Vines & Vittles

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Try blue cheese with Port and Zinfandel.

You may have noticed that I rarely write about wine without mentioning what I consider a complementing dish. In my humble estimation, drinking a glass of wine without food is like listening to a concert while wearing ear muffs. This is particularly true for red wine where the not-so-subtle flavors and harsh tannins can assault the palate and literally leave a bad taste in your mouth. But add a matching dish and the wine, like the music, reaches its full sensory potential.

This is usually a good thing — however, it can just as easily be a disaster if you pick a clashing food-and-wine combination. Today, I’m going to suggest some favorite wine and food pairings and, conversely, a few to avoid. Like all subjective endeavors, these recommendations are tainted by my own quirky tastes for which I make no apologies. How’s that for a disclaimer? While I have on occasion experimented with some rather exotic pairings (i.e., Gruner Veltliner with curried aardvark, Brunello Di Montalcino with deviled wolf pancreas, etc. ), I will confine my suggestions to more conventional, if prosaic, food and wine matches.

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yamhill-pinot-noir-2003.jpgSo there I was at Paolo’s in Georgetown, chillin’ at the bar with a glass of Chianti Classico after a long day of doing my bureaucratic thing for the state. It was the early 1990s, Bill Clinton was about to be inaugurated and Washington was pretty electric.

As I sat at the bar, I overheard a conversation between the restaurant manager and a wine salesperson who happened to be sitting next to me. This attractive young woman was pitching the manager on a new Pinot Noir from Oregon. Back in those days, Oregon had not yet established its reputation as America’s premier Pinot Noir producing state so the salesperson was working the manager pretty hard. It was obvious to me that this discussion needed an impartial opinion (and I was anxious to get a freebie) so I immediately volunteered to provide one. After a quick recitation of my qualifications (“I’m from West Virginia and I drink wine and, oh, by the way, look at my new shoes…”), the two were duly impressed and agreed to allow me to evaluate the Pinot Noir.

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Wild and Wonderful Culinary Tales

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The 18th hole at Stonewall Resort in Roanoke, W.Va. Stonewall photo

Your traveling wino has been crisscrossing West-By-Golly, sampling the food and wine wares of some fine establishments. I can happily report that the state of sipping and supping is improving in these here hills. Today, I’m going to regale you with my experiences in two diverse culinary venues: a fine restaurant in Davis, W.Va., and Stonewall Resort in Roanoke, W.Va.

Starting in the wilds of Tucker County, my first stop was Davis. This is a town where the early 20th century architecture houses some very interesting nooks and crannies, including an establishment known as Mutley’s. What, you ask, is Mutley’s? A fine dining restaurant, of course. Mutley’s owner, Becky Bunner, along with Chef Randy Columbo are a great team of creative and slightly off-beat hosts who work hard to make sure you not only eat well, but also have fun.

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Among the many full-bodied
red wines that can nicely enhance foods such as beef stew, gumbo, chili, roasted meats and pastas, my favorite is Zinfandel. I’m talking seriously purple Zin — not the pink stuff that makes Aunt Lavinia feel like she’s a clever conversationalist. This is wine that will leave an indelible stain on your table cloth, and a lasting impression on your palate.

Sadly, Zinfandel is the Rodney Dangerfield of red wines. Why? Everyone enjoys it, but very few people want to take it home to dinner! In addition to getting no respect, the truth is Zinfandel has an identity problem. In fact, it has multiple identities. (Are you listening, Dr. Freud?)

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Doin’ The Butt

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Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva is one full-bodied red wine that won’t be butted out when served with the dish described below.

With the last vestiges of winter quickly retreating, you still have some time to prepare meals that require full-bodied red wines and hearty appetites. Of course, you have many choices, but today I’ll give you a recipe for one of my all-time favorite cold-weather dishes. Ironically, as I write this, the sun is shining, flowers are beginning to pop out of the ground and the temperatures are in the mid 60’s. Oh well, you can always grill the sucker!

Remember the obnoxiously salacious dance a couple of decades back called “The Butt?” Well, I call this meal “Doin’ the Butt!” since the main ingredient is pork shoulder which is incongruously called the butt. This humble piece of pig meat is used to make sausages of all types as well as that American culinary staple – barbecue. Today, I’m going to share a recipe with you which involves brining and slow roasting a pork butt so that the meat literally falls off the bone You may wonder why I suggest taking the extra step of brining the meat. Well, brining not only moistens and tenderizes the meat, it also adds wonderful flavors throughout the entire roast…

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In this Wild and Wonderful wine backwater, I am hailed by many of my friends (?) as THE West Virginia wino. So it always comes as a shock when folks consider me an expert. This aversion to any type of recognition is probably the result of my Catholic school education, where guilt was the only attribute held in higher esteem than humility.

Anyway, several years ago I was introduced, by the overly exuberant host at a wine dinner, as a connoisseur and a gourmet. After smiling uncomfortably and bumbling through the event, I quickly excused myself and rushed to the nearest dictionary to find out just how those terms are defined by Mr. Webster. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines connoisseur as “one who has expert knowledge and keen discrimination, especially in the fine arts.” A gourmet is described as “one who likes and is an excellent judge of fine foods and drinks. In looking up ‘gourmet,’ I spotted the word ‘gourmand’ right above it in the dictionary and quickly decided that term more accurately describes my approach to eating and drinking.

A gourmand is defined as…

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infinitus.jpgOver the years, I’ve discovered that one of the very best excuses for getting out of “real” work (such as shoveling snow, moving furniture or cleaning the basement) is to cook dinner for the family. My wife, who must have been a hostage negotiator in a former life, made it clear to me that the only way this would be an acceptable trade-off was if I agreed to clean the kitchen up after working my culinary magic. So, after formally signing an agreement witnessed by my children, our local clergyman and the family cat, I am now permitted kitchen privileges once a weekend.

Here’s what I concocted on recent Sunday. I truly love to match full-flavored, spicy foods such as stews, pot roasts or stuffed meats with full-flavored red wines. Today, I’m going to share a recipe with you that is absolutely delicious, particularly if you can tolerate a good dose of garlic and a little heat.

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Sicilian Wine and Food: An Offer You Can’t Refuse!

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Ask an Italian what wine they consider to be best, and they will invariably point to a winery down the street or to a vineyard on the hillside adjacent to their village. This is a country around which wine and food are the central components of everyday life, and citizens are justifiably proud of what is grown in the fertile soil of this ancient land.

As a wine-stained graduate of Whatsamatta U, I am understandably partial to the vino made in Italy. As a matter of fact, what I love most about Italian wine is its tremendous diversity. Within the geographic confines of its 20 states, Italy produces a virtual sea of wine from a dizzying array of grapes. The most famous wine states are Tuscany in north-central Italy and Piedmont in the northwest. In Tuscany, the great wines of Brunello di Montalcino and Ornellaia share the stage with the ubiquitous Chianti, and whites such as Vernaccia Di San Gimignano. In Piedmont, the prestigious vines of Barolo and Barbaresco (made from the Nebbiolo grape) reign supreme, and are joined by Barbera and Merlot along with crisp whites such as Arneis and Cortese Di Gavi. Both of these regions are in the northern part of the country where the wine produced is considered to be the best.

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chandon.jpgGuys, trust me on this: women take Valentine’s Day very seriously! Hey, I’m no Dr. Phil (and I’m certainly not Dr. Ruth), but I do know that there will be serious consequences if you forget to do something special for your significant other on February 14.

I learned this the hard way a couple of decades ago when I arrived home after a hard day at work to find a candle–lit dinner table with a carafe of red wine, soft-jazz on the stereo and a Hallmark card the size of an armadillo waiting for me when I walked through the door. There was also a heart-shaped gift on the kitchen counter,and the wonderful smells of freshly baked bread. Was I in the right house? Was I in the Twilight Zone?

No, I was in the home of a romantic woman who just happened to be my wife — and I had completely forgotten that this was Valentine’s Day.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: We have even more ‘spirited’ advice for Valentine’s Day over at Rich Ireland’s “Beers To You” gazzblog.