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Vines & Vittles: The Italian influence

By John Brown
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I have often suggested to friends that my obsession with wine and food can be attributed to at least one-half of my genetic composition -- the Italian half.I suppose I should credit the other half (Irish) with my penchant for exposition, or blarney, as those Celts would describe my usually long-winded descriptions of things most normal people just simply consume.But what the heck. To quote that world-famous seafaring philosopher, Popeye: "I am what I am and that's all that I am."Ask an Italian what wine they consider to be best, and they will invariably suggest a local bottle produced from the vineyard on a hillside adjacent to their village. This is a country around which wine and food are the central components of everyday life.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, great wines such as 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 Dolcetto along with crisp whites such as Arneis and Cortese Di Gavi.While these regions are the most-famous, there are others with wonderful wines. Be sure to try the vino of the Veneto, famous for Valpolicella, Soave and Amarone, or Apulia, where the zinfandel-like primitivo grape is a superb quaff. And Sicily has really come on strong as a quality wine-producing area too.
But you cannot mention Italian wine without mentioning the exceptional and varied cuisine of Italy as well as the influence Italian food has had on the rest of the world -- even here in Charleston.Restaurants such as Soho's, Fazio's and Leonoro's are prime examples of local establishments that have consistently provided us with quality Italian cuisine. Add to this list Paterno's at the Park.Paterno's, located at Appalachian Power Park, in downtown Charleston, is the latest addition to the Italian restaurant scene here in the capital city. Andy and Mary Jo Paterno, along with daughter Niki Paterno Kurten, have produced an excellent menu and a very good wine list with an emphasis on Italy.The menu has a northern Italian flavor. The veal chop piccata, which is a butterflied and sautéed 14-ounce bone-in veal chop sauced with morel, crimini and shiitake mushrooms, capers and lemon butter on a bed of risotto, is my favorite so far. My wife and I split this generous entrée and shared a tasty bottle of 2010 La Scoloca Gavi di Gavi Black Label.Gavi is a crisp and fragrant white produced in Piedmont and it married well with the veal dish. Also represented on the wine list are Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti, Barbera and an assortment of quality California reds and whites.Paterno's is just one more tasty and tasteful example of how Italian food and wine have had a positive influence on our little part of the world.Salute!
For more on the art and craft of wine, visit John Brown's Vines & Vittles blog at
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