Vines & Vittles

Canaan Valley Wild, Wonderful Wine Weekend

One of the state’s premier food and wine events will once again be held in beautiful Tucker County at Canaan Valley Resort. The “Wild, Wonderful Wine Weekend,” which has become an annual gourmet extravaganza, will be held this year from November 9th thru 11th. Once again, I will have the privilege of selecting the wines for the event and providing commentary on those delectable sippers throughout the weekend.

I’m in the process of choosing wines from some of the world’s greatest wine regions to be paired with a cornucopia of culinary delicacies prepared under the direction of Canaan Valley Resort’s Food and Beverage Manager Lawrence Walkup.

It’s always fun to work with culinary professionals in pairing wines with their scrumptious creations, and the folks at our state’s most scenic resort always hit the mark at this signature event.

The weekend begins Friday, November 9 at 7 p.m. with a “taste-around reception” where more than 20 wines can be sampled with matching culinary treats from food stations featuring a wonderful selection of foods upon which to graze (see below).

On Saturday, there will be a tasting featuring wines that I recommend with the upcoming Thanksgiving dinner celebrations. Guests will also be treated to a four-course wine-paired luncheon led by yours truly. After lunch, guests will be free to hike, bike, nap (what I plan to do) or just enjoy Mother Nature’s purple mountain majesty!

The menus below should precipitate a surge in endorphins and get your collective palates watering in anticipation. I haven’t completed selecting all the wines at this writing, but you can be assured that I will do my best to make you happy.

Guests have the option of attending the entire weekend for a package price ($290 for a single attendee & $499 per couple inclusive of room, taxes and fees) or choosing to participate in individual events ala carte (see prices below). For additional information or reservations call 800-622-4121 or visit online at www.canaanresort.com.

Northern Canaan Valley

Friday Reception ($40.00 per person)

Chicken En Croute
Bacon Wrapped Bread Sticks
Smoked Trout Dip with Crostini
Smoked Pork Stuffed with Savory Meatloaf
Fish Tacos
Mini Potato Cakes with Crème Fresh
Marinated Cheese Trays and Antipasti
Artisan Chocolates
Chocolate Fondue Fountain

Lunch with Wine Pairings ($35.00 per person)

Spinach, Apple, and White Cheddar Salad
Trout Cake with Lemon Caper Butter Sauce
Blackened Chicken Pasta
Carrot Cake with Maple Crème Cheese Icing

Demystifying Wines for Thanksgiving ($20.00 per person)
I’ll share my picks for “National Turkey Day.”

Grand Gourmet Dinner with paired wines ($75.00 per person)

Sliced Pork Belly and Apple Fritters
Potato Ramp Soup with Cracklin’ Bread
Black and Blue Pear Salad
Filet Mignon with Gnocchi topped with a Morel, Tomato, and Herb Ragout
Pumpkin Crème Brûlée with Caramelized Maple Sugar

When it comes to finding that special wine you’ve been looking for, we’ve come a long way baby!

I am old enough to remember a time when searching for a good bottle of wine in West -By -Golly was an exercise in futility and frustration. That was back when the only place to purchase wine was the State ABCC store where the choices were extremely limited.

This was due in large measure to our small population, our redneck stereotype and the inescapable fact that West Virginia was last in US per capita consumption of wine. Heck, our consumption of buttermilk exceeded that of wine back before Elvis died.

In fact, of all the inhabited land on the planet, only citizens of Borneo and Canada’s Northwest Territories consumed less wine than West Virginians. And Borneo has more reptiles than people, while the few inhabitants of the Northwest Territories prefer Yukon Jack to the fruit of the vine.

Back in the day, the shelves of those ABCC stores were filled with Mateus Rose, Hearty Burgundy or Carlo Rossi Paisano. Unfortunately, these humble, but sound, wines had to compete for shelf space with the more popular Thunderbird,  MD 20/20 (Mad Dog) , Wild Irish Rose or other high alcohol, wine-like beverages better suited for consumption under a bridge than at the dinner table.

Fortunately for we Mountaineers, our state legislature modernized our laws about 30 years ago allowing for wine sales in grocery stores and wine specialty shops. In addition, we are also permitted to purchase wines online and have them shipped to us. All in all, while our per capita consumption is still relatively low, we now have access to just about any wine that strikes our fancy

Still a pretty good quaffer

And when you examine worldwide statistics on wine consumption, the US is surprisingly ranked behind 50 other countries. Lithuania, Cyprus, Madagascar and Slovenia and a whole host of European countries such as France, Italy, Spain and Germany all consume more wine than we do here in America.

And – Holy Mother of Vines – the Vatican City State leads the world in per capita wine consumption! And we’re not talking Sacramental wine either.

So with that historical perspective about the bad old days, here are a few wines I’ve sampled recently that would not have been available just a few short years ago. Hope you like them.

2011 Concha y Toro Gran Reserva Chardonnay ($19) – Rich, yet balanced chardonnay with just a kiss of oak and ripe apple flavors. Excellent pairing with roast chicken cordon bleu.

2011 Sur de Los Andes Torrontes ($11) – Excellent floral aromatics along with crisp pear and melon flavors highlight this Argentinean white. This delicate Torrontes would enhance a meal where pan fried, lemon and butter-enhanced white fish was the feature.

2010 Annalisa Sparkling Malvasia ($13) – A delightful effervescent wine with strawberry and raspberry flavors make this a delicious aperitif or a nice accompaniment to brunch type foods such as omelets or quiches.

2010 Easton Amador County Zinfandel ($18) – I must admit my fondness for zinfandel grown and produced in Amador County and this one definitely does not disappoint. Deep, dark blackberry flavors are enhanced by excellent balancing acidity to highlight this full-bodied wine best served with fuller flavored foods such as beef stews or roasted pork loin rubbed with garlic, black pepper and olive oil.

2009 La Bastide St. Dominique Grenache ($16) – From the excellent 2009 vintage in the southern Rhone Valley, this juicy grenache with bright cherry flavors and leather and tack room aromas is a lively mouthful of wine. Try it with grilled baby back ribs in a tomato based barbecue sauce.

Smooth and silky St. Supery

My affection for wine is rekindled each time I visit a working winery and observe not only the amazing process of transforming sweet grape juice into wine, but also the passion of the people who grow the grapes and make the finished product.

At St. Supery Estate Vineyards and Winery in the Napa Valley, that passion endures and is, indeed, infectious – due in large measure to the vision and enthusiasm of the winery’s founder.

Inspired by legendary wine maker Robert Mondavi, St. Supery owner Robert Skalli fell in love with the Napa Valley in the early 1970’s and searched for nearly a decade to find the perfect vineyard site to establish his own winery.

Skalli, whose wine roots go back three generations from Algeria to Corsica and then to France, found a remote ranch in the eastern mountains of Napa Valley in 1982. This 1500- acre property known as the Dollarhide Ranch became the primary vineyard site for St. Supery, now renowned as one of the shining stars of Napa Valley.

With nearly 500 acres of vineyards, the majority of the site is planted to sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon with a substantial planting of chardonnay along with Bordeaux blending grapes such as merlot, malbec and cabernet franc. There is also 12-acres of Semillon, a grape which is a particular favorite of mine and of which St. Supery has no domestic peer in my humble opinion.

To round out the St. Supery estate, Skalli purchased a 35- acre vineyard along the Napa Valley floor. Known as the Rutherford Estate, the vineyards are predominately cabernet sauvignon and merlot with a sprinkling of petite verdot and cabernet franc. The Rutherford Estate also houses the winery, tasting room and visitor center.

Tasting from barrel at St. Supery

I have always enjoyed the wines of St. Supery, especially their world –class sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. This Napa Valley winery produces a consistently exceptional portfolio of wines that are characterized by supple and silky smoothness.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the winery and tasting my way through the estate’s portfolio of wines. I came away very impressed with St. Supery’s offerings. The good news for state residents is that most of the wines are available at local wine shops and restaurants. Here are my tasting notes for your perusal.

2011 Estate Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($20) – Crisp flavor of citrus is balanced by hints of honeydew melon in this stainless steel fermented wine. One of my favorite sauvignons in California. Excellent accompaniment to pan sautéed grouper with a touch of butter and lemon.

2011 Estate Virtu ($30) – This complex white blend of 60% semillon and 40% sauvignon blanc is round, rich and partially barrel fermented. It has lime and apricot flavors with just a touch toasty oak on the finish. Pair this with roasted chicken that has been rubbed with rosemary, garlic and olive oil.

2011 Dollarhide Estate Semillon ($30) There are very few wineries in the US producing semillon and none does it with more precision and elegance than St. Supery. With aromas of green apple and flint along with flavors of anise and citrus, the wine is supple yet balanced. I suggest trying this with capellini in a basil pesto sauce.

2009 Rutherford Merlot ($40) – This complex and layered offering has more in common with wine produced in Pomerol (Bordeaux) than it does with domestically made merlot. Blackberry fruit and mocha flavors along with tack room aromas give way to a silky smooth texture and make this a lovely mouthful of wine. Open up a bottle and sip it with braised beef short ribs.

2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) – Ripe cherry and blueberry flavors highlight this tasty cabernet that is balanced by just the right touch of acid. Fruit forward and medium -bodied, this wine should be paired with a grilled flank steak. 

2008 Estate Estate Elu ($65) –This red Meritage is a blend of Rutherford and Dollarhide vineyards and is comprised of cabernet, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot. Complex aromas of mocha and leather lead to black cherry and cola flavors in this exceptionally balanced wine. Try this one with grilled rack of lamb that has been basted with Dijon mustard, lemon, garlic and rosemary.

2009 Dollarhide Estate Elevation ($65) – This blend of 88% cabernet with just about equal parts cabernet franc and malbec was aged in French oak for 22 months and exhibits a nice toasty note. Ripe dark fruit and coffee flavors are supple yet lend structure to a wine that will age gracefully for years to come. Marinated and charcoal grilled leg of lamb would be an excellent accompaniment to this wine.

Lunch in the Vineyard

2007 Dollarhide Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($85) – From an exceptional vintage, this 100% cabernet is aged for 33 months in French oak. While smooth and full of ripe currant and berry flavors, the wine is age worthy and should continue to improve for a decade or two. This special wine should be accompanied by a standing rib roast that has been rubbed with peppercorns, garlic and sea salt.

Ask your local wine purveyor to order any of the above mentioned wines not on the shelf or check out the St. Supery website at: www.stsupery.com and have them shipped to you.

DisclaimerMy brother is a wine broker in North Carolina and he represents St. Supery on the East Coast.

Good for any occasion: a sparkling idea

While rooting around for something to pair with the spicy baby back ribs we were going to enjoy for Sunday dinner, I grabbed a bottle of sparkling wine. And not just any sparkler, but a bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Champagne.

But doesn’t true Champagne deserve to be paired with foie gras or caviar – or at least be used to celebrate a special occasion such as a birthday, anniversary or holiday? Well, in my estimation, every day spent above ground is a reason to celebrate.

And, hey, don’t you think that that if they could, the baby backs would be thrilled to be consumed with something other than beer? Anyway, my surprised meal mates were certainly happy and I was too.

There is no question that sparkling wines are underused. We seem to forget how good they 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.

You may have heard the mythical story of the monk Dom Perignon who is credited with inventing Champagne. If not, here is how that story goes.

As a Benedictine monk and winemaker living in the Champagne region of France in the late 1600’s, Dom Perignon noticed that many of his wines would re-ferment in the bottle when the weather began to warm in the spring.

Instead of allowing this second fermentation to be completed, Dom Perignon came up with the idea of corking the wine and capturing the resultant effervescence. After years of experimentation, which included developing the blend of wines comprising the final product, he is credited with creating Champagne.

The process supposedly developed by Dom Perignon and still used today is called methode champenoise or the Champagne method. Every truly great sparkling wine employs this costly and labor intensive process.

The three grapes making up the traditional Champagne cuvee (blend) are pinot noir, pinot meunier (both reds) and chardonnay. These grapes are used to make three separate wines, which are then blended by the winemaker into his final cuvee.

Nicolas Feuillatte – great with baby backs!

Once blended, yeast and sugar are added to each bottle which is then secured with a crown cap. The wine is allowed to ferment a second time in the bottle and, depending upon the quality of the cuvee, it is usually aged from two to four years.

Before the sediment arising from the second fermentation can be disgorged from the wine and a final cork secured, each bottle is turned, shaken slightly (this is called riddling) and put in a successively more vertical position for several weeks.

Once the solids are in an upside down position and in the top of the bottle, dry ice is used to freeze the sediment in the neck, the crown cork is popped and the solids are disgorged. A small amount of sugar, wine and brandy are then added back to the bottle ( this is called the “dosage”) and the Champagne cork is secured.

Other, less expensive ways of making sparkling wine have been developed, but none can compare with the complexity and quality of the traditional Champagne method.

Champagne is priced from the mid twenties to upwards of hundreds of dollars a bottle while sparklers from other places can be acquired from around $10 to $30 a bottle.

Here a few of my favorite Champagnes priced under $50: Nicolas Feuillatte; Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut; Moet & Chandon White Star; Veuve Cliquot (Yelow 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; Freixenet Cordon Negro; Dibon Cava.

Grilled Nirvana: release your inner-ogre

I am flawed human being. I know this because I am married to a brutally candid woman who reminds me daily of my myriad imperfections.

Hey, I’m not complaining. If she were not critical of some of my more my aberrant idiosyncrasies, I would probably be living in a cave, wearing an animal skin and reduced to yodeling – u-da-lay-ee-o!

However, the older I get, the more I have come to the conclusion that some of these imperfections are acceptable. No, let me rephrase that: they are essential!

I’m not endorsing really obnoxious behavior like flatulence, profanity or – heaven forbid –rooting for Pitt. And while I may have (once or twice) lapsed with regard to the first two infractions mentioned above, you may be assured that I would rather go streaking through St. Peter’s Square than root for Pitt.

No, the oft-criticized behavior I am endorsing involves eating red meat on a regular basis. I know it’s not politically correct to admit this, but I am addicted to red meat, particularly steak. I must consume the roasted flesh of a steer or cow at least once a week or I turn into my alter ego – the ogre just waiting to emerge.

Okay, so maybe I’ve engaged in a little hyperbole here, but I do really love a good steak, preferably one grilled over blazing charcoal. So while too much of a good thing like beef can be a health risk, I mitigate that problem by flushing my arteries regularly with a steady stream of red wine.

Today, I’m going to share my mouth-watering recipe for grilled steak nirvana and provide you with a few nice red wine recommendations that will please your palate and transform the meal into an other worldly experience. I prefer to use rib eye, but strip or porterhouse steak work just as well.

Grilled Nirvana

1 one and one- half inch thick bone-in rib eye
1 tablespoon of Kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon of fresh coarsely ground black pepper
1 small clove of garlic finely minced
1 teaspoon of olive oil

Grilled Nirvana

Cover steak all over with the olive oil
Rub the steak with salt, pepper and garlic
Allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes
Prepare a hot charcoal fire or turn one side of a gas grill up to the highest setting
Place steak on grill, close lid and cook for two minutes a side
Move steak off direct coals (or direct heat on grill)
Cook indirectly for 8 minutes for medium rare
Remove from grill and allow to sit for 10 minutes and then serve

Any full-bodied red wine will go well with the steak, but I prefer cabernet sauvignon or a Bordeaux blend (cabernet, merlot, cabernet franc, etc.). Here are some of my favorite labels priced between $15 and $30 a bottle: Franciscan, Sebastiani, Alamos, Alexander Valley Vineyards, St. Supery, B-Side, Robert Mondavi, BV Rutherford, William Hill, Clos Du Val and Newton Claret.

So go ahead and give it up for a little grilled nirvana and release your inner-ogre.

I oftentimes refer to bottles of that elixir we all love as either Saturday night specials or everyday sippers. Saturday night specials can also morph into holiday or celebratory wines when the occasion dictates. So, doing the math, you will have significantly more opportunities to experience the everyday sippers.

I know. I am the master of the obvious, but that’s why I spend so  many words telling you about wines that are both excellent and usually priced under $20 a bottle. I’m just explaining (rationalizing?) my predilection to concentrate most of my tasting research and recommendations on less expensive wine.

Okay, I’m a cheapskate too.

That’s why – of the wines reviewed below – all but one are everyday sippers. Also, I am a firm believer that there is a whole lot of buried treasure at the bottom of the sea of wine we are all adrift in – and I was put on this planet to find it for you.

So, I hope you will try a bottle of two of the vinous booty below – even it’s the Saturday night special.

2010 Bridlewood Pinot Noir ($15) –Bright black cherry and spicy flavors highlight this smooth, supple pinot noir from Monterey County. The medium-bodied texture is balanced out with a touch of vanilla and ample acidity. Try this one with grilled chicken spiced with black pepper, garlic and kosher salt.

2008 Sebastiani Cherryblock ($80) – This is definitely a special occasion or celebration wine. Earthy aromas with a hint of cigar box lead to a silky smooth Bordeaux-like wine with complex flavors of cola, plums and dark fruits. It is an elegant wine that will continue to develop for a decade or more. Try it now with filet mignon in a mushroom demi-glace sauce.

A great Saturday night special

2011 Conde Villar Vinho Verde Rose ($10) – Strawberries and raspberries co-mingle to produce a refreshing and slightly spritzy rose which is just the right wine to open on the patio. Just a touch of sweetness is balanced out nicely by citrus-like acidity. You might also pair this with brunch type food.

2009 Treana White ($18) A great alternative to rich and full-bodied chardonnay, this blend of 50 percent each Viognier and Marsanne has a creamy, toasty and floral component. From the Central California coast, Treana would be an excellent accompaniment to broiled lobster with drawn butter.

Bugey Cerdon Sparkling Gamay ($16) –From the foothills of the Alps in the Jura Mountains of eastern France, this sparkling rose is comprised of 80% Gamay and 15% Poulsard -which is an indigenous regional grape.

There is just a touch of chardonnay added to provide some body to the strawberry and cherry flavors. Sip it as an aperitif before dinner or with chocolate based desserts. This is a very pretty and tasty wine.

A WV wine worth the search

I am a locavore. I love to eat locally grown produce and meat that has been raised on nearby farms. I also love wines produced in our state and I am constantly on the prowl for good Mountain State sippers. And there are a number of them being produced among the 20 state wineries scattered throughout these here hills.

So why don’t we see more of the European varietals – like cabernet, chardonnay and pinot noir – being grown in the state? There are practical reasons which are explained below, but one state wine maker is proving that it can be done.

Vitis Vinifera is the official classification of grapes native to Europe and the Middle East and it produces the world’s greatest wines. In addition to the famous vinifera grapes such as the ones mentioned above, there are literally thousands of other varietals in the classification.

There are two other classifications of wine grapes produced in the US. They are: vitas labrusca, a native American vine producing grapes such as concord and Catawba; and French-American hybrids such as seyval blanc, vidal blanc and chambourcin.

Labrusca can make decent, but distinctly flavored wines while French-American hybrids (which are French vines grafted onto American rootstock) can produce wines closer in quality to Vinifera.

So, in the quality hierarchy, vinifera grapes produce the best wines followed by French-American hybrids and then labrusca varietals. Why, then, don’t more West Virginia wine makers produce vinifera grapes if these make superior wines?

Well, the fact is that labrusca and French-American hybrids are considerably more hardy and prolific than vinifera. They are also less susceptible than vinifera to mold, diseases and the sometimes harsh realities of West Virginia weather. That’s why you see wineries in the state growing mostly labrusca and French-American Hybrids.

While there is no question that vinifera is extremely difficult to grow in West Virginia, it is not impossible to do so and one winery in particular has been successful at it for years.

Potomac Highland Winery

A few weeks back, I wrote about several eating establishments and purveyors of fine wine in the Canaan Valley and Potomac Highlands of West Virginia. Domiciled in that same region of the state is the only West Virginia winery growing and making a significant amount of its production from vinifera.

Charles Whitehill is the owner and wine maker at Potomac Highland Winery in Keyser and has proven that it is possible to produce good wine from vinifera. His cabernet, pinot noir, riesling and chardonnay vines, planted on his Fried Meat Ridge Vineyard, somehow survive the harsh winters and hot summers of the eastern West Virginia mountains. And the results, as far as I am concerned, are well worth the effort. Here are some worth searching for.

2009 Potomac Highland Meritage ($14) This medium bodied blend of 68% cabernet sauvignon, 17% cabernet franc and 15% merlot is full of sweet black cherry flavors with just a touch of vanilla from the light oak aging. Try it with marinated and grilled sirloin.

2011 Potomac Highland Riesling ($12) Slightly sweet green apple flavors highlight this refreshing, exceptionally balanced wine. Great as a porch sipper or as an accompaniment to brunch foods like omelets and quiche.

2011 Potomac Highland Chardonnay ($12) – This wine has a creamy mouth feel with hints of ripe pear, anise and nutmeg spice. Lightly oaked, it finishes dry and would be excellent to pair with smoked WV trout.

You can look for Potomac Highland wines around the state or call (304-788-3066) for shipment. You can also visit their website at www.potomac-highland-winery.com.

My not so wine-stained palate got a much-needed workout recently after a few weeks of less than vigorous exercise. I guess I’ve been in a wine funk, but a sip of delicious purple elixir has renewed my passion for all things made from spoiled grapes – which is, after all, the essence of fermentation.

Anyway, I am reinvigorated and that’s because of not only a specific wine, but because of a region of the wine world that has had an incredible run of excellent vintages over the past 14 years. I speak of the Rhone and particularly the southern most appellations in Provence upon which Bacchus has smiled for such a long time.

There has been an incredible string of good to superlative vintages in the Rhone region from 1998 through 2011. With the exception of 2002, when many vineyards were inundated by torrential rain and flooding, every vintage that has been released since 1998 has been highly rated.

Provence, of course, is home to Chateauneuf Du Pape, the most famous and expensive wine of this southern Rhone region. However, there are several other sub-appellations in the area such as Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Cotes du Luberon and Tavel that are producing exceptional value-priced wines.

While there are some excellent white wines made in Provence, principally from marsanne, rousanne and viognier, the emphasis here is on red produced mainly from grenache, syrah and mourvedre. The aforementioned wine that re-invigorated my palate is a Cotes Du Rhone which is a red blend produced from grapes that can be sourced from anywhere in the Rhone appellation.

Cotes Du Rhone is usually priced from $10 to $20 a bottle and is especially good with barbecued hamburgers, ribs or casseroles and is generally a medium-bodied wine with appealing peppery, ripe fruit flavors

09 Kermirt Lynch Cotes Du Rhone

The 2009 Kermit Lynch Cotes Du Rhone ($13) is the most recent (in a long string of wines) to take my breath away and leave my tongue purple. This particular wine has aromas of leather and black pepper and flavors of black cherries and cola.

I grilled a skirt steak that had been rubbed with ancho chili powder, cumin, brown sugar, cayenne and black pepper to act as an accompaniment to the wine and the combination was spot on.

There are a number of exceptional importers that you should look for in seeking out your own version of Provencal wine nirvana. Among the best are: Kermit Lynch, Kysela, Guigal, Beaucastel, Chapoutier, Olivier Cuilleras, Paul Autard and Rayas.

For those of you who love dessert wines, you will find one of the best in Provence. Look for a Muscat Beaumes de Venise. Produced in the village of the same name from Muscat grapes, this sweet elixir is full of apricot aromas and rich, round melon flavors and it is great with chocolate!

You would not be reading this if you didn’t have an appreciation of the artistry and acumen required to produce exceptional and delicious cuisine to match the sea of wine available to us.

From time to time in my travels around our glorious state, I am reminded of the dedication and diligence of those who enrich our experiences with their culinary skills oftentimes toiling in obscurity in out of the way locations.

West Virginia is a state full of out-of-the-way places and getting from point A to point B can sometimes involve a non-linear route that results in pleasant diversions and discoveries. That’s how, on a trip back to Washington, DC more than two decades ago, I discovered Canaan Valley and subsequently some very cool restaurants, cafes and holes in the wall.

Many of these establishments happen to be in the Potomac Highland towns of Davis and Thomas just north of Canaan Valley. A recent trip to that stunningly beautiful part of our state renewed my faith in the creativity of mountaineer entrepreneurs.

Muttley’s Downtown in Davis has been around for many years, featuring excellent steak and other grilled meats and providing guests with a very well thought out and value-oriented wine list.

Owners Becky Bunner an Randy Colombo have now joined with Meyer House B&B proprietor Cindy Robeson to add a wine specialty shop – Shades of Grape. The shop is adjacent to the restaurant and patrons can choose from a small, but very selective list of wines and edibles from around the world.

Canaan Valley Morning

From time to time, wines featured in Shades of Grape will be available on the restaurant’s wine list at the same price as in the shop, and that is an excellent bargain. The restaurant is full of offbeat artwork, life-like mannequins and assorted esoterica that will have you smiling and /or scratching your head.

The wine shop and restaurant are open Tuesday through Saturday. You’ll need to call for dinner reservations (304-259-4848) but a trip to Muttley’s Downtown should definitely be a part of your itinerary.

In the mood for some very unique burritos? Then you’ll need to cross the street from Muttley’s and visit Hellbender Burritos. These are not your mother’s burritos, but owners Rob and Melissa Borowitz guarantee that they are definitely good for you and very large too. In addition, Hellbender’s also has a very excellent selection of craft beers on tap and by the bottle.

Cross the street again and you’ll find Sirianni’s Café – one of the state’s best pizza restaurants. Owners Walt Ranalli and Sandra Goss have catered to the pizza and pasta addictions of visitors for decades and a trip to the mountains would not be complete without a stop at Sirianni’s.

Sirianni’s, which also has a restaurant in Canaan Valley right off of Rte. 32, features a modest (but good) wine list and a bevy of craft beers that will help you wash down the spicy vittles. Like Muttley’s, Siranni’s wall art and pictures will keep you amused while you’re waiting on the excellent pizza. You can call for takeout at 304- 259-5454.

Two miles north of Davis is the town of Thomas where art galleries such as Mountainmade and the White Room share Front Street with The Purple Fiddle (a music club and sandwich emporium), antique shops and The Flying Pig restaurant.

The latest addition to Front Street is Tip Top Coffee. Tip Top is a coffee shop on steroids with ambitions to be much more. Owner Cade Archuleta has sandwiches, pastries and cookies, and recently added a small, but excellent, selection of wines by the glass. The shop will begin offering a full menu and a bar service soon. The coffee is excellent and the staff is always smiling.

For those of you who wish to go over to the dark (or pilsner) side, both Davis and Thomas boast craft breweries where you can sip that lesser beverage on the premises. The Blackwater Brewing Company in Davis and Mountain State Brewing in Thomas provide visitors with some very good craft beer.

So take a trip off the beaten track and visit the Potomac Highlands where mountain biking, fishing, skiing, kayaking, hiking, hunting and rafting will leave you ravenous, and where you’ll find some pretty accomplished folks that know how to feed the beast.

The Smokey Clucker: A real coop de gras

The ubiquitous chicken. It’s probably the most overused and abused protein in the civilized world and yet – when prepared with a little imagination – that little feathered critter can be transformed into a culinary lip smacker.

Chicken is the Rodney Dangerfield of meats: it gets no respect. Yet it is one of the world’s most versatile foods, and can be cooked in a mind-boggling number of ways.
And with a little creativity, the bird can be married to a wide variety of both white and red wines.

However, cooking the meat of the chicken in a minimalist manner with token spices (say salt and pepper) can result in a dish that is best paired with tepid water. Regularly consuming chicken prepared this way may cause you to start watching C-Span’s coverage of Congressional proceedings for hours each day.

Do not fear loyal Wineaux’s! As you know from regularly reading my wine stained words, I have an affinity for outdoor cooking and an addiction to smokey and spicy foods. The recipe I am going to impart to you today will have you clucking for joy.

We’ll start with a whole fryer which is a relatively small and young chicken. I recommend you ask the butcher to remove the backbone of the fryer so it will be able to better absorb the brine, accommodate the special rub and cook quickly. Here goes.

The Smokey Clucker

The Brine

1 three to four pound chicken (fryer) with the backbone removed
1 plastic gallon bag
1 quart of water
8 ounces of dry white wine such as sauvignon blanc
6 cloves of garlic chopped finely
1 third cup of Kosher salt
3 tablespoons of dark brown sugar

The Rub

1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
1 teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons of chopped garlic
1 teaspoon of Kosher salt
1 teaspoon of chili powder
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
2 ounces of canola oil
1 tablespoon of dark brown sugar

Put everything but the chicken in the plastic bag and stir to mix the contents
Place the chicken into the bag, seal and put in refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours
Remove the chicken from the plastic bag, pat dry and lay it on a cutting board
Add the contents of the rub in a bowl and mix together making a paste
Rub the paste all over chicken and placing some under breast and leg quarter skin
Make a charcoal fire and spread coals to either side of grill for indirect cooking
Or, heat one side of a gas grill so chicken can be cooked indirect
Place the chicken so it lays spread (eagle?) on the grill but not over the coals
Cover the grill and cook 45 to 50 minutes
Allow the chicken to rest for 15 minutes, cut in pieces and serve

And while the usual accompaniment to chicken is white wine, the recipe above requires a red. Here are two choices for your consideration that will leave you smiling.

2007 Terra d’oro Amador County Zinfandel ($18) I admit my fondness for Amador County zinfandel and this one has what I love most about wines grown in that hot and dry area two hours east of Napa. Rustic and earthy, the aroma is a combination of teaberry mint and chocolate while the blackberry and cola flavors make this a great match to spicy, smoky foods.

2010 Concannon Selected Vineyards Petite Sirah ($12) – This blend of Central Coast vineyards’ petite sirah is full-bodied with a flavor profile of plums and black cherries. Nicely balanced and rich, this has an excellent value to quality quotient and is a tasty pairing with the chicken dish.