Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Crest Of The Blue Ridge A New Home For Top Quality North Carolina Wine

Aerial photo of Hendersonville, NC

Photos and article by          

Dave Nershi, CSW

The Crest of the Blue Ridge AVA is perched on the Eastern Continental Divide. North Carolina’s newest AVA, it spans 215 acres and features seven wineries with more on the way.

Warm days and cool mountain nights coupled with the right soils and quality water provide a favorable combination for producing quality grapes and wine. The wineries are a short drive from Hendersonville, NC, a vibrant Blue Ridge mountain town that offers a popular downtown with shops, boutiques, galleries, restaurants and pubs.

Follow us on X, formerly Twitter

During our recent trip we visited five wineries and enjoyed a truly elevated experience.

Burntshirt Vineyards

The curious name for this vineyard stems from a European custom of burning back vines to the ground to renew the nutrients in the soil. According to folklore, if you burned a shirt in the fire, it brought prosperity and good fortune. We visited the Hendersonville tasting room located at 2695 Sugarloaf Road (there’s also a tasting room at Chimney Rock).

Burntshirt Vineyards - 1

At the heart of the winery are two vineyards one on each side of the continental divide. The highest is on Burntshirt Mountain, at 3,400 feet. Also at the Hendersonville location is their wonderful Vintner’s Table restaurant, where we enjoyed a superb paired food and wine tasting, thanks to the skills of Chef Clint Betts.

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

Standouts included the 2021 Dry Riesling paired with the pork belly, chevre fritter, and pickled red onion appetizer. Seared scallops and rosé were followed by my favorite wine, the 2021 Altitude 3400, a red blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Chambourcin, paired with sesame tuna. A beautiful fillet and the 2021 Cab Franc Reserve was a high point on which to end our lunch.

Burntshirt offers a range of wines to suit all palates, including dry, sweet, and dessert-style wines. This is a true destination winery you’ll want to include on your next visit.

Souther Williams Vineyard

Located in Fletcher, Souther William is a 35-acre estate in Hoopers Creek valley. The farm has been in Ken Parker’s family for more than 220 years. What used to be home for apple trees, livestock, and tobacco, is now an estate winery in with a focus on grapes from Germany and Eastern Europe.

Souther Williams - 1

Ken spent a career in banking. Since he has a love of all thing wine, it was only natural that he and wife Angela Adams would start a winery. Souther Williams opened in August 2021 and today features 10 acres under vine including three whites, Gruner Veltliner, Riesling and Vidal Blanc along with five reds, Cynthiana (Norton), Blaufrankish (Lemberger), Regent, Saperavi, and Cabernet Franc.

The 2021 Gruner is well-balanced with citrus and pepper notes. The 2022 Vidal Blanc has a luscious fruitiness with tropical notes. An exceptional wine is the 2019 More Shenanigans, which features 60% Cynthiana, 25% Blaufrankish as well as Regent and Cab Franc. It has fresh fruit flavors with brambly blackberry notes, with fresh cranberry and spice touches.

Souther Williams’ unique open-air tasting pavilion is in the midst of the vines and is perfect in all weather.

Stone Ashe Vineyard

Craig and Tina Little had a vision to establish an estate vineyard similar to the great growing regions of France. Today their vision has taken root at 736 Green Mountain Road in Hendersonville. Stone Ashe Vineyard is named for the soil at their site, which provides outstanding drainage. The vineyard’s steep slopes and microclimate are well suited for growing elegant fruit.

Stone Ashe - 1

Channeling a ski resort vibe, the tasting room is an upscale experience with a spectacular view from 2,300 feet. It’s the ideal setting to enjoy their meticulously crafted estate wines. An example is the 2020 Cabernet Franc. As Craig says, many wineries in North Carolina produce Cabernet Franc, but few do it well. The grapes are hand picked with unripe berries removed. Three different clones are used, and picking is done at the optimal time.

The wine has a deep violet color with ripe berry aroma and blackberry, herbs, and vanilla on the palate. All Stone Ashe wines are estate grown. Other standouts include the 2021 Montrachet-style Chardonnay, the delicate Sauvignon Blanc, and the Provence-style rosé.

Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards

Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards was the first commercial winery in Henderson County. In 2008, Alan Ward established the winery on farm land that had been in the family for centuries. The farm offers vinifera wines at the tasting room as well as Normandy-style cider at the adjacent Appalachian Ridge Cidery.

St. Paul Mountain - 1


Winemaker and cider maker Kelly Rivera Meyers has experience at Virginia wineries as well as Burntshirt Vineyards. A new production facility was opened in 2021, enabling Kelly to combine the best of old and new winemaking techniques. She shared two barrel samples of Petit Verdot, one using délestage, which provides additional oxygenation to the wine to give a lovely soft texture.

The Saint Paul tasting room is a vibrant meeting place for friends to enjoy live music and outstanding wine. It features a walnut bar and a patio that overlooks a five-acre vineyard. The quirky tubular tasting features wine served in test tubes. The 2021 Vidal Blanc has lovely notes of tropical fruit and green apple. The 2022 Nouveau Jour is a Merlot blend aged three months in neutral oak. Stop by to discover your favorite.

Marked Tree Vineyard

Marked Tree Vineyard is located in Flat Rock on the eastern Continental Divide, situated at an elevation of 2,300 feet. The sloped hills provide good drainage for the vines and the warm days and cool nights allow the grapes sufficient time to develop subtle flavors and character as they ripen.

Marked Tree 2 - 1

Early settlers in the area noticed oddly shaped trees. The trees were formed and shaped by Native Americans to point out water, hunting grounds, a locations of food. The ancient navigation system now points directly to really outstanding wine.

Lance Hiatt and Tim Parks wanted to leave their careers in architecture and luxury retail sales. Today their stylish winery, with floor-to-ceiling windows with inspirational views of the hills and the vineyard, is the perfect location to enjoy award-winning North Carolina wine. The 2022 Grüner Veltliner is exceptional with grassy notes, stone fruit, and a peppery touch. The Chloe Rosé is a blend of Lemberger and Muscat Ottonel. It has a fruity mouthfeel of melon, citrus and strawberries. My favorite red is Watershed Red, a luscious blend of Cabernet Franc and Lemberger.

For more information about Hendersonville, see https://visithendersonvillenc.org/

Monday, November 6, 2023

Texas Heritage Wines Deliver Distinctive Fall Flavors


In the 1970s, the wine industry in Texas made a profound shift. Rather than chasing popular grapes unsuited for the Texas soil and climate, they began planting “grapes that love our state and thrive in our culture and climate,” as Texas Heritage Winery puts it.

We had a chance to sample three wines from this outstanding Lone Star State winery and came away impressed.

Viognier is a Rhone grape that has found a welcome home in Texas. It is the most produced white grape in the state. The 2022 Wildseed Farms Viognier is delicate and crisp with notes of lemon and honeysuckle. At 11.7% ABV, it is perfect for pairing with seafood or light dishes with aromatic herbs. It is priced at a $30.

We paired the Viognier with a butternut squash bisque. The acidity of the wine cut through the creaminess of the soup for a delightful pairing.

The 2020 Gotneaux Creek Vineyard Syrah is the only Syrah produced by Texas Heritage. It spends 30 months in neutral oak. “We don’t oak a lot,” says co-founder Susan Johnson. “The grapes are great enough to speak for themselves. We let the true character of the grapes shine through.”

If you haven’t tried Texas Syrah, prepare yourself for a real surprise. This bottle is smooth and expressive. Some Syrah can be too big and brambly, but this is delicious with rich blueberry and plum notes. You get a nice dash of pepper on the long finish. SRP for this bottle is $42.

Alicante Bouschet is a large-cluster, thick-skinned grape that can be somewhat of a problem child. Thankfully, the 2019 vintage saw no difficulty in the vineyard and Texas Heritage produced this outstanding 2019 Estate Alicante Bouschet from the oldest part of their vineyard. It won Reserve Texas Class Champion at the 2022 Houston Rodeo Uncorked and Double Gold at the 2021 Harvest Terroir.

Texas Heritage Wines - 1

Alicante is a true tenterer, a rare grape that has red flesh and red skin. This is a full-bodied wine that needs at least 45 minutes in the decanter to help tame it. It is fruit-forward with an incredibly deep and dark ruby color. There are floral notes and lush black cherry and currant flavors. This is a perfect sipping wine.

We paired the reds with a wild boar and pasta entree and enjoyed a sunny and warm fall day on the patio. The Alicante Bouschet sells for $48. In fact, Texas Heritage specializes in producing really good wines at affordable prices. No bottle is more than $50.

Texas Heritage wines are available online via their website. It’s a perfect introduction to the noteworthy wines of Texas.

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

Monday, September 25, 2023

South African Dinner Dazzles With Tasteful Dishes And Stark-Condé Wine

Stark-Condé  South African Wines - 1Wines from South Africa find the sweet spot between Old World winemaking techniques and New World flavors.

Starke-Conde Syrah

Diverse Roots

When we were invited to sample a selection of South African wines from Stark-Condé. It was the perfect occasion to throw an aandete partytjie (dinner party) pairing these delicious bottles with elegant dishes.

Follow us on Twitter – err, X

Stark-Condé is a family business that encompasses a story of diversity as well.

South African patriarch Hans Schroder was raised in Stellenbosch. In the 1960s while attending university in Japan, Hans met and married fellow student Midori Maruyama. At the time, their marriage was illegal in Hans’ native South Africa due to the apartheid regime’s Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act so the young couple settled in Japan. They remained in Tokyo for the next nearly three decades where they raised three daughters.

South African Dinner and Scallop Entree - 1

In the late 1980s and with the changes on the horizon in South Africa, Hans and Midori decided it was time to return to his native country. They purchased the Oude Nektar farm in 1989 and focused on growing grapes. In 1998, eldest daughter Marie and her American husband José also relocated to South Africa to join the family – and the family business, where with an artisan’s attention to detail and a purist’s approach in the cellar, José slowly
developed Stark-Condé’s wines.

Gary and Diane and Bobotie - 1

Today, Stark-Condé wines and the family of brands includes Stark-Condé, MAN Family Wines, Lievland Vineyards, Essay, and KaraTara. The range has something for everyone, from wine novice to lovers of classically styled wines.

Celebrating South African Wine

Friends enjoying dinner and sosatie kabob - 1To make a six-course meal possible, we enlisted the culinary expertise of our guests, inviting them to create a dish for an assigned wine. Our guests were Kyle and Natalie Hampton, Arthur and Mary Barham, Rob and Chris Rudloff, and Gary and Diane Wessell. Of course this would not have been possible without the cooking and organizing of my wife, the Green Dragon.


Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

After a bit of bubbly, we uncorked our first SA wine: the 2021 Warrelwind Sauvignon Blanc, Western Cape, from MAN. Warrelwind is whirlwind in Afrikaans, and this was a beauty, with an accent on herbaciousness and rich tropical notes. A nice accompaniment to the fresh Caprese Salad.

South African Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc is one of South Africa’s most well-known wines, and we featured two on our menu. The first was the 2021 Monk Stone Chenin, Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch, from Stark-Condé. This is a complex wine aged in amphorae and second-use oak. It has lovely nectarine and apple flavors with notes of wet stone. The tasty leek and asparagus quiche was a perfect partner, not overpowering the delicate tastes of the wine.

The 2021 Essay (“S A” get it?) is a blend of Chenin Blanc, Roussanne, and Viognier from the Coastal Region. This wine is slightly off-dry with generous fruit and a palate of pineapple and guava. It is a dynamite food fine and glasses were refilled and the bottle emptied as we tasted the succulent seared scallops and shrimp served with oranges and rocket salad. At an SRP of $11.99, this is a steal.

Bobotie is a South African casserole with minced beef at the bottom and a thin layer of egg custard on the top. Diane and Gary seasoned it to perfect. The KaraTara Pinot Noir was striking with the bobotie. I couldn’t imagine a better match. A touch of pepper is typical from Pinots in this area and it really worked with this dish. It also had classic cherry and strawberry notes.

Exploring South African Cuisine

Sosatie is a lamb kebab from South Africa with Cape Malay roots. Arthur whipped this up with three different sauces, including one with apricot. In the past, the only really good Pinotage I’ve had is what I tasted in South Africa. The Lievland Bushvine Pinotage from Paarl turned my preconception upside down. This was an elegant Pinotage with luscious raspberry and hints of oak and vanilla. It is a smooth and savory wine. SRP is $18.99.

Caprese Salad and rich dessert - 1Do they love dark chocolate in South Africa? We don’t know, but the Green Dragon decided that a Deep Dark Chocolate Cheesecake would be the ideal pairing with the 2018 Stark-Condé Syrah. She was right on. The key to pairing with Syrah is to have dark or bittersweet chocolate desserts. Something sweet would be a recipe for disaster. This was a scrumptious highlight of the evening. The Syrah is one of the best I’ve tasted this year, rich with dark fruit and jammy currant. The tannins are silky smooth and there is a touch of savory mushroom on the close.

Our guests were quite tickled with the fantastic food and wine feast, but we were not done. As we continued to savor the cheesecake, I opened a bottle of Amarula. Amarula is often shared during a South African braai, a gathering of friends and family around a wood-fired grill. The creme liqueur is made from the Marula fruit, which is the favorite food of African elephants. It is creamy with a fruity, toffee-like flavor.

It was an evening to remember thanks to a culinary marriage of great food and exemplary South African wnies.

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

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Pick This Pair Of Affordable, Earth-Friendly Wines From Argentina

Organic Art of Earth Wines

Affordability, outstanding taste, and organic grapes – that combination is hard to beat when shopping for wine. When uncapping two releases from Art of Earth, we were transported back to Argentina and the delicious wines we tasted in Mendoza. They delivered that winning combination.

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

Art of Earth is a collection  of wines from the finest organic vineyards making wines within classic appellations. These wines are true to their origins and winemaking traditions without the use of pesticides or herbicides.

The range includes wines from Argentina, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. The two we sampled were the 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2022 Chardonnay, both from Mendoza.

We opened the Cabernet for a dinner of grilled steak and sauteed vegetables on the patio. This was an eye-opener, with fresh fruit flavors bursting from the glass. There were luscious notes of ripe cherries and red currants.

Follow us on Twitter – err, X

This isn’t a complex wine, but it is eminently satisfying. The tannins are soft and smooth with a long finish. This is a wine meant to be consumed while young. That’s probably a good idea with organic wines in general, as their shelf lives are shorter.

Art of Earth Cabernet

Both the Cab and the Chardonnay have an SRP of $11.99. That’s an excellent value.

We opened the Chardonnay while playing some games with friends. The group wanted some wine and I poured the Chardonnay. Little did I know what would happen next.

ChardyParty with Art of Earth Chardonnay

Not only did the group like the Chardonnay, a “ChardyParty” erupted with singing, dancing, and wine. They loved it.

This Chardonnay comes from a organic vineyard above 2,300 feet near the Andes Mountains, the snowmelt of which waters the vines. The crisp flavors are preserved by fermentation in steel tanks. There were bright notes of tropical fruits, pears, and citrus.There is a fullness thanks to malolactic fermentation.

In addition to being organic, these wines are vegan – just another reason to add them to your shopping list.

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

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Following the Surry County Wine Trail Yields Top North Carolina Wine Discoveries

North Carolina Is becoming a favorite destination for wine and culinary experiences. Join us as our travels explore Yadkin Valley and the outstanding wineries of the Surry County Wine Trail.

Round Peak Vineyards, Mt. Airy

Round Peak Vineyards is the northernmost winery in Yadkin Valley, North Carolina’s acclaimed wine country. Round Peak also holds another distinction as the first winery we visited in North Carolina.

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

We were scouting to find a new home and Round Peak was close to the interstate as we travelled to Raleigh. As we walked through the doors, we thought, “If all the wineries in the state are like this, it will be fantastic.” Panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains added to the experience.

Round Peak Vineyards - 1

Owners Ken Gulaian and Kari Heerdt strive to make the winery a relaxing retreat. Indeed, sitting on the covered porch and looking out at the manicured vines is quite a peaceful experience. It’s certainly a change for the couple, who were introduced to California wine country while working jobs in the Bay area. The pair bought the winery just off Interstate 77 west of Mount Airy in 2008.

Today the winery produces estate wine from 12 acres of grapes and 13 grape varieties. Ken, led us through a tasting starting with the surprising Sparkling Elderflower wine. Eight hundred elderberry flowers were harvested from the vineyard, making the perfect summer quencher. It is a blend of 40% elderflower and 60% Vidal Blanc.

Round Peak produces Vidal Blanc in three styles: dry, sweet, and sparkling. La Petite Vendange (little harvest) is the dry version and is crisp and fruity with luscious pear notes.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a challenge for any North Carolina winery, so Round Peak focuses elsewhere. Ken is known for his Nebbiolo, an Italian grape that is grown by only one other winery in the state. The 2013 vintage is a tasteful experience, with leather, tar, sour cherry, and licorice notes. It is his signature wine.

Round Peak does small lots of wine, often in the 28 to 75-case range. Changes are afoot in the vineyard. Coming soon will be the first harvest of Petit Manseng and Chardonel, a hybrid with Chardonnay attributes, will be planted this year.

After tasting the Petit Verdot and a robust Merlot, we closed with the 2019 Tannat. Tannat is the national grape of Uruguay but has soared in popularity in the Tar Heel State. The Round Peak Tannat is intense, with dark fruit flavors, pepper, and plentiful tannins.

Round Peak has something for everyone. In addition to the wide range of wines, it is also home to Skull Camp Brewery (with a tasting room in Elkin too). There are two cabins overlooking the vines, plus a one-of-a-kind disc golf course going through the vineyard featuring baskets constructed from retired barrels and recycled bicycle wheels.

PXL_20230518_182341605Wally’s Service Station and Mayberry Squad Car Tour, Mt. Airy

Fans of the Andy Griffith Show may know Mt. Airy, Griffith’s childhood home, as the inspiration for TV’s town of Mayberry. Mt. Airy fully embraced it with the Andy Griffith Museum, Floyd’s Barbershop, Aunt Bea’s restaurant, and Snappy Lunch. Griffith’s grade school is now the Andy Griffith Playhouse. His childhood home is an attraction that’s available for nightly rentals.

Follow us on Twitter – err, X

Wally’s Service Station is a popular attraction, an original service station built in 1937 and operated as a Gulf Station and then later as a Standard Oil Station or Esso. It has old-fashioned candy, bottled drinks, and a wonderful variety of unique gifts and souvenirs.

Nearby are the Mayberry Courthouse and Otis' Jail Cell and other replicas of the set of the show. The big attraction is the Squad Car Tour. The cost is $50 per car-load (we had three) and the tour with our knowledgeable guide was fun and memorable. He covered highlights of Mt. Airy (incorporated in 1885) and Andy Griffith as we tooled around in a vintage 1965 Ford Galaxie.

A surprise highlight was a mammoth granite quarry located east of town. It is the world’s largest open-faced granite quarry and produces what many consider the purest, densest, and most white granite available. The site covers 60 acres and has enough granite for at least another 500 years.

Stony Knoll Vineyards, Dobson

Stony Knoll Vineyards has a family history that is six generations long. It didn’t begin with the fine wine and grapes produced today, but rather in 1896 when Joseph Coe purchased a tract of land in Surry County. In the 1940s the land was cleared with hand tools and cultivation began. The cash crop then was tobacco and remained so until the late 1980s when a switch was made to hay and cattle.

Stony Knoll Vineyard - 1

In the late 1990s, Van Coe had a vision of changing to a new crop to preserve the family farm and way of life. Grapes were planted in 2001 and the tasting room opened in 2004. Today Stony Knoll grows nine grape varieties on 10 acres.

When Van decided to step back from running the day-to-day operation, son-in-law Jonah Hoosier stepped in to keep the family-led operation rolling. He certainly has the touch. The 2022 Viognier grabbed the 2023 NC Fine Wines Best in Show and Double Gold.

“Viognier is a finicky grape,” said Hoosier. “There was a lot of uncertainty about the vintage. In the 2021 season, there was frost damage causing some vines to be replaced. In 2022 there were heavy rains in July and August, threatening to disrupt the timing of harvest. The results were unexpectedly good. The wine has a soft aroma of floral notes. On the palate, it has delicious light pear, grapefruit, and honeysuckle – an all-around winner!

The portfolio of reds includes some tasty selections. The 2018 Cabernet Franc flows with black cherry and chocolate flavors. This medium-bodied wine finishes with velvety tannins.

A special treat for red wine lovers is the Master Exquisite Black Oak Stick reserve line which includes Chambourcin, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Bordeaux-style blend. The Black Oak moniker came about when an oak stave was found floating in the wine barrel. The flavor was distinctive so the practice has continued.

The 2014 MEBOS Cabernet BVC Parts is an equal blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. This notable wine has a silky mouthfeel and integrated tannins. There are rich fruit flavors of blackberry, black cherry, and vanilla.

Stony Knoll has Old World winemaking and hospitality. Soon you can expect to see wines from Corot Noir and Arandelle vines planted in 2020.

JOLO Winery and Vineyards, Pilot Mountain

Nestled in the shadows of North Carolina’s iconic Pilot Mountain stands another landmark. JOLO Winery has established itself as one of North Carolina’s premier wineries – and one that is garnering national acclaim.

JOLO Winery - 1

At this year’s Rosé Competition, judges selected 2022 JOLO Pink as the best of show, outshining more than 150 other wines. Judge Sunny Fraser remarked, “When a wine from North Carolina is the Best in Show, it is reminiscent of a Judgment of Paris moment.  There are no preconceived ideas in a blind tasting; you’re just judging what’s in the glass.”

JOLO Pink is primarily Chambourcin, with smaller amounts of Vidal Blanc, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, and Traminette.  It has lip-smacking flavors of strawberry candy and watermelon. This is a perfect match for goat cheese.

The allure of JOLO is readily apparent. The estate showcases the natural beauty of the foothills with stunning views of Pilot Mountain. JOLO has wonderful grounds and a tasting lodge to tickle the fancy of any wine lover. The estate is a wine and food experience, with on-site restaurant End Posts being one of Winston-Salem’s top-rated Open Table dining establishments.

The wines range from refreshing, fruit-forward whites to powerful, award-winning reds. JOLO also stands out from many wineries for its use of French hybrids and lesser-known grapes. Chambourcin, Vidal Blanc, and Traminette are featured alongside better-known Bordeaux varieties. JOLO also features Cynthiana (also known as Norton) prominently. It is used in one of my favorite wines, Pilot Fog.

JOLOTAGE is the winery’s most famed wine. The 2022 vintage blends 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17.5% Chambourcin, 15% Cabernet Franc, 10.5% Merlot, and 2% Petit Verdot. Aged in French and American oak, it has a smooth and mellow body with fine tannins and blueberry and vanilla notes. It’s a bargain at $42.

JOLOTAGE Reserve is a blend of the 2020 and 2021 vintages, which receive extended aging. There are more extracted flavors with dark fruit flavors of blackberry and pie crust.

There are plenty of high-end bottles to explore with Pilot Shadow, Cuvee Selection, Carolus XII, and Devil’s Hill.

A wonderland for wine lovers, JOLO should be in your plans for your next trip. Its wines are also available online in 38 states.

Yadkin Valley and the Surry County Wine Trail offer friendly people, picturesque scenery, and wine that is elevating North Carolina’s reputation nationwide. To read the first part of this article, click here.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Two French Rosé Wines Perfect For A Sultry Summer

Hampton Water and Campuget Rosé - 1

When the heat is so intense that the pavement melts and people who fall on the sidewalk are burned, you know it’s next level hot. Don’t even get me started on Phoenix! Our number one survival tip is to sip a nicely chilled bottle of French rosé. We present to you two excellent choices, widely available and at cool prices.

Hampton Water 2022 Rosé, Languedoc

Hampton Water 2022 is the fifth vintage for this wine with a rock star pedigree. Jesse Bongiovi, son of legendary rocker Jon Bon Jovi is the man who along with his partner Ali Thomas created Hampton Water, a brand that has garnered considerable buzz. Being rock ‘n roll royalty doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a master winemaker.

Follow us on Twitter – err, X

Fear not. Hampton Water is produced by Gerard Bertrand, a wine maestro with several vineyards in the South of France and an acclaimed winemaker.

Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, and a touch of Syrah  blend delightfully in this wine from Languedoc. Languedoc is one of my favorite regions for reasonably-priced quality French wines. The wine is fresh with a good balance between fruit and acid. It gets a short spell in new French oak, which adds a unique texture to the wine. Melon, strawberries, and a nice dollop of minerality.

The average price of Hampton Water is $19, making it very easy for you to dive in!


Campuget 2022 Tradition Rosé, IGP Gard

I was in quite a dilemma. My wife was hosting a girls-only mimosa brunch and I was cruelly cast out into the blazing heat. I wandered aimlessly (although in my nicely air conditioned car) for a while. Then I texted my wine amigo Arthur. I was checking in on a potential date for our next wine tasting.

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

Arthur usually is visiting North Carolina wineries during the weekends, but as luck would have it, he was home and invited me over for a glass of wine. Salvation was at hand.

We often enjoy wine on the deck when Arthur hosts the winetasting. Not today. The sun’s rays were like laser beams roasting anything daring to venture outside. Arthur poured a glass of Campuget Tradition rosé as his wife Mary joined us in the living room.

This wine comes from the Mediterranean coast of France. The Gard IGP covers well-known rosé-producing regions Costières de Nîmes, Tavel and Lirac.

Syrah (70%) and Grenache (30%) make up the blend, which is light and fresh pink in the glass. It is highly aromatic with notes of peach leading into flavors of raspberry and strawberry. This refreshing wine is completely vegan – using no animal products and fining is done with vegetable proteins and mineral products.

The average price of Campuget Tradition Rosé is about $13, a smashing value for this great wine.

Full disclosure: One of these wines was received as a marketing sample.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

The Best Wine Is Wine Shared With Friends

Wine tasting starts with sparkling wine

Tasting Features Sparkling Wine and California Reds

A Grand Tasting With Wines From France, California, and Italy

When friends gather, it’s time to break out the good stuff. Over the recent years, as we’ve encountered a few bumps on life’s highway, I’ve come to appreciate even more the pleasures of good wine shared in the company of first-class friends.

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

And so when we traveled to Ohio for a family visit, it was time to connect with good friends Steve, Tracey, and Maria. Steve and Tracey (Cabernetor and Glorious T!) hosted a wine dinner that was perfect in all regards.

Our evening started as every evening should – with sparkling wine. The bottle of choice was the Gilles & Romain’s Collet Crémant from Burgundy. This is a brut sparkling wine made from 100% Chardonnay. Elegant, with an aroma of citrus and pepper, it was full of creaminess – a perfect fizz to start the evening.

French Crémant Gets The Crowd Bubbling

After a bit of hobnobbing, we were ready for dinner. The crowd enjoyed the bubbly so much that Green Dragon (my wife) demanded more. Steve’s cellar has depth, and he soon emerged with another Crémant, Faire La Fête. The wine is from Limoux, the birthplace of French sparkling wine. Faire La Fête means “to party” or live it up. Good selection! Faire La Fête is a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Noir. It’s a beauty with pear and white blossom notes with the requisite creamy bubbles. This is one of the best sparkling wine values out there with a price of about $21.

French Crémant made the traditional way - 1

Masterful Wines From Beringer Vineyards Plus Brunello

When the entrée arrived the reds rolled out. I had brought a 2014 Beringer Quantum, a rich dark Cabernet blend. The four of us (alas Maria wasn't along) had visited Beringer Vineyards years ago on a dark and stormy night during a trip to Napa and Sonoma. We enjoyed our meal and conversation while sipping the Quantum (dark fruit, plum, earthiness, and oak). I hoped the bottle would stir memories of that wine adventure.

Follow us on Twitter – err, X

Steve pulled a surprise out of his hat, as he quickly grabbed a bottle of beautifully aged 2012 Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Both reds were aerated via the Wine Breather, which always provides a pleasing show.

Beringer wines and a Brunello di Montalcino - 1

I was frankly surprised by how well the 2012 Beringer was drinking more than 10 years on. It was soft and silky with raspberry, spice, and black cherry rocking the flavor. Founded in 1876, Beringer Vineyards is the oldest continuously operating winery in the Napa Valley. They also offer wines in a variety of quality levels with prices from $20 to $400.

Fortified by numerous glasses of wine, I decided it was time to unleash a furious ping-pong attack on Steve. This can only be done after he has several glasses of red wine. Since I had also consumed a number of glasses, I lost my advantage. It was good table tennis with no declared winner. We headed upstairs.

It was time to enjoy the starry Ohio night on the patio. The 2012 Rodolfo Cosimi “Terra Rossa” Brunello di Montalcino. In the late 1800s, it was determined that Brunello and Sangiovese were the same grape. Today it is one of Italy’s best-known and most expensive wines.

Sour cherry, baking spice, and blackberry jam highlighted this 100% Sangiovese beauty. We sipped away and slipped away into old memories and new tales as the night wound down.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Adelaida Wines Trumpet Paso Robles Excellence

Adelaida Vineyard Wines from Paso RoblesThe Paso Robles AVA is among California’s largest. It is also the fastest growing. Here are three recommended Paso bottles.

Adelaida Vineyards & Winery is located in the mountainous terrain of the Paso Robles AVA in California. Its vineyards span distinct areas of mountainous terrain characterized by chalk-rock limestone soils, afternoon blasts of cool coastal air, and a daily 40 to 50-degree temperature swing.

Only about 10% of Adelaida’s 1,900 acres are planted with vines, and more than 1000 acres of land remain undeveloped and unfenced, for ecological and wild animal habitat. The winery farms organically and is a leader in the ecology movement. All of the estate’s energy needs come from its own solar farm.

The microclimates, elevation, and unique soil result in superb wines, as we discovered as we recently tasted a trio of new Adelaida releases.

Delicious rosé from Adelaida in Paso Robles

2022 Rosé, Anna’s Estate Vineyard

In the glass, this single-vineyard rosé is a brilliant salmon color with the aromas of fresh strawberries and melon. There is a pleasing minerality that mingles with strawberry rhubarb and citrus zest. It is crisp and decidedly easy to drink.

The blend is  34% Mourvèdre, 33% Grenache, 17% Counoise, and 16% Cinsaut. The wine was aged in equal amounts of neutral oak barrels and concrete eggs for four months. SRP is $35.

2020 Anna’s Red, Anna’s Estate Vineyard

One sip of Anna’s Red, and my reaction was, “Wow!” This is everything we look for in a red blend: deep rich flavors, supple mouthfeel, and an enduring finish. This is a blend of 32% Grenache, 24% Syrah, 17% Counoise, 14% Mourvèdre, 7% Cinsaut, 3% Petite Sirah, 3% Touriga Nacional. Grenache plays the leading role and contributes soft raspberry flavors, Syrah and Mourvèdre add weight and texture while Counoise and Cinsault lend a spicy character.

Anna's Red is a beautiful Paso Robles blend

It has a soft mouthfeel but is full-bodied. This is a blend that changes composition from year to year. Anna’s Red gets 20 months of aging in French oak (18% new). Priced at $50, we highly recommend it.

2020 Syrah, Anna’s Estate Vineyard

Paso Robles excels at Rhone varieties and this Syrah is a shining example. Almost black in the glass, it is rich with rounded blackberry, cocoa, and dark cherry notes. Baking spice and tobacco add to the long, layered finish.

This is a full-bodied wine to be enjoyed anytime. Beef and lamb entrees will pair perfectly. SRP is $50.

Adelaida produces bold and beautiful wines. Their full selection is available online including some sourced from the historic HMR vineyard.

Full disclosure: These wines were received as marketing samples.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Surry County Wine Trail Highlights North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley Wine

Round Peak ChardonnayBy Dave Nershi, CSW

Part one of our journey in the heart of North Carolina’s wine country.

It’s a state of majestic mountains, scenic seashores, and lush pine forests. It’s also one of the top wine-producing states. No, we’re not talking about California, but rather North Carolina. North Carolina has approximately 200 wineries and 400 vineyards, ranking number 11 in state production of wine.

Not long after English settlers landed at Roanoke Island in present day North Carolina, the grapevine was first cultivated in the New World. Wine growers in North Carolina cultivated a native grape variety, Scuppernong, which produces a sweet wine. Winemaking flourished. In fact, by the dawn of the 20th century, North Carolina was the leading wine-producing region in the nation.

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

Prohibition changed all that, with the state becoming better known for moonshine and those moonshine runners helped to start the NASCAR sport. Now North Carolina wine is back in a big way. The heart of North Carolina Wine Country is Yadkin Valley. It recently experienced what some have called a “Judgement of Paris” moment for the Yadkin Valley when JOLO winery recently won “Best Rosé on the Planet” at The 10th Annual Rosé Competition.

JOLO is part of the Surry County Wine Trail in Yadkin Valley which includes 18 wineries in and around Surry County. The trail flows through the towns of Dobson, Elkin, Mount Airy, and Pilot Mountain. Surry County could be considered the birthplace of North Carolina wine. Charlie and Ed Shelton of Shelton Vineyards in Dobson oversaw the effort to get the Yadkin Valley its official status as a federally recognized American Viticultural Area in 2003. It was North Carolina's first AVA. An area formerly known for tobacco farming; Yadkin Valley is now celebrated as a premier wine-producing area with over 40 wineries.

During a recent visit, we toured seven wineries that are part of the Surry County Wine Trail. We came away impressed with the quality and variety of the wine. Here’s the first half of our report.

NC Center for Viticulture & Enology - 1

NC Center for Viticulture and Enology at Surry Community College

Nothing demonstrates North Carolina’s commitment to producing premium wine more than the Shelton-Badgett NC Center for Viticulture and Enology. The center, located at Surry Community College in Dobson, was completed in 2009 and features a state-of-the-art commercial winery. Courses offered are targeted to those interested in becoming winery managers, tasting room managers, vineyard managers, winemakers, and wine marketers.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

Program Assistant Matthew Wilson provided a tour of Surry Cellars and its vineyard. Since the center receives many donations, they are blessed with an array of winemaking equipment that would be the envy of many in-state wineries. Surry Cellars produces a sought-after traditional method sparkling wine, Lot 154, made with 70% Petit Manseng, 20% Chardonnay, and 10% Traminette.

The program provides authentic hands-on experience including planting and tending the vineyard, making and bottling the wine, and marketing the final product. Even the eye-catching Surry Cellars label was designed by a student.

I’m a fan of Surry Cellar’s Barrel Fermented Chardonnay and their Chambourcin. Their Chambo is a Chambourcin that is made in a natural wine style. Kudzu flowers are used to isolate yeast used in its natural fermentation. Hard to believe that pesky kudzu can be used to produce such a beautiful wine, rich with raspberry and plum flavors and a touch of spice.

Chambo is part of the Surry Labs label produced by Surry Cellars. Surry Labs allows students to test ideas and winemaking methods in low-production runs. The Chambo is made with malolactic fermentation and micro oxygenation was used with French oak chips. This process gives the wine the character of more than a year of barrel aging in only two months.

There are eleven grape varieties in the vineyard including Petit Verdot, Tannat, Albariño, Traminette, Chardonnay, and Chardonel. Muscadine grapes will be added as part of a vineyard redevelopment project over the next two years.

Favorite Wine: 2022 “Chambo” Chambourcin

Ground Steak SandwichSurry’s Famous Ground Steak Sandwich

Before our next winery visit, we stopped for lunch at the Central Café in Dobson. The café is just the sort of place to enjoy a great homestyle meal. We got that plus a nice surprise. Dobson tourism coordinator Travis Frye introduced us to a historic treat: the ground steak sandwich.

Ground steak is a tasty variation of the hamburger with its origin in the Great Depression when local cooks devised a way to stretch the amount of food that could be made from a pound of ground beef or ground chuck.

Don’t confuse this with a sloppy joe, which is spicier and typically has ketchup or Worcestershire sauce. Ground steak can also be served on thick bread or entrée-style on a plate without the bun. Some restaurants in the area have been serving this favorite for more than 50 years. Each has its special recipe. The beef can be browned or boiled, spices include salt and pepper and in some cases hot sauce, was or milk is used to get the perfect consistency.

My sandwich was melt-in-your-mouth good. Explore this heritage food on the Surry Ground Steak Trail which includes 11 restaurants in Mt. Airy, Pilot Mountain, Dobson, and Elkin that serve this treat on their everyday menu.

Jones von Drehle - 1


Jones von Drehle

Jones von Drehle is a 130-acre estate winery and, according to co-founder Chuck Jones, everything about it is a fluke. In 2007 while driving through Yadkin Valley after his daughter’s soccer game, they passed a beautiful pasture and he exclaimed to his wife (and co-founder) Diana that this hillside would be perfect for a vineyard. Continuing to drive slowly past the property they spotted a ‘for sale” sign. Two weeks later they bought the land.

Another case of serendipity is the lovely Jones von Drehle 2022 Estate Viognier. When Chuck was looking to plant the vineyard, he wanted to plant Albariño but the nursery didn’t have any vines. Instead, he planted Viognier. It would be hard for Albariño to surpass the wonderful Viognier.  The 2022 vintage has a floral aroma leading to lush peach flavors and a soft finish.

Chuck describes growing grapes and making wine as a “slow-motion game.” Indeed, the winery is known for its long aging of wine. On the tasting menu are a 2017 Cabernet Franc and a reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from 2015.

The wines are fruit focused, from the rich cherry and plum notes of the 2015 Merlot to the 2020 Petit Manseng, a white with bold flavors of stone fruit and balanced crispness. Also crisp and delightful is the 2021 Blanc de Blanc, a gorgeous sparkling wine from Chardonnay made in the time-consuming traditional method.

Jones von Drehle offers a summer concert series in their scenic amphitheater and music follows you throughout your visit to the winery. In the tasting room and on the grounds music is featured from groups that have performed at the winery.

Favorite wine: 2018 Steel & Stone, a blend of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon

Serre Vineyards - 1

Serre Vineyards

At the end of Beast Trail in Mt. Airy lies not a haunted house, but a winery boasting scenic views and flavorful wines. Serre Vineyards is the passion project of Christian Krobisch and Melissa Hayes. The husband and wife team chose the name “Serre” which is pronounced like “share” and means greenhouse in French.

Serre opened in September 2020 and so at this point, the grapes and winemaking come from outside sources, specifically Round Peak and Childress wineries. The vines are now in the ground for the estate vineyard and as they bear fruit, the winery will transition to its own grapes.

The property is 70 acres of farmland at more than 1,300 feet in elevation with a stellar view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The 3,000-square-foot tasting room is open and airy. It’s built in the modern farmhouse style with European accents.

The best spot to enjoy Serre is outside from the comfort of an Adirondack chair taking in the view of the mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Cumberland Knob. With a glass of wine in your hand, of course.

“Flavor is why we’re in the business,” said Melissa. The wines we sampled certainly lived up to that billing. The 2022 Rêvasser, a carbonated Vidal Blanc, is the quintessential pick for a sultry summer day. The name is French for daydream, it’s crisp, bubbly, and bright.

New since our last visit is the 2019 Port Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is aged for 17 months in Port barrels, which conveys depth and a delectable sweetness not normally found in a North Carolina Cabernet. The 2019 “The Blend” is a Super Tuscan-style bottle that charmingly blends Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Montepulciano.

Favorite wine: 2019 The Blend, a Super Tuscan blend

Harvest Grill at Shelton Vineyards  - 1

Shelton Vineyards

Our first full day in Yadkin Valley was capped with a visit to Shelton Vineyards and their celebrated restaurant Harvest Grill. Shelton, with a 400-acre estate and one of the largest vineyards on the East Coast, is a leader in North Carolina wine.

We’ve been to Shelton on several occasions but this was a remarkable evening. Executive Chef Mark Thrower prepared an assortment of mouth-watering small plates based on the restaurant menu to accompany our wine selections. We savored the dishes in a prime location in the restaurant as we watched dusk fall on the vineyard and grounds.

In a creative twist on shrimp and grits, our first course was Shrimp & Middlins. Middlins are the broken and smaller pieces of rice from the hulling process. The dish was jumbo shrimp, wild boar sausage, blistered grape tomatoes, butter and spring onions on creamy Carolina Gold Rice “grits.” This was paired with the 2021 Sauvignon Blanc. The wine’s tropical fruit notes and light acidity were a pleasing pairing.

The strawberry bibb salad featured goat cheese from a local farm and aeroponically-grown lettuce. Aeroponics is the technique of growing plants without soil, quite a trick. This summery dish was matched with the 2021 Two-Five-Nine Dry Rosé, which has flowing strawberry and citrus flavors.

The Two Five Nine Tannat was paired with seared duck breast and blackberry-Malbec reduction. This Tannat recently received top honors in a tasting of Tannat from around the world conducted by sommelier and friend merlot2muscadine.

Big entrées call for big wines and so 2017 Two Five Nine Franklin was paired with the center-cut filet mignon. This was served with duck fat cipollini onion and cremini mushroom confit, scratch bordelaise, parsley truffle butter, and roasted fingerlings. Wow!

This limited reserve wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Tannat. The Tannat provides the heft for this wine which features dark fruit, chocolate, and leather. This is a substantial and beautiful wine.

Shelton is a shining example of North Carolina wine, fine food, and hospitality.

Favorite wine: 2017 Two Five Nine Franklin

Monday, June 5, 2023

Dry Creek Vineyard 2021 DCV Block 10 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley


You may not be familiar with Dry Creek Vineyard Chardonnay. If that’s the case, here’s what you’re missing.

Dry Creek Vineyard championed Loire Valley style wines in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley. Their excellence, however, extends to Chardonnay. A prime example is the latest release of the DCV Block 10 Chardonnay.

All 185 acres of estate vineyards are certified sustainable. DCV Block 10 in Russian River Valley has an ideal microclimate for growing Chardonnay. The moderate temperature and fog from the Pacific Ocean keeps the grapes protected from the harsh sun and allows the grapes to ripen evenly and slowly. The DCV Block 10 Chardonnay is crafted from just 30 rows in the northeast corner of the vineyard.

One thing  I have always appreciated about Dry Creek Vineyard is their judicious use of oak aging. They don’t cover up the flavors of the wine with excess oak. That is the case here.

The wine is 88% barrel fermented with the remainder fermenting in stainless steel. The wine undergoes malolactic fermentation for the most part (88%). Barrel aging is in French oak, 26% new.

On the nose there is an immediate rush of tropical notes, including pineapple and some peach. On the palate there is pear and mango mixed with some light oak. The oak contributes spicy notes without overwhelming the bright and harmonious flavors. This is a perfect Chardonnay for me, light enough to enjoy on its own or pair with a meal without bogging down with oaky, buttery notes.

This is drinking well now and can age for up to three years. This is a beautiful dinner companion or a wine for weekend entertaining. SRP is $45.

Full disclosure: This wine was received as a marketing sample.