CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When it comes to finding that special wine you've been looking for, we've come a long way, baby!I am old enough to remember a time when searching for a good bottle of wine in West-By-Golly was an exercise in futility and frustration. That was back when the only place to purchase wine was the state ABCC store, where the choices were extremely limited.This was due in large measure to our small population, our redneck stereotype and the inescapable fact that West Virginia was last in U.S. per capita consumption of wine. Heck, our consumption of buttermilk exceeded that of wine back before Elvis died.In fact, of all the inhabited land on the planet, only citizens of Borneo and Canada's Northwest Territories consumed less wine than West Virginians. And Borneo has more reptiles than people, while the few inhabitants of the Northwest Territories prefer Yukon Jack to the fruit of the vine.
Back in the day, the shelves of those ABCC stores were filled with Mateus Rose, Hearty Burgundy or Carlo Rossi Paisano. Unfortunately, these humble, but sound, wines had to compete for shelf space with the more popular Thunderbird, MD 20/20 (Mad Dog), Wild Irish Rose or other high-alcohol wine-like beverages better suited for consumption under a bridge than at the dinner table.Fortunately for us Mountaineers, our state Legislature modernized our laws about 30 years ago allowing for wine sales in grocery stores and wine specialty shops. In addition, we are also permitted to purchase wines online and have them shipped to us. All in all, while our per capita consumption is still relatively low, we now have access to just about any wine that strikes our fancy.And when you examine worldwide statistics on wine consumption, the U.S. is surprisingly ranked behind 50 other countries. Lithuania, Cyprus, Madagascar and Slovenia and a whole host of European countries such as France, Italy, Spain and Germany all consume more wine than we do here in America.And -- Holy Mother of Vines -- the Vatican City State leads the world in per capita wine consumption! And we're not talking sacramental wine either.So with that historical perspective about the bad old days, here are a few wines I've sampled recently that would not have been available just a few short years ago. Hope you like them.2011 Concha y Toro Gran Reserva Chardonnay ($19): Rich, yet balanced chardonnay with just a kiss of oak and ripe apple flavors. Excellent pairing with roast chicken cordon bleu.2011 Sur de Los Andes Torrontés ($11): Excellent floral aromatics along with crisp pear and melon flavors highlight this Argentinean white. This delicate Torrontés would enhance a meal where pan-fried, lemon- and butter-enhanced white fish was the feature.2010 Annalisa Sparkling Malvasia ($13): A delightful effervescent wine with strawberry and raspberry flavors make this a delicious aperitif or a nice accompaniment to brunch-type foods such as omelets or quiches.2010 Easton Amador County Zinfandel ($18): I must admit my fondness for zinfandel grown and produced in Amador County, and this one definitely does not disappoint. Deep, dark blackberry flavors are enhanced by excellent balancing acidity to highlight this full-bodied wine best served with fuller flavored foods such as beef stews or roasted pork loin rubbed with garlic, black pepper and olive oil.2009 La Bastide St. Dominique Grenache ($16): From the excellent 2009 vintage in the southern Rhone Valley, this juicy Grenache with bright cherry flavors and leather and tack room aromas is a lively mouthful of wine. Try it with grilled baby back ribs in a tomato-based barbecue sauce.For more on the art and craft of wine, visit John Brown's Vines & Vittles blog at thegazz.com.