Vines & Vittles

Pairing wine with sports

I’m making my annual transition from the heavier wines of winter to the more approachable and somewhat lighter wines of spring and summer. Most of us are more active now so the foods and wines we choose should match this lifestyle. Here are some wines you might want to try that fit this bill.

2009 Anselmi San Vincenzo ($15) Robert Anselmi wanted to produce a wine in the Soave district of northern Italy, but he wanted to blend some chardonnay into the approved whites from the region. His delicate San Vincenzo has ripe peach and citrus flavors, excellent balancing acidity and depth provided by a substantial dollop of the chardonnay. Pan sauté a filet of grouper or other white fish in a little butter, lemon and tarragon and pair it with the San Vincenzo.

2011 Badenhorst Chenin Blanc Secatuers ($16) – South Africa produces some of the world’s greatest chenin blanc and the Secateurs is a delicious, medium-bodied wine that is just a tad sweet. Similar to a Vouvray from the Loire Valley, this chenin blanc is round and rich with nuances of apricot and lemon, and can be used as an apertif or as an accompaniment to Asian stir-fry.

2009 Chateau De Saint Cosme Les Deux Albions ($20) – At first glance, this Rhone red blend of mainly grenache and syrah looks like it would be better suited to winter foods, but it is silky with flavors of ripe blackberries with just a touch of mocha. The wine is also well balanced and would be an excellent match to grilled short ribs basted with a KC Barbecue type sauce.

2010 Duckhorn Decoy Pinot Noir ($21) – This Mendocino County pinot noir is chock full of black cherry flavors with just a hint of cinnamon on the finish. Some earthiness in the aroma and good balancing acidity make this a wine to pack in your picnic basket. Pair it with smoked sausages or hamburgers on the grill.


Since this is the season when we are inclined to participate in physical activities, do you suppose it is okay to sip wine while engaging in a sport? How about the wines mentioned above? I think they would be perfect matches to some sports.

Now, I would agree that using wine to hydrate between plays in football or between innings in baseball would not be advisable nor would sipping the fruit of the vine while competing in a NASCAR event. However, I think that moderate wine consumption would enhance the experience of certain more – shall we say –sedentary sports.

For example, many people drink a beer or sip a glass of wine while playing golf. Personally, I find that wine provides the only pleasure I derive from a sport that is otherwise dreadfully frustrating.

But there are other sporting activities. How about Bocce, Croquet, Shuffleboard or even Horseshoes (you might wish to avoid this one if you have more than a glass or two)?

What wine goes with Croquet ?

I recall as a kid growing up one particular sport where the sole purpose of the game was to earn the right to sip some wine or drink a beer. This was an Italian numbers game called Mora which some older Italian men pronounced as “Mooda.”

Mora is played with as few as two or as many as five persons per side lined up across from each other. The first player engages their opponent and if that player wins, he or she moves on to the next person in line. Players throw out a single hand, showing zero to five fingers, and calling out loudly their guess at what the sum of all fingers shown will be.

The first team to vanquish all their opponents wins the game. And here is the catch: only the winning team is permitted to sip their preferred beverage during the next game while the losers must abstain. As you might guess, I’ve changed the rules so that there are no losers.

Even if you choose not to sip a little Vito’s Thunder Mountain Chablis while competing in outdoor sporting activities, you might still want to give the wines previously mentioned a try.

Wine and ramps: a tonic for springtime

We’ve had an earlier spring than normal which has prompted me to lighten up on the body of the wines I’m drinking now. For the time being – at least – I am switching to lighter textured wines that fit more with the increased activity level the nice weather has precipitated for even a lummox like me.

While I am not one to forgo use of my charcoal grill even when snowflakes are falling, I find it much more comfortable to stoke up the old Weber Performer when Mother Nature smiles on us. Lately, I have been grilling a wide variety of animal parts and also as many veggies as possible, including that lovely little lily of the mountains – ramps.

Yes, I said ramps.

Most folks smother the flavor of these wild leeks by covering them up in dishes like pinto beans or fried potatoes, but not this mountaineer. No siree, Jim Bob. I simply toss them in a little olive oil, sprinkle them with salt and pepper and throw them on the grill being careful not to set them ablaze.

Then, I use them to spark up whatever grilled meat or vegetable comprises the main entrée for the meal. It may surprise the uninitiated, but cooked ramps, like their leek and onion cousins, shed a lot of their eye-watering pungency.


West Virginia's Mountain Treasure

I am not suggesting that ramps become sweet when cooked or grilled, but they sure are tender and marry really well with roasted meat. Cooking them will also eliminate the rather odoriferous effects of consuming the little buggers raw.

If you ever do eat them in their natural state, make sure the people who live within a mile of you have fair warning. This is to prevent them from: a) losing consciousness; b) murdering you; or c) calling in an airstrike on your home. The first time I consumed ramps, I was still living with my parents. Home from college for the weekend, I ate a mess of ramps raw and washed them down with several cold ones.

For once in my post adolescent years, my mother allowed me to sleep in (she actually locked me in my room) while she proceeded to fumigate the premises. She was not amused and when I emerged stealthily from my bedroom window, she was waiting with hose in hand. After de-lousing me, she sent me packing, back to torture my classmates at WVU.

So what wine goes with cooked or grilled ramps? That largely depends on what main course with which you accompany them. Actually, sauvignon blanc is an excellent pairing for ramps, especially if you are mixing them with veggies like asparagus, green beans or broccoli and pasta.

Regardless, here are a few lighter styled wines for you to sip with your springtime meals. Enjoy!

2010 Remy Pannier Vouvray ($15) – This lovely chenin blanc from the Loire region of France can be enjoyed as an aperitif or with brunch foods such as omelets, roasted vegetables or creamy salads. It has just a touch of sweetness and is very well-balanced with flavors of tropical fruits.

2010 Buil & Gine’ Joan Gine Blanco ($26) – This rustic white wine from Spain’s Priorat region is round and ripe with just a touch of (good) funkiness. How’s that for a descriptor? Anyway, this blend of mostly grenache blanc is a complex wine with orange rind and lemon peel flavors, and great minerality to balance the finish. Excellent accompaniment to roast cod or Chilean Sea Bass in a lemon butter sauce – with a few sautéed ramps on the side.

2011 Domaine Sorin Cotes de Provence Rose ($15) – What a delicious strawberry and cherry flavored wine from the southern Rhone. Excellent fruit, slightly orange color and ripe – yet dry – flavors, this wine will make a great porch sipper or a nice match with grilled sausages.

2010 Santa Rita 120 Carmenere (($12) – This semi-obscure red from Chile is a smooth, medium-bodied alternative to cabernet sauvignon or merlot. Blackberry flavors and mocha tones give this wine just enough body to marry well with roasted pork tenderloin.

The Greenbrier and Opus One

Opus One at The Greenbrier

Wine lovers will get a unique and tasteful opportunity to whet their respective wine whistles Easter weekend when the Greenbrier Resort showcases the renowned Opus One Winery. While the grapes for the wine are grown in Napa, the finished product is a collaboration intended to stylistically feature the influence of both Napa and Bordeaux.

For those of you who may not be aware, Opus One was the brainchild of Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild – two of the most legendary vintners of the 20th century. Rothschild was the owner of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, which is one of only five First Growth wineries in Bordeaux. Robert Mondavi was the respected founder of the winery in Napa which bears his name. While both men have since passed on, Opus One continues to produce highly sought after cabernet-based wines.

Opus One

Michael Silacci, winemaker at Opus One, will lead Greenbrier guests through two days (April 6 and 7) of tasting both current releases as well as older vintages of the wine. In addition, Greenbrier Executive Chef Rich Rosendale will prepare a multi-course meal on Saturday evening to match the wines.

Incidentally, Rosendale was recently the winner and recipient of the prestigious Bocuse d’Or award after a cooking competition in January at the Culinary Institute of America.

The weekend package, which includes two night’s lodging, a vertical wine tasting on Friday evening, dinner at Howard’s Creek Lodge on Saturday evening and a $100 resort credit, is $1410 for two or $1075 for single occupancy. There are also a limited number of ala carte tickets for both the Friday tasting ($85 per person) and the Saturday dinner ($250 per person).

This is a great opportunity to experience one of the world’s most storied wines. Call 888-781-0528 for reservations.

Opus One, Chili and Me

Opus One’s first vintage was 1979 and I can truly say that it had a profound effect on yours truly. I was on my first visit to Napa in the fall of 1981 that was the culmination of a rather interesting week for me and the coterie of friends who were in my party.

And believe me – party was the operative term.

Earlier that year I became the inaugural winner of the WV Chili Cook-off at Snowshoe Resort which continues to host the event annually. The International Chili Society sanctions the cook-off and my win entitled me to compete in the World Chili Championship held that year in Los Angeles at Hollywood Race Track.

While I did in fact cook chili that day, I can assure you of three things: I did not win, I did not drink wine and I don’t remember much else.

My attending sous-chefs included my long-suffering wife and two other couples who came along to participate in a skit that we were to perform in an attempt to win the “Best Skit” award at the event.

Our skit was entitled: “Hillbilly Chili – The Real McCoy,” and was a take-off on an old TV series “The Real McCoy’s.” For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it featured a family of goobers from Smokey Corners, WV who moved to California to set up dirt farming.

To put it mildly, the skit would not have been approved by the West Virginia Commerce Department as a way of changing widely held stereotypes of our beloved state.

I reprised the role of Grandpa McCoy (played in the series by a limping, whiny-voiced Walter Brennan) and my cohorts took on the personas of Luke, Little Luke, Pepino, Hassie and Kate respectively.

We had rehearsed the skit many times and felt confident that we would wow the judges with our acting skills and creative prowess. Alas, someone (me) forgot their lines and began to adlib. This completely screwed up the skit and left our audience of several hundred onlookers unamused and embarrassed for us.

Hillbilly Chili- 1981

With the failed World Chili Cook-off in the rear view mirror, we drove our van all the way up to the Napa Valley where we visited several winery tasting rooms and where we had a fateful visit at Robert Mondavi Winery.

One of my friends was a state senator at the time and through his influence we were actually met at the winery by Robert Mondavi himself who led us through a tasting of his impressive wines. At one point, we were ushered into a subterranean cavern where Mr. Mondavi pulled the bung out of an impressive looking barrel and extracted a deeply purple wine.

This was – in fact – the 1979 Opus One which was still being aged in barrels. We were privileged to be given a taste of this wonderful wine by the legendary winemaker.

While I had begun to make the transition away from beer and John Barleycorn to wine, tasting this glorious elixir was an absolute epiphany. It was a seminal moment and launched my life-long interest in the wonderful world of wine.

And I have chili to thank for it!

Meatballs, wine and the big hit

I am often asked what prompted my interest in wine. The answer goes back to my childhood and the influence of my Italian immigrant grandparents and relatives. As I have recounted in this space before, wine was a part of everyday living back then, and an integral component of family meals, particularly the large gatherings after Mass on Sundays at Grandma Iaquinta’s home.

Since my family produced their own homemade wine each year, I was able to observe and sometimes assist in the menial labor aspects of wine making.  These experiences certainly formed the foundation for my life long affair with the vine.  However, one particular (almost magical) incident involving wine, food and sport may have been the catalyst.

A stroke of genius! That’s what I like to think it was that sunny afternoon in the fall of 1956.

I had been trying to find something that would provide just the right weight to form the core of a tape ball. Stones or rocks were simply too heavy, paper too light and soft. I had just stroked the tape ball we had been using along the ground and into a curb storm drain. In rather colorful language, my two older cousins graphically described the consequences that would ensue if I did not immediately replace the lost orb.

A golf ball would have been perfect but, because the socio-economic roll of the dice had not favored our fathers and uncles, Maxflies or Titleists were not an option. No sireee. If it wasn’t a baseball, softball or bocce ball, we weren’t playing it.

This was beer drinking, homemade wine-swilling and parlay betting country where Mickey Mantle and Rocky Marciano were the heroes of the day, and where kids like us spent warm afternoons playing our version of the National Pastime along the streets of North View, the working class and ethnically diverse neighborhood of Clarksburg, West (By God) Virginia.

A Tape ball game required only one pitcher and one batter, but no more than two persons per side.  The rules mimicked  baseball with a few caveats.  Cleanly fielded grounders and caught fly balls  counted as outs as did one swing and a miss. There were three outs to an inning, but no bases.

It was simply a nine-inning game of pitching, hitting and keeping score with disputed calls settled by the loudest and largest players.  Hitting the ball over Mrs. Mazza’s five foot hedge was an undisputed  home run. A minimalist and inexpensive sport, the game only required  a homemade ball, a broomstick and players.

So as I  struggled to resolve the problem and avoid bodily harm,  I was struck by an idea so novel that I was confident I had the perfect solution. Sneaking into the kitchen of my Aunt Notie’s apartment, I opened the small freezer compartment of the old Kelvinator and extracted the perfectly cylindrical answer to my problem.

Aunt Notie was a gifted cook whose meatballs were the stuff of culinary legend. It was said, she could make a garlic clove sing. Surely, she would not miss one frozen meatball, I thought, and sacrilegiously snatched the circular little treasure that had sealed my aunt’s reputation in our neighborhood as the “meatball queen.”

It felt just right and, as I wrapped the white adhesive tape around the frozen meatball, I realized that with stealth, cunning and courage I could provide our gang with an endless supply of tape ball cores. Proudly, I returned to the game where the new tape ball was an immediate and literal hit. For an hour, we pounded it, smacked it and sent it soaring through the air, and it performed flawlessly.

But then fate stepped in. Standing at the plate, I whacked a hanging curve (meat) ball with a tremendous stroke and lofted it at least 100 feet in the air. At the apex of its trajectory, the ball began a rapid descent toward earth.  Like some miniature asteroid with my future etched on it, the small round object streaked into a vat of fermenting red wine.

My grandfather, who was stirring and punching down the cap of the fermenting grapes, was startled by the impact which immediately splashed and stained his upper torso purple. Reaching into the vat, he fished out the broken, meatball- oozing tape ball, sniffed it and said in his broken English:

“Eat-sa rain meat-a–balls!

The rest is history.

Wine for heat seekers !

There must be capsaicin in my DNA because I have an insatiable addiction to spicy foods!

Peppers are my crack cocaine, the monkey on my back and the refuge I seek when I am forced, over an extended period of time (say, one day), to eat foods prepared by aliens from the planet of Bland.

So concerned am I about the prospect of having to endure Casper Milquetoast meals, that I regularly and surreptitiously carry a miniature (one ounce) bottle of Tabasco with me at all times. Sometimes those mashed potatoes need a little zing, don’t you think?

At this point, you’re probably wondering how the incessant assault of spicy foods affects the wine judgments of a cultured and sensitive palate. Obviously, you would be asking the wrong person since I cannot remember a time when I did not consume spicy foods (nor am I in any manner cultured or sensitive).

However, I do admit to toning down the heat a bit over the past several years to what might be considered moderate on the Scoville scale (which is a measure of the heat or piquancy of peppers). Still, I readily acknowledge that my predilection toward spicy foods does influence my wine suggestions.

Ah, but that’s the point of today’s lesson, class! There are indeed wines that enhance and compliment spicy foods.

This past weekend, I prepared a dish made famous by David Chang. Chang is a Korean-American chef who has taken the culinary world by storm over the past few years with his all-inclusive brand of “new” American cooking. To be sure, he leans heavily on Korean and Asian foods as a base, but he applies those influences to standard American fare like slow cooked pork or fried chicken.

And while his style is not particularly spicy, I did up the heat-ante on his Bo Ssam roast port shoulder recipe and on his sauces. Incidentally, the sauces are magnificent and easy to prepare. Many of the ingredients for the sauces are available in grocery stores or at the Asian Market on 7th Ave. in South Charleston.

Oh, by the way, this is not a food choice for the sodium or sugar averse folks out there.

In a nutshell, the Bo Ssam recipe calls for an eight to ten pound pork shoulder which is rubbed all over with a cup each of white sugar and Kosher salt. The roast is then covered in plastic wrap and placed over night in the fridge. I spiced up the recipe by adding one teaspoon each of cayenne pepper and smoked paprika.

Bo Ssam Pork Shoulder

The next day, the pork is slow roasted at 300 degrees for about 6 hours, allowed to rest for an hour and then rubbed with seven tablespoons of brown sugar and one of salt before placing it in a 500-degree oven to carmelize for about 10 minutes. The meat is then pulled apart, placed in bib lettuce wraps, drizzled with sauce and consumed. Spectacular !

Check out Susan Filson’s article and Chang’s recipe in the “Daily Loaf” at:

Okay, so what’s this have to do with my jaded and heat-infected palate, and how is it possible to match wine to spicy dishes? Granted, you could take the easy way out and pour yourself a cold one (which I have often done), but, hey, this is a wine blog and anyway I believe wine offers a broader selection of liquid alternatives.

For the pork shoulder with two different spicy sauces, I actually paired the dish with an Alsatian gewürztraminer that was slightly sweet. The sweet, tart and flowery flavors of the gewürztraminer melded with and enhanced the salty and spicy pork dish. Look for Alsatian gewürztraminer from Trimbach, Pierre Sparr or Hugel.

You might also try riesling or gewürztraminer from Washington State such as those produced by Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Valley or Pacific Rim.

Pinot noir and rose are also good accompaniments to spicy foods. For the dinner, we opened a 2009 Concannon Central Coast Pinot Noir ($15) and a 2009 Crios Rose of Malbec ($14) from Argentina.

I would also suggest sparkling wines for heat-infused foods. I love the flavor and value of Spanish Cava’s such as Freixenet Cordon Negro ($11), Dibon Cava Brut ($12) or Segura Viudas Brut Reserva ($11).

So, the next time you need to feed ten of your most rabid heat-seeking foodies, try the Bo Ssam recipe with a flagon or three of the above-mentioned wines.

Alternative wine choices

I admit it.  I’m easily bored.  So the other evening when I descended to my cellar to pick out a wine for dinner, I searched for something other than the same old, same old. I gotta say, it was tough finding something other than cabernet, pinot noir, zinfandel, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, etc.

After considerable rooting around, I found a dusty bottle of 2004 Vietti Barbera D’Asti and paired this little lovely with meatballs and faro in marinara sauce.  What a great combo!  Barbera is the lesser-known little brother of Barolo and Barbaresco  – the more famous reds from Italy’s Piedmont region  – and it is the perfect match for spicy, tomato-based dishes.

At about $15 a bottle, barbera is also a great value. Rich, medium-bodied and chock full of dark cherry flavors, barbera also has a good dollop of acid to balance it out. In addition to Vietti, look for producers such as Chiarlo, Prunotto and Pio Cesare.

If variety is the spice of life, then changing up your varietals can spice up your wine life too.  Here are some other alternatives for your consideration which are not only excellent in their own right, but will also make your palate fonder for the usual wine suspects when you return to them later.

Valpolicella can be a light to medium bodied wine full of bright fruit flavors that can successfully be paired with chicken, veal or pasta dishes.  However, Valpolicella made in the Ripasso style, is a fuller-bodied version of the wine. Ripasso is produced by adding the left over skins and seeds from Amarone into the fermenting Valpolicella producing a wine similar in body to zinfandel.

Look for producers such as Allegrini, Bertani, Masi and Zenato for both regular Valpolicella and those made in the Ripasso style.  The Ripasso style wines are more suited to being paired with heavier-flavored dishes such as stews or garlic-enhanced roasted meats.

Finding alternatives to the ubiquitous chardonnay, pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc whites can also take a little searching.  Marsanne and Rousanne, both grapes indigenous to the Rhone region of France, are excellent alternatives especially to chardonnay.

These grapes, often combined in a cuvee, can be full-bodied and rich as well as balanced and can be matched with fuller-flavored dishes spiced with curry, cumin and even peanut sauces.  In the US, look for producers such as Cline, Qupe and Tablas Creek all of which make the  wines in combination or as single varietals.

Arneis, from the Roero region of Piedmont in Italy, is also an excellent substitute for pinot grigio.  Arneis is the actual name of the grape and it is usually a very delicate, sometimes slightly spritzy wine with citrus and melon flavors.  Pair it with plainly cooked seafood or even salads with ranch –type dressings. Look for   producers such as Gallina, Giacosa or Pio Cesare.

And for an excellent alternative red with a local connection, look for Vu ja de Vineyards “Our Journey Together”  ($25). Not sure who is on the journey or where they are going, but the blend of 82% syrah and 18% cabernet sauvignon is a full-bodied mouthful of wine with hints of mocha, chocolate and dark fruits.  Pair this baby with leg of lamb rubbed with garlic, black pepper and kosher salt.

Examining the natural wine movement

I actually put my money where my palate is when it comes to supporting traditionally grown and produced foods. Some people may refer to these types of victuals as “organic” or “natural” products, but I don’t like labels nor do I wish to be associated with food fanatics who assail anyone who produces or consumes food products available in the commercial marketplace.

Hey, I’ll admit it, every now and then I love to wash down a bag of Uncle Homer’s Chipotle Pork Rinds with a 20-ounce Diet Dr. Pepper!

While I am not an organic foodie zealot, I truly do believe in buying locally, particularly when the producers use natural methods to grow fruits and vegetables, as well as to raise and feed their animals.

What does any of this have to do with wine? Well, there has been a big brouhaha over the past couple of years regarding the supposed differences between commercial vineyard/winery practices and those who claim to produce their product using only natural or organic processes.

This “natural wine” movement is particularly popular in France where the true believers have lifted their Gallic noses up even higher than normal to proclaim their practices superior to the overwhelming majority of operations around the world who use modern techniques in the vineyard and winery.

In a nutshell, natural wines use very little or no manipulation in the vineyard or winery. They claim to use no sulfur to prevent oxidation of the wines, will not add any yeast cultures to insure a stable fermentation and would never allow oak aging. The natural wine advocates are also extremely disdainful and critical of the vast majority of wineries using modern methods to produce their wines.

As you might expect, this has drawn the ire of many wineries around the world and has stirred up the wine press. The doubters believe the natural movement is more about establishing a marketing niche among those to whom the words
natural or organic appeal, rather than in any holy crusade to produce pure, unadulterated wine.

But, as wine lovers, you need to decide for yourself so you may make informed buying decisions. Is there really any qualitative or health reason for seeking out these self-proclaimed “natural” wines?

I can buy into the sustainability practices of the natural movement that was defined for me by an Oregon wine producer. He said sustainability means using natural fertilizers, composting and the cultivation of plants that attract insects that are beneficial to grape vines.

Further, he noted, sustainability practices in the vineyard also extend to actions you would not suspect have a relationship to the quality of the vine such as providing areas for wildlife to flourish and allowing weeds to grow between the vines.

But I draw the line at the bio-dynamic aspect of the natural movement. Here’s what I said about it a couple of years back:

‘ Bio-dynamic farming is sustainability on steroids! It involves some things that are downright loony. It can include practices such as stuffing cow horns with manure and burying them in vineyards over the winter, fermenting flowers in stags’ bladders, and timing these unorthodox methods of farming with the phases of the moon and the location of the stars in the night sky.’

Beginnings of a biodynamic prep – cow horns filled with manure. Photo taken by Jeff Weissler,

As I stated earlier, I believe in supporting naturally produced products. We’ve been buying meat from Sandy Creek Farms near Ravenswood for more than two decades. Sandy Creek has used organic methods in raising and processing their meats well before “organic” became an overused and overhyped marketing term.

We also purchase more than half of the vegetables we consume from locally farmed produce or reputable retailers like the Purple Onion in Charleston’s Capitol Market. In addition, we regularly buy from a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Fish Hawk Acres in Rock Cave, West Virginia , and from a Monroe County farm co-op.

To be sure, we still shop at supermarkets and love the produce supplied by reputable local wholesalers like Corey Brothers in Charleston. But it is somehow very satisfying and reassuring to eat food produced nearby, particularly if the stuff is grown in a sustainable manner. I also support our state wineries, many of which are using sustainable practices to produce their wines.

So what’s the answer? Well, I guess it’s a personal decision. I certainly have tried some of the wines that claim to be “natural” and some are good. Some aren’t.

However, I am not convinced that anyone is compromising their health by drinking the 99% of other wines produced without the application of “natural” techniques such as stag’s bladders, cow horns or phases of the moon.



Cow horns filled with manure. Photo: Jeff Weissler,

The bargain wines of winter

January has roared in with a frigid dose of reality as the profligacy of the holiday season has come home to roost in the form of credit card debt. Time to pay the piper and recommit to the principles of moderation and even (dare I utter the word)… frugality.

Hey, but you still have to eat and drink, right? While I am not averse to mac and cheese, stews or meatloaf, I’ll still need to pair those tried, true and hearty staples with a sip or two of the grape. And, believe it or not, there are a plethora of good, inexpensive wines from which to choose.

From my point of view, tasty wines priced between $8 and $20 a bottle represent a bargain and are a justifiable and necessary cost of helping ward off the ruinous effects of SAD (seasonal affective disorder). Good food and wine always seem to lift my spirits and shine some much needed light on this gloomy time of year. The only real issue is finding the good to excellent bottles in this price category and that is where your intrepid wine hound excels.

The list of goodies I am providing below is generally available at most wine retailers. If you cannot find them, simply request that your shop order them from their distribution chain. I have selected wines that are especially complimentary to a wide variety of wintertime dishes including, in addition to those mentioned above, soups (especially pasta fagiole), pot roast, pasta as well as chicken and dumplings, gumbo and, of course, chili.

Reds: 2009 Alamos Malbec; 2008 Easton Amador County Zinfandel; 2009 Delas Freres Saint Esprit Cotes Du Rhone; 2009 Hahn Pinot Noir; 2009 Montes Cabernet Sauvignon; 2008 Banfi Centine Rosso; 2008 Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel; 2009 Columbia Crest Caberne3t Sauvignon and 2009 Martin Codax Rioja.

Easton Amador County Zin

Whites: 2010 Pacific Rim Riesling; 2009 Benzinger Family Chardonnay; 2010 Sitious Con Class Verdejo; Alamos Chardonnay; 2009 Pierre Sparr Pinot Gris; 2009 Trimbach Riesling; 2010 King Estate Pinot Gris; 2009 Clos Du Bois Chardonnay; 2010 Luna Di Luna Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio; 2009 Gini Soave Classico; 2010 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc and 2010 St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc.
I’m always on the lookout for restaurants that not only provide excellent cuisine, but also price their wines fairly. Laury’s in Charleston is to be commended for having an excellent list that is priced very fairly. In most instances, wines at Laury’s are marked up one to one-point five times their retail price, and that is about as good as you will find anywhere in the state.

Bluegrass Kitchen in Charleston’s East End also prices their, small, but well thought out list, very reasonably. Other establishments around the state should follow suit which would encourage more diners to add a bottle of wine to the tab. And that’s good for both the customer and the restaurant.

Storing your special wines

Now that you’ve received those special holiday gifts of wine from your adoring friends and significant others, you’re probably wondering how to store them if you don’t own a temperature controlled wine cellar.

Well, fear not intrepid wino’s, for today I shall enlighten you.

People are always asking me for suggestions on how to build or establish a wine cellar in their homes. Today, I’ll explain how you can find the proper place to store wine in your home or even in an apartment.

First of all, you needn’t be concerned about a major construction project unless you have the cash, inclination or the requisite carpenter skills to accomplish the task. Actually, folks living in homes or apartments with no basements can effectively create wine cellar- like environments in other types of spaces.

Before you begin, try and think ahead and make a determination on how many bottles you intend to store. It’s probably a good idea to come up with a generous estimation and then double it. That way, you’ll have plenty of room to grow the collection.

Keep in mind, you’ll need to design the area to store wines that you intend to drink in the near term (usually within a year) as well as those for actual aging.

Finding an appropriate place to store your little vinous gems requires paying attention to a few key details that will ensure your wines emerge from their Rip Van Winkle-like sleep mature and ready to enjoy.

If you have the luxury of a cellar, find an area where the basement wall is up against and below the ground. The reason: the temperature below ground is generally constant and usually in the range of between 50 and 60 degrees F. which is approximately the ideal temperature for aging wine.

If you don’t have a cellar, find a closet or other dark place where the wine is not exposed to natural or artificial light. Don’t store wine in the attic or any area where the temperature tends to rise during the day and, if necessary, use Styrofoam or other materials to create a stable temperature in the space.

Don’t be discouraged, however, if your average summer to winter temperature is variable as long as the temperature variation is no more than five to ten degrees throughout the year and the overall average temperature does not exceed 70 degrees F.

This stability (more than a set temperature) is a key factor in providing a good cellar environment. Wines stored in warmer environments tend to mature too quickly and can spoil easier.

Also make sure that the area is odor and vibration -free and that it is not overly dry. Very dry areas tend to cause the corks to shrink and wine to evaporate. (I find it much more enjoyable to use my body as the vessel from which an evaporation of wine occurs).

Actually, humidity in the range of 60 to 70 percent, is good for the wine and you can artificially create this effect by keeping an open container of water around the stored wine.

Obviously, you’ll need to store the wine on its side so that the cork stays moist. I will lay screw cap wines on their sides even though their enclosures don’t allow them to improve with age -it’s an aesthetic thing with me. You can also turn case boxes on their sides and use them to store the wine.

While you can age some white wines, most people tend to choose red wines for long-term storage. Wines such as Bordeaux, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and zinfandel, produced in particularly fine vintage years have the best potential to improve with age.

I’ve had a wine cellar for years and some of the wines I purchased to start the project are still resting there all dusty and cool in my basement. Every once in a while, I sneak down there, stare at them lovingly and, occasionally, bring one up to the dinner table to enjoy with friends and family on a very special occasion.

It’s a truly tense situation until you open the bottle because there is a chance that the wine will be disappointing. But when it hits the mark, you will be thankful for your wine storage area.

Wine and related holiday gift ideas

Depending upon your budget, the sky is virtually the limit when it comes to finding a wine to give (or receive from) that special person. Today, I’ll provide you with a listing of some of my favorite cabernet sauvignons from the exceptional 2007 vintage (note to my friends: please feel free to pass this along to my wife).

However, before I get to the wine recommendations, here are some wine-related gift ideas, including a stocking stuffer or two , for the wine-stained person in your life.

Wine Reference
I’ve noted it before, but in my opinion, the absolute best wine reference book is the “World Atlas of Wine” by Hugh Johnson. It is a compendium of everything you need to know about wine, including information on specific grapes, wines and regions, as well as label descriptions, and the culture and history of wine. Check for it at your local bookshop or online.

Wine Buying Clubs
Joining a wine-buying club is a unique way to explore a variety of wines from around the world with the convenience of regular door-to-door shipping or shopping. There are clubs geared for a variety of wine lovers from beginners to collectors. Talk to your local wine retailer about offerings they may have or go to: to find the best club and price for you.

Wine Storage
Finding a place to store your special wine is always a challenge. One pretty neat option is the Wine Enthusiast Six -Bottle Touchscreen Wine Refrigerator. This adjustable, temperature- controlled wine refrigerator is a great gift for those who don’t have a lot of storage space, but want a reliable place to keep their special bottles. Check it out at: $100 with free shipping.

The aesthetics of sipping wine in crystal is oftentimes a very expensive proposition. However, the good folks at Masterpiece Crystal in Jane Lew, WV craft about the best reasonably priced wine vessels around. The hand-made lead free crystal glasses and carafes come in various shapes and sizes. Go to and check out these works of art or call 1-800-624-3114 to order direct from the factory.

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

If you are like me, I like to keep track of the truly special wines I have consumed. Using “Label Off” is one of the best ways to remove and collect those special wine labels. “Label Off” splits the printed surface of the paper from the adhesive backing leaving a laminated label to place into your wine catalog. $10.

Special Wines
The 2007 vintage for cabernet sauvignon in Napa Valley may go down as one of the best in decades. The wines are opulent, full-bodied, rich and balanced and should age well for years. Here are some 2007 cabernets you might wish to buy for that special person in your life. They range in price from about $35 to $100 a bottle.

Caymus Special Selection; Joseph Phelps Insignia; Shafer Stags Leap; Newton Napa Valley; Clos Du Val; Vineyard 29; Franciscan Napa Valley; Anderson’s Conn Valley; Robert Mondavi Napa Valley; Rudd Mount Veeder; Beaulieu Georges De Latour Private Reserve; and Cliff Lede Vineyards Stags Leap.

Happy Holidays!