Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Knoxville Offers Best Of Tennessee Sights And Flavors

SunsphereKnown as the Gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains, Knoxville offers visitors plenty of outstanding eats and attractions.

Destination Knoxville

I didn’t know much about Knoxville before our visit over the Labor Day weekend. After three days of exploring this dynamic eastern Tennessee city of about 180,000, I now wonder why it took us so long to visit.

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For those in the Raleigh area, Knoxville is a “straight shot,” about five-and-a-half hours of driving due west on I-40. The drive itself is enjoyable, as we passed through the scenic areas of Asheville, NC, and the Great Smoky Mountains on our way.

Tennessee VolsWe stayed at the Holiday Inn Knoxville Downtown, which is in a prime location, just a few blocks from downtown’s Market Square and only a 15-minute walk from the University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium. Our trip was planned to spend time with Diane, a classmate of my wife’s, and her husband John. On John’s bucket list was to see a major college football game. As luck would have it, the UT Volunteers opened the season that Saturday.

UT Vols Excitement

Getting to the stadium involves an enjoyable stroll through the World’s Fair Park. Knoxville hosted the World’s Fair in 1982 and it sparked a revitalization of the city. The most visible reminder is the Sunsphere, the iconic 266-foot golden tower that stands above surrounding fountains, waterways and festival grounds.

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Neyland Stadium is the fifth largest in the US with a capacity of 102,455. It trails only Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State and Texas A&M in stadium size. The Vols fans are fanatical and the stadium was filled with a sea of orange and ringed with enthusiastic tailgaters. Each touchdown was accompanied by fireworks, a rousing chorus of Rocky Top, waving flags and an appearance of the old blue tick hound mascot.

The stadium is located on the Tennessee River and the Vols Navy, an assortment of fancy yachts decked out in UT colors, was out in force. Unfortunately one caught fire and sank on Friday night. That disaster was only a foreshadowing of the one coming the next day as the Vols were upset by Georgia State, a 25-point underdog.

Oliver RoyaleMarket Square Munching

Downtown Knoxville is highly walkable, with plenty of interesting shops, restaurants and outdoor art. Two main areas of interest are Market Square and Gay Street. Market Square is a tree-line square with a variety of restaurants and shops. The farmer’s market, held there Wednesday and Saturday, is huge and adds a festive atmosphere.

Gay Street is home to Knoxville’s theater district. The historic Tennessee Theater and Bijou Theater are two of the finest regional performance centers. The street is vibrant with shops, restaurants and Cruze Farm Ice Cream. The ice cream, served up by Farm Girls in red checked uniforms, is a delicious treat. The variety of flavors and toppings is seemingly endless.

There are many dining options on Market Square. For vegetarian or vegan diners, we suggest Tomato Head, which has a bevy of salads, sandwiches and pizzas in a bright and casual setting. Tupelo Honey is a popular spot for scratch-made Southern comfort food. The biscuits alone are worth the trip.

The gastronomic highlight of our trip was Oliver Royale, which dubs its food as comfort food with a cultural kick. I opted for the Kurobuta Porkchop with parmesan polenta, braised apples, crispy brussel sprouts, hoguera chorizo, and plantain chip. The rest of our party ordered the Petite Filet, Sous Vide Swordfish and the Spaghetti Pesto.

Every dish was presented artfully and each bite was an explosion of flavor. I opted for the 2016 Santa Rita 120 Reserva Especial Carmenere to accompany our meal. This is a light bodied red from Chile that blended nicely with the wide range of our meals.

There was no letdown with the desserts. The flourless chocolate torte was a deconstructed masterwork. The lemon bar dessert included a nice dollop of ice cream.

Natural Beauty Knoxville AreaGreat Smoky Beauty

A trip to Knoxville would fall flat without enjoying the spectacular scenery. On the way into town, we detoured to Gatlinburg (about an hour away). Note to self: Don’t visit one of America’s top tourist sites during Labor Day weekend. Once we battled through the traffic and pedestrians, we took off on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. My wife was determined to see a black bear. We had visited here a few years ago and spotted a few. Guess what? We saw another bear, but I learned that a bear frolicking through the woods is faster than me getting my camera ready to take a shot.

The mountain vistas are fantastic. The Roaring Fork is picturesque and there are plenty of pull-offs to enjoy the sights.

For a destination closer to downtown Knoxville, try the Ijams Nature Center. Ijams has 315 acres of hiking, biking, paddling and climbing. It is one of Knoxville’s top attractions. We enjoyed a hearty hike along the Tower Trail to the River Trail Boardwalk. The nature center itself has several interesting displays.

Following a buffet breakfast at the Holiday Inn, we were set to leave on the trip back. Honestly, we didn’t want to leave. Knoxville is a city loaded with delectable food, world class attractions and fun activities. We’re already planning our next visit.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Foncalieu 2017 Réserve de l'Abbé, Côtes du Rhône

Yearn for tasty wine but have a tiny budget? Check out the immensely satisfying Côtes du Rhône region.

Reserve de L'AbbeA River Of Wine

The Rhône Valley in France is our type of place. Ninety-five percent of the wine produced is red, mostly from Syrah and Grenache.

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There are famed wines coming out of the region, especially from the Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie appellations. More than half of the Rhône Valley’s wine production, though, comes from Côtes du Rhône.

The Côtes du Rhône (CDR) covers a wide area, mostly in the south. That means the primary grape is Grenache. Other red grapes produced in the region are: Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Carignan, Counoise, and Picpoul.

We judge Côtes du Rhône wines to be quite delicious. They also can be had for a very nice price.

The Abbey’s Reserve

We found the Réserve de l'Abbé at Great Grapes in Cary. I was restocking our everyday wines, looking to score wines with high QPR (Quality Price Ratio). Knowing you almost never go wrong with CDR, I snagged the bottle. The price for the Réserve de l'Abbé ranges from $9 to $14 and is a great value.

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The vineyards for this wine are on the right bank of the Cèze River. Before the 18th century, the Catholic Church owned a large proportion of the vines and the cultivation and production was in the hands of the monks in the monasteries.

The abbé or abbot is in charge of the monastery and the best wine was reserved for church leaders. Foncalieu sells much of its wine to bulk merchants, but like the abbeys of long ago, they save the best for themselves. This nice reserve bottle blend of Grenache and Syrah is the result.

If you want to age your wine, head to Bordeaux or Burgundy. Like most CDR wines, this is ready to drink now. It has pleasing red ripe berry flavors and nary a tannin in sight. It’s easy drinking. It will work well with a variety of light entrees, but we find it to be an ideal sipper all by itself.

Réserve de l'Abbé  is light and breezy – a good “pop and pour” wine but with a plentiful dose of French class. We rate it highly on value and taste.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

How To Throw Out Your Phone On A Summer Road Trip

smartphone-1281632_1920In today’s digitally consumed world, taking a “digital detox” is difficult for many to do.

Paper Maps, No Apps

When you go on your summer vacation, can you also take a vacation from your smartphone?

Can you give Facebook and Instagram a rest and enjoy conversing with the people around you rather than constantly scrolling, posting, and checking for comments from your legion of followers?

Critics of chronic users of smartphones and social media doubt people can go without them for long. In today’s digitally consumed world, taking a “digital detox” is difficult for many to do.

But Johnny Welsh (, author of Paper Maps, No Apps: An Unplugged Travel Adventure, says vacation is the perfect time to disconnect  — and that it may change your perspective, and your life, if you do.

The Connection Is Lost

“With this addiction to our smartphones, this obsession to be connected with the world, we fail to connect with the people sitting right in front of us,” says Welsh, whose book chronicles a 16-day road trip in the western U.S. that he and his girlfriend, Kristy, took while detaching from smartphones and social media.

“The disconnect in face-to-face interactions keeps growing; I see it happening more as smartphones get ‘smarter.’ I imagine what would happen if aliens landed on earth and observed us. They might think a smartphone is something we need to live, like an external nervous system.”

On his road trip, Welsh endeavored to experience “how different life could be without the constant seduction of the flat screen” — while also examining his own social media habits with a sense of humor. Likewise, he thinks others who ditch their phones on a getaway can better live in the moment while not being digitally distracted.

“Be present,” Welsh says. “Turn off your device and really live. Vacations should be a real break from our technology-soaked lives.”

Tips To Disconnect From Your Smartphone

Welsh gives five tips on how to disconnect from your smartphone and enjoy vacation without it:

map-2789052_1920Use paper maps. Welsh says this is the first big step to looking at what’s around you rather than looking at your phone. Using the old-school way, you won’t have to go to Google Maps for navigation and have an excuse to keep using your phone,” Welsh says. “Plus, using your brain, your imagination fires up like when you were a kid, looking at the back roads on an old map and wondering where they all lead.”

Delete tempting apps. “Addicted to Twitter or other sites? Delete the app from your phone before you leave on vacation,” Welsh says, “and don’t reinstall it until you get back.”

Buy a disposable camera or a real one. “Rather than take selfies on your phone, and constantly posting pictures and agonizing over the perfect hashtags, you can capture memories the old-fashioned way,” Welsh says. “And this way you actually enjoy your surroundings without having your face in a screen most of the day.”

Check hotels with digital-detox discounts. “Yes, they’re out there,” Welsh says. “Some places offer room discounts for giving up your phone upon check-in. A reawakening starts with forced human interaction. We did that for thousands of years before.”

Read. “Remember that?” Welsh asks. “Rather than being entranced on your phone, bring a good book. The act of reading a physical book quiets and calms us, incorporates the sense of touch and smell, and allows us to become part of the story in a way that no pop-up headline can.”

“We’re relying too much on instant technology,” Welsh says. “There can be life — a higher quality of life — without these devices.”

About Johnny Welsh

Johnny Welsh ( is the author of Paper Maps, No Apps: An Unplugged Travel Adventure. His first book, Weedgalized in Colorado, about the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, won two awards from Readers’ Favorite. A professional bartender in Frisco, Col., for 20 years, he has a B.A. in Italian language, literature and culture from Syracuse University.

Images by Pexels  and Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Monday, August 19, 2019

Maitia 2018 Weon Carignan, Maule Valley, Chile

IMG_20190817_194014What to pair with an eclectic assortment of Latin dishes? How about a Carignan from Chile.

Wine From The Dude

I swear I had no idea as the phrase came out of my mouth. We had been seated at our table at in Raleigh for a few minutes. It was long enough for our server to give us the menus and start perusing the wine list.

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As we were trying to unscramble the very delectable small and large plate offerings we were waiting for the server to return. Green Dragon asked if I had ordered wine. I replied, “I’m waiting for the dude to come back.” Little did I know that “dude” would play an important role in our meal.

I decided to go with the 2018 Weon Carignan from Chile. I thought the name was a bit odd, “Weon.” I later learned that in the Chilean culture, this means “dude” or “bro.” Conveniently, the word can be used as a noun or adjective. Whoa!

Pairing With The Plates focuses on Latin cuisine and we began ordering a wide assortment of dishes to share and asked our server to pace them out. We ended with a continuous string of stunningly presented small plates that were delicioso.

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram! RaleighOur dishes included Ensalada de, Crab Stuffed Avocado, Dominican Empanadas, Jamaican Lamb Patties, Jerk Coconut Prawns, Argentinian Charred Pork Cheeks, and Guatemalan Ceviche de Camaron. Phew! You get the idea – plenty of amazing cuisine.

Carignan is a grape that is widespread in the south of France, used mostly in blends. In Spain, where it is called Cariñena, it is also popular.  It’s rare to see it as a single varietal bottling, so I jumped at the opportunity. The price point was also quite reasonable for such a unique wine.

Weon comes from Chile’s Maule Valley, one of the country’s larges wine growing regions. Reds are the specialty of the area. This is a light and limber red, not a big bombastic thing.

The Weon is soft with round tannins. It’s a young wine and harsh tannins are further avoided by fermentation in concrete vats, instead of oak. It is an organic wine and uses wild fermentation.

Weon is light and would do well with a slight chill to enjoy during the hot weather. It’s “redness” is beyond reproach, however, as it was a mind-blowing pairing with the Argentinian Charred Pork Cheeks served on amazing polenta. The wine is versatile and pairs adroitly with seafood and salad as well as spicy meats.

Dude! We highly recommend the Weon Carignan and for your drinking and dining enjoyment.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

La Coqueluche 2018 Rosé, Pays D’Oc

P1050436Can a $6 rosé deliver taste as well as value? We uncork a Trader Joe’s special to find out.

To Quench A Thirst

Last night I got together with some friends for 18 holes of disc golf. We had a great time and maybe frightened a few drivers in Middle Creek Park with some errant throws.

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The humidity was withering. At the end of our match, my shirt was wringing wet. That’s the type of weather we’ve had this summer in the Old North State.

Summer heat means lighter, chilled wines. Usually we opt for a nice rosé or chilled Sauvignon Blanc. A couple weeks ago I decided to stock up on some everyday white and rosé wines and happened to be in Trader Joe’s.

This bottle caught my eye first because of the shapely bottle and second because it met the criteria of being cheap. In fact, La Coqueluche is dirt cheap at less than $6. This is a Trader Joe’s exclusive. I figured it would either quench my thirst or I could lambast it in a wine review.

Can Cheap Also Be Good?

The bottle for La Coqueluche is similar, if not identical, to the squat yet elegant bottle used for the high end Miraval rosé. Miraval is the winery owned by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Their highly-praised rosé comes from Provence and sells for $28.

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The bottle brings a cool aspect to La Coqueluche, which is French for “favorite.” The packaging makes it look like a far more expensive wine.

It doesn’t come the Provence, the epicenter of rosé, instead it is from the Pays D’Oc region in the southern coast of France. The “pays” wines are in a category  a step lower than the AOC wine regions like Provence. The grapes aren’t specified, but Syrah, Grenache and Carignan are the main red varieties in the region.

We’ve had great experience with Pays D’Oc wine and were anxious to try La Coqueluche. The verdict is two thumbs up. The flavor has clean and straightforward strawberry notes with juicy melon.

It teases some Provence-style flavors but doesn’t have the fullness or complexity of an outstanding rosé. Still, we rate it as very good. We’ve paid three or four times more for rosé that wasn’t nearly as good. Another area where the wine falls short is the finish. It’s a delightful drinker, but the finish closes shop too early.

Perhaps the best statement on the quality of the wine is that when my wife returned from Trader Joe’s yesterday, she had another bottle of La Coqueluche in the shopping bag. At this price you can buy a case, which might tide you through the scorching summer.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Harvest In Napa Valley Begins Today With Spectacular Quality Anticipated

Grapes For Sparkling Wines Are First

Harvest in Napa Valley typically begins with the sparkling wine producers and Rodgers Vineyard will begin picking Pinot Noir for Mumm Napa Valley today (August 13). Throughout Napa Valley most white varieties will be harvested through the end of August, while the Cabernet Sauvignon harvest will likely begin mid-September.

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"We have had favorable ripening conditions in Napa Valley over the past 30 days," said Napa Valley Grapegrowers President Paul Goldberg, who is also president of Bettinelli Vineyards. "The very mild, early-season temperatures have led to an incredible growing season."

Heavy Rains Doesn’t Dim Outlook

Heavy rains in March and April cultivated robust cover crops, which organically enriched the soil with an abundance of nutrients. The heavy rain also delayed pruning and bud break by a few weeks in some parts of Napa Valley, but that hasn't had any effect on the overall crop. The rain in April created a bit of shatter in Chardonnay clusters during bloom but didn't significantly reduce crop size. Growers compare it to the same amount of reduction that occurs normally during crop thinning and they call the April rains "nature's way of thinning."

Fruit set was right on course during the spring for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Napa Valley received more rain in May, followed by a heat spike in June, which sparked canopy growth. Since that initial short heat wave, the weather throughout the summer has been moderate and veraison has been "beautiful and even" according to Goldberg. Veraison is an exciting time in the ripening cycle when white grapes transition from green to gold and red grapes transition from green to red, a sign that harvest is just around the corner.

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"With the late-season rains, vine growth took off, so crews were still leafing and hedging the vineyards when - boom - it was time for harvest," added Kendall Hoxsey-Onysko, a Napa Valley Grapegrowers board member and the business manager for Yount Mill Vineyards. Yount Mill Vineyards grows five varieties for Mumm Napa Valley: Pinot Meunier; Pinot Noir; Pinot Blanc; Pinot Grigio; and Chardonnay and will harvest their first fruit for Mumm this Saturday, August 17th.

Each year, the Napa Valley Grapegrowers (NVG) hosts the definitive summary on the valley’s harvest and streams it live for thousands of viewers world-wide.  For 43 years NVG has played a vital role in strengthening Napa Valley's reputation as a world-class viticultural region.  Its mission is to preserve and promote Napa Valley’s world-class vineyards.  NVG represents 725 Napa County grapegrowers and associated businesses.

Photos by Sarah Anne Riske

Friday, August 9, 2019

Raffaldini 2014 Sangiovese Classico, Swan Creek

IMG_20190807_202631_860Chianti in the Carolinas? Oh, yes indeed. We pop open a bottle with a delicious pasta meal.

A Classic Spaghetti Sauce

In Huntington, West Virginia, Jim’s Steak and Spaghetti House has been going strong since 1938. Originally the place to go for a 10-cent milkshake or a 15-cent cheeseburger, it’s best known today for its spaghetti.

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We didn’t crack the safe to steal their special sauce recipe, but the Green Dragon has her own version, which is blissfully good. My attempts to make sauce usually involve grilling beef (and other fixings) and then plopping them into the red sauce – almost as an afterthought.

What makes Jim’s (and the Green Dragon’s) sauce so good is that the meat is mostly cooked in the sauce. It gives it a fine-grained texture and a fully integrated taste. To put it another way, it is really, really good. So when my wife said she was going to whip up some “Jim’s” spaghetti sauce, I was tasked with finding the perfect wine.

Sangiovese That Shines

I perused my options, briefly lingering over some bottles of Pinotage from South Africa before grabbing the bottle of 2014 Raffaldini Sangiovese Classico. Chianti is the Italian wine from Tuscany made primarily with Sangiovese. Some of the very best is Chianti Classico, which comes from the historic home of Chianti.

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Swan Creek, a great little AVA located mostly in the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina, certainly isn’t Tuscany. If you close your eyes and sip, though, Raffaldini may convince you that they’ve captured some Italian magic in the bottle.

Raffaldini has Italian roots and they show in the thoughtful production of this wine. It is made with Vino Nobile grapes, a clone that is a key ingredient in the famous Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. This Raffaldini Sangiovese is undoubtedly noble.

Adding to the wow factor is the appassimento process used in the making the wine. The grapes are dried to concentrate the flavors before fermentation. This is the same process that makes wonderful Amarone.

Pasta And The Perfect Sip

Salad with lemon vinaigrette and a loaf of warm, homemade bread accompanied the pasta and sauce. One of my wine pairing axioms is to pair wine from the same region as the dish you are serving. The Raffaldini heritage shone through for an ideal match with our meal.

The Sangiovese Classico has a lush sour cherry flavor. The red fruit notes are accompanied with deeper raisinated threads that add to a beauteous complexity. The finish is long and begs you to keep your glass filled. We certainly did as we twirled our pasta and crunched our bread.

Available now is the 2017 release, which is priced at a tasty $29. It is available online, but if you can, visit the beautiful Raffaldini tasting room in Yadkin Valley.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Dry Creek Vineyard 2018 Fumé Blanc and 2018 Sauvignon Blanc

DCV 2018 Fume Blanc and Sauvignon BlancHusband and wife don’t always agree. Such was the case with these two Sauvignon Blanc releases from Sonoma Country.

A Tale Of Two Palates

Anytime two different wine drinkers imbibe, you can expect a difference of opinion. One Instagram contributor I follow, for example, keeps posting photos of visits to interesting wineries in our state – but every wine shown is a sweet fruit sugar bomb. That’s clearly out of step with where I am in my wine appreciation journey.

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My wife (known as the Green Dragon) and I often think alike. That’s not so strange when you’ve been married for a while like we have. It’s not uncommon for me to say, “I’d really could go for some Mexican food tonight” and she’ll say, “I was thinking the same thing.” Our taste in wines are usually in sync too – but not always.

A Doubletake On Sauvignon Blanc

We recently opened two new releases from Dry Creek Vineyard, the 2018 Fumé Blanc, Sonoma County, and the 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley. Although both Sauvignon Blanc, they are two different animals in the glass. We had two different favorites.

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Fumé Blanc is an approved alternate name for Sauvignon Blanc and was coined by Robert Mondavi when he was trying to jumpstart the California wine industry in the 1960s. While some associate Fumé Blanc with an oak finish, that isn’t always the case. This Fumé is fermented in stainless steel with no oak aging.

The Green Dragon leapt for joy with the Fumé Blanc. The racy acidity, aroma of cut grass, and dynamic citrus flavors push all the right buttons. Made with grapes from Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley in Sonoma, this is a perennial favorite with us. It is refreshing and intense with pure flavors. At only $16, this is a flavorful value.

Going For A Different Twist

While Green Dragon was going ga-ga over the Fumé Blanc, I was appreciating the Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc. It offers complexity and style at an amazing price point of just $20. To start with, it’s not just Sauvignon Blanc. It has 15% Sauvignon Musqué and 9% Sauvignon Gris. The Sauvignon Musqué, a clone, delivers added body while the Sauvignon Gris gives a unique texture to the wine. All grapes come from the Dry Creek Valley AVA.

So, instead of a New Zealand style Sauvignon Blanc, there is a more sophisticated quality. As if the grape selection weren’t enough to pique your interest, a portion of the wine is fermented in acacia, chestnut and neutral French oak barrels. That’s cool.

This wine tips toward tropical fruit flavors of pineapple and tangerine. This has a fuller body than the Fumé Blanc with the acidity not as pronounced. It has a grand elegance you wouldn’t expect at this price and is my pick of the two.

Both bottles will make great pairings with light summer fare including chicken and fish. Of course, sipping them nicely chilled on a warm summer evening works too.

Full disclosure: These wines were received as a marketing sample.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Youngblood Vineyard Brings Innovative Michigan Wine to Detroit Metro Area

Jessica YoungbloodPremium wine comes to Motor City – and the selection of grapes will surprise you.

By Dave Nershi, CSW

Vino-Sphere Publisher

Motown, Mo’ Wine

Michigan’s reputation for producing outstanding wine is on the upswing. Perhaps the state’s best known wine country is up north in Traverse City and wine lovers shouldn’t overlook wineries in the southwestern corner of the state on the shores of Lake Michigan.

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Despite more than 140 state wineries, there have been few cries to jump in the car and visit the wineries in Detroit. A new winery in the Detroit metro area is changing that.

Youngblood Vineyard, located in Ray, Michigan, is a sustainably-farmed vineyard that’s uncorking excitement and award-winning wines. It may be time to gas up the car and head to Motor City.

Bringing Wine Country To TheIMG_20190730_172423_942 People

Dave and Jessica Youngblood have lived in the Pacific Northwest and Virginia, some of the most beautiful wine country in the nation. In 2015 they returned to the 46-acre family farm in Michigan and decided to try their hand at winegrowing.

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We fell in love with wine country when we lived in Virginia,” said Jess Youngblood, the winemaker who with her husband are the forces behind the winery. “It’s a long four-hour drive to get to wine country from Detroit. It just makes sense to make some wine where the people are.”

Standing Up To The Chill

Not being in the main Michigan winegrowing areas, where the winter temperatures are moderated by large bodies of water, presents challenges. Winters are harsher and unpredictable. The summers are hotter.

To help ensure success, the Younbloods took an unconventional route. They planted cold-hardy grape varieties developed by the University of Minnesota that produce flavorful wines, but can stand up to the harsh Michigan winters. Grape varieties include Marquette, Frontenac, Frontenac Blanc, Prairie Star, Petite Pearl and Itasca.

These varieties can withstand temperatures of 30 below and still produce a full crop. The last polar vortex created some problems and the deluge of recent precipitation caused the loss of a couple hundred vines in low-lying areas. All in all, Youngblood terms the cold-hardy grapes “fantastic.” In fact, Youngblood Vineyard is the largest exclusively cold-hardy vineyard in the state. At 25 acres under vine, the size of the vineyard is in the top 20% of all Michigan vineyards.

Youngblood Vineyard grapesFarmers First

The support of the first winery in the Detroit metro area has been tremendous, with plenty of publicity including features on the local television network affiliates. A winery in a major metro area seems a natural fit, so why hadn’t anyone done it sooner? “It’s hard and it’s expensive,” says Youngblood.

Wines from Michigan are more fruit forward with greater acidity and lower alcohol than their California counterparts, she says. The southeast Michigan locale also varies from other parts of the state. Riesling, which thrives in other Michigan wine regions, doesn’t do well in southeast Michigan.

The key to success lies in the vineyard, according to Youngblood: “We are farmers first, growing great fruit.” Paying close attention to the chemistry and harvesting at just the right time is crucial. Youngblood Vineyards only produces wines made with their own estate grapes. Their debut vintage is 2018.

The results speak for themselves. The 2018 Youngblood Vineyard Marquette was just named Best of Class Dry Red in the 2019 Michigan Wine Competition. The accomplishment is an impressive one for any winery’s first vintage.

Tale Of The Tasting

We recently had the opportunity to taste the 2018 Marquette and the 2018 Frontenac Blanc. The Frontenac Blanc was paired with a dinner of ham, corn on the cob and Hassleback potatoes. In the glass the color is lemon with green highlights. On the palate there are notes of peach, apricot and honeysuckle. The finish is semi-dry, adding to its refreshment. The low alcohol (11.8% ABV) keeps it balanced and light.

Youngblood Vineyard MarquetteWe sipped the Marquette before the results of the Michigan Wine Competition were known. After finishing the bottle, we agree with the judges. It’s an outstanding wine.

We paired ours with Black Angus skewers with black pepper teriyaki sauce, couscous with sun-dried heirloom tomatoes and green beans with fresh tri-color peppers. The wine is deep purple in color and has a medium plus body. The first sip brings a rush of flowing raspberry, then it settles into a groove with luscious cherry notes. Some Michigan reds fail to develop big, bold flavors – not the case with the Youngblood Marquette. The depth of flavor is rich and rewarding. This is a smooth and stylish wine.

YOungblood Vineyard pavilionYoungblood Vineyard is a teaching and learning opportunity for area colleges and 4-H groups. It’s also a chance for wine lovers to expand their knowledge. Instead of monikers like “Midnight Symphony,” Youngblood Vineyards names its wines after the grape variety.

“We make beautiful wines,” said Youngblood. “We encourage you to try what you haven’t had before.” She adds that most people don’t even know what qualifies as a vinifera grape.

The winery is currently open on weekends and features a beautiful outdoor tasting pavilion in the vineyard. Visitors can taste the wine while viewing where the grapes came from. “Everything we serve and sell came from the vineyard. You’ll also have the grape-grower and winemaker pouring the wine.”

Detroit Wine Country is open for business. Stop in for a sip of inspiring Michigan wine.

You may also enjoy:

Ramulose Ridge Vineyards: A Virginia Winery Visit

Michigan Riesling Capturing International Attention

Hawk Haven Celebrates A Decade Of Award-Winning New Jersey Wine

Full Disclosure: The wine was received as a marketing sample.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Centanni 2017 Passerina, Offida DOCG

passerinaWhen I’m in the mood for a refreshing wine, I usually grab a glass of chilled Passerina. Said no one. Ever.

Wine Century Club Territory

After seemingly years of waiting, I finally got my certificate stating that I am indeed a member of the Wine Century Club. The main requirement is that you taste a minimum of 100 different grape varieties. You have to record the variety, the wine and the date.

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In my tastings, I’ve tasted many usual grapes. Everything from Assyrtiko to Zweigelt. I never, however, have sampled Passerina. I’ve also never said, “Honey, it’s been a long day. Do we have a chilled bottle of Passerina?”

Maybe that should change. As we discovered, it makes an enjoyable wine. It also is a great way to check off another obscure grape on your Wine Century Club credentials.

Final Hurrah From Invino

We are big supporters of local wine shops, for many reasons. Your local megalithic grocery store doesn’t need your wine purchase to stay in business. Your local wine merchant just might. Your local wine shop will also have more interesting selections and knowledgeable staff.

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That being said, I do purchase wine online as well. There are some great deals to be had on wines not available in my home town. Over the past decade or more, my favorite online site has been Invino. Recently I decided it was time to stock up on everyday white wines. Amongst my shipment from Invino, I picked up two bottles of the Centanni Passerina at a mere $8.99 each. (As a footnote, Invino has recently morphed into the thoroughly disappointing Cellar Thief online site.)

Puzzling Italian White

This Passerina is from the Offida DOCG within the Le Marche wine region of Italy. Le Marche is in central-east Italy, bordering the Adriatic Sea. Le Marche wines and beautiful and expressive. Verdicchio is Marche’s top white grape but Passerina was previously off my radar. It has small berries, often seedless.

The flavor profiles of popular white wines like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are well known to Americans including us. Passerina, on the other hand, takes time and several sips to decipher.

There isn’t a forest of oak like some Chardonnay. The acidity isn’t off the charts as in zippier Sauvignon Blanc. Instead this is a mellower experience.

The Centanni is a subtle, delicate wine. The flavors are fresh, indicating stainless steel finishing. Notes of flower blossoms and herbs help create a distinct and enjoyable sipping experience.

Pair it with tapas or shellfish. Keep it simple – intense flavors or fancy sauces could muddle the smooth clean notes of the wine.

It’s an enjoyable bottle. If you see it, don’t pass on the Passerina.