Vines & Vittles

Spring wines and a Toast to Moldova

Just recently, I had the pleasure of sipping three wines I think you might find enjoyable, especially when paired with the dishes I’m also suggesting.

2019 St. Supery Dollarhide Sauvignon Blanc ($32) – The Dollarhide vineyard is nestled in the mountains on the eastern slopes of the Napa Valley. Cool evening temperatures allow this sauvignon blanc to develop flavors of citrus and anise with nuances of vanilla from oak aging. It is a rich, but well-balanced wine, that will show best when paired with one of my favorite springtime dishes: pasta with sauteed ramps and asparagus sauced with a half cup of the sauvignon blanc, olive oil, and sprinkled liberally with parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes.

2019 J. Lohr Seven Oaks Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($18) – From Paso Robles along California’s Central Coast, the Seven Oaks cabernet is full of dark cherry and cola flavors. It is deep and rich with noticeable tannin, but it’s still very drinkable right now. I paired the wine with grilled pork tenderloin brushed with a cumin and honey glaze.

2019 Martin Ray Vineyards Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($21)) – This medium-bodied, silky smooth wine has flavors of ripe, red cherries with hints of Asian spices. It also has a lovely balance of richness and acidity which makes it an excellent match to foods with some sweet and heat notes such as Pad Thai or barbecue chicken mopped with a sriracha infused sauce.

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I’ve always considered grape growing and winemaking as activities that help bring the diverse peoples of our planet together. Despite our ethnic, cultural or political differences, the fruit of the vine has always offered a figurative bridge between countries, allowing us the opportunity to literally toast one other.

But the devastating carnage inflicted on Ukraine by that barbarian in the Kremlin has cast a pall on the mostly cordial and respectful relationships that the nations of the world have enjoyed for decades. I am particularly concerned for Moldova, a small, poor country that borders a large swath of Ukraine. Unfortunately, the geographic location of Moldova puts its continued existence in jeopardy. Unlike its neighbors in the region, Romania and Slovakia, Moldova is not a member of NATO and therefore does not enjoy the protections of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Several years ago, I was privileged to be among several West Virginians to meet a travelling delegation of business and government officials from Moldova, a country that has a long tradition of winemaking dating back centuries. One of the visitors was a woman winemaker, and I was impressed with the wines she brought along for us to sample. I remember liking the white wines somewhat better than the reds, but all of them were very drinkable.

This small country, which was formerly part of the Soviet Union, surprisingly has more vines per capita than any other country on earth. As you would expect, most of the Moldovan wines are made from obscure, native varieties such as Viorica, a Muscat-like white, and reds such as Aurore Rara Negro which is similar to pinot noir. The country also produces value-oriented traditional varietals like pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

I fear for the people of Moldova who find themselves on the border of a country being brutalized.  I’m sure Moldovan citizens  are wondering if they will be the next domino to fall. So, in a gesture of solidarity with Moldova, and all the countries in that increasingly dangerous part of the world, I’m going to order some Moldovan wine, and then I’ll raise a glass to them and pray they will remain a free and sovereign nation.

If you would like to try the wines of Moldova, you can order them online at https://wineofmoldovausa.com/wine/

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book Augie’s World, which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War, is available online at Amazon. You can find out more about his novels and wine columns at wordsbyjohnbrown.com

 

Drunken Short Ribs

You like to drink wine or you would not be reading this column, right? I’ll presume my assumption is correct, and I will also venture to guess you enjoy pairing the fruit of the vine with wine’s best friend – a compatible meal. But what about using wine as an ingredient in cooking your meal?

The most common questions I get from folks regarding the use of wine in cooking relate to: the type of varietal to select; the quantity of wine to use; and the quality of the bottle -which usually relates to price. The main concern people have, though, is that the wine they choose might not work with their menu item, and the meal will be ruined. And sometimes their fears are realized when they assume it’s okay to use that half bottle of Three Buck Chuck’s that’s been sitting on a shelf in the refrigerator for two weeks.

The first rule when using wine in cooking is to make sure the bottle you choose is sound – as in fresh. It should also be something you would enjoy drinking. It doesn’t have to be an expensive wine, but it should be one that has been recently opened (like in the last day or so) and is still tasty. And always bypass those bottles labelled “cooking wine” in the vinegar and oil section of the grocery store unless you want to add a cod liver oil or other medicinal nuance to the meal.

Regarding the amount wine to use in cooking, the best advice is to follow the recipe. Generally, recipes will call for a cup or less of wine. But if you aren’t following a specific recipe, remember the goal is to enhance the dish not to overwhelm it. And don’t worry that cooking with wine will add alcohol to the meal. The reality is that after a few seconds in a heated pan or pot, all the alcohol is dissipated, and only the flavor of the wine is retained by the food.

So, what are some of the foods that are positively influenced by the addition of wine? I would say most foods, but I still haven’t found the perfect wine pairing for cereal. Anyway, there are a plethora of great recipes out there that rely on wine to enhance the finished dish. You can open any cookbook or Google recipes online, but if you can’t wait, check out the hearty wintertime wine-enhanced dish I’ve detailed for you below.

I know I said earlier that most recipes call for moderate amounts of wine, but this one requires a full bottle of dry red to tame the hearty flavors of the dish. You can use any full-bodied, dry red like zinfandel, Cotes du Rhone, cabernet sauvignon or merlot. I chose the 2015 Terre Rouge Tete-a-Tete ($27). Terre Rouge is a California winery located in Amador County. The winery focuses on Rhone varieties, and this bottle is a blend of grenache and mourvèdre (39% each) and syrah (22%). Full-flavored, round and rich, it has the body to stand up to and enhance the hearty short rib recipe below.

Drunken Short Ribs

Ingredients (feeds four people)

Three to four pounds of short ribs cut into two-inch pieces
One large Dutch oven
Two tablespoons of flour
One tablespoon each of Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
Three cups of beef broth
Two onions, celery stalks, carrots and red bell peppers chopped
Two tablespoons each of olive oil and tomato paste
Four cloves of garlic chopped coarsely
One tablespoon each of chopped parsley, thyme and rosemary

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Season short ribs with salt and pepper and cover in flour
Sauté’ beef in Dutch oven on stovetop in batches and set aside on a plate
Add onions, carrots, celery and peppers until translucent
Add garlic and herbs and tomato paste to the Dutch oven
Stir mixture for a few minutes and then add bottle of wine
Lower heat to medium when mixture begins to boil and add short ribs
Add beef broth, cover pot and place in the oven
Cook for two and one-half hours and serve over polenta or mashed potatoes

Enjoy!!

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book Augie’s World, which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War, is available online at Amazon. You can find out more about his novels and wine columns at wordsbyjohnbrown.com

It is the dead of winter and you’re not only sick of the cold, gray and snowy days– you’re weary and listless. You’ve probably tried to amuse yourself and your friends by playing cards, board games and just about anything to make time go faster. You may have even been desperate enough to retrieve that old exercise bike that’s been rusting in the garage for a spin around the TV room.

Well, for those of you who enjoy a glass or two of wine, I’ve got just the restorative tonic to brighten your mood. Why not gather a few friends for wine tasting? And guess what, it’s really pretty simple to do and it’s affordable too, especially if you ask friends to contribute a bottle for the event.

You can taste and evaluate as few as two wines or as many as you wish, but normally a tasting will consist of six or seven wines. You may choose to evaluate a particular wine varietal such as chardonnay or zinfandel, or you may decide to taste wines from a region like the Napa Valley or Bordeaux. You can also just put together a random group of wines and go at it.

The classic tasting begins with lighter-bodied wines (usually whites) and moves to fuller-bodied and dryer red wines. If you’re evaluating sweet wines, you can taste whites at the beginning and reds, such as port, at the end. I usually taste sparkling wines at the beginning of a tasting.

While your main goal in evaluating wine is to judge the taste, you will also want to scrutinize the aroma, and you should use stemware that allows you to observe the color and clarity of the wine in the glass. Be sure to pour tasters about one ounce of each wine so the total amount you sip over the course of the tasting approximates a glass. I’ve been to events where the pours were heavy and, within a short period of time, the tasting devolved into a wine gulping event – and that ain’t pretty.

One of my favorite tastings is designed to get folks out of their wine comfort zone and expose them to bottles they wouldn’t normally try. I conducted just such a tasting before Christmas at Fish Hawk Acres in Buckhannon. Owner Dale Hawkins calls his establishment a “Grocer-Rant” and it is a mecca of epicurean delights, including a superb wine selection, locally farmed vegetables, fresh meats and the best sandwiches I’ve had in West-By-Golly.

The following is an example of how a wine tasting list might be comprised. Incidentally, these are wines which I would also recommend for your sipping pleasure.

Veuve Du Vernay Brut Rose ($15) – This French sparkler is well balanced and fresh with raspberry and bright cherry fruit flavors. Great as an aperitif or try it with brunch-type foods such as omelets, crepes or salads.

2020 Cantina Zaccagnini ($17) Pinot Grigio -From the Abruzzo region of Italy, this wine has a tropical fruit bouquet, flavors of ripe pears and is a refreshing, well-balanced wine. Try it with various antipasti, oysters on the half shell, grilled veggies, or roasted chicken.

2019 Pazo Cillerio Albarino ($22) – From the Galicia region of Spain, this Albarino is influenced by the cool breezes of the Atlantic. Refreshing and clean, the wine is fruit forward with notes of ripe green apples and citrus flavors. Would pair extremely well with delicate seafood dishes like pan sauteed grouper in a lemon butter sauce.

2018 Grayson Cellars Chardonnay ($15) – The 2018 Grayson Chardonnay is rich with a touch of vanilla, but it shows bright, brisk acidity and good minerality with notes of pineapple and apricot. Try this California wine with chicken cordon bleu, pasta with clams or roasted Chilean sea bass.

2018 Sebastiani Pinot Noir (Central Coast) ($18) – The fruit for this 2018 Pinot Noir comes from the Central Coast of California with 60% coming from Santa Rita and 40% coming from Monterey County. The wine is ripe and rich with black cherry and spice flavors. This would be lovely with Salmon on the grill or roast pork tenderloin.

2020 Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone ($18) This rich red wine from the southern Rhone region of France is full of spice and plum flavors. Try it with beef pot roast, chili or even lasagna.

2019 Fitch Mountain Merlot ($23) – This Dry Creek Valley wine has a silky mouth feel with flavors of chocolate spice, dark berries, coffee, caramel, and cedar. It has impressive length and a lasting, elegant finish. Try this wine with grilled rib eye steak or rack of lamb.

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com.

Holiday gifts of Wine

I don’t know about you, but I’m a “last minute” kind of person. My modius operandi: why complete a task or fulfill an obligation now when you can wait until the warning lights start flashing red? Procrastination is my middle name. Ask my wife…no don’t do that!

Anyway, it’s almost Christmas and I haven’t yet purchased the first gift. In years past, that was not much of a problem thanks to the plethora of stores at our large indoor shopping mall – that last bastion of gifts for the tardy. But now, with the demise of the mall I‘m in panic mode. Thankfully, most of the gifts I purchase this year will be of the liquid variety, so I’ll just pop into my local wine shop to find that special bottle.

And for those of you who, like me, are looking for that last minute gift of wine, I have a whole cornucopia of vinous suggestions for your consideration. This list should enable you to find just the perfect bottle for that special person regardless of their wine preferences.

Let’s start with Champagne and sparkling wines with which you can toast Christmas and Hannukah as well as, the coming New Year. Then I’ll follow with recommendations for those white and red wine lovers respetctively.

Champagne:
Moet et Chandon White Star Brut, Nicholas Feuillatte “Blue Label” Brut, Paul Bara Brut, Veuve Cliquot (The Widow) Brut, Krug Grande Cuvee Brut, Perrier Jouet Grand Brut and Taittinger Comptes De Champagne Rose.

Sparkling Wine from other regions:
Gusbourne Brut Reserve (England); Mumm Napa Cuvee, Roderer Estate Brut Anderson Valley, Iron Horse Russian Cuvee and Domain Carneros Blanc de Noir (all from California); Pierre Sparr Cremant d’Alsace Brut Reserve (France); Segura Viudas Reserva (Spain); Ruffino Prosecco (Italy); and Gruet Blanc de Noirs (New Mexico).

White Wine:

Kistler Sonoma Mountain Chardonnay, Peter Michael Chardonnay, Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, Hess Select Monterey Chardonnay, Massican White Blend and Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay ( all from California); Joseph Drouhin Puligny-Monrachet Premier Cru and Moillard Puligny-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes (France); Dr. Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Mosel Riesling and S.A. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese (Germany) Martin Codax Albarino and Ossian Vinedo Ecologico Verdejo (Spain); Bastianich Vespa Bianco and Anselmi San Vincenzo (Italy).

Red Wine:
Chateau Montelena Cabernet, Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Cabernet, Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Saddleback Cabernet Sauvignon, Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Merryvale Profile, Joseph Phelps Insignia, Dominus and Harlan Estate (all from California); Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon (Washington); Chateau La Dominique;, Chateau Lynch Bages, Chateau Brainaire Ducru, Chateau Cos d’Estournel, Chateau Pontet Canet, Chateau Leoville Las Cases and Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape (all from France); Domaine Serene Evanstad Reserve Pinot Noir (Oregon); Altesino Montosoli Brunello di Montalcino and Ornellaia (from Italy).

Here’s wishing you the merriest of Holiday Seasons and a prosperous New Year!

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com.

WINES FOR THANKSGIVING DINNER

This year we really do have a lot for which to be thankful. First and foremost, the insidious pandemic that has haunted us all for the past two years seems to be under control, and we’ll now be able to join our friends and family for Thanksgiving dinner. And if you love food and wine, there’s another good reason to be thankful because we’re about to enter a period full of holiday celebrations that begin next Thursday and continue right through the New Year.

As a matter of fact, we will purchase and consume more good wine and food during the next six weeks than we have for the previous ten months. The only people happier than us will be the business owners of health clubs, diet centers and clothing alteration shops who depend on first quarter sales to survive for the rest of the year.

I know I’ve said this before, but of all the upcoming celebrations, my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving! That’s because the Thanksgiving meal features a wide variety of foods that can accommodate just about any red, white, rose or sparkling wine. And it all starts with the turkey.

Turkey is blessed with meat that has a variety of flavors, colors and textures which present opportunities for us to try with a variety of different wines. And, when you add the dishes that traditionally accompany Thanksgiving dinner, things really get interesting. So today I’m going to present you with a typical Thanksgiving menu accompanied with wines that pair seamlessly with each course. Here goes.

The Aperitif
In our home, the first bottle we uncork for Thanksgiving is a sparkling wine to toast each other and the holiday. My suggestions for your Thanksgiving toast are one of these effervescent sippers: Iron Horse Brut; Segura Viudas Brut Reserva; Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noir Rose; Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve Champagne; and Pierre Sparr Cremant d’Alsace Brut Reserve.

 

Thanksgiving Starters
Appetizer goodies such as deviled eggs, smoked salmon, cocktail meatballs, veggies and dip or even bacon wrapped scallops can go with just about any dry and/or slightly sweet wine. My favorite is always Beaujolais Nouveau which is released on the third Thursday of November each year. Beaujolais Nouveau is always fresh and full of bright red fruit flavors. Try the 2021 Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais Nouveau with your starters. Alternative wines to consider: Trimbach Pinot Gris and d’Arenberg The Hermit Crab (viognier and marsanne) both whites; and Grange Philippe ”Gipsy” Rose’.

 

Main Course -One
Both the traditional oven-roasted and/or deep-fried turkey do equally well with medium-bodied red or white wines. My favorite white wines for these two cooking methods are ones from Bordeaux which are combinations of sauvignon blanc and semillon. These are crisp and dry whites that have herbal and mineral flavors. Try Chateau Graville Lacoste or Chateau Villa Bel-Air. Italian reds such as Banfi Brunello di Montalcino or the Chianti Classico Riserva from Castello di Bossi also pair well with oven-roasted or fried turkeys.

Main Course – Two
Since many of you will smoke or grill your turkey this Thanksgiving and accompany it with more full-flavored dressings (like cornbread and chorizo), I’m providing you with medium to full-bodied red wine suggestions that will pair better with the “national bird” prepared using these cooking methods. My first choice is Oregon pinot noir. Try the pinot noir from either Domaine Drouhin or St. Innocent. In addition, the zinfandel-based wines from Ridge Vineyards in California are also exceptional accompaniments to smoked or grilled turkey. Two of my favorites are Ridge Geyserville and Ridge Lytton Springs.

Dessert
In our home, Thanksgiving dessert is always pumpkin or pecan pie (or both) with a dollop of whipped crème on top. You won’t go wrong with either of these two accompanying dessert wines: Chateau St. Jean Late Harvest Riesling from Sonoma County or G.D. Vajra Moscato d’Asti from Italy.

Happy Thanksgiving!

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com.

Not Your Mama’s Stuffed Bells

I must have been conceived in a pepper patch because I’m obsessed with all types of peppers. From mild bells to near thermonuclear Scotch Bonnets and just about everything in between, I am simply addicted to these little devils, especially ones with a hefty dose of capsaicin. That’s the stuff that makes peppers hot.

I also love the fall! Football season is in full swing, the leaves are painting the mountains with vibrant colors and I’m in the process of fermenting a blend of red grapes that will produce about 70 gallons of homemade wine. With sunny days, cool temperatures and the harvest season upon us, it’s also time to transition from the lighter wine and food choices of summer to more flavorful fare.

Autumn in these parts also means you still have access to the last vestiges of the harvest, including one of my favorite foods-the red bell pepper. While red bells are not at all spicy or hot, they become sweet, smoky and richly flavored when you roast them to the point where the pepper skin is scorched and blackened.

Every autumn for the last several decades, I’ve waited anxiously for locally grown green bell peppers to turn large and red. Then I roast, peel and slice them into strips, cover them with good olive oil, minced garlic and balsamic vinegar and devour them with crusty bread and a glass or two of my homemade wine.

Just last week, I decided to take four of those roasted red bells and stuff them with a mouth-watering concoction of farro, (the low carb barley look-alike grain) bacon and mozzarella cheese along with diced and sauteed onions, yellow bells and one hot banana pepper. You will need a red wine that is both rich and able to compliment these spicy roasted peppers so you might try the ones below.

2017 Handley Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($22) – From Mendocino County in northern California, this is a ripe, medium-bodied wine that has spicy red and black cherry flavors. Mendocino is one of my favorite pinot noir appellations and the Handley pairs seamlessly with the richness of the stuffed peppers.

2017 Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem ($33) – Occultum Lapidem translated from Latin means “hidden gem” which more than aptly describes this red. From the southern French region of Languedoc- Roussillon, this is a blend of 60% grenache, and 40% syrah. It is full-bodied, but well balanced with plum-like, dark fruit flavors and a peppery finish. An appropriate companion to the “Not Your Mama’s Stuffed Bells.”

Not Your Mama’s Stuffed Bells

Ingredients:

-Four large red bell peppers
-Two cups of chicken stock
-One-half sweet onion
-Two slices of thick cut bacon
-One cup of farro
-Two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
-Two cloves of garlic.
-One cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
-Two tablespoons of chopped parsley
-Four leaves of fresh basil
-One-half yellow bell pepper
-One hot banana pepper (optional)
-One medium sized cooking pot and sauté ‘pan
-One large bowl and one casserole dish
-One large sheet of plastic wrap
-Two paper towel sheets, one sheet of aluminum foil
-One teaspoon each salt and pepper

Preparation

Roast peppers on stove top, oven or grill until peels are scorched
Place roasted peppers in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap for half hour
Use a small paring knife to remove scorched pepper skins
Cut a circle into the top of each pepper and discard stem
Pour farro into colander and rinse thoroughly in cold water
Bring chicken stock to a boil, add farro
Turn heat to low and cook farro until al dente (approximately 20 minutes)
Dice bacon and sauté until slightly brown in one tablespoon of olive oil
Remove bacon with slotted spoon and place on paper towel
Add remaining olive oil to pan and saute’ diced onion, garlic, yellow and banana peppers
Mix cooked farro, sauteed vegetables, parsley, bacon and cheese to large bowl
Stuff each pepper with mixture, place in casserole and cover with foil
Bake in a 350-degree F oven for 50 minutes, uncover and cook for 10 more minutes
Serve and accompany with a green salad in a vinaigrette dressing

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com

Wine, Food and Music

Where, when and how you enjoy your regular glass of wine is, of course, a personal choice. Most of us sip the fruit of the vine with dinner, as an aperitif before the meal or even as a cocktail at our favorite watering hole. And while most of you are probably not as wine-obsessed as I am, I suspect you may get bored with the same old wine routine. There’s no question that the adage “too much of a good thing” can certainly apply to even the moderate consumption of wine. So, the challenge is to keep things interesting.

One of the most common complaints I hear from folks is they are tired of sipping the same types of wine day in and day out. Whether it’s cabernet sauvignon with beef, chardonnay with seafood or some other “safe” wine choice, it can certainly be boring to consistently drink the same thing. That’s why I focus on providing information on the variety of wines that are available to you from different vineyards all over the world. But even if you are a consummate wineaux (like me) who has experienced bottles from the greatest wine regions, it’s still exciting to find new ways to enjoy the elixir we all love.

Well, as a decades-old codger who has probably had more wine caress his palate than anyone not named Robert Mondavi, Earnest Gallo or W.C. Fields, I have found a new way to enhance the appreciation of wine – to keep it fresh and make it even more enjoyable. Of course, we all know how important food is to wine and vice-versa. That’s why I always provide you with a complimentary food choice whenever I recommend a particular wine.

But there’s another sensory element that elevates the wine and food experience to a whole other level: music. Whether it’s Vivaldi, Tony Bennett or Hank Williams Jr., I love to pair up my wine and food with a complimentary selection of tunes. I’m sure many of you add music to special dinner occasions at home like birthdays, anniversaries or date nights with your significant other, but probably only on an episodic basis. I’m suggesting you increase the inclusion of music on a regular basis to see if that pleasant auditory element enhances the overall wine and food experience.

Whether we’re eating in or cooking out, there’s always a musical play set with which to match our meals. It doesn’t need to be a special occasion or a five-course dining extravaganza either. And there are a number of ways to select your play list: CD’s, records, the radio or from music streaming services like Spotify, or Pandora. The fun is finding a musical theme that seems to match your evening meal, picnic or brunch. Here are three examples of how you might wish to combine wine, food and music (taken from the Brown family dining archives).

The midweek evening dinner
Food: Oven Roasted whole chicken, green beans with onions and bacon and scalloped potatoes.
Wine: 2019 Bisci Verdicchio di Matelica ($23) -Lovely white from the Marche region of Italy. Crisp and fresh with flavors of ripe green apples. This wine is an excellent choice with chicken.
Music: The Yellow Jackets, Diana Krall, Frank Sinatra, The Bob Thompson Unit, Miles Davis

Picnic on the deck
Food: Hamburgers, hot dogs, red and yellow bell peppers, and onions all grilled; macaroni salad and baked beans
Wine: 2019 Elizabeth Spenser Rose’ of Grenache ($22) – From Mendocino County CA, this pink wine is full of fresh raspberry and strawberry flavors and has the body to stand up to grilled foods such as the menu above.

Music: John Prine, Susan Tedeschi, Emmy Lou Harris, Lake Street Dive, Alison Krauss, Steve Earle, Kathy Mattea

Sunday Supper
Food: Fettucine with porcini mushrooms and Italian sausage in a marinara sauce; green garden salad with tomatoes and onions in a viniagrette dressing

Wine: 2017 Allegrini Palazzo Della Torre ($23) – From the Veneto region in northern Italy, this rich red is spicy and has flavors of blackberries and cola with nuances of vanilla from moderate oak aging. Pairs perfectly with spicy marinara.
Music: The Three Tenors, Andrea Bocelli, Dean Martin, Louis Prima (for kicks and giggles)

So, if you’re looking for a way to rekindle your passion for wine, you might try and add a little music to the experience.

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com

WineSpeak: sorting the wheat from the chaff

The wine lexicon is full of more cryptic and confusing words than a software “Terms of Agreement” statement. You know, the one with the electronic box we’re all required to check before using the software (even though no one who reads the fine print, understands it).

Winespeak can be full of bombastic, hyperbolic, thesaurus-busting synonyms, as well as bizarre and outrageous phrases that are not only confusing, but also many times inappropriate. I’ve read words like flamboyant, ethereal or orgasmic to describe a wine. Or, incongruous phrases like “liquefied charcoal,” “wet dog,” or “mesmerizing texture” used to define the characteristics of a particular bottle. Descriptions like these do more to discourage folks from drinking wine than any fire and brimstone spouting, snake-handling preacher ever could.

So, brothers and sisters of the vine, I’m going to help you “sort the wheat from the chaff” when it comes to the language of wine. Below is a list of some of the most commonly used (and appropriate) words and phrases to describe the various attributes of the beverage we all love.

Common Wine Descriptors

Acid – Refers to the sharpness in the taste of wine. Good acid is balanced by alcohol, sweetness or both.

Balance – A wine is balanced when the sugar or alcohol and the acid are in harmony with no one element overwhelming the other.

Complex – Layers of flavor components that combine to achieve harmony.

Crisp – Refers to the acidity in the wine as in a “crisp” white wine.

Corked – A wine that has an unpleasant “wet cardboard” taste or smell. Reason is thought to be chemical changes in the wine caused by inadequately sterilized corks.

Creamy- Refers to the “silk-like” feel in the mouth of wines as opposed to the “tart/crisp” taste component.

Finish – Describes a wine that has a pleasant aftertaste and feel.

Flabby – A wine which is overly-full bodied, has too much alcohol and is out of balance. (Could also be descriptive of the image I see in the mirror every day)

Fruity – Wines which exhibit fruitiness either in the aroma or in the taste. Wine is sometimes described as tasting like a specific fruit (i.e., apples, apricots, etc.).

Mellow – An absence of harshness or tannin and a smooth wine.

Nose – A general term that describes the aroma and bouquet of the wine.

Oak – A wine is correctly “oaked” when the “nose” carries a whiff of vanilla from being aged in oak barrels. Oak flavors can overpower some wines though.

Rich – Wine is rich when it is mouth–filling, smooth and luscious.

Robust – Describes a full-bodied or possibly heavy wine.

Tannin – A naturally occurring chemical substance in grapes, particularly noticeable in red wine. Tannin can allow wine to age gracefully.

Terroir – French term for all the characteristics of the vineyard site thought to be imparted to a particular wine. It includes the vineyard site, the soil, climate and other attributes that can affect the vineyard and resulting wine.

I hope some of the words and phrases above will increase your understanding and enjoyment of wine. You might even be able to come up with a few new descriptors of your own. And hopefully, my summaries of the two wines below are understandable, appropriate and encourage you to give them a try.

2019 J. Lohr Arroyo Seco Chardonnay ($18) – This Monterey County chardonnay has aromas of just baked bread and ripe green apples. It is a creamy, but well balanced wine with flavors of ripe peaches and citrus followed by nuances of vanilla from this lightly oaked wine. Would be a lovely pairing with Chilean sea bass or chicken cordon bleu.

2017 Markham Napa Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($45) – Juicy and rich with chewy tannins, this full bodied cabernet from Napa is a wine you’ll want to decant an hour or two before consuming. Dark fruit like plumbs and black cherries, along with cola and tea flavors highlight this wine that would make a great accompaniment to grilled beef or lamb chops. It’s also a wine that will benefit from aging for a decade or more.

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com

Pork Mojo with Vino

I know it’s weird to feel a sense of loss and to grieve for an inanimate object. Nonetheless, I nearly shed a tear when I felt compelled to euthanize my rusty old grill by burying it on Mount Trashmore – our local landfill.

However, on the way back from the malodorous burial mound, I stopped at the local hardware store and purchased a brand, spanking new Weber Performer Charcoal grill. I’ve been using Weber grills for decades because they can accommodate everything from burgers and steaks to large roasts and even 20 pound Thanksgiving turkeys. As soon as I got this shiny – but soon to be grimy- new grill assembled on my deck, I put it immediately to task. And, as it’s name so aptly suggests, the Weber “performed” flawlessly.

Today, I’m going to share a meat, vegetable and fruit recipe my wife concocted and I grilled to perfection on the new Weber. Of course, I’m also going to suggest a couple of special wines to pair with the meal that will greatly elevate this whole dining experience. And while I prefer to use charcoal, the following recipe can also be successfully prepared on a gas grill.

The origin of this dish is Cuba where a wide variety of foods are marinated in – or basted with – a sauce called “mojo” (pronounced “moe-ho” in Spanish). Here in the US, mojo is pronounced just the way it looks and it’s defined as a trait that involves a bit of magic or good luck. In the recipe that follows, you won’t need to use any mojo to make this exceptional “moho” dish.

Grilled Pork Mojo with Seared Avocados and Oranges

Ingredients:

-One pork tenderloin (one to two pounds)
-Three garlic cloves peeled
-One medium red bell pepper diced
-One-half cup of freshly squeezed orange juice
-Two tablespoons of freshly squeezed lime juice
-One tablespoon each of kosher salt and ground cumin
-One-half teaspoon each of dried oregano, black pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper
-One teaspoon of neutral oil – like grape seed or canola
-Eight small red and yellow bell peppers or two large ones quartered
-One orange and two ripe avocados quartered; and one lemon sliced into 1/8 inch rounds
-One small bunch of green onions cleaned

Preparation:

Combine garlic, orange and lime juice, diced pepper, salt, cumin, black pepper, paprika and cayenne pepper in a blender
Process ingredients until smooth and pour into a large zip lock plastic bag
Place pork in the bag and marinate for 12 hours or overnight
Prepare a charcoal or gas grill
Remove pork from marinade and pat dry and rub with the neutral oil
Grill peppers, avocados, green onions, lemon and oranges until seared and put aside
Grill pork until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees F
Allow pork to rest for 10 minutes and then carve it into quarter inch thick slices
Place pork on a platter with avocados, oranges, peppers, lemon slices and onions around it

We accompanied the pork mojo with a side dish of spicy Cuban black beans and rice, and I opened two red wines to pair with the meal that worked exceptionally well. Both wines really enhanced the nuanced citrus notes in the grilled pork mojo. Give one, or both of these wines a try:

2010 Beronia Gran Riserva Rioja ($32) – One of the advantages of drinking Rioja is the ability of the wine to age well for a decade or more. This Spanish red is composed mainly of tempranillo and was aged in oak for three years before bottling. It is full of dark fruit flavors and just a touch of vanilla from the oak.

2016 Luigi Righetti Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico ($37) – From the Veneto region of northern Italy, this Amarone is chock full of bright cherry fruit with an undercurrent of mocha and spice. It is an exceptionally well made wine with the requisite acidity to balance the richness of the oak enhanced flavors.

So fire up the grill and try this recipe. You’ll find your Mojo with this Moho!

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com

Wine of the Century

I’m not a “save it for a rainy day” type of guy so sometimes being disorganized and even, forgetful, can be a blessing. Case in point: A few decades back- before my receding hairline and tavern tumor made their unwelcome appearance -I was a true gourmand. When I had the opportunity to taste a special wine (even one way before its time), I did so with reckless abandon and then just, literally, swallowed my disappointment.

Such was the case with a very storied wine, the 1982 Chateau Mouton Rothschild. The ’82 Mouton was widely considered the best wine of that fabulous vintage in Bordeaux. And then the most esteemed wine critic of the time (Robert Parker) declared that bottle to be the best Bordeaux of the entire 20th century -up to that point!

A few years before the wine was available for sale on the open market, I had purchased two bottles as part of a Bordeaux Futures program. Once a particular Bordeaux vintage is evaluated (usually in the spring following the harvest), prices are established and wine shops offer consumers the opportunity to buy Bordeaux wines at steep discounts. Keep in mind, though, that you don’t receive the wine for at least two years after you make your purchase.

So, you might imagine my surprise and elation to discover that the two bottles of 1982 Mouton that I had purchased as futures were now rated as the best wines of the century. In a fevered rush to experience the other worldly flavors of this exquisite wine, I immediately opened a bottle of the Mouton and carefully decanted it into crystal carafe. I let wine breathe for an hour before pouring it into our best stemware and then swirled the Mouton to help release the aroma.

I put my nose into the glass and sniffed…. and sniffed again…nothing! No ethereal aromas of black currants, toasted oak, underbrush, or mint either. Just a vague and understated red fruit smell. And then I tasted the Mouton. Tannic, tight and a bit of sour grape flavors predominated. Heck, there are more vibrant aromas and flavors in grape Kool-Aid than in this wine, I remembered thinking. My wife and I were both disappointed, but we persisted and drank the whole bottle over a couple of hours, hoping those two hours would coax the wine of the century to show up. It didn’t.

Over the next few decades and through a couple of moves, I misplaced and eventually forgot about the remaining bottle of Mouton. As a matter of fact, I assumed it had gotten lost or that one of my children had poached it during a raid on the old man’s wine stash. But earlier this year, I found the remaining bottle of ’82 Mouton. I decided that my wife and I would open it on our anniversary where we had booked a weekend at a very lovely southern resort. I contacted the resort sommelier and asked if he would open the wine for us, decant it and let it breathe for a couple of hours before serving it to us at dinner. Keep in mind, the ’82 Mouton is 39 years old so my concern before sipping the wine was whether or not it would still be drinkable.

But it’s amazing what a few decades of bottle age in proper storage conditions will do to allow wine from a good vintage to shine. This time the wine was everything I had expected it to be when I opened the first bottle – way too early. Aromas of tack room, mint and toast were followed flavors of dark berries, muted mocha, licorice and spice. In my experience with older wines, full flavored foods can sometimes overwhelm them, but we took a chance anyway and paired the wine with a perfectly grilled bone-in ribeye.

The result was spectacular! Remarkably, the wine is also still slightly tannic so I assume it will continue to age gracefully for at least another decade and I would love to taste it again. Surprisingly, the wine is still available for purchase, but I probably won’t find it at the $50 dollar a bottle futures price I paid back in 1983. The lowest price I could find online for the wine was $1750.

As an interesting aside, Mouton Rothschild has commissioned many famous artists and celebrities through the years to design their labels. For the ’82 Mouton, the winery asked Academy Award winning director and artist, John Huston, to paint something for the label. His watercolor painting depicts a ram leaping in joy with the sun and a bunch of grapes in the background. Inscribed under the painting is a note from Huston to his friend and winery owner Baron Phillipe Rothschild which reads: “In celebration of my beloved friend Baron Philippe’s sixtieth harvest at Mouton.”

Word to the wise: If you really love the wines of Bordeaux, ask your wine merchant about purchasing Bordeaux futures. You’ll definitely get the best price possible. And then resist the temptation to drink the wine before its time!

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com