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 http://wvfarmers.org/.

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 (www.farm2u.org) 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 (www.localfoodmarketplace.com/monroe/) 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:  http://festivallcharleston.com/ or by calling  304-470-0489.

The Blend: more taste per sip

February 2, 2015 by John Brown

If you are like most of the wine drinking world, you probably regularly drink cabernet sauvignon , pinot noir, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, zinfandel, syrah, pinot grigio or other readily available varietals. And that’s fine.

But today, I’m going to suggest you spice up your palate by trying wines that are comprised of combinations of grapes blended into a single bottle. In my humble opinion, these blended wines (some call them cuvees or meritages) are superior to single varietals because they offer layers of complex flavors and are usually more supple than those made from one grape variety.

And there are literally thousands of individual grape varieties produced on virtually every continent, including Antarctica, where a wine maker is actually growing riesling. I suppose that gives a whole new meaning to the term: “ice wine.”

Anyway, with so many grapes to choose from, wine makers over the millennia have settled on just a few hundred varietals to use in producing their particular bottlings. Specific geographic regions called appellations have been designated around the world and some governments have even regulated what grapes can be used and identified to denote being from a particular place.

Red Bordeaux, for example, must be made from only a select number of grapes such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec that are produced from grapes grown in that specific area of France. Chianti Classico must use at least 70 percent sangiovese with an allowance made for a few other varietals.

And while there are incredibly superb single varietal wines, I’m convinced that those made from combinations are better and more food friendly. Take the wines from the southern Rhone Valley for instance. Growers of Cotes Du Rhone can use of up to 13 different red grapes, and even a couple of white varietals to make up their blend.

Rhone and Rhone-like wines produced in other countries are usually comprised of grenache, syrah and mourvedre – sometimes referred to as “the holy trinity” – and can run the gamut from fruit forward easy drinking brunch type wines to full-bodied and tannic offerings, like Chateauneuf-du-Pape, that pair up wonderfully well with red meat.

Two Really Good Blends

Two Really Good Blends

The Aussies have for decades understood the beauty of blending. One of my favorite wines produced by D’Arenberg and known as The Laughing Magpie is comprised of 90 percent shiraz and 10 percent viognier – a white wine.

White blends are worth trying too, offering some of the same complex attributes as their red brethren. In Italy, Soave is a region where the primary white grape –garganega – gains weight and flavor from the addition of chardonnay. In Bordeaux, the classic white wine is comprised of sauvignon blanc and semillon.

In California, a wine must contain 75 percent or more of a grape to be called by that varietal’s name which provides a good bit of latitude for the wine maker to add other grapes to the blend. Ridge Vineyards (my favorite zinfandel producer) almost always blends grapes such as petite sirah, carignane and mourvedre in their vineyard designated reds.

And more and more California cabernet  fans are trying “Bordeaux” style blends or meritages which can soften up and smooth out the sometimes hard tannins found in this famous varietal. Here a couple of my favorite blended wines that make my point pretty effectively.  Give them a try and see.

2013 Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Scaia ($14) This lovely, silky smooth white from the Veneto region of Italy is comprised of 80 percent garganega and 20 percent chardonnay. Ripe apple and citrus flavors are balanced by ample acidity to make this the perfect match to pasta carbonara or Alfredo.

2012 Luma Red Blend ($14) Aged for a year in small oak barrels, this Chilean red is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and petit verdot. Round and rich with hints of chocolate, ripe plums and spice, this wine is perfect to pair with a roasted pork tenderloin sliced and served with a Dijon mustard, rosemary and crème sauce.

A recipe to nourish your body and spirit

January 13, 2015 by John Brown

Let’s play Jeopardy.

The answer: Comfort food and hearty wine!

The Question: What do you need to ward off that psychological malady brought on by gray skies, cold weather, a general lack of sunshine and the end of football season?

Clinically known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), Doctor Feelgood (that’s me) has just the over-the-counter prescription for what ails you when the cold wind whips, the skies turn dark and football is almost in the rearview mirror.

Of course you could fire up a pot of three-alarm chili, layer a pan of lasagna with four pounds of noodles, cheese and meat sauce, or even jazz up a crock of file’ gumbo with Cajun chicken, andouille sausage and a mahogany roux. But those dishes are not turning my crank today.

No, I’m in the mood for some serious Italian grub that features beef slowly cooked in a fiery (optional) red sauce which is then ladled over penne pasta. My Happy (and hearty) cure for SAD? Braciole (pronounced brah-she-oh–luh) or Italian beef roll-ups slow cooked in a delicious bath of spicy tomato sauce.

I call it “Brash Braciole cause this dish will get right in your face like a blitzing linebacker! As a matter of fact, you might consider making this the centerpiece of your Super Bowl celebration.

After preparing and consuming the dish – accompanied by a lovely full bodied red wine – your outlook on the world will definitely be brighter. So here’s the recipe along with a couple of copacetic wine suggestions that will lift your spirits and help get you through these gray days.

Sangiovese grapes at Castello di Bossi in Tuscany

Sangiovese grapes at Castello di Bossi in Tuscany

Brash Braciole!
Two pound beef rump roast cut into one-half inch thick slices
One pound of penne pasta
Three large cans of San Marzano crushed tomatoes
Two links of Italian sausage
One half cup of grated parmesan cheese and Italian bread crumbs
Four ounces of extra virgin olive oil
One large onion, chopped
Four cloves garlic, chopped finely
One red pepper and one carrot coarsely chopped
One tsp. each of kosher salt, black pepper, dried oregano and red pepper flakes
Two sheets each of plastic wrap and several tooth picks or pieces of butcher string
One-half cup of dry red wine

Take one half of the veggie mixture and sauté in large pot or dutch oven
Put the San Marzano tomatoes and half the wine into the pot with the veggies simmer sauce for two hours
Place meat pieces between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound to one-quarter inch thickness
Make a dry rub of the spices (a tsp. of the garlic) and rub into both sides of the meat
Cook the Italian sausage and chop finely
Sauté the remainder of onions, garlic and carrots in the sauté pan and set aside
Allow the meat and vegetables to cool to room temperature
NOW OPEN SOME WINE AND HAVE A SIP –YOU DESERVE A BREAK!
Combine the veggies, cheese, sausage and bread crumbs into a mixture in a bowl
Spread the mixture on each piece of beef, roll up and affix with toothpicks or string
Sauté the roll-ups in a skillet using some of the olive oil
Deglaze the skillet with a couple splashes of the red wine and place braciole in the tomato sauce in the dutch oven
Cover and cook in the oven for two hours at 325 F
Cook the penne in boiling water until al dente and combine with the tomato sauce
Ladle the spicy sauce over the braciole and penne and serve on the same plate.

Wine Suggestions:

2010 Castello di Bossi Chianti Classico ($24) –Infused with dark cherry flavors and hints of spice and blackberry, this predominately sangiovese-based wine is full-bodied and rich. It would be a great match to the racy red sauce and the braciole.

2013 Columbia Winery Columbia Valley Merlot ($17) – Merlot with Italian food? Actually yes. This silky, full-bodied and spicy Washington State wine also has a nice zing of acidity to balance it out and make it an excellent match to braciole.

Remembering feasts from Christmases past; and some holiday Claret suggestions

December 17, 2014 by John Brown

My maternal grandparents landed at Ellis Island in the late 19th Century, following others from their home state of Calabria to West Virginia. After more than 15 years working in the mines, my grandfather built a bakery in the North View section of Clarksburg that, to this day, my cousins continue to operate.

Sunday family dinners at my grandparents’ home, replete with dozens of cousins, aunts and uncles, are happily and indelibly seared in my memory. Those Calabrian-inspired feasts, washed down with jugs of home made red wine, would begin shortly after noon and proceed until early evening.

I think of those family gatherings, particularly this time of the year, as I peruse the family reunion cookbook to select the menus for the holidays to come. Italian-American families can eat and drink like elite athletes run and jump, and the multi-day Christmas season is truly the Olympiad of all gustatory holiday celebrations.

Feast of the Seven Fishes

Feast of the Seven Fishes

I know this because as a youngster, growing up in my little corner of north-central West Virginia, I learned from the accomplished eaters and drinkers in my large family the difference between a sprint and a marathon. You had to be in it for the long haul to enjoy it, so it was essential to savor the feast in moderation, a term with an elastic definition – kind of like spandex.

This was particularly important given the family’s tradition of visiting each other’s homes beginning Christmas Eve and extending through New Year’s Day. In a one- hundred yard block, there were eight separate homes or apartments where my grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins lived.

Five of the eight surviving adult brothers and sisters conceived by my grand parents, along with three married cousins lived, loved, argued and (especially) ate with one another in this small space.

It all began with a visit to Grandma’s home where you risked bodily harm (from Grandpa) if you refused to eat something. It really didn’t matter what you ate – an olive, a piece of cheese or a crust of bread – just that you ate it and had something to drink – usually wine.

Then it was off to visit each family abode and that could take several days to accomplish since we were hosting family visitors in our own home during that same time frame. And while each family’s dining room table was heaped with the edible bounty of the season, certain family members were noted for the special dishes they “owned.”

For example, no one would dare prepare squid lasagna. That was one of Aunt Notie’s culinary masterpieces –her piece de resistance – and it would have been considered a serious affront for some other family member to feature the dish, particularly on Christmas Eve when everyone cooked their version of the “feast of the seven fishes.”

That’s not to say that our family was shy about claiming superiority in the preparation of just about any other traditional Italian dish. To suggest to Uncle Frankie, for instance, that your stuffed artichokes could in any way compete with the ones he prepared was to elicit an epithet-laced tirade that could shatter crystal.

Oh, yes, we would argue – and on just about anything! But food topped the list. Who had the most unique dish? Was it Aunt Katie’s braised rabbit in red wine… Uncle Johnny’s home made Italian sausage… cousin Gloria’s spinach and cheese stuffed leg of lamb…?

By the end of the day on January 1st, most of us required the Italian version of Alka-Seltzer – Brioschi – which was prescribed to the rest of us by  the women in the family who practiced a form of moderation less elastic than the rest of us.

Merry Christmas!

It is traditional in the holiday season to give, receive or sip Bordeaux (also known as Claret), Cabernet Sauvignon or a Bordeaux-style blend. Here are a few Christmas Clarets for your consideration:

2009 Chateau Palmer; 2012 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon; 2011 Joseph Phelps Insignia; 2010 Chateau La Dominique; 2010 Spring Mountain Cabenet Sauvignon; 2009 Chateau Montrose; 2010 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve; 2000 Chateau Brainaire Ducru; 2010 Merryvale Profile; 2010 Chateau Cos d’Estournel; 2010 St. Supery Elu Red; 2010 Cain Five Cabernet Sauvignon; 2010 Pontet Canet; 2005 Leoville Las Cases; 2009 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; and 2010 Guado al Tasso.