charcoal, and I always suggest pairing the chimichurri-enhanced beef with a rich red wine. Because chimichurri is made with a good dose of vinegar, you will need a wine that is round and even soft. Wines with a lot of acid, such as pinot noir or barbera, will clash with chimichurri. You might try merlot, red blends or even malbec like the one I’m suggesting below.

So strap on your big-boy pants and get ready for a real explosion of flavors!

Chimichurri with a Twang

Ingredients

One each, red bell pepper, sweet onion and jalapeno
Three cloves of garlic
One-half cup each Italian parsley and basil
One-quarter cup of fresh cilantro
One teaspoon each of red pepper flakes, kosher salt and coarse black pepper
One half teaspoon each dried oregano and ground cumin
Four ounces each of extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar
Ten or 15 small grape tomatoes
Two medium ramps (optional)
One medium size bowl

Preparation

Dice red pepper, jalapeno, onion, basil, cilantro, ramps and parsley
Mince garlic
Cut grape tomatoes in half
Add olive oil, vinegar and above ingredients into a medium bowl
Stir mixture and add salt, cumin, oregano, red pepper flakes and black pepper
Allow to sit for a few hours or overnight in refrigerator
Serve at room temperature and spoon over or next to beef

2013 Luna de Esperanza Super Premium Malbec, Uco Valley ($40)- This malbec is comprised of ninety percent malbec and five percent each of cabernet franc and syrah. With blackberry, mocha and coffee flavors, the wine’s richness and soft tannins marry nicely with the beef and chimichurri sauce.

Saint Patty’s Day Pasta

Saint Patrick’s Day is coming up this week, so I thought I would wow you with a great Irish recipe. So, while I’m not a Bangers and Mash or Soda Bread kind of guy, I am one-half Irish and I feel obliged to celebrate my Gaelic heritage by cooking up a Saint Patrick’s Day meal. However, I just couldn’t find anything that tickled my culinary fancy.

Then I had what I thought was a solution to the problem. Since I am also one-half Italian, why not find a recipe that uses the traditional culinary ingredients of Ireland and Italy to prepare a dish that pays homage to both storied nations.

Unfortunately, as I searched my treasure trove of cookbooks, I was unable to find any Irish-Italian dishes. I suppose I could try and create one. How about something like this: Corned Beef Marinara over Cabbage Fettucine; or Skirts and Kidneys Bolognese in Blood Pudding?

I must admit neither of the above mentioned combos excited my taste buds. So I decided to go in another direction. Since everyone knows that green is the national color of Ireland and that pasta is the national food of Italy, I’ve decided to combine these two characteristics to create a dish I’ll call Saint Patty’s Day Pasta.

Okay, I know, this is a bit of a stretch, but hang with me a bit longer because I think you’re going to love this recipe.

Two of the main ingredients in the recipe are Charleston Bread’s homemade spinach fettucine, and the lovely extra virgin olive oil from locally-owned Villa Ditrapano. Both the pasta and olive oil are green and they share the culinary stage in the recipe with arugula and basil to give this dish a definite emerald hue.

More importantly, this is one tasty dish! Check this out.

Saint Patty’s Day Pasta

One red bell pepper, small fennel bulb, medium onion,
Six Italian Roma or plum tomatoes
One pound spinach fettuccine
Four peeled cloves of garlic
Two links each of Italian and Andouille sausage
One 8 -ounce can of tomato sauce
Two ounces of cooking olive oil
One ounce of premium extra virgin olive oil
One-half teaspoon each of Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Four ounces of grated parmesan cheese
One-half cup of pasta water
Two ounces each of fresh, chopped basil and arugula

Cut bell pepper and tomatoes in chunks; onion and fennel in eighth inch rings
Place vegetables and garlic cloves on an oven pan, drizzle with regular oil and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes
Roast the sausage in another pan in same 400 degree oven for 40 minutes, turning once at 20 minutes
Chop cooked garlic in small pieces and combine with cooked vegetables in a sauce pan
Add tomato sauce to pan, cook at low heat for 30 minutes- add salt and pepper to taste
Cut sausage into half inch rings, set aside; then add to the sauce after 25 minutes
Cook pasta Al-dente and drain in colander
Combine pasta, sauce and half the parmesan to a large sauté pan over low heat
Toss together with fresh basil and arugula then add pasta water if needed
Plate pasta and sprinkle parmesan and drizzle premium olive oil over top of pasta

My wine choice to pair with Saint Patty’s Day Pasta is the 2016 Alexander Valley Vineyards Redemption Zinfandel ($25). This medium-bodied Dry Creek Valley red is round, rich and well balanced with spicy, blackberry flavors and just a hint of toasty vanilla.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day. And may all your Leprechauns be green!

Shitake Stuffed Portobellos

I made the mistake of walking past a mirror right after the first of the year. The reflection of a rotund stranger stared back at me, and it took me several seconds to realize that the portly visage I was staring at was – ME!

Unfortunately, I have been having this same New Year’s wake up call for decades. Once again, I am vowing to moderate my excessive appetites in the hope of sculpting a visually more appealing version of myself. In other words, I’m going to try and eat less and choose foods that are healthy – and that actually taste good too.

I’m going to share a recipe with you for a dish that accomplishes both of the above-mentioned goals. Of course, I’ll give you a couple of wine pairing suggestions that will significantly enhance the enjoyment of the dish. It will be up to you, however, to moderate your wine intake. In my case, that means cutting back to only half a bottle.

Spoiler alert: If you do not like mushrooms, you won’t want to read any further.

I’m sure many of you have eaten Portobello mushrooms. You may have cooked them on the stovetop, or oven baked them with stuffing. You might have sliced and sautéed them with onions, garlic and other spices, and used them as a side dish. My recipe, which is meant to be an entrée, uses a little bit of each method just described, and you’ll have the option of making the dish with or without meat. In addition, this recipe also includes shitake mushrooms as part of the stuffing. And since mushrooms are full of vitamins and are a terrific source of fiber, this entree is also extremely healthy. So here you go.

 

 

Shitake Stuffed Portobellos

Ingredients:
Four to six Portobello mushrooms
One-half pound of sliced Shitake mushrooms
Four ounces of chopped onion, one tsp chopped garlic, one tsp of red pepper flakes (optional)
One-half cup each of shredded mozzarella and smoked gouda or provolone
Four ounces of bread crumbs
Two links of Italian sausage (optional) finely chopped
One half red bell pepper finely chopped, a handful of chopped spinach
Two ounces of extra virgin olive oil and a tsp. each of salt and ground black pepper

Preparation:
Wipe Portobellos clean and scrape and discard gills from the mushrooms
Use one ounce of olive to rub Portobellos inside and outside
Place Portobellos on an oven rack and bake for 5 minutes in a 400F oven
Set aside Portobellos to cool
Discard stems from Shitakes and slice
Fry or microwave the Italian sausage and then finely chop
Sauté onions, garlic, red peppers and spinach using the remaining oil – set aside in a bowl
Add salt, pepper, cheese, bread crumbs and sausage to the bowl – stir and allow to cool
Spread the mixture evenly among the Portobellos and bake in 400F oven for 12 minutes
Serve immediately

My wine suggestions for the dish involve bottles that pair well with the earthiness of the mushrooms, and the overall spiciness of the dish. Pinot noir from Oregon has a ton of earthy nuances and also pairs exceptionally well with spicy food. You might try the 2017 Chehalem (Willamette Valley) Pinot Noir ($37).

My other choice to complement the recipe is zinfandel. I’m recommending a medium-bodied and spicy zin with bright dark berry  flavors. The 2017 Ridge Lytton Springs ($45) will make an excellent pairing with the dish.

Happy food, wine, and family!

Christmas is upon us and I am psyched! So, bring on the seven fishes, the Christmas dinner and even the twelve days because I’m ready and raring to go. And, as always, I will provide you with some vinous choices to enhance your holiday meals.

Of course, my first challenge will be to weather the (sometimes literal) storm of preparing the Christmas Eve fish extravaganza. I will use the outdoor gas grill to heat up the canola oil to 350F and then begin frying cod, smelts, squid and scallops. This can be tricky if the weather is raining or snowing heavily, but I’ll get it done – with the help of my eldest grandchild who has been my sous-chef for most of his post, pre-K life.

I’ll also brine and then hot smoke a side of salmon, while my wife constructs a pasta and clam dish. And there will be cocktail shrimp and other appetizers to get our palates properly tuned up. Since most of the fish will be deep fried, I find it’s best to pair them with white wines that are medium bodied, refreshing and even thirst quenching.

You might give these bottles a try. Italian whites: Arneis; Cortese di Gavi; Greco di Tufo; and Falanghina; California Chardonnay: Cakebread Cellars; Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains; Far Niente; and Mer Soleil.

There is no standard, traditional Christmas day meal in our country. Depending upon your religious or ethnic background, you might enjoy everything from ham to goose, to turkey to beef. In homes where the ancestral heritage derives from the British Isles, Germany or other northern European locales, we Americans tend to lean toward these culinary options: turkey; prime rib roast or filet mignon ; or baked ham as the featured main course.

If you’re preparing oven-roasted turkey as the main course on Christmas day, these medium bodied wines will pair nicely: Chateauneuf Du Pape; Rioja; California merlot, Chianti Classsico or Cotes Du Rhone.

If your Christmas dinner features baked ham with a honey glaze, you have several more options, including red, rose or even white wine. You might select: Tavel Rose from Southern France; riesling from Alsace; Sonoma Coast pinot noir; or malbec from Argentina.

At our home, my wife will dry rub a bone-in prime rib roast with garlic, kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper. Then she’ll roast it in the oven until it’s medium rare. Here are the wines I’m considering to accompany the rib roast: 2004 Ducru Beaucaillou (Bordeaux red); 2007 La Massa (Italian super Tuscan red); or 2016 Ridge Lytton Springs Vineyard Zinfandel.

Over the next two weeks, you will drink more than half of your yearly total consumption of sparkling wine. It could be Champagne or other sparklers like those produced using the Champagne method or by other vinous means of eliciting bubbles in still wine. So, whether it’s Brut Champagne, Cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy or Cremant from Alsace, the apex of sparkling wine consumption will occur between Christmas and the New Year.

There is nothing quite like Champagne to ring in the New Year. Give one or more of these Champagnes a try: Charles Heidsieck Brut Millésime; Krug Grande Cuvee Brut; Nicholas Feuillatte “Blue Label” Brut; Veuve Cliquot Brut; and Piper-Heidesieck Brut Cuvée.

Sparkling wine from regions other than Champagne: Gusbourne Brut Reserve (England); Mumm Napa Cuvee, Roderer Estate Brut Anderson Valley and Iron Horse Russian Cuvee ( all from California); Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace (France); Segura Viudas Reserva (Spain); La Marca Prosecco (Italy); and Gruet Blanc de Noirs (New Mexico

Have a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah and a prosperous New Year!

November: a palete pleasing month !

November is the most exciting and palate pleasing month of the year for both wine and food lovers. Serendipitously, the most anticipated weekday of the year for both groups falls on a Thursday in November. And since most wine and food lovers are one and the same, it’s prime time for those of us who love to eat and drink

Of course, every living, breathing, epicurean knows that Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of November. And if you’re a living, breathing, wineaux, you know that Beaujolais Nouveau is always released on the third Thursday in November. So let the celebrations begin!

If you haven’t already sampled the 2019 Beaujolais Nouveau, it is now available in wine shops and grocery stores around the state. The Nouveau is made from the gamay grape grown in the. Beaujolais region just south of France’s Burgundy appellation. It is always an easy quaffing wine meant to be a celebration of the recently completed harvest. You can expect Beaujolais Nouveau to be a fruit forward wine with strawberry flavors. It can be paired successfully with brunch- type foods, and you might even consider opening a Nouveau as an aperitif before dinner.

Thanksgiving dinner is a wine lover’s dream feast because the meal can be successfully paired with white or red, as well as light or full-bodied wines. With turkey as the centerpiece of the meal, and with the wide variety of side dishes accompanying the “National Bird,” you’ll have an almost limitless number of vinous options. 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 and/or smoking, 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 wine pairing possibilities. I’ll usually feature both white and red wines to go with the dinner, and then open a sparkler or late harvest sweet wine to pair with the pumpkin pie dessert. This Thanksgiving, I plan on using a few wines from a recent tasting at the Wine Shop at Capitol Market. Featured at the event were the wines from American winery Kate Arnold as well as from Spanish winery Torres.

As an aperitif, I’ll open a bottle of 2017 Vina Esmeralda Muscat ($16). This tasty wine is just slightly sweet with a spicy floral aroma followed on by peach and apricot flavors. I always feature both a white and red wine with the main course. This year, I’m opening a 2017 Kate Arnold Sauvignon Blanc ($16). This California wine has aromas of anise and herbs, mouth-watering citrus nuances and good balancing acidity. The wine should be an excellent pairing with my wife’s chestnut, sausage and sage dressing.

The turkey this year at our home will spend two hours on my Weber charcoal grill before being transferred to the oven to bake until it reaches 165 degrees F. This method of cooking the gobbler is the result of detente between my wife (oven) and yours truly (grill). After decades of marriage, I’ve decided to test my hypothesis ( i.e., that compromise is only slightly more satisfying than passing a kidney stone). Anyway, I will pair this culinary experiment with a pinot noir from Oregon. One that I had the pleasure of sipping at the aforementioned tasting.

The 2016 Kate Arnold Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($23) has aromas of spice and earth and flavors of plum and blueberries with hints of vanilla and cola. It is a wine of excellent roundness and depth, with just the right dollop of acidity to make it a perfect match to your Thanksgiving meal. And I’m confident that the wine will do wonders for our détente turkey too.

Here’s wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving!

For the love of Zin

Benjamin Disraeli, the former British prime minister and novelist, was famously quoted as proclaiming: “The magic of first love is our ignorance that it can never end.”

But I must disagree with the late and esteemed Mr. Disraeli, particularly when it comes to wine. The first grape I ever had the pleasure of making into wine more than 40 years ago was zinfandel. And even though the wine-like result was so over-oaked that it tasted like toothpicks, I still love zinfandel to this day. And, by the way, the latest version of my home made zinfandel, made from Amador County grapes in 2018, was just bottled a few weeks ago and actually does taste like wine!

I consider zinfandel America’s wine even though it is genetically identical to an unpronounceable Croatian vine ( crljenak kastelanski) and the more widely known Italian primitivo grape. But the good old US of A is where the wine has achieved stature and a world-wide following. The vine was first planted in Sonoma County in the 1850’s and, according to the California Wine Institute, zinfandel is the third-leading grape variety planted in California with nearly 45,000 acres planted in the state.

 

But still, most novice wine drinkers think zinfandel is a white, slightly sweet wine best suited for quaffing at picnics. And there is a reason for this impression many of us have of the grape. When one particular winery could not find a market for his over-produced zinfandel in the 1970’s, he decided to use the excess grape production to make a wine in a slightly sweet rose’ style. The rest is history. The new wine was called: White Zanfandel and it became a sensation. To this day, White Zinfandel still retains a huge market share among American wine drinkers. And while I will occasionally chill a bottle of Beringer White Zin for porch sipping, red zinfandel is still among my favorite wines of all time.

 

I suppose my fondness for zinfandel stems from the versatility of the vine to produce wines that range in intensity from the aforementioned white zin to full-throttled, purple monsters. I also love the wine because it is so malleable and can complement such a wide range of dishes. And with the arrival of fall, my thoughts turn to richer textured wines like zinfandel and fuller-flavored edibles, including all manner of grilled meat dishes that just seem to go so well with the wine. So, when I cook for friends and family this time of year, the food is usually straightforward, down-home, meat and starch type meals such as grilled thick-cut pork chops, leg of lamb, baked lasagna or red beans and rice.

So what are the flavor profiles of zinfandel? Well, regardless of the intensity of the finished product, most zinfandel does share some general flavor characteristics such as dark berries, black cherries along with briary and peppery nuances. However, the easiest way to pick the right zin for dinner is to categorize the wine according to its weight and intensity of flavor. That way you can decide which style to use with the food you’ll be preparing. Below are some of my favorite zinfandels rated by intensity and weight, along with some matching food suggestions. Incidentally, these wines range in price from about $20 to no more than $50 a bottle.

Lighter-Bodied Wines: Peachy Canyon Incredible Red; Marietta Old Vines Red; Pedroncelli Mother Clone; Sobon Estate Old Vines; Ravenswood Lodi; Bogle; Try these wines with pizza, grilled hamburgers, Italian sausage or meatloaf.

Medium-Bodied Wines: Rancho Zabaco Heritage Vines; Sebastiani Sonoma; Seghesio Old Vines; Dry Creek Vineyards; Ridge Geyserville; Renwood Old Vines; Easton Amador County; and Rosenblum Paso Robles. Good with roasted pork tenderloin, grilled salmon or barbecued baby back ribs.

Full -Bodied Wines: Ridge Lytton Springs; Renwood Grandpere; Montevina Terre D’Oro; Chateau Montelena; Grgich-Hills; Turley Juvenile; Storybook Mountain Eastern Exposure; and Hartford Russian River Valley. Try these purple monsters with pasta in marinara sauce, hearty stews, grilled rack of lamb and marinated and stuffed flank steak.

John Brown is also an author and his novel, Augie’s War, is available online and at at bookstores.

A tasty and tasteful visit to Tucker County

Tucker County, West Virginia is a special place. That statement doesn’t qualify as an epiphany for any of you who have had the pleasure of spending time in that region of the Potomac Highlands. But in addition to experiencing the many and varied recreational options in this wild and magnificent place, there are also several tasty and tasteful creature enhancements, particularly in the towns of Davis and Thomas.

I’ve been a part-time resident of Tucker County for three decades, and I still enjoy a sense of happy anticipation during the three-hour trip from Charleston. When I arrive, I’m content to just sit on the deck and gaze at the multi-colored leaves of fall while puffy white clouds glide across a robin’s egg-colored sky.

But a person DOES need to eat and drink too!

First stop is in Davis for a glass of suds from a West Virginia Craft Brewery of The Year award winner-Stumptown Ales. Stumptown has a stable of tasty brews to be sure, but they’ve also created a friendly gathering place for both visitors and locals alike. And they’ll even let you bring your dinner in to pair with their brews. You might try a sandwich from the Farm Up Food Truck that parks near Stumptown several times a week.

Just up the street is one of the state’s best pizzerias – Sirianni’s Café. Sirianni’s also serves sandwiches and pasta along with the absolute best antipasti salad (get the white garlic dressing) anywhere. The wine list is small, but well thought out and there is an extensive selection of beer, including local draft from Stumptown or from the other local brewery- Mountain State.

One of the best breakfast and brunch restaurants in the entire county is Bright Morning Inn which doubles as a B & B. All the menu choices are exceptional, but the peach pancakes are beyond good. Then wander right across the street to the WV Highlands Artisans Gallery to view the works of local artists while you walk off those pancakes.

Just up the road is the Billy Motel. The owner bought a former “No-Tell” motel a few years back and completely upgraded the rooms, added a bar and lounge, and has just opened a tapas-like restaurant there. When I heard the bartender at the Billy tell a tipsy bar patron that the next bus to Mars would be leaving soon, I knew I was in the right place. Really though, if you’re looking for the perfect cocktail, great conversation and an eclectic vibe, you must visit the Billy Motel in Davis.

Three miles north on Rte. 32 is the town of Thomas which has re-created itself over the past decade into a hip, art-centric little village with galleries, a coffee shop and bar, antique stores and music venues. There is also Cottrill’s Opera House, built in 1911, that is being restored into a performing arts center. Next door is Thomas Yard, a business featuring a very good wine shop where you can also buy fresh flowers and small gifts. About a mile outside of town, you might also wish to visit the Buxton Landstreet Gallery where artwork, stained glass and artisan furniture are available for purchase.

I love wandering into and browsing at The Creature, Bloom, The Gradient, and the White Room Art Galleries all along the same block (on the lower street) in Thomas. A little further down the street, you can book a room at The Cooper House Bed and Cocktail lodging facility that is right next door to the Purple Fiddle. The Fiddle features live traditional music almost seven days a week.

Top off your visit to Thomas by slipping in to Tip Top Coffee where the baristas brew up seriously good java, and the bartenders create tasty specialty cocktails. Tip Top also bakes pastries, makes sandwiches and, on Friday evenings, serves up delicious hamburgers made from locally sourced beef. And the wines by the glass and bottle at Tip Top feature quality and value, and represent a broad cross-section of wine appellations from around the world.

And I haven’t even mentioned what’s available for you to experience in Canaan Valley and other communities of Tucker County like Parsons and St. George. That’s for another time.

So whether you’re a skier, mountain biker, art and music lover, gourmand, hiker or just someone who enjoys observing the wild side of Mother Nature, take a trip to the mountains of Tucker County. Oh, and if you stop by The Billy, ask when the next bus leaves for Mars.

 John Brown is also an author and his novel, Augie’s War, is available online and at at bookstores.