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Vines & Vittles: Frugal choices can be a tasty bargain

By John Brown

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Winter has descended upon us with a frigid dose of reality. Not so much in the literal sense of the word since this has been a relatively mild season so far. No, I speak of another cold reality -- debt.

The profligacy of the holiday season has come home to roost and it's time to pay the piper. Unfortunately, for most of us that means a recommitment to the principles of moderation and (even dare I utter the word?) frugality.

Hey, but look on the bright side. You still have to eat and drink, right? And 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 this 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 complementary 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 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Martin Codax Rioja.

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.

Kudos

While I'm on the subject of value for the wine dollar spent, I'd like to lift a glass to a couple of fine Charleston restaurants for their very reasonably priced cartes des vins (that's Frogspeak for wine lists). I'm always on the look out for restaurants that not only provide excellent cuisine, but also price their wines fairly.

Laury's, just across the Southside Bridge, is to be commended for having an excellent list that is more than reasonably priced. In most instances, wines at Laury's are marked up just 1 to 1 1/2 times their retail price, and that is about as good as you will find anywhere in the state. Bluegrass Kitchen on the East End also prices their small but well-thought-out list very affordably.

Other establishments around the city and state should follow suit, which would encourage more diners to add a bottle (or glass) of wine to the tab. And that's good for both the customer and the restaurant.

For more on the art and craft of wine, visit John Brown's Vines & Vittles blog at thegazz.com.


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