Vines & Vittles

Summer Veggies and Wine

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If you are regular reader of this column, you know that I love to use my trusty Weber grill to barbecue all type of meat products, including pork spare ribs, beef steaks, whole chickens, rack of lamb and seafood, especially salmon. The wine choices for these edible treats are usually medium to full-bodied reds like zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon or syrah.

But I am also a fan of using my Weber to grill vegetables, particularly now that we have access to the bounty of the summer season. There is no better time than right now to add more vegetables to the daily dinner table. And since I love to purchase locally grown foods, I spend a great deal of time perusing the aisles of Capitol Market ‘s outdoor section for the fresh produce picked daily by area farmers.

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Right now, you can find just about any vegetable, including corn, green beans, squash, sweet and hot peppers and, of course, tomatoes. With a little preparation and a lot of imagination, you can coax a whole new palate of flavors out of veggies when you grill them.

Grilling these edible plants also creates an added benefit for we wine lovers. The smoky, slightly charred flavors add a taste dimension that enables normally delicate vegetables like green beans, zucchini squash and broccoli to pair very well with medium bodied whites like sauvignon blanc. And my new “go-to” sauvignon blanc is the 2015 Chateau Fontenille ($12), a white Bordeaux that is the perfect match to the aforementioned grilled veggies.

But you don’t need a grill to enjoy these delicious vegan treats. In fact, one of my favorite summertime vegetable dishes is best prepared in the kitchen. The centerpiece of the dish is peppers. And man do I love peppers! Green ones, red ones and especially hot ones. I use peppers in a multitude of ways. I roast them, stuff them, fry them, freeze them, can them and, above all, I consume them almost daily.

Here’s a recipe for fried peppers I’ve borrowed from members of my Italian-American family. I’ve told you about it before, but it is worth repeating here today. This dish demands a medium bodied red wine with a good dollop of acid to enhance the flavors of the peppers. Try one or all three of these wines with the dish: 2013 Easton Monarch Mine Barbera ($25); 2012 Vietti ‘Tre Vigne’ Barbera d’ Asti ($17); 2013 Elk Cove Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($26).

Fried Peppers Calabraze

Ingredients

Seven multi-colored bell peppers, sliced into five-inch long by one-inch wide pieces
Three hot banana peppers (optional) sliced the same as above
One large onion sliced into approximately three-inch lengths, a quarter-inch wide
One large ripe, red tomato, peeled and coarsely chopped
Three garlic cloves coarsely chopped
Three ounces of olive oil
Two tablespoons each of freshly chopped basil and oregano
One teaspoon of salt and coarsely ground black pepper

How To

Heat olive oil in a large frying pan (preferably cast iron) to medium high heat
Add onions and sauté for about three minutes, and then add all peppers
Use a spatula to stir the peppers regularly to prevent ones on bottom from burning
Add garlic and tomatoes to the mixture after about 15 minutes and continue stirring
Lower heat and cook until most of the liquid evaporates
Continue to sauté until the peppers and onions begin to caramelize (usually takes 25-to 30 minutes)
Remove from the stove, place in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper
Mix in the fresh basil and oregano and then serve

Spicy Salmon Burger with Chili Lime Aioli

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My mother was a very good cook, but the canned salmon patties she attempted to transform into something palatable were only marginally more appetizing than sautéed calf’s liver.

I’m sure there aren’t many of you who have been forced to experience the unique flavors of canned salmon. But if you grew up a few decades ago when there was little or no access to fresh seafood, your mom – like mine- would have added some type of canned fish product to the weekly family dinner menu.

That’s because doctors back then told parents that kids needed the vitamins, minerals and nutrients provided by seafood. So moms living in West Virginia, Iowa or other land locked places had little choice except to buy canned seafood products. The other option was to force-feed their kids daily spoonfuls of cod liver oil- a childhood experience only slightly less traumatic than an enema.

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And while canned seafood products like salmon, tuna, and sardines are still available, we now have regular access to fresh seafood. So today, in honor of all those moms’ determined, but futile attempts, to create something edible from canned seafood, I am going to share a spicy salmon burger and chili lime aioli recipe with you. I think you’ll find that it is delicious, and made even more so with the wines I’m recommending.

While I prefer to grill the burgers, they can also be pan sautéed or baked for a short time in the oven. But the first step is to find fresh seafood from a shop or grocery store that has regular deliveries of this very fragile product. My go-to seafood monger here in the capitol city is Joe’s Fish Market on the corner of Brooks and Quarrier Streets (304-342-7827).

For the perfect roll to envelope this Spicy Salmon Burger, you might find suitable products at the grocery store, but I suggest calling ahead and ordering the delicious and fresh Brioche Buns from Charleston Bread at 601 Capitol St. (304-720-3022).

One of the attributes of the Spicy Salmon Burger is that the flavor components pair equally well with both white and red wine. You might try one or both of these wines.

2015 Chateau De Fontenille ($11)- From Bordeaux, this steely, yet rich white is a complex blend of sauvignon blanc, semillon, sauvignon gris and muscadelle. It marries nicely with the herbal nuances of the burger, and provides a refreshing counter to the spiciness of the dish.

2013 Chehalem Three Points Pinot Noir ($35) – From the Willamette Valley of Oregon, this wine has a mouthful of black cherries, spice and tea flavors. Rich, yet still perfectly balanced with a nice acid zing, it is very copacetic with the Spicy Salmon Burger.

Spicy Salmon Burger with Chili Lime Aioli

Ingredients:

One pound skinless salmon filet

Two tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro

One egg

Two tablespoon of fresh lime juice

One-half jalapeno diced

Three teaspoons of diced onions

One teaspoon each of kosher salt, diced garlic, black pepper, cumin and chili powder

Two tablespoons of Panko or bread crumbs

One tablespoon of chopped chipotle in adobo sauce (optional)

Chili Lime Aioli

One-third cup mayonnaise or Miracle Whip

One tablespoon lime juice

One-half teaspoon of minced fresh garlic, smoked paprika, salt and black pepper

One-half teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper (optional) and chili powder

How To:

Combine all ingredients for the Aioli in a bowl, mix and refrigerate

Cut salmon into half-inch squares

Pulse in a food processor until salmon has the consistency of hamburger

Place salmon in a bowl and add the remaining ingredients

Mix ingredients and form into salmon burgers

Grill on a medium hot grill three minutes a side until firm

Place in a bun and add the chili lime aioli

Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wines for summer foods

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Memorial Day is coming! Are you ready to get your picnic on? I am and today we’ll examine some vinous liquids that will enhance and elevate simple, but all-American, picnic and leisure time foods. So put out the porch furniture and crank up the grill because it’s (almost) summertime- and the livin’ is easy.

First of all, let me destroy the myth that warmer weather requires light, white wines that are cool and refreshing to pair with the chicken, seafood, salads and veggies we tend to consume more of in the summer. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with tasty, light white wines, but you don’t need to stop there. Trust me, you really can enjoy fuller bodied wines in the summertime – even big reds.

As usual, the food you’re cooking should determine what you’re drinking. But let’s start with lighter style whites and roses that fit the casual feel of outdoor cooking, and also pair really well with grilled foods. These lighter-style wines benefit from a little chilling, particularly the reds, which will provide a refreshing counterpoint to the sometimes spicy entrees being prepared.

Lovely with grilled foods!

You might choose a crisp, herbal or citrusy sauvignon blanc with foods such as dill poached salmon, grilled broccoli, roasted chicken seasoned with rosemary and olive or basil and pine nut pesto pasta. Here are some of my favorite sauvignon blancs to try with the above-mentioned foods: Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc and Brancott Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand; Ferrari -Carano Fume Blanc, Groth Sauvignon Blanc, St. Suppery Sauvignon Blanc and Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc from California; and Robert Oatley Sauvignon Blanc from Australia.

Rose’s are just made for warmer weather and the beauty of these wines is their versatility in either being an aperitif or a match to your picnic foods. I especially like the drier versions that are especially excellent accompaniments to grilled foods, particularly sausages. Whether you prefer Italian, Polish, Bratwurst or some other pork-encased tube steak, rose’ is a great choice.

Here are some roses’, which again I recommend serving chilled, you may wish to try: Las Rocas Rose’ (Spain); Grange Philippe “Gipsy” Rose’ (France); Reginato Sparkling Rose’ of Malbec (Argentina); Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rose’ (South Africa); Elizabeth Spencer Rose’ of Grenache (California).

Summertime gets me in a serious mood to fire up the old Weber and start grilling various hunks of meat that require medium to full bodied red wine. Whether you choose to grill hamburgers, rack of lamb, a rib-eye steak or a pork baby-backs, reds are my go-to wines.

Give one of these bottlings a sip: Easton Amador County Zinfandel, Villa Antinori Toscano Rosso (Italy); Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee Pinot Noir (Oregon); Zaccagnini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Italy); Bodegas Muga Crianza Rioja (Spain); Field Stone Convivio Red (California); Domaine De La Janasse Cotes Du Rhone Villages (France); Mercer Merlot (Washington State); David Bruce Pinot Noir (California) and Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel (California).

So whether you’re grilling rib-eyes or tube steak, there is always a wine (or several) for every food, and that makes summertime so much fun.

Merlot: bad rap, but good rep!

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I know that I am among many wine lovers on this planet who was initially outraged to hear the lead character in the movie, “Sideways, ” brutally disparage merlot. And I think it is more than just a coincidence that merlot sales have hit the skids in the decade since the movie first appeared in 2006.

But soon after Miles uttered that epithet-laced opinion, I began to recalibrate my feelings about his critical remarks. In fact, I guess you could say that I am actually happy that gullible movie-goers/wine lovers actually believed (or suspended disbelief) Miles’ pronouncements about merlot.

Field Stone Merlot

In any event, prices have dropped fairly significantly and, if you are a merlot fan, I suppose you should thank the movie for providing us with an exceptional buying opportunity. Actually, it’s ironic that merlot would face the screenwriter’s wrath since there are certainly more deserving varietals such as pinotage or retsina to avoid. After all, the most expensive and sought after wine on earth is Chateau Petrus which is comprised entirely of merlot.

So let me say for the record that I am a merlot fan. I’m also a pinot noir fan – which the movie praises to high heaven. But today we’re talking merlot, and I want to tell you about some new wines that have arrived in our state featuring this much maligned grape.

I have always been a fan of merlot grown in moderate climates where the finished product can exhibit both strength and finesse. Merlot is a prolific vine and given too much sun, water or heat, the resulting wine can be flabby, alcoholic, watery and out of balance. This was the style of merlot that Miles was savaging in the movie. But that’s not what I will be describing for you today.

Field Stone Winery & Vineyard in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma County produces some exceptional merlot as well as other excellent red varietals too. Field Stone is small and family-owned, producing about 9000 cases of wine a year. This is one of the wineries that legendary wine maker Andre Tchelistcheff consulted for in years past. Field Stone also features one of the first underground wineries in California.

I tasted through some of their wines a couple of weeks ago and below are a few you might consider trying, especially with fuller bodied foods like grilled beef and pork as well as pasta dishes such as Cacio e Pepe (black pepper pasta) that I featured in a recent column. The wines are available at the Wine Shop in Capitol Market.

2013 Field Stone Convivio Red ($13) – Comprised of 74% merlot, 19% sangiovese and the rest a combination of malbec and cabernet sauvignon, this value blend is round, rich and full-bodied. In addition, you can sip and feel good about it since a portion of the proceeds from this wine is earmarked for Clinica Alianza – a non- profit medical center serving farm workers and their families among others in northern California.

2013 Field Stone Merlot Alexander Valley ($18) – Deep and full flavors of black cherries and spice are rounded out with light touches of toasty oak. This is a well-balanced merlot that will benefit from aeration in a decanter to soften up the fine tannins and allow the lovely aromas and flavors to express themselves.

2013 Field Stone Staten Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) – This one is a keeper. Deep and rich with extracted dark plum and blackberry notes, the wine was aged 21 months in French oak. Despite its concentrated and full-bodied characteristics, it is is exceptionally well-balanced and will improve with several years in bottle.

You might also try the winery’s 2013 Petite Sirah ($40) and the 2013 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($20). Both wines are exceptionally well made and demonstrate the consistency and quality of the entire Field Stone line.

Ramping up for Springtime

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Ramps! Like snails, buttermilk or sweet breads, you either covet these “acquired tastes” or detest the very thought of them. I know people that would rather experience water boarding than consume ramps. Me? I love these little lilies, but I think I’m genetically predisposed to do so.

Let me explain.

My paternal grandparents hailed from Richwood, a small mountain village on the shores of the Cherry River. In the days before air-conditioning, I spent many happy summer days there, escaping the heat and humidity of my Harrison County hometown.

The legendary stories about Richwood and ramps are many, outrageous and sometimes true. The late Jim Comstock, publisher of the now defunct West Virginia Hillbilly newspaper, chronicled many of these tales in his publication. Here is a story that proves the old saying: “truth is stranger than fiction.” In this instance, Comstock became the lead character in a story that made nationwide headlines.

A Spring Harvest of Ramps
A Spring Harvest of Ramps

A few decades back, Jim Comstock literally created a national stink when he added ramps to the printers ink for one edition of his newspaper. The Hillbilly had subscribers all over the country and even in foreign lands. The US Postal service was not amused and Comstock almost went to jail, but it sure did put his town and ramps on the map.

I cannot ever remember my grandmother cooking me up a mess of ramps during my idyllic summertime visits to Richwood, and it wasn’t until years later that I tasted them for the first time. But when I did, I was hooked after that first bite. That was years ago when I was home on leave from the Army, and about to be deployed overseas.

It happened late one evening when my next door neighbor brought over a six-pack (or so) of beer and a bundle of ramps. He suggested the best way to enjoy the little buggers was to sprinkle them with salt and eat them raw. Love at first bite? You bet. So we ate the entire bunch of ramps, chasing them down with several brews until the wee hours of the morning.

Well, I awoke that next day shivering. It seems my mother had opened every window and door in the house in a vain attempt to rid the abode of a foul odor permeating the place. I looked out the window and there was mom with a large container of Lysol spraying the stuff into the house from the outside. To put it mildly: there are better, far less offensive, ways to consume ramps- and without violating the EPA’s clean air act.

We are now in the midst of ramp season and many towns in the state, particularly in the mountains, are holding ramp feeds. However, I am not a fan of the traditional manner in which they are prepared. Most cooks fry them in lard or bacon grease and then add them to potatoes or (worse) pinto beans. This can cause folks to leave the events belching and flatulent while vowing never to get within a country mile of a ramp.

I prefer to sauté them in olive or canola oil and then add them to just about any vegetable dish from asparagus to potatoes to zucchini. There are also excellent grilled to accompany steak and can be added to scrambled eggs. I have also made them the key component of a pasta dish in which they are tossed with pancetta, asparagus and parmesan cheese in a white wine and olive oil sauce.

Sauvignon blanc is my favorite wine to accompany just about any ramp dish. I suggest pairing the above pasta recipe with the 2014 William Hill Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($17) or the 2014 Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc ($30).

So give ramps a try, but not at a one of the ubiquitous feeds where their flavor is obscured in pinto beans or fried potatoes. Simply sauté them in small amount of oil and add them to your vegetable dishes or pasta. Like onions and garlic, ramps are much less pungent when cooked and really do enhance the flavor of just about any dish.

Pasta inspiration from Paterno’s at the Park

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There’s a lot to like about Paterno’s At the Park, one of Charleston’s best restaurants, and one with a very extensive and exceptional wine list. I’m fortunate to live within walking distance of this special eatery because I’m usually in need of a postprandial stroll after I dine there.

I visited Paterno’s the other evening and I chose the Sausage and Pea Rigatoni offering which combines Italian sausage with peas and shallots tossed in a parmesan cream sauce. Rich and decadent, this was culinary perfection, particularly since I paired the pasta with a crisp and fruit-forward white – the 2014 Scaia Garganega/Chardonnay. This delicate, but flavorful blended wine from Italy’s Veneto region provided a nice balance and contrast to the richness of the pasta.

Old Barolo

The Scaia is featured on a separate wine list at Paterno’s which has about 30 red and white Italian wines all priced at $20 a bottle. This value list is  designed to encourage guests to experiment with food and wine pairings and at a very enticing and consumer friendly price. And if you don’t finish the whole bottle, Paterno’s can legally bag up any wine leftovers for you to take home.

In addition to this special value list, Paterno’s features a more comprehensive wine list that hits all the right vinous notes. For the veal and beef courses at the restaurant, try the 2008 Travaglini Gattinara. This is owner Andy Paterno’s favorite wine and it is a medium to full bodied red from the Piedmont region of northern Italy. Like its Barolo and Barbaresco neighbors, Gattinara is made from the nebbiolo grape and the Travaglini is rich, rustic and full of black cherry and cola flavors.

After dinner there the other evening, I came away inspired to create a special pasta dish for our regular Sunday family dinner. But instead of trying to recreate Paterno’s sausage and pea rigatoni recipe, I chose to prepare a peasant pasta dish which is a Roman staple: Cacio e Pepe (pronounced Catch -oh –ay- pay- pay) or Black Pepper pasta. And to give the recipe a little color, more heat and a personal touch, I added green peas and red pepper flakes. This is a simple, delicious dish that you can make in about 30 minutes. Here’s the recipe.

Ingredients:

One pound of Fettuccine or Bucatini pasta
One cup each grated Pecorino Romano and parmesan (blended together)
Three tablespoons of freshly ground black pepper
One cup of frozen peas
One teaspoon of red pepper flakes (optional)
Three tablespoons of butter
Four ounces of extra virgin olive oil
One cup of reserved pasta water

How To:

Boil one pound of pasta until al dente
Reserve one cup of pasta water
Drain the pasta in a colander
Place butter and half the olive oil in a large skillet and allow butter to melt
Add two tablespoons of black pepper, the peas and pepper flakes
Pour one half of the water into the skillet and stir in half the cheese
Put the pasta in the skillet and toss until mixture is integrated
Add the remaining water, cheese, black pepper and olive oil and toss
Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary and serve immediately

The beauty of this recipe is that it can accommodate either red or white wine. So give it a try and consider uncorking one of these wines: the 2011 Bertani Ripasso ($25), a medium-bodied red from the Valpolicella region of Italy; or a rich and round white like the 2013 Calera Central Coast Chardonnay ($30). Buon Appetito!

How to become a Rhone Ranger

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With the exception of Chateauneuf du Pape, most of us are unfamiliar with wines from the southern Rhone region of France. That’s a shame because there are so many delicious, value-oriented bottlings readily available to us from this very special wine appellation.

With about the same texture and intensity as Chianti Classico, southern Rhone reds are very versatile wines that are also quite food compatible. Listen up, you’re about to become a Rhone Ranger!

There are 13 grapes that can be used to make red Chateauneuf Du Pape and other wines of the region, but most wineries blend a combination of just three: the ubiquitous grenache; the more famous syrah; and just a touch of mourvedre. This blend produces flavorful, medium to full-bodied wines.

Chateauneuf Du Pape (priced anywhere from about $40 to more than $100 a bottle) can produce truly exceptional wines, particularly from producers such as Beaucastel, Domaine de la Janasse, Domaine du Pegaü, Rayas, Paul Autard, Vieux Télégraphe and Clos des Papes. But these same producers and many others also make excellent value wines known by the village names around which they are produced or from the larger region known as Cotes du Rhone.

- Gigondas, Chateauneuf Du Pape & Cotes Du Rhone
Gigondas, Chateauneuf Du Pape & Cotes Du Rhone Villages

Remarkably, there have been a series of exceptional to superlative vintages in the Southern Rhone region over the past 15 years. With the exception of 2002, when many vineyards were inundated by torrential rain and flooding, every vintage that has been released since 1998 has averaged a rating of more than 90 points (on a 100 point scale). And, while there are some good white wines made in the southern Rhone, the major emphasis is on red. Here is some information on the various appellations in the region.

Cotes Du Rhone can be made from grapes grown anywhere in the broader Rhone region and is generally a medium-bodied wine with appealing peppery, spicy and dark cherry flavors. Rated just a little higher in quality, Cotes Du Rhone Villages is produced from grapes within the lager Cotes Du Rhone area.

Both Cotes Du Rhone and Villages are typically priced from $12 to $20 a bottle. One of my favorite wines from Cotes Du Rhone is 2012 Jaboulet Parallele 45. Try it with pizza, chili or an Italian sausage and pepper sandwich.

After Chateauneuf Du Pape, the most notable wine areas in the southern Rhone are around the villages of Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Cotes du Luberon. These wines are labeled by the producer or winery and then the village (i.e., La Vieille Ferme, Cotes du Luberon).

The wines around Gigondas are often mistaken for Chateauneuf Du Pape because of their dark fruit flavors, black pepper aromas and intensity.
When young, bottles of Gigondas can be a little rough around the edges. But these wines are significantly less expensive (priced between $20 and $40) than their more famous neighbor, and they are a great accompaniment to roasted and seasoned meats.

Vacqueyras (pronounced vack-er-as) is a little village right next door to Gigondas, yet the wines seem to be fuller and richer with an earthy character. One of my favorites is 2012 Domaine la Garrigue “La Cantarelle” Vacqueyras ($25). Try it with roasted leg of lamb. Most Vacqueyras wines are priced between $12 and $25 a bottle.

Cotes du Luberon wines are made mostly with grenache. Soft, round and flavorful, you should be able to buy them for around $10 -$20 a bottle. I recently matched a Cotes du Luberon – the aforementioned La Vieille Ferme – with beef stew and it was yummy.

So the next time you’re looking for an alternative to zinfandel, shiraz or some other juicy red, saddle up, channel your inner Rhone Ranger and choose a wine from the southern Rhone. You won’t be disappointed.

A tasteful exercise: getting the most out of wine

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A friend of mine approached me the other day with a kind of sheepish look on his weathered brow and asked: “I want to learn how to like wine. I’ve tried it several times and I just don’t like it. Is there some way to learn to like the stuff?”

I must admit I was momentarily flummoxed. Why would anyone want to learn to like something that they have tried and don’t like? I’ve always preached that wine appreciation is a very subjective undertaking, and that you should drink whatever type of wine you choose.

And if you don’t like wine, try something else. There are plenty of options out there. However, it may be that people who claim -like my friend –to have repeatedly tried and failed to enjoy wine, just need to approach the whole wine appreciation process differently.

Let me explain. I asked a few probing questions of my friend and concluded that his problem was mainly related to how and where he tasted wine. He explained that his negative experiences almost always occurred at cocktail parties or bars, and the wine offered or ordered was usually a full-bodied red such as cabernet sauvignon. He also said the wine was almost always tasted without food

Hey, I am an avowed wineaux, but I will not drink any red wine without at least some kind of food. Give me a piece of bread, a hunk of cheese, or some type of fare that has at least a modicum of texture and substance. Drinking red wine without food is like taking a bite of an unripe pear – it’s hard, sour and makes you pucker.

Food and Wine Synergy
Food and Wine Synergy

Further, someone new to wine appreciation should never begin the process by starting with red wine. You should always begin with a light, white, slightly sweet wine such as riesling or chenin blanc. You can accompany these lighter wines with a cracker, some cheese or even a piece of fruit. It’s a good way to introduce yourself to the pleasures of pairing food with wine.

The next step is to graduate to a fuller flavored white wine such as chardonnay and pair it either with a vegetable, chicken or fish dish. At this point, you should be enjoying the white wine experience so it’s time to move up to reds.

Beginning red wine drinkers should always start with light to medium-bodied wines such as pinot noir which is compatible with a variety of foods. Try it with pork tenderloin, grilled salmon or roasted chicken.

Once you’re comfortable with lighter style reds, you’re ready to transition to fuller bodied ones such as zinfandel, syrah, merlot or cabernet sauvignon. However, make sure you accompany these biggies with full-flavored, garlicky or spicy foods such as steak, pasta, stews, chili or some other substantial food.

At this point, I have to assume you’ve discovered the pleasures of wine. So, now that you are an official wineaux, here are some general suggestions for wine and food pairings.

To be successful in finding that perfect match, you need to consider flavor, texture and weight of the food and wine pairing. Lighter-bodied foods go best with lighter style wines while heavier flavored foods are best paired with fuller-flavored wines. Makes sense, right?

For instance, a poached white fish would go best with a lighter styled white wine such as a pinot grigio, white Bordeaux or Albarino from Spain. Conversely, it would take a robust red wine such as cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel to stand up to and enhance the flavors of a well-marbled strip steak.

The addition of sauces or spices to a dish can add a flavor dimension that can also affect the wine you select. For example, sauvignon blanc is an excellent choice with poached salmon in a dill sauce, but grilled salmon that has been dusted with cumin, black pepper and chili powder needs a medium-bodied red such as pinot noir.

So it really is quite simple: to get the most out of that special bottle of wine, pair it with a compatible food partner to discover the real meaning of synergy!

Okay, let’s face it. The holidays are in the rear view mirror, the Christmas tree is on the curb and a cold, gray winter is just starting to chill our weary bones. My advice? You need an attitude adjustment and the best way to do that is to treat yourself to some good food and wine.

If you’re a regular reader of these scratchings, you know I will never just give you my impression of a particular wine without mentioning a food that is enhanced by it. Finding a compatible food and wine combination makes the whole dining experience so much more pleasurable.

And while we all love to cook, I suspect that the folks in your household need a break from the kitchen. After a month of chopping, boiling, sautéing, roasting, grilling and cleaning up after a herd of hungry and thirsty holiday celebrants, don’t you think we all deserve a night out?

Well, I do, and so I’m going to share with you today two of my favorite meals and accompanying wines from a couple of excellent local restaurants. We are blessed in this small, but beautiful valley, with several fine dining establishments that deserve your patronage. In future columns, I will tell you about other special culinary experiences I’ve had in and around our community.

Let’s begin with South Hills Market and Café. Chef Richard Arbaugh and wife Anne have done an exceptional job at this small restaurant with an inventive and eclectic menu which also has a Wine Spectator award wining wine list. Here is a three-course menu that I have enjoyed there on a few occasions.

Strip steak with Bordelaise sauce at So. Hills Market
Strip steak with Bordelaise sauce at So. Hills Market

I start with the Roasted Bone Marrow with gherkins, pickled onions, whole grain mustard, and grilled crostini. I love the huge (about eight inch long) caveman-like bone in which the marrow is served. Next, I opt for the Artisan greens with cucumbers, pickled onions, tomatoes and asiago cheese.

And for the main course (especially for you red meat lovers), I recommend the 12-ounce New York Strip Steak with Bordelaise sauce. Make the meal even more special by ordering a glass or a bottle of the Grochau Cellars Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. This medium-bodied wine from Oregon is full of black cherry flavors that can stand up to the meat, and also marry well with the Bordelaise sauce.

Bricks and Barrels across from Appalachian Power Park is not yet a year old, but the upscale restaurant has weathered the slings and arrows of many passionate and discerning local diners. Owners Matt and Nikki Holbert have hung in there and, in the past few months, have made several positive changes, not the least of which is hiring a new chef with excellent credentials.

The improvement in both the quality and consistency of the menu at Bricks and Barrels has been a pleasant surprise. I have always been pleased with the nicely conceived wine list, the classy bar and (don’t tell Rich Ireland)  the extensive selection of West Virginia craft brews.

Here’s a three-course menu at Bricks and Barrels that is worth giving a try. I have always enjoyed Crab Louie Napoleon, but the version at this restaurant is about the best I’ve ever eaten. Baby Bibb lettuce is stacked with layers of jumbo lump crab, a slice of tomato, asparagus, hard-boiled egg and avocado. Yum!

Next, I suggest The Beet and Goat cheese salad which is a delicious combination of roasted beets on a bed of summer greens with warm walnuts all tossed in Italian dressing. For the main course I suggest the melt-in-your-mouth filet of butter-basted salmon served with sweet potato puree, deep-fried Brussel sprouts and parmesan risotto.

To accompany the meal, I chose a glass of Ladera Chardonnay, a Napa Valley wine that has medium intensity, flavors of ripe honey crisp apples and a light kiss of oak that marries especially well with the butter basted salmon. Bravo!

Holiday Wines: ‘Tis better to give AND receive

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It’s that time of year again! You know what I’m talking about: Rudolph with his nose so bright; Folks dressed up like Eskimos; and Jack Frost nipping (hopefully a sip or two of vino). Yes siree, I’m ready and raring to get my Yuletide on.

So, in the spirit of the Season, I’m going to provide you with some red and white wine recommendations for your holiday gift giving because I believe in the old saying: “Tis better to give than receive. ” This is even better if the giver and receiver is you (or if the recipient is someone who is willing to share).

And depending on your budget, the sky is truly the limit when it comes to finding a wine to give that special person. Shopping for wine any time is a labor of love, but during the holidays it is a lot more fun because wine shop shelves are chock full of a wide and varied selection of vinous products.

The great thing about the holidays – especially Christmas – is that we also have a perfect opportunity to choose wines that pair well with the cornucopia of special foods we’ll be eating. Following that theme, I have selected for your consideration a list of wines below that would make great gifts, and also be excellent accompaniments to some of the more traditional holiday foods we will be enjoying over the next few weeks. So here we go.

Great Holiday Gifts!
Great Holiday Gifts!

For the celebratory sparkling wine aperitif: Taittinger Comptes De Champagne Rose; Nicholas Feuillatte “Blue Label” Brut Champagne; Mumm Napa Cuvee (sparkling); Paul Bara Brut Champagne; Segura Viudas Reserva Cava; Veuve Cliquot Brut Champagne; Roderer Estate Anderson Valley Sparkling Wine; Krug Grande Cuvee Brut; Perrier Jouet Grand Brut; Iron Horse Russian Cuvee (sparkling).

For the traditional Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes, you might search out these lovely bottles: Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Scaia Garganega; d’Arenberg The Hermit Crab Marsanne-Viognier Blend; St, Supery Sauvignon Blanc; Falcor Chardonnay; Castello Banfi Principessa Gavi; Montinore Estate Riesling; L’Ecole 41 Semillon; Cakebread Chardonnay; Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay; and Talley Arroyo Grande Vineyard Chardonnay.

For Christmas Ham or Turkey: Newton Claret; Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee Pinot Noir; Banfi Brunello Di Montalcino; Marques de Caceras Rioja Reserva; Chapoutier Bila-Haut Cotes Du Roussillon; Ferraton Tavel Rose’; Easton Amador County Zinfandel; Raptor Ridge Atticus Vineyard Pinot Noir; and Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti.

For the traditional Prime Rib Roast: Chateau Lynch Bages; Joseph Phelps Insignia; Falcor Le Bijou; Chateau La Dominique; Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve; Chateau Brainaire Ducru; Merryvale Profile; Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon; Chateau Cos d’Estournel; Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon; Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon; Leoville Las Cases; Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; Antinori Tignanello; and Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon;

Have a great holiday season, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!