Vines & Vittles

Wine for your holiday meals

Unlike Thanksgiving, the Christmas day meal does not have a universally accepted main course. In these United States, turkey is the traditional Thanksgiving centerpiece around which we prepare a whole host of other edible goodies such as bread stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. But the Christmas day repast is a more diverse culinary undertaking where our ethnic and/or cultural heritage largely determines what we put on the table that sacred day.

In homes where the ancestral heritage derives from the British Isles, Germany or other northern European locales, we Americans tend to lean toward either a repeat of Thanksgiving (with turkey and all the trimmings); we prepare a prime rib roast-centric meal; or we opt for baked ham as the featured main course.

In largely Catholic countries, like Italy, Christmas Eve dinner is just as important as the meal on Christmas day, and the menu is built around seafood. In my home, where I try to enjoy the best of both culinary traditions, my wife and I divide up responsibility for the two meals. I’m in charge of Christmas Eve while she prepares the Christmas Day feast.

So today, I’m going to recommend wines to accompany a Christmas Eve seafood dinner as well as vinous goodies to pair with Christmas day meals featuring prime rib, turkey or ham. Oh, and since New Year’s Eve is also rapidly approaching, I’ll suggest some sparklers to help you celebrate 2018.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian culinary tradition that many Americans observe. In my home, we sometimes exceed the seven fishes, but we always have at least calamari, cod, shrimp, smelts, oysters, mussels and salmon on the menu. Since many of these sea creatures will be deep fried, it’s best to pair them with wines that are medium bodied, refreshing and even thirst quenching

Just what the Gourmand ordered

Italian whites: Arneis: Cortese di Gavi: Greco di Tufo; and Falanghina; California Chardonnay: Cakebread Cellars; Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains; Far Niente; and Dutton-Goldfield.

On Christmas day, if you’re preparing oven-roasted turkey as the main course, these wines will pair nicely: Chateauneuf Du Pape; Brunello Di Montalcino; Rioja; California zinfandel (I love the ones from Amador) or Chianti Classsico Riserva.

For baked ham with a sweet glaze, give red, white and rose these wines a try: Tavel Rose; Alsatian Riesling; Oregon or Sonoma Coast pinot noir; Malbec from Argentina; Teroldego (red) from northern Italy.

For the Christmas meal at Chez Brown, 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’s what I’m considering for a wine accompaniment: 10-year or older Bordeaux Red; Meritage from Napa Valley; Northern Rhone Red (syrah from Cote Rotie); or an Italian Super Tuscan Blend.

There is nothing quite like Champagne or sparkling wine to ring in the New Year. Give one or more of these Champagnes a try: 2005 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): Mumm Napa Cuvee; Segura Viudas Reserva (Spain); Roderer Estate Brut Anderson Valley; La Marca Prosecco; Gruet Blanc de Noirs (New Mexico); Iron Horse Russian Cuvee; and Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace.

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

Holiday gifts for your wine lover

Right about now, you’re probably scratching your head and fretting over what special wine or related gift to give your favorite wine lover this holiday season.
Well, fret no more! You’re intrepid wino has a few recommendations for your consideration and I’m sure one or more of these vinous gift ideas just might work.

Wine Books
In my opinion, the absolute best wine reference book is the World Atlas of Wine by Janis Robinson and Hugh Johnson. It’s a compendium of everything you need to know about wine, including information on specific grapes, wines and regions, as well as label descriptions, and the culture and history of wine. Check for it at your local bookshop or online.

How about a little wine and intrigue? Get yourself a copy of Wine and War by Don and Petie Kladstrup. This page-turner deals with the lengths to which French wine makers went to protect their precious products from the Nazis in WWII.

Wine Storage
Finding a place to store your special wine is always a challenge. One pretty neat option is the Wine Enthusiast Six -Bottle Touch screen Wine Refrigerator. This adjustable, temperature- controlled wine refrigerator is a great gift for those who don’t have a lot of storage space, but want a reliable place to keep their special bottles. Check it out at: www.wineenthusiast.com. $130 with free shipping.

Wine Stemware
The aesthetics of sipping wine in crystal is oftentimes a very expensive proposition, but it’s nice to occasionally break out (probably not the best choice of words) the special stemware for that celebratory event. Riedel, Schott Zweise and Spiegelau are probably the best options for really fine crystal. You can find them at wine shops, department stores and online. Christmas Clarets

Stocking Stuffers
– How would you like to turn that special bottle of wine into a beautiful candleholder? Adam Morton of Bridgeview Candles, Accessories and Designs will do it for you. Check out his Facebook page (Bridgeview Candles) to peruse his work. You can also call him at 304-610-1553 or email him info@bridgevewcandles.com. Adam’s studio is located at 139 South Court St. in Fayetteville, across the street from the Cathedral Café.

– For the manual dexterity challenged wine drinkers in your life, you might slip a container of Wine Away in that Christmas stocking. Wine Away is a red wine strain remover that cleans up a clears out those stains that so often appear on your clothes or carpet when people like me are attempting to sip and speak at the same time. Shop for it locally or simply Google “Wine Away” and find it online for about $10.

– Name It Wine Glass Markers are cool and colorful pens you can use to write on wine glasses, bottles or any glass surfaces. Great for signing that special wine gift and priced under $10. Amazon or other online sellers have it stocked for the Holidays

– I like to keep track of the truly special wines I have consumed, but getting the labels off the bottles is a real pain. So I recommend using Label Off. This product is an easy way to remove and collect those special wine labels. Label Off splits the printed surface of the paper from the adhesive backing leaving a laminated label to place into your wine catalog. Find it online at around $10.

Special Holiday Wines
The last several vintages (2012 through 2015) of cabernet sauvignon and red blends (meritages) from Napa and other northern California wine regions have been excellent. So you might consider these opulent, full-bodied, rich and balanced cabernets and meritages for that special red wine lover.

Meritages: Anderson’s Conn Valley Right Bank; Cain Five; Vineyard 29 Aida; Newton Claret; Joseph Phelps Insignia; Beringer Knights Valley Meritage; Artesia Meritage and William Hill Benchmark Meritage.

Cabernet Sauvignon: Shafer Stags Leap; Franciscan Napa Valley; Robert Mondavi Reserve; Rudd Mount Veeder; Beaulieu Georges De Latour Private Reserve; Joseph Heitz Martha’s Vineyard; Cliff Lede Vineyards; Stags Leap Wine Cellars; Caymus Special Selection Cabernet and Siler Oak Napa.

Thanksgiving Wines: many vinous choices!

At least once a week, I get asked this question: ‘What is your favorite wine?’ And my answer is always the same: “It depends.”

Now, you might think that’s a way of avoiding the question, but to me your query is incomplete unless you tell me what type of food you intend to pair with the wine. I simply don’t believe wine can be properly enjoyed just on the merits of its own flavors, aromas and textures – without some type of food context.

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But, if the question is stated in this manner: What is your favorite wine with, say, beef tenderloin? I might ask the how beef will be prepared? Will it be marinated, dry-rubbed (and with what spices) or just seasoned with salt and pepper? Will it be grilled, pan sautéed or oven roasted? Based upon your answers to those questions, I would then recommend several wines that would marry nicely with that particular treatment of beef tenderloin.

So with Thanksgiving only a week away, you can probably guess what question I’ve been asked lately. Well, there’s a problem in answering this one. But it’s a good problem for a wine lover to have. Why? Well, Thanksgiving dinner is about the easiest meal you’ll ever have for which to select the right wine. As a matter of fact, it’s almost impossible not to find at least one good wine and food pairing during this holiday meal.

For years, I‘ve touted the culinary versatility of turkey to be equally successfully paired with both white and red, as well as with light or full-bodied wines. The reason is the “National Bird” is blessed with meat that has different flavors, colors and textures. Add to this the way it is prepared – 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.

When you prepare stuffing to accompany the meal, you add a whole other flavor dimension which, depending upon the nature of the dressing, opens up even more wine possibilities. For example, one Thanksgiving I stuffed a charcoal grilled turkey with cornbread, Monterey jack cheese, ancho chili peppers and chorizo sausage. What wine, you might ask, did I serve with this non-traditional turkey and stuffing?

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Well, I started with Beaujolais Nouveau as an aperitif, proceeded to open a bottle of pinot gris from Alsace for those who preferred white wine, and uncorked a full-bodied Alexander Valley zinfandel for those who preferred a big red. And guess what? It worked. For dessert, I selected a bottle of Mendocino County late harvest gewürztraminer to accompany the pumpkin pie. Then I plopped down on the couch to watch some other NFL team beat up the Detroit Lions.

For the traditional oven-roasted turkey with a chestnut, sage bread dressing, I suggest a light to medium bodied white wine such Soave or Arneis from Italy, a white Bordeaux or any steely, non-oaked chardonnay. For reds, with this meal, you might pair a pinot noir from the Sonoma Coast, a Chianti Classico from Tuscany, or a Chateauneuf du Pape from France. And older reds, such as a claret from Bordeaux, Brunello Di Montalcino from Tuscany or a California cabernet sauvignon, go nicely as well.

Whatever you choose, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Sampling Italian wine and food at the Source

I recently returned from an overseas trip where I ate and drank like Nero in and around a noble estate located in the hills not too far from Rome. And while I may be slightly exaggerating the quantities of food and wine I consumed, I did feel like Roman nobility since I stayed at a villa overlooking an Italian castle.

In fact, I had the privilege of staying at Villa DiTrapano, a beautifully appointed lodging facility located in the mountain village of Sezze about one hour southeast of Rome. Charleston Attorney Rudy DiTrapano and his family own the villa and a 17th century Castelletto (castle) on the property that is currently being restored. Check out their website at: www.villaditrapano.com/

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Rome is the capitol of Lazio (pronounced Lat-zee-oo) and of the entire country. Lazio is one of 20 states or provinces in Italy, but I had never visited any other part of this region near Rome. And I had certainly never experienced the wines of Lazio. But that changed very quickly as our group tasted our way through as many of the local wines as we could.

You’ve probably never heard of wines made from grapes such as nero buono (red) or bombino bianco (white), but these vines produce exceptionally good bottles of wine. Lazio also makes wines such as syrah and trebbiano that you probably have sampled, but when I’m in a new area, I love to drink the indigenous varieties.

lazio-vineyards

It always amazes me to discover that no matter where I travel, the best wines are the ones that are made from vines which are native to the area. Whether you’re in the Cori Valley of Lazio drinking bombino or in the Willamette Valley of Oregon sipping pinot noir, you won’t go wrong drinking local.

And every region and sub-region of Italy seems to be known for specialty foods. My wife and I also spent several days in Apulia along the heel of the Italian boot and reveled in the cornucopia of diverse food and wine. We visited and tasted our way through picturesque towns such Martina Franca that is the capocollo capital of Italy.

pasta-dish-in-puglia

In Martina Franca, we visited a butcher who demonstrated how capocollo is made. Meat from the neck of locally raised pigs is salted, marinated in a cooked wine with spices, stuffed in a natural casing, smoked and then hung to cure for up to six months. The resulting thinly sliced capocollo is a delicious treat, especially when accompanied by the full-flavored red wines of Apulia such as primitivo or negroamaro.

Back in Sezze, we were delighted by the quality of the local restaurants and the friendliness of the citizens, most of whom tolerated our feeble, but well-intentioned attempts to communicate with them in Italian. Fortunately, most everyone under 40 spoke English.

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And right outside the gates leading to Villa DiTrapano, we could walk and find everything, including fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and seafood, excellent bread, wines and spirits and mouth-watering pastries. We could not get enough of the small, circular, biscotti-type cookies called Taralli that were coated with cinnamon and sugar. Taralli produced in other regions can be seasoned with herbs and/or salt and pepper, but the Tarali made in Sezze were addictively sweet treats.

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The fully-equipped kitchen at Villa DiTrapano was too much of a temptation for us to ignore so we prepared our own feast of pasta with porcini mushrooms, sautéed hot and sweet peppers, grilled local Bisteca (rib-eye), fresh salad and – of course – bombino bianco and nero buono.

Oh, and we finished the meal off with little rounds of Taralli!

Salmon Italiano: great with vino rosso or bianco

If you live in or around Charleston and you enjoy fresh seafood, I know you’ve shopped at Joe’s Fish Market (304-342-7827) on the corner of  Brooks and Quarrier Streets. Two brothers – Joe and Robin Harmon- have been providing our area with fresh treats from the sea for decades.

I venture into Joe’s at least once a week when I’m “jonesing” for salmon. I’m not a fan of poaching the fish, but I really enjoy grilling or smoking salmon, and basting it with various concoctions. I actually do a riff on Joe’s hot smoked salmon, but I have to admit that it’s hard to beat the original version that Robin prepares each week on his smoker out behind the market.

At Joes, the hot smoked salmon is brined in water, salt, brown sugar and garlic for a few hours and then smoked for up to an hour over apple wood. They also use farm-raised salmon and recommend choosing it rather than wild caught salmon (like King, Coho, Sockeye, etc.) which tends to dry out if you’re not careful. Try a slab of Joe’s hot smoked salmon and maybe you’ll be inspired, like I was, to experiment with different methods of preparing this exceptionally versatile fish.

salmon-italiano

Today, I’m going to share a salmon recipe that I’ve created which involves using a brine, a dry rub and then charcoal grilling the fish to delicious perfection. It’s a little time consuming, but really easy and definitely worth the effort. This recipe uses a charcoal, but you can use a gas grill by cooking the fish indirectly and using a smoke box.

And, of course, I’m recommending wines that will enhance your dining experience. In this case, you may select either a full-bodied white wine or medium-bodied red to pair with the dish. See my suggestions below.

 

 

Salmon Italiano

Ingredients
One salmon filet with skin on (usually 2 to 3 lbs)
One-half bottle of dry white wine (sip the rest while grilling)
Three quarts of cold water
One cup each of Kosher salt and light brown sugar
Four garlic cloves minced
One-half teaspoon each of crushed red pepper flakes and dried oregano
One teaspoon each of fennel seed and coarsely ground black pepper
Two teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil
One cup of apple wood chips

How To
Make a brine (in large pot) of the salt, sugar, water, wine and half the garlic
Stir and dissolve the brine ingredients and pour into a gallon baggie
Place salmon filet in brine making sure the liquid covers the fish
Put baggie into the pot and place in refrigerator for two to three hours
Soak wood chips in warm water for same amount of time
Remove salmon from brine and pat dry
Sauté the fennel seed in a dry pan until slightly toasted
Grind in a food mill (or use a large knife) to crush the fennel seeds
Rub olive oil all over fish and place on aluminum foil in a long oven pan
Rub the garlic, red pepper flakes, black pepper, oregano and fennel evenly onto filet
Make a charcoal fire and divide coals evenly on either side of the grill
Drain wood chips and place in and on charcoal fire
Place pan with salmon between the two piles of charcoal and put lid on grill
Keep grill vents wide open on top and bottom of the grill
Grill salmon for 15 minutes

Salmon is done when slightly firm to the touch

Wine Recommendations:

2014 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 that marries well with the salmon.

2013 Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino ($27) Fruit forward, rich and medium-bodied sangiovese (Baby Brunello) that is full of dark cherry flavors with just a hint of oak on the finish. Great accompaniment to the Salmon Italiano.

Summer foods: A sparkling idea!

Summer is a time to kick back and relax. Picnics, barbecues, back porch lounging and casual dining rule the day and that’s a very good thing. So the beverages we choose to match the lighter, fresher and more casual foods we consume this time of year should not only be delicious, but also refreshing too.

But nothing should require us to eliminate whatever style or type of wine we wish to drink. So if you prefer full-bodied reds with your barbecued chicken, go ahead and uncork one – just know that popping that bottle in the refrigerator for a half hour before you drink it will make the experience a whole lot more enjoyable.

But me? I prefer summer-style wines such as rose’, lighter whites like pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc or albarino and less intense reds such as Beaujolais, pinot noir or Dolcetto. But there is one particular type of wine that is my overall warm weather favorite and that’s because of its versatility with just about any food, and its overall refreshing nature.

This is a wine that goes equally well with fish, meat, veggies or fruit. You can match it with spicy foods like jalapeno pepper -infused dishes as well as delicate seafood entrees such as Dover sole. This wine is really good with popcorn, anchovies and pizza, and it punks any type of beer as the go-to beverage for chili, baby back ribs or even fried hot banana peppers.

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I’m talking about Champagne and sparkling wine! Yes, the wine that most of us only open on celebratory occasions is probably the most flexible beverage to use with just about any food – even a green salad with vinaigrette dressing. I am not a food chemist (though I have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express), but the refreshing fruity flavor and mouth cleansing bubbles seem to marry well with just about any dish.

We seem to forget how good sparklers are with everyday meals, especially those that are spicy, rich or salty. And you really do have a wide variety of reasonably priced domestic and international wines from which to choose such as Cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy and Champagne-like wines from just about every wine-producing country including the US.

Here’s a little refresher on sparkling wine.  While many sparklers are made in the Champagne method, none can be called by that famous moniker unless they are produced from grapes grown in the region of Champagne in northern France.

If you recall, the Champagne method (or methode champenoise) is a process where still wines (traditionally pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier) are blended and then put in a bottle to which yeast and a small amount of sugar are added. This causes the wine to go through a secondary fermentation and the result is a bubbly wine like Champagne. While Champagne is regarded as the gold standard, many other countries produce excellent sparkling wine using this method.

And while true Champagne (which is the most expensive of all sparkling wine) certainly deserves to be paired with decadent foods like foie gras or caviar, it and other sparklers are equally copasetic with just about any dish on the planet. Hey, if food could talk, don’t you think a spicy dish like chili would prefer to be paired with Champagne rather than that hoppy,foamy yellow stuff?

Champagne is priced from the mid thirties to upwards of hundreds of dollars a bottle. Here a few of my favorites priced under $60: Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve; Nicolas Feuillatte Brut; Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut; Moet & Chandon Imperial; Veuve Cliquot (Yellow Label); and Perrier Jouet Grand Brut.

Sparkling wines (those made outside France, but using the Champagne method) priced under $30: Gloria Ferrer Brut; Schramsburg Brut; Domaine Carneros; Mumm Cuvee Napa; Domaine Chandon Reserve; Piper Sonoma Brut; Ste. Michelle Brut; Castillo Perelada Cava Brut Rosado; Dibon Cava; and Gustave Lorentz Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rosé.

Prosecco (these don’t use the Champagne method) priced from $10 – $20 a bottle: Santa Margherita; Ruffino; Zardetto; Lamarca; and Mionetto.

Chop House gourmet dinner for Thomas Health

It’s always fun and gratifying to be a part of an organization that provides essential services that are beneficial to the community in which we live. For the past decade, it has been my privilege to serve on the boards of the Thomas Health System and also the Foundation for Thomas Health.

One of the benefits of my association with Thomas is that I get to (occasionally) use my knowledge and love of food and wine for some purpose other than gratifying my own hedonistic tendencies. In this instance, I will be a part of an effort to celebrate and shine a light on the good works of the folks at Thomas.

It will be my pleasure to once again select and then present the wines at the second annual five-course gourmet dinner sponsored by the Foundation for Thomas Health. The event will be held again at the Chop House – this year on July 28, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

At the inaugural event last July, the dinner highlighted Italian food and wine. This year, attendees will be treated to a celebration of traditional American cuisine with wines paired for each course by yours truly. The Chop House has been a very generous partner in this event and, as usual, you can expect the quality of the food to be exceptional.

Here’s the menu with wines:

Passed Canapés: Warmed mushrooms stuffed with fresh herb roasted chicken and pecans; Smoked salmon topped on bruschetta with tomato caper relish

2014 Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc

Appetizer: 4 oz. Crab and lobster cake topped with homemade red pepper coulis with basil and crispy onion stack

2014 Clos Pegase Carneros Chardonnay

Salad: Seasonal greens with Michigan dried cherries, spiced pecans and dressed
with Maytag blue cheese

2016 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Blanc

Entrée: Grilled 6 oz. filet mignon on whipped garlic mashed potatoes with glazed baby carrots and broccoli and finished with a cabernet demi sauce

2014 Mullan Road Cellars Red Blend

Dessert: Chocolate Decadence cake with fresh summer berries

Santa Margherita Prosecco

The price is $125 per person and seating is limited. If you’re interested in attending, please call the Foundation at 304-766-4340 and make your reservation today. You can also bring your friends as tables of four, six, eight and ten are available.

Hope to raise a glass with you to Thomas Health on Friday, July 28th.

Taste, balance, finesse: The other Washington

What words come to mind when I say Washington?

I bet dysfunction, quagmire, loggerhead and unyielding are among the most defining words you might use to describe that place. But when I think of Washington, words such as balance, nuance, depth and finesse immediately come to mind.

Obviously, we’re describing two different places. In fact, I often use the products produced in the kinder, gentler Washington to soothe and anesthetize me from the vitriol and vinegar of that other place with the same name.

Of course, I’m referring to Washington State. That bastion of good taste in the Pacific Northwest is often overlooked by wine lovers who seem to gravitate more to California and Oregon when looking for some of the best wines produced in the U.S.

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If you’re one of those folks, you should really give Washington State another look. In a region of the country perhaps better known for producing cherries, hops, apples, apricots and RAIN, thousands of acres of grapes have been planted. And the wines produced from these grapes are truly exceptional.

In the past 40 years, the wine industry in Washington has exploded. In 1981, there were only 19 wineries in the state and today there are more than 900 scattered over 14 American Viticultural Areas (AVA’s).

Most of us who live east of the Rocky Mountains think of Seattle when we think of Washington State. But Seattle sits smack dab between the Cascade Mountains to the east and the Olympic range to the west, and has rain forest-like weather. And while there are a few vineyards in the Seattle/Puget Sound area, the overwhelming majority of wine is being produced from vines grown across the mountains in Eastern Washington.

So what makes this northwest corner of the U.S. so special? It’s the superb terroir
(pronounced tare-wah). Terroir is defined as the combination of soil, climate and geographic location that determine the quality of a wine appellation. Washington’s terroir is superior and suited for growing some of the world’s greatest wine grapes including, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, chardonnay, riesling, gewürztraminer and semillon.

Washington white wines are the equal to anything produced in California or Oregon, particularly the riesling, chardonnay and gewürztraminer. And the cabernets, merlots and syrahs are truly exceptional and can compete with wines produced from similar vines anywhere else.

In fact, Washington State produces one of my all-time favorite cabernet sauvignons – Quilceda Creek. It’s a very small production winery and has gained cult status from several 100-point scores regularly awarded to it by critics such as Robert Parker. I was fortunate enough to get on their mailing list 20 years ago. But there other equally good, red wines produced in Washington that are readily available and don’t take a back seat to any other region in the world.

That’s a pretty bold statement, but in addition to intensity, richness, elegance and power, Washington State red wines have the potential to achieve a qualitative attribute uncommon in many wine regions: balance.

Here are a few of my favorite labels from Washington State that you should find in wine shops around the state: Mercer Canyons; Kiona; Saviah Cellars; L’Ecole No. 41; Columbia Crest; Canoe Ridge; Hedges; Leonetti; Waterbrook; Quilceda Creek; Woodward Canyon; Covey Run; Milbrandt; Walla Walla; Chateau Ste. Michelle; Columbia Winery; DeLille Cellars; and Barnard Griffin Winery.

Warm weather wines and a Poblano Stack

Memorial Day weekend is in the rear view mirror which means that summertime is about to arrive. This time of year, some people’s thoughts turn to gardening or even golf, but not mine. My thoughts turn to grilling various meats and vegetables and accompanying these culinary delights with cool bottles of lighter-textured wines that refresh the body and the recharge the spirit.

I am referring to approachable whites and reds that transform your grilled foods into even more delicious morsels, and raise the overall gustatory experience to sublime levels. And most of the wines listed below retail for less than $30 a bottle.

Let’s start with my go-to spring and summer white.

This is a great time of year to sip crisp, herbaceous sauvignon blanc with herbal suffused foods such as salmon with dill, grilled asparagus, or even a basil pesto  over linguine. Or how about these sauvignon blanc friendly options: creamy chicken salad with tarragon or sautéed brocolini and shitake mushrooms.

You’ll want to search for richer, more fruit forward styles of sauvignon blanc that bring out the best in these types of dishes, like : St. Supery, Ferrari-Carano, Nobilo, Chateau St. Jean, Duckhorn Sonoma County, Kenwod, St. Michelle and Sterling.

My absolute favorite picnic and warm weather wine is rose’. Nothing beats the freshness and suitability of rose to pair with foods like grilled Brats, Italian sausage, or baby back ribs. Give these babies a try: Domaine Fontsainte Gris de Gris, Banfi Centine Rose, Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rose, Elizabeth Spencer Rose of Grenache and Ferraton Tavel Rose.

poblano-stack

Sangovese and pinot noir are my seasonal choices for red wines in the springtime, particularly when matched with grilled dishes. And spring lamb is just about as good as it gets. Whether you choose a boned and butterflied leg, lamb chops or rack of lamb, these wines do not over-power the food, but rather compliment and enhance the flavors.

Here are some sangiovese choices for the grilled lamb dishes mentioned above: Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale, Carpineto Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano, Falcor Sangiovese, Monsanto Chianti Classico, Fossi Chianti and Monte Antico.

Pinot noir may be the world’s most versatile wine with a multitude of dishes. From grilled salmom to chicken, to spicy barbecue and even beef, pinot noir shows its adaptability to a host of foods with different tastes and textures. And a slightly chilled pinot noir is the perfect accompaniment to outdoor dining.

Try these favorites of mine: Erath(Williamette Valley), Cloudy Bay (New Zealand), Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards Sonoma Coast, Chehalem Winery, King Estate, Twomey Russian River, La Crema and Melville.

Okay, so here’s a recipe for a simple warm weather dish that could be used as an appetizer or an accompaniment to other picnic type foods. It also pairs up well with just about any of the wines mentioned above. It’s actually a bit spicy, but if you like a little heat with your meal, this is one you’ve got to try.

Poblano Stack

Ingredients:

– Eight medium poblano peppers

– One red and one yellow bell pepper

– One-half pound of sharp, grated white cheddar cheese

– Two ounces extra virgin olive oil

– One –half teaspoon each of salt and pepper

– One large paper bag and several sections of paper towels

Preparation:

Scorch each poblano and bell pepper on a very hot grill until peppers are fairly black

Wrap and cover each pepper in a paper towel and place in the closed paper bag

Allow peppers to steam for about one-half hour

Remove from bag and use a small knife to scrape off burnt pepper skin

Discard seeds and stems from peppers and cut each into two or three pieces

Place a layer of poblano pieces in a small square or rectangular baking dish

Add small amounts of olive oil, salt and pepper and cheese to poblanos

Alternate and stack poblanos with yellow and red peppers

Bake in the oven for 25minutes at 325 F.

Slice into small squares and serve

The warmer weather usually means it’s time to switch from the fuller-bodied wines of winter to the lighter wines of spring time. Take a look at what I’m sipping and how there’s even a wine for ramps!