“Carolina On My Mind”: a Visit to the Yadkin Valley of NC

Aug 06

Two weeks ago en route to visit a friend in  Boone, NC I made a point to stop at as many Yadkin Valley (and a High Country) wineries as I could, taste wines and report the results to you.

The Grand Estate  The winner for this award, despite North Carolina also being home to both the Biltmore (the most visited winery in the entire nation) and Childress Vineyards, was the elegant Tuscan-style estate and winery of Raffaldini Vineyards, in the Swan Quarter sub-appellation of the Yadkin Valley. Some forty-plus acres of gently sloping vineyards roll north from a the tasteful yet grand winery. The walk to the tasting room wends through gardens with rose bushes, willows and a pond, for maximum effect of the “dolce vita,” with the grand view of the winery and vineyards as the climax. Raffaldini only grows and produces Italian grapes and wines, and all are done with style and elegance, echoing the track record of Barboursville Vineyards some 300 miles northeast in Virginia. Whites include a most excellent pinot grigio, a regular and reserve vermentino (also being grown successfully by Barboursville), an outstanding dry rose (“Girasole”) and a fun fruity moscato (called “La Dolce Vita”). Reds include a sangiovese, sangiovese riserva, montepulciano, and montepulciano riserva, the last made by drying the grapes in the appassimento style to create a high alcohol, richly concentrated but smooth sipping wine. Highlights:

  • 2013 pinot grigio: Usually a pinot grigio is either correct or not, and there isn’t much else to say since it’s a subtle wine. In this case, it’s not only correct, it’s wonderful, with vibrant apple and citrus on the nose, and the same on a dry but full-bodied palate; a great food wine.
  • 2013 Girasole: Complex nose of strawberry and watermelon with hints of parmesan. On the palate, it is dry with fresh watermelon flavors, finishing with strawberry notes; impossible not to think of prosciutto and mozzerala with basil.
  • 2011 Sangiovese Riserva: includes some malbec and petit verdot, accounting for the dark color. Nose: spicy black fruits with a bit of lift. On the palate, rich black cherry and spice. Fruit-driven, complex.
  • 2011 Montepulciano Riserva: I reported on this wine in my post of Feb. 5th of this year. Since then it has opened up and fleshed out nicely. On the nose, it has dried black fruits and spice. On the palate, alcohol is noticeably high but well-integrated with rich, dense fruit of dried cherries, and a long complex finish. Will age well, a decade or more.

Hidden Gems:

I call McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks “Hidden” because you can (or I did) drive past their road several times because 1) they don’t have the state winery sign with an arrow and 2) their road has the same name as another road 2 miles away that your googlemaps will take you to; don’t believe it! They are on the Thurmond “Post Office” Road, NOT the Thurmond Road. They tell me they’re getting a state road sign, so that should help but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

North Carolina veteran winemaker Sean McRitchie and his wife have been vineyard and winery consultants to many newcomers to the local industry, and their cozy but lovely inlaid wood tasting room is an appropriate set for their eclectic but also consistently high-quality product line.

2012 Fallingwater, inspired by the Frank Lloyd Wright house of that name near Ohiopyle, PA is fresh, fruity but surprisingly dry blend of traminette, vidal and chardonnay. Very aromatic on the nose but crisp, dry and with nervy acid on the palate; refreshing and stylish.

2013 muscat blanc has a classic muscat nose; bright fresh floral and citrus. On the palate it is fruity and freshly dry with fine acid balancing the forward fruit.

2011 Ring of Fire is an original blend of merlot, syrah and petit verdot that is stylish and rich but still refreshing. On the nose, there are fun spicy cherry and black fruits. On the palate, the wine is smooth and round then tannins kick in (14 mos. in French oak).Good now, will improve for another year.

Semi-Sweet Cider: Despite the name and 1.5% residual sugar, this fruity and delightfully crisp cider (made from 100% Pink Lady apples) tastes almost completely dry, but has that fun riesling-like flavor that Pink Ladies give.2014-07-26 12.37.24

Banner Elk Winery is high in the Blue Ridge Mountains west of Boone, and the area has the look and feel of Boulder, CO or the Sierra Foothills of California. Banner Elk’s vineyard is at nearly 4,000 ft, and they grow only cold-hardy hybrids like seyval blanc, foch, and steuben. The winery tasting room sits in front of carefully landscaped grounds that include a pond and firepit. The tasting room is an upscale log vacation-style house and is tastefully and elegantly appointed. The wines are in sync with the appearances. Due to its high elevation, the vineyard gives grapes high acidity and fresh, vibrant fruit. They buy in fruit from other NC growers and cabernet sauvignon from Virginia, but all the wines show the same style of clean, fresh, vibrant fruit and minimal oak.

Seyval blanc 2013: loads of green apple, citrus and crisp minerality; a perfect very dry white for a hot Carolina summer and very food-friendly.

High Country Rose 2013: a dark rose from Steuben, also dry but nicely fruity with lots of strawberry and some red cherry, one could either enjoy sipping alone or with food.

Marechal Foch 2012: Light ruby color, nice fragrant red and black cherry on the nose and like flavors on the palate. Short finish typical of the grape but not as tart as most northern versions, with more full fruit. Very much like a light Beaujolais, fresh, juicy, dry and crisp.

Others Visited:

A few miles from each other are Rag Apple Lassie and Sanders Ridge wineries.

Rag Apple Lassie was running low on product ahead of a bottling of the 2013 vintage later that same week, but the pinot gris and barrel-fermented chardonnay (2012) were both impressive and stylish. the Pinot Gris had a deep gold color, a clean nose with a palate of fine spicy pineapple, racy acidity, a full dry texture and firm acid in the finish. The chardonnay also had rich, spicy pineapple on the palate, and the sur-lie aging gave yeasty hints well-integrated with the fruit and a fine representation of the style.

Sanders Ridge offered two whites and three reds to taste, yet the wine I was most impressed by was the least sustainable for them to grow year to year; the muscat canelli 2013. From nose to finish, the wine is a perfect expression of the grape. The nose gives a zesty orange and citrus aroma, with melon and tangerine on the palate which is juicy and fresh, finishing with well-balanced acid (r.s. 0.5%)

I was impressed with the dedication to fine wine and sustainable agriculture at Carolina Heritage Vineyards. They only farm organically, and so they grow natives, cynthiana (a k a norton), hardy hybrids like traminette, and blueberry bushes. Even so, when I drove in, I noted how healthy and flourishing their vines were, even as so many others had been half-denuded by Japanese beetles. The tasting room is very cute, the wines all clean and honestly made (even vegan-friendly as well as organic!) and the prices are very reasonable.

The wines are also thoughtfully original, with blends of chambourcin and blueberry, chambourcin and cynthiana, and a wonderfully juicy Jimmy Buffet-meets-Dolly Parton blend of red and white muscadine grapes making a natural sangria-like wine that needed nothing but some yukeleles and lampshades for a pretty fun party.

My favorite wine was their Chambourcin-Cynthiana Nose was faint, but the palate  was clean, juicy, fresh and dry, with great finesse of texture and black cherry flavors with long crisp finish.

 

3rd Annual Wine Summit To Be Held in Richmond 10/21

Aug 05

The third annual Virginia Wine Summit-hosted by The Office of Governor McAuliffe-will bring wine experts and industry leaders from around the country to Richmond on October 21, 2014 to discuss, taste, and celebrate the exciting state of Virginia’s wine and food culture. Panels, tastings, and discussions will be held throughout this day-long event, featuring an address by keynote speaker Ray Isle, Executive Wine Editor of Food & Wine. Isle will be joined by some of the nation’s foremost influential wine professionals.  To register for the event and for more information on speakers, please visit www.virginiawinesummit.com.

Le Metro Wine Underground “From Sea to Shining Sea” July Tasting #2: Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir 2012 (VA) and Creekside Cellars (Cabernet) “Franc”, (CO) 2011

Aug 03

Ankida Ridge VineyardsIn a recent post I explained that I took place in a tasting and intermittent tweeting about the 6 wines of the month selected for consumers who subscribe to Le Metro Wine Underground. For July the theme was “From Sea to Shining Sea,” with a thoughtful and very eclectic collection of wines from Colorado, Virginia, Wisconsin, Vermont and Texas.

The last pair of the month were a pinot noir from Ankida Ridge, VA 2012 (Amherst Co.) and a cabernet franc from Creekside Cellars in Colorado (2011). Both wines were distinctive, and could hardly have been more different within the category of dry red table wines.

I have blogged recently about the excellent Ankida Ridge pinot noir, describing it as “grand cru from young vines” and very Burgundian in style, with lively almost electric cherry fruit and bright acidity, clean and fresh and below 13% alcohol with oak well in the background. Due to high humidity in the Eastern time zone, making a pinot noir this good is no accident and means a lot of work in the vineyard and a good vineyard site, but this one proves it can be done.

I have been a fan of Colorado wines for almost a decade, and interestingly, cabernet franc is their star red grape as it also is in Virginia, despite different climates, soil types and hydrology. Many people feel that cabernet franc tolerates a lower level of oak than its more famous offspring, cabernet sauvignon (a cross between cab franc and sauvignon blanc). However, in Colorado cabernet franc can ripen to 14% alcohol and achieve much darker color than here on the East Coast, probably due to higher elevation and ultraviolet light.

Winemaker Michelle Cleveland of Creekside Cellars is talented and versatile, making aromatic and dry gewuztraminer, dry and full-bodied red blends, and in this case, a Gran Reserva (Spanish) style cabernet franc, labeled simply “Franc”. The wine was aged 24 months in oak, surprisingly long for cabernet franc. The color was impressively deep garnet. The nose was complex, like Grand Reserva Rioja with tea leaves, vanilla, coconut, dried mocha, and dried red cherries. On the palate, the wine was brisk, with crisp acidity typical of the grape up front and fine integration of fruit, oak, and acidity. A crisp, lively finish is also typical of the grape (alc. 13.9%).

For a Gran Reserva style, this is a young release; in Rioja they would typically release this 15+ years after the vintage to get the best balance, and the oak is a bit dominant now, but shows the potential of solid, ripe cabernet franc that is still true to the variety. So, two fine red dry red table wines, from very different states with very different climates, and with very different oak regimens, but both showing the fine potential for each grape variety in each state.

Dave McIntyre Awarded 2014 Monteith Trophy

Jul 25

Dave McIntyre, Washington Post wine columnist and co-founder of DrinkLocalWine (disclosure: I am also a Board member and Dave wrote the foreword to my book Beyond Jefferson’s Vines) was awarded the 2014 Monteith Trophy this week by the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association. The award is presented “to individuals or organizations that have performed exceptional contributions to the development and sustainability of the American wine industry…”

Gordon Murchie, president emeritus of the ASWA, presented McIntyre with the trophy, citing his frequent writings supporting local and regional wines as well as co-founding the non-profit advocacy organization Drink Local Wine.

View this content on Dave McIntyre's website

ASWA President Carl Brandhorst (left) and President Emeritus Gordon Murchie (right) present the Monteith Trophy to Dave McIntyre – photo by Michael Birchenall

Three Original Wines and a Twitter Tasting Hosted by Le Metro Wine Underground

Jul 25

I was invited by fellow Virginia wine blogger Dezel Quillen (myvinespot.com) to join a twitter tasting of carefully selected wines from around the country but not from the West Coast. As reported by Washington Post wine columnist and this year’s recipient of the Monteith Wine Trophy Dave McIntyre, the tasting theme was titled “From Sea to Shining Sea” and was hosted and wines selected by Aaron Epstein, a wine writer based in San Diego who partnered with Tina Morey, a Certified Sommelier of Protocol Wine Studio. Together they created a subscription service for direct-order wine called Le Metro Wine Underground that ships six carefully selected wines monthly.  

The theme for July These tastings took place Tuesday evenings in July. I was impressed when I read the list, since I was familiar with every winery featured except for La Garagista in Vermont. I was also impressed that some of these wineries make non-vinifera (European) wines but still have a strong following due to high quality and consistency.

I brought the two rose/light red wine selections to a dinner with wine friends this last Tuesday but due to technical difficulties, couldn’t log onto Twitter. However, I made careful notes and there was no wine left over.

Last week was the first wine of the month, which was a “petillant naturel”, or sparkling wine whose fermentation finished in the bottle but was not champagne method. This was made by La Garagista Farm and Winery in Vermont.

This was most definitely one of the most original and bold wines I’ve ever had, but as with pornography, original and bold on paper is one thing but how you experience it depends on which end of the…but I digress.

The grape is brianna, a Swenson hybrid that is cold-hardy and also known for a strong grapey foxiness much like the white version of concord (similar to white grape juice from the niagara grape). due to native American grapes in its genes. While half of the grapes were destemmed and immediately pressed, while the other half were left to sit on the skins for 24 hours. With early-picked chardonnay and pinot noir, I could understand this, but with a very assertively grapey variety like brianna, this made a wine with a bouquet and taste the opposite of subtle and delicate. If I were making sparkling wine from brianna, I would process it to extract as few skin phenols as possible.

The wine was also fermented with native yeast, and the grapes were farmed by “organic conversion to biodynamic”. The native yeast character mixed with the assertively grapey varietal character to create a wine of much complexity. A chef friend commented that it tasted more like a Belgian wheat beer with a fruit flavoring than a standard sparkling wine, and he had a good point.

“Boldly original” leaves it up to you to decide it you’d like to try it yourself based on the above description. I think this wine (like many sparklers) will be best after 3 years of age when the yeast and fruit can integrate and mellow.

People who follow the Texas wine scene frequently acknowledge Kim McPherson as the most talented winemaker who knows how to blend Mediterrenean varieties into world-class wines in the Texas climate.

His McPherson “Les Copains” dry rose from Rhone varieties is one of the best dry roses I’ve ever had. The blend is 55% cinsault, 30% mourvedre and 15% viognier, Texas-grown and produced.

The color is medium-dark pink, the label is carefully Old World in style, and the wine is brilliant, with aromas and flavors of sour cherry, fine acidity and lingering fresh finish. The wine is full-flavored and dry but elegant and due to the high acid shows best with food.

Last in the first two weeks was Wollersheim Winery’s “Domaine du Sac” Lake Wisconsin AVA estate bottled 2013 blend of foch and leon millot. The vineyard & winery were founded by Agoston Haraszthy of Buena Vista fame in Sonoma, California but before he packed it in to follow the Gold Rush, he had established Wollersheim Vineyards on its present site above the Wisconsin River in a southwest-facing location.

Current proprietor Philippe Coquard (son-in-law of late owner Bob Wollersheim) has an estate mostly planted to the old French hybrid marechal foch but has added leon millot, St. Pippin and also buys lots of New York seyval blanc.

He makes a number of labels of wine based on foch, and this Domaine du Sac is made from the oldest vines from the best part of the vineyard, blended with the aromatic leon millot. The wine is aged in French and American oak.

The color is medium-deep ruby, and the aromatics are complex and changed every minute. At first there were ripe floral and fragrant cherry notes, and then the oak aromas emerged with vanilla and smoky coconut. The wine is fruity but dry with minimal wine tannins, but the oak adds some tannins and lots of smoky complexity.

Again, this wine is way too young at this point, typical for any top-of-the-line estate red and should age at least until fall 2015, but is very stylish and well-made for an old red hybrid blend.

I’m looking forward to trying a cabernet franc from Creekside Cellars in Colorado and hopefully a Finger Lakes riesling, always welcome here.  some other fun and original wines later this month. For more information on Le Metro Wine, visit lemetrowine.com.

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