Vines & Vittles

One of Peter Meyer’s disciples was Bill Sohovich, owner of Soho’s (above) and Blossom and a culinary pioneer in his own right. Photo by Walker DeVille

As a native of Clarksburg, W.Va., I am genetically predisposed to seek out and find good food. It is in my DNA! So when I moved to Charleston a few decades ago, I was shocked to find that the Kanawha Valley was a culinary wasteland. Back then, there were only three fine dining establishments in Charleston. Catering to traveling salesmen on expense accounts, the “Heart of Town,” Ernie’s Esquire and “Top of the Inn” restaurants served up gigantic portions of prime rib washed down with barrels of beer and a mind-boggling assortment of “high balls.” Wine lists consisted of Lambrusco, Lancer’s Rose and Vito’s Thunder Mountain Chablis – and only artsy types or effete snobs ever dared order wine with their dinner.

Yes, there were a whole host of fast food and chain restaurants where most of the rest of us dined (on those once-a-week occasions when our meager budgets permitted a night out). But there were really no fine dining establishments, and hardly any ethnic food restaurants – except for a couple of Chinese places and Joe Fazio’s.

Continue reading…

The label for Michele Chiarlo 2005 Moscato D’Asti Nivole, available at the Capitol Market wine shop

I must admit to an inauspicious introduction to the ‘fruit of the vine.” It was during a time when automobiles had fins, Motown was in its prime and most wine came in large jugs with screw cap closures. Guys were always looking for an angle – if you know what I mean – and so I decided to demonstrate my sophistication to my date at the fraternity party by introducing her to the sensory aspects of a wine called “White Pheasant.”

This beverage, possibly made from grapes, but certainly infused with rocket fuel, was enclosed in a half-gallon green jug with a label featuring a picture of what looked like a demonic white condor. I’m pretty sure my date was impressed because she proceeded to slake her mighty thirst with countless cups of the Pheasant. On the way back to her dorm – in my father’s new Chevrolet- she proceeded to redecorate the interior of the car.

Continue reading…


It’s January. Cold, gray, dreary January! Things could get depressing were it not for my penchant to match ugly days with great food and wine. I’m actually thinking about Arizona and the Sonoran dessert. I’m getting inspired! Here it comes…I’ve got it: Grilled lamb over mesquite coals washed down with a bottle of Zinfandel so big and juicy it’ll make your teeth itch! Okay, so I’m taking a few liberties with conventional Southwest cuisine by substituting lamb for beef, but I think you’re going to like this.

Thinking of this dish reminds me of an old Johnny Cash song about cowboys and their feelings about shepherds and sheep. These lines say it all: “A sheep herder come once and put up a fence/ We seen him that time, but we ain’t seen him since/ But if you’re needin’ mutton, we got mutton to sell/ ’cause we’re cow-punchers and we’re mean as hell.”

Thatt line is from a mid-1960’s album by Cash called “Ballads of the Old West.” Goes great with grillin’. But I digress.

Continue reading…

“The nose is quite developed, the tannins are still hard, but the fruit seems overripe and flabby, and the finish is a bit short.


While conducting a wine tasting recently, it was pointed out to me that I had begun to sound a little too ‘winesy-cutsey.It was a polite reminder I was using wine jargon instead of English to explain attributes of the wine. While I deplore wine snobs and other bores, I must admit to falling into the occasional habit of using “winespeak” to describe thewineglasstipped.jpg sensory aspects of wine. I guess it comes from reading a great deal from other wine writers or experts who liberally sprinkle around such terms as “tannin, acid, flabby, robust, ” even “orgasmic” when describing their tasting experience.

Below, I have listed several terms regularly used in describing wine qualities (but not orgasmic). There are obviously many more, but we’ll start with these:

Tannin(s) – A naturally-occurring chemical substance present in wine (particularly red wine) which can allow the wine to age. It manifests itself in the mouth as that sensation which makes you want to pucker.

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

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

Mellow – An absence of harshness or tannin or smoothness characterizes a mellow wine.

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

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

Short Finish – When a wine leaves little or no aftertaste. Conversely, a “long finish” describes a wine that has a pleasant aftertaste and feel.

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

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

Fruity – Wines which exhibit fruitiness either in the nose or in the taste. Wine is sometimes even described as tasting like a specific fruit such as “this wine has green apple flavors.”

Flabby – This term not only describes a wine which has too little acidity, too much alcohol and is out of balance, it also describes your wine writer.

Today’s Wine Suggestion: Try the 2004 Graham Beck Cabernet Sauvignon. Gamekeeper’s Reserve ($15). This lovely, soft and approachable South African Cabernet is ready to drink with that grilled steak or roasted pork tenderloin flavored with garlic and rosemary.

You’re probably wondering about my qualifications to write this blog. So here’s all I can say about my credentials – such as they are. After a trip to the California wine country in 1981, I was asked to write a wine column for the Charleston Daily Mail. I wrote that weekly column until 1989 and also did a wine commentary gig on West Virginia Public Radio during that same time period.

The commentary, which lasted only a few months and was produced by Mountain Stage’s Andy Ridenour, was cancelled when one person wrote to say that Public Radio should not be advocating the use of alcoholic beverages. That was it – one person. Who says a single voice can’t make a difference?

Since 1989, I have written a monthly wine column for a weekly West Virginia business publication. I’ve also conducted hundreds of wine tastings, MC’d countless wine dinners and have traveled fairly extensively to some of the world’s most famous wine regions. But before you get too overly impressed with my wine-stained resume, keep in mind that I am also a home wine maker. In other words, I have a great tolerance for mediocre wine. I actually think my wine, which I’ve been making from California grapes since 1977, is pretty good. If that’s not enough to make you stop reading right now, you must really be desperate for wine information.

Okay, so here’s what we’re going to do: I’m going to write about wine and sometimes food, and hope that you will occasionally respond with your own feelings about the information I impart. Let me say up front that I don’t expect you to like every wine I recommend. Wouldn’t that be boring?

However, I do taste a pretty substantial number of wines in the course of a year. And I’ll bet (unless you’re as wine-obsessed as I am) that I might get you to try something other than what you drink regularly. I might even be able to get you to move outside your wine-comfort zone. If so, then I will have succeeded.

— By John Brown

INTRODUCING: Wine and Dine

johnbrown.jpgWelcome to ‘Wine and Dine,’ a new Charleston Gazette blog about wine selection and advice, along with tips on pairing wine with food. John Brown is a seasoned wine columnist, whose writing on wine will also be seen in the Sunday Gazette-Mail on a regular basis. Also, we will be rolling out some wine tips on video and taking some multimedia journeys in search of the best places to enjoy wine in the West Virginia region. We welcome your feedback on this new blog, either in the ‘Comment’ section below each post or by sending your comments to

Douglas Imbrogno | editor