Saturday, May 21, 2022

Dynamis Prepares To Open Doors To North Carolina’s Premier Luxury Winery

Dynamis Vines

North Carolina wine lovers, get ready to take things up a notch! June 1 Dynamis Estate Wines will open their tasting room. 

Dynamis Wine Estate


By Dave Nershi, CSW

Driving up the curving roads to Dynamis Estate, the latest addition the North Carolina wine scene, the sense of anticipation grows. We are in the Swan Creek AVA, which also includes such standouts wineries as Shadow Spring, Raffaldini, and Piccione. The road to the top passes through fruit trees and immaculately groomed grapevines. Dynamis Estate Wines is located at the pinnacle, and that is the lofty place they hope to maintain both literally and figuratively.

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We were treated to a preview tasting at the Dynamis tasting lodge. The lodge is a historic building with beautiful views of the vineyard, and it will eventually be replaced by a new tasting room.

The estate is in the highest spot in Yadkin Valley, on the easternmost outcropping of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The tasting room itself sits at 1,650 feet. “To have a premium wine brand, you need to have a premium site,” said winemaker Mat Worrell. He handles winemaking duties along with Katy Kidd. Their task is an arduous one, to craft wines that are measured not against those in North Carolina, but the best in the nation.

Dynamis EmblemElevated Wine Experience

One of the reasons that the high elevation is so important, is that it allows longer hang time for the red grapes. One of the failings of some North Carolina reds is that they are unable to stay on the vine long enough to develop rich flavors. The slope provides excellent drainage, and the mountain top breeze chases the humidity which might cause early ripening or disease.

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Dynamis offers a compelling white wine, a 2020 Sauvignon Blanc that is fermented in a concrete egg. It has tastes of apricot and peach with a creamy texture. The body is somewhere between the crispness of stainless steel and the warmer tones of oak aging. In my mind, it’s a great place to be. SRP $35

There will always be at least one white on the tasting menu, but the focus is on complex red wines. The 2019 Merlot opens with a delicious flavor of jam accented with herbal notes. This is no weak-kneed Merlot, but a full-bodied wine. SRP $50

PXL_20220515_171910213Complex Red Wines

The 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon is a bold wine, made using free run juice. This is considered the very best juice that comes out of the grape press. Since no pressure is applied, you get the best expression of the wine and no harsh flavors that you get when the press presses harder and harder.

It ages is for 22 months in new medium-char French oak barrels. The first impression is, “Wow.” The tannins are really beautiful and unexpected in a North Carolina Cabernet, which is one of the most difficult grapes to grow in the state. It has a touch of Petite Verdot (4%). It's elegant and powerful with vanilla and dark fruit. SRP $100

Winemakers Mat Worrell and Katy Kidd


Dynamis will always have two reds blends each year. The 2019 Alpha is a blend of Petite Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet. This wine leads with red fruit. It’s a panorama of Dynamis vineyard blocks and winemaking techniques. A silky mouthfeel rolls into wild cherry, red currant, and vanilla. SRP $95

The pinnacle of Dynamis Estate Wines is the 2019 Mountain. It is the very best of the vintage with specially selected blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot grapes. It’s fermented in a combination of stainless steel and oak. Aging is done in oak barrels of various sizes and toast levels. It’s powerful and focused on black fruit with blackberries and toffee flavors. Dynamis is defined as limitless power and the might of the mountain is certainly harnessed in this bottle. The commitment to excellence in every step has resulted in a complex bottle seldom seen in North Carolina. It has a rich, savory finish. SRP $125 ($150 for the gold label first edition).

Like the wines, the premise of Dynamis is audacious. It seeks to offer only the best of the best for wine aficionados in North Carolina and beyond.

The Tasting Lodge is open 11 to 5 Wednesday through Sunday. Tastings are by appointment only. A 60-minute tasting of current releases is $45 per person. A guided 90-minutes tasting with a wine ambassador is $55.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Dry Creek Vineyard Celebrates 50 Years Of Innovation And Excellence

DCV Chenin Blanc and Fume Blanc

Dry Creek celebrates with a special anniversary edition of its signature Fumé Blanc.

Setting Sail With Fumé Blanc

Years ago, before I had any notion of becoming a wine writer, I was perusing a shelf at a wine shop hoping to find something interesting for dinner. At that time, my definition of “interesting” included being reasonably priced.

I was attracted to a bottle with a boat with a billowing sail. It was Dry Creek Vineyard’s Fumé Blanc. My wine knowledge then was pretty limited and I didn’t event know what grapes were in it. Well, we loved it and this version of Sauvignon Blanc has been a staple for us ever since.

We aren’t alone in our love of Fumé Blanc and this year there is special cause for celebration. It’s the 50th anniversary of Dry Creek Vineyard.

Dry Creek Vineyard is one of the last, truly-private family wineries in Sonoma County. They consistently produce 90-plus rated wines.

The Roots Of Dry Creek Vineyard

It all began 50 years ago with David Stare and a dream. Stare traveled to Germany after completing his engineering studies. It was there he developed his interest in wine. Soon after his family spent two weeks in France, where he developed a love of Loire Valley and Bordeaux wines.

His path then led west to California where he discovered a rundown 55-acre prune farm in the Dry Creek Valley region of Sonoma County that was to become his dream location. He purchased the orchard and began planting the region’s first vines since Prohibition. Stare was determined to plant Sauvignon Blanc, despite the advice of several famed vineyard experts who warned that the variety was “inappropriate” for the region. He ignored the warning and plowed ahead and established an iconic and innovative Dry Creek winery. Today Sauvignon Blanc is the most widely planted grape in Dry Creek Valley.

Dry Creek Vineyard Anniversary Bottle

Here’s a look at two 50th anniversary Dry Creek Vineyard releases:

2021 Fumé Blanc, Sonoma County

Before even tasting a drop, you can tell that this is a special wine. On the reverse side of the front label is a drawing of the 1972 Fumé Blanc label. The front of the label has a nice embossed 50th anniversary seal. The reverse of the back label has three historical photos.

While there are aromas of cut grass and grapefruit, don’t expect a New Zealand style Sauvignon Blanc. Upon sipping, a lovely balance of acidity and tropical fruit is evident. Bright notes of tangerine and a cooling minerality keep you reaching for one more glass. This wine is our favorite California Sauvignon Blanc and at $16 it is an amazing value. I also place this in the “people pleaser” category: no matter your guests’ wine knowledge or palate, they are sure to love it.

2021 Dry Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg

There just isn’t enough good quality Chenin Blanc, like this bottle, to go around. If you only know Chenin from inexpensive bottles from South Africa, or perhaps overly sweet Vouvray, you’re in for a treat. This wine reflects the Loire Valley inspired roots and has been produced every year since the winery was founded. The grapes come from the Wilson Ranch in Clarksburg.

On the nose there is melon and white blossoms. Finished in stainless steel, it is a refreshing wine, with flavors of peach and lemon . It has a soft texture and a lower ABV of 12%. Wonderful with seafood or as an aperitif, the SRP is $16.

Full disclosure: These wines were received as marketing samples.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Overmountain Vineyard: North Carolina Winery Visit


This family winery proves to be a perfect oasis during our road trip through the mountains.

Wine Oasis At Overmountain

Tryon, North Carolina, is called the “friendliest town in the South.” We didn’t visit the town of Tryon proper, but our latest winery stop had a Tryon address – and we came away impressed.

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We were on the road to Asheville for a concert and a stay in a cabin. Wineries weren’t on the agenda, but after about three hours on the road, I became parched. I became especially thirsty when I saw the sign for Overmountain Vineyard.

Overmountain Vineyard


Overmountain Vineyard is located on a 70-acre farm in the Tyron Foothills of Polk County. The focus is on handcrafted French-style wines made from their 18-acres of vines. The tasting room opened in 2010.

It was a radiant day with blue skies the shade of which you can only find in North Carolina. We rumbled up the driveway past impressive landscaping and rows of vines. A bit of apprehension hit when I saw “by reservation only.” Yikes! We had no way of knowing that just from the highway sign. I knew from its reputation that we certainly wanted to visit Overmountain and we were graciously shown a table on their covered patio.


Wildfire Alert!

I decided on a tasting while the Green Dragon opted for a glass of chilled rosé. My first wine was the 2020 Chardonnay. This is a crisp, unoaked (our preference) wine. Floral notes paired nicely with citrus and apple.

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The 2020 Wildfire Rosé was next. Although billed as a Provence-style rosé, this is made with Cabernet Sauvignon and so is a bit heartier than the French wine. Fleshy flavors of strawberry and kiwi combine in total refreshment. The wine on the inside is matched with a very cool label of a horse (with wildfire in its eyes).

Next in the tasting flight was Sofia, a white Port-style wine. It is named for Sofia Lilly, who along with father Frank, handles the winemaking duties. Just recently I tried my first white Port and wanted to see how this one stacked up. This is fortified estate Petit Manseng. I found the flavors to be delightfully light with the accent on tropical fruit.

The only red I tasted was the Patriot Red and it was my favorite wine. A 50-50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, this dazzled us with succulent fruit and a smooth finish.

I will be chastised for this by my friend Arthur Barham (of Merlot2Muscadine), but I wasn’t looking forward to the last wine – a 2019 Muscadine. Mark, our very helpful tasting room server, quickly assured me that this was a dry Muscadine and made from the Scuppernong variety. Well, he was right. The wine was light, dry, and cooling with a flavor that reminded me the the Labrusca wines made in Ohio and New York from Catawba and Niagara grapes.

May in North Carolina Wine Month, so this is the perfect opportunity to visit Overmountain Vineyard. You’ll be glad you did. PS – don’t forget the reservation!

Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Mentors 2016 Canvas Red Blend, Western Cape

Mentors Canvas

This bottle shows South African winemaking at its best.

During our recent trip to Florida, we stopped over in Savannah on the way back. We stayed at our favorite dog-friendly hotel there, the Kimpton Brice Hotel. Although the hotel has a couple of dog-friendly tables at the restaurant, we opted for the Secret Garden.

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The Secret Garden is an open courtyard where we could enjoy our takeout meal al fresco. Another benefit is that there is no corkage fee and I had conveniently brought The Mentors 2016 Canvas red blend. As our dog Amber settled beneath the table, I uncorked our wine.

This was one of my first purchases from WTSO, the online wine retailer with daily flash sales. When I saw a South African red blend that retails for $39 available for $17, I pushed the button. I’m glad I did.

The Mentors is one of the brands of South African Wine giant KWV (which is short for a nearly unpronounceable Afrikaner name). KWV was founded as a co-op in 1918 by wine growers. It did a lot of admirable things, but KWV also set quotas which resulted in quantity over quality in the country until they were abolished in the 1990s. KWV later helped establish the Wines of Origin program, which helps assure consumers the top quality in South African wines.

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We’re superfans of South African wine since our safari there and romp in the winelands a number of years ago. South African wine, in our minds, combines the New World fruit forward profile with Old World winemaking craftsmanship.

The Mentors range is named in honor of Abraham Perold, who developed Pinotage and is considered the father of modern South African viticulture. Canvas is a red blend of 39% Shiraz, 17% Grenache Noir, 17% Tempranillo, 14% Petite Sirah, 7% Cinsaut, 6% Tannat. That’s a mighty cool blend, with the Tempranillo adding an interesting twist to the mostly Rhone-style wine.

On the palate this rocks with layers of dark cherry, raspberry, and violets. Vanilla highlights a smooth minerally finish. This delivers full-body satisfaction without bombastic tannins. It is great with grilled meat, or even pasta with meat sauce (as I enjoyed in the Secret Garden). The only drawback is that I only purchased only one bottle (which I have since rectified!).

If you haven’t been drinking South African wine, this is a beautiful introduction. It’s still available on the WTSO website. Cheers!

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Friends Spring Fling Wine Dinner Delivers Fun

Cheers to Friends!

COVID kept this group of friends bottled up for far too long. Time to uncork the bottles!

The beginning of spring was ushered in with a private wine dinner at Cellar 55, to salute fun and friendship. The event  featured dishes by Chef Jounte Burwell and wines from Nina Escobar from Cellar Distributing.

Mauzac and Nuts & Berry Salad

Pierre Brut Nature Mauzac and Nuts & Berry Salad

The opening salad dish said “spring” in every possible way. It featured mixed greens, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, feta cheese and toasted almonds. This wine comes from the Limoux region in southern France and is made with Chenin Blanc and Mauzac. Nice bubbles with notes of green apple. A great starter for the evening.

Rosé and Gazpacho

Mary Taylor 2020 Saint Pourcan Rosé and Gazpacho

Gazpacho is another perfect spring dish – a chilled tomato soup. The soup was finished with cucumbers, red onions and cilantro. This is a 100% Gamay rosé that is copper in color and hails from the Loire region. It has a lovely taste of dried cherries and peach.There is a good acidic backbone, which made for a superb pairing.

Voces Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Filet

Voces El Viajero 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Valley and Petit Filet

The wine was crafted by winemaker Fernando Candelario, who was born in Mexico. The wine is plush with juicy blackberry and currants. The finish is smooth and silky. This wine is aged in both American and French oak and the flavors are well integrated. The filet rested on a thin bed of polenta and was finished with a red wine sauce.This was a heavenly combination of vino and cuisine!

Chef Jounte and Tokaji

Arvay 2018 Tokaji Edesem and Chocolate Pot de Crème

The final dessert, a Chocolate Pot de Crème, featured fresh berries, French cream, and mint. Paired with the dish was the Arvay Tokaji, which is a famous dessert wine from Hungary. This wine is usually made with Furmint, but for this one the Muscat grapes are used. The Tokaji gains its special flavor thanks to noble rot – a mold called botrytis that feeds on the water in the grapes and concentrates the grape sugars into honey-like sweetness. The only thing sweeter than this wine was the opportunity to gather with friends free of COVID isolation! Special thanks to Caroline Greer for organizing the dinner.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Jumpstart Your Spring With These Four Wines

Wines for Spring

Whether you are celebrating Easter, or simply transitioning to warmer temperatures and longer days, here are four perfect wines for you to discover.

I just realized that I made it through the entire winter without once using my ice scraper. Saints be praised! It was quite a different story when I lived up north, where the football teams are much better, but the weather is decidedly colder. Spring is nature’s way of saying it’s time to party – and we have some great suggestions for you.

Lievland 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Coastal Region, South Africa

It’s time to get the grill out of hibernation, and this South African Cab is just the wine to go with your crispy creations. We love the South African style, which marries the fruit-forwardness of the New World with the Old World winemaking methods. The Green Dragon (wife) doesn’t always know which wine I’m handing her to sip. After one taste, she proclaimed, “This is really great.” Medium ruby in color, the wine features grapes from the winelands of Stellenbosch and Paarl. It is a blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cinsault, and 6% Cabernet Franc.

The tannins are smooth and give a polished finish to the wine. The wine is aged in oak barrels, but only 5% are new, so there is nothing harsh to interfere with the elegant flavors of vanilla, spice and ripe plums. This is a beauty priced at $18.99.

Maison Les Alexandrins 2019 Crozes-Hermitage Rouge

Syrah is a perfect match for an Easter lamb dinner.This Northern Rhone wine is grown on the granite slopes of Crozes-Hermitage. The 2019 vintage was a rough one, with a June hailstorm wiping out many of the vines in the region. This was followed by record heat that caused some of the berries to burn. The quantities were limited, but the harvest went smoothly.

In the glass, this wine is deep purple. Earthy notes frame the wine, which has flavors of candied fruit and sour cherry. The intense flavors explode on the palate and a subtle smokiness provides additional complexity. Serve at about 60º to 62º F. Perfect with grilled  or spicy food. SRP $32.99.

Miguel Torres 2021 Las Mulas Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, Chile

This 100% Sauvignon Blanc hails from the Central Valley of Chile. The wine is 100% organic and vegan. The name and the label are a homage to Rufina the mule, who can be found in the vineyards. The wine is certainly not stubborn, with rounded flavors of tropical fruit with a hint of citrus.

Although there is a good acid structure, the flavor is rounded and satisfying. This is a perfect bottle to chill and serve with grilled or baked fish. Or, feel free to open and enjoy by itself. SRP $14.99.

J. de Villebois 2020 Sauvignon Blanc, Touraine

Loire Valley has a brilliant range of wines, including those made from Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir. The banks of the Cher River (a tributary of the Loire) have flinty soil, just perfect for Sauvignon Blanc like this one. This cuvée is the flagship of J. de Villebois. Pale yellow in the glass, it has fresh aromas of acacia and ripe fruit.

The flavors are vibrant with lemon drop and apple notes. Spritely minerality binds it all together. Pair this with shellfish or goat cheese. SRP $17.99.

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

Monday, April 4, 2022

Avaline NV White Wine, Spain

Avaline White SM

This checks the boxes for organic and vegan wine – but is it any good?

Clean Wine Comes To Town

I suppose it is what you call a fool’s errand – a task with little hope of a successful outcome. I was zipping around to a couple different grocery stores, hoping to find a bottle of Grüner Veltliner without making a drive to the wine shop. Some friends were coming over for a light dinner and some wine. I thought Grüner would be ideal.

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Well, my plan crumbled when I discovered that there is row upon row of budget-minded wine, but nary a bottle of Grüner. Instead I latched on to a bottle of Avaline. I had no prior knowledge of it, but I liked the way they put their vegan and organic status front and center.

Avaline has quite an interesting back story. It is the product of actress Cameron Diaz and fashion entrepreneur Katherine Power. As they chatted over a glass of wine, they realized that while they knew all the ingredients of the food they put into their bodies, they had no idea what was in the wine they were drinking. In terms of ingredients, only the alcohol level and sulfites are required to be disclosed in US wines.

What’s Not In Your Wine

Avaline has a full line of wines, including Pinot Noir, Syrah, a red blend, rosé (both still and sparkling), Grenache Blanc, a sparkling wine, and the white blend, which we sampled. All are made with organic grapes and are vegan friendly. All of the ingredients are disclosed. Some wine sippers may not realize that animal products (gelatin or egg whites) are occasionally used in the fining process of winemaking. A fining agent is used to remove unwanted particulates from wine. Avaline uses Bentonite clay, a naturally-occurring ultrafine clay. The clay binds to the proteins in the wine and then both are filtered out.

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Sulfites are naturally occurring in wine, but winemakers sometimes add more to help preserve the wine. Wineries can legally have up to 350ppm of sulfites, but Avaline keeps it at less than 100ppm. This is good news for those who are convinced that sulfites give them headaches. There are up to 70 additives that winemakers sometimes use in creating wines, but you won’t find them in Avaline wines.

A New Hollywood Hit?

I felt like I had really scored when I discovered the grapes (which aren’t clearly listed on the bottle): Xarel-lo, Macabeo, and Malvasia. Xarel-lo isn’t the name of Superman’s father, rather it, along with Macabeo, is one of the primary grapes used in Spain’s famed sparkling wine, Cava. There are two Spanish wineries used to help produce the wine. Raventós i Blanc is one of the oldest wineries in the world. It is well known as a Spanish producer of Cava and sparkling wine. Can Ràfols dels Caus is a family-owned winery with Roman origins. Both are certified organic winemakers.

We found the wine to be a delightful drink. When I originally was seeking Grüner Veltliner, I wanted something different than Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. I was pleasantly surprised with how well Avaline filled the bill. It has stone fruit notes with lemon zest and threads of white flowers. Another great feature is that the ABV is only 11.6%, which is much less than most wines and even less than most Riesling. The Pinot Noir and Syrah clock in at 12.5%, which is certainly low for reds. We paired this with appetizers and salad.

At about $20, this is a big thumbs up for us. You have funky Spanish grapes, a low price point, and it’s food friendly. We salute Avaline’s clean wine ethic too. The jury is definitely out on Cameron’s “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,” but she has a smash hit with Avaline white blend.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Entering The World Of Warre’s Port

Quartet of Warre's PortExploring the sweet pleasures of Port wine. 

When I had the opportunity to sample four different styles of Warre’s Port, I leaped at the opportunity – and then contacted my friend Arthur Barham of Merlot2Muscadine. Arthur is notorious for his love of Port and he readily agreed to host a tasting event. Not only that, but he prepared an over-the-top charcuterie board to accompany the Port.

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Warre’s was founded in 1670 and was the first British Port company established in Portugal. Port is a wine from the Douro Valley of Portugal. The name Port Wine is protected. Just like Champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France, Port only comes from Douro Valley in Portugal. Other wineries can make “port-style” wine, just not Port.

England and Portugal have a long history as trading partners. When conflict with France resulted in a ban on French wine in the 17th century, Portugal was there to fill the void. To withstand the long voyage on sailing ships, the wines were fortified with brandy. This not only preserved the wine but stopped the fermentation process, resulting in a higher concentration of sugar along with higher alcohol content.

Charcuterie courtesy of Merlot2MuscadinePort Wine Perfected Through Centuries Of Tradition

Port is made primarily from a half-dozen red grapes, most of which are not very familiar to us. One that we do know well is Tinta Roriz, better known as Tempranillo. Touriga Nacional is also a well-known Portuguese grape. There are different grapes for white Port.

Port Tasting Crew

Traditionally, the grapes were harvested, then crushed by foot in low open stone troughs. This continues today to a certain extent. After a short fermentation, the wine is fortified with a neutral grape alcohol to 19% to 22% ABV.

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The wine is then put in barrels where it stays for the winter. Traditionally, the barrels were then transported downriver in fancy flat-bottomed boats to the city of Oporto. These days the activities have shifted across the river  to Vila Nova de Gaia and transport is mostly by truck. Ports are generally sweet, high in alcohol, and rich in complex flavors and aromas.  

We sampled four wines, paired with especially chosen charcuterie and treats (thanks, Arthur). It was a fortuitous opportunity to taste four different styles of Port. This was also my first experience with Port pipes, small glass drinking vessels with a delicate glass straw. As you sip through the straw the wine is beautifully aerated, accentuating the beautiful richness and savory notes of the Port. It only whets my appetite to try some of the upper-tier vintage Ports. Here are the wines and pairings:

Port pipes and Warre's PortWarre’s Fine White Port, NV

Pairing: Gruyere and Yorkshire Wensleydale cheeses, almonds, lemon Girl Scout cookies, and dried apricots.

White Port is much rarer than red Port and is made in sweet or off-dry styles. The Warre’s white is in a medium-dry style. We served it with a nice chill as a kickoff to the tasting. It is light straw-colored with a crisp aroma – quite a contrast to the savory flavor profile of traditional Port. On the palate, it is nice and smooth with a bit of a kick from the 19% ABV. There is a floral flavor, perhaps lilac, leading to a tangy, tart finish. A great pairing with Gruyere and the lemon cookie.

Warre’s King’s Tawny Port, NV

Pairing: Chocolate hazelnut biscotti, chocolate caramel with sea salt, smoked cheddar and Manchego cheeses.

I moved this wine up in the tasting order after learning that it was a young Tawny and less robust than the ruby Port we would taste. Ruby port is the simplest of Ports and a Tawny Port is one that is aged long enough to oxidize to produce a golden brown color and richer flavors. This is a light, elegant Port that is soft and creamy on the tongue. It has the aroma of youthful fruit and a mellow body achieved through oak aging. Smoked cheddar was a triumphant pairing.

Tasting mat highlights differing shades of PortWarre’s Heritage Ruby Port, NV

Pairing: Smoky blue and blueberry goat cheeses, chocolate chip cookies.

The Heritage Ruby Port was the most robust of the three we had tasted so far. This was a deep red in color with a robust, sweet fruity flavor. The wine is stored for up to three years in oak vats before being blended, filtered and bottled. It has a classic Port flavor that inspired our group to try different food pairings, including putting the smoky blue cheese on top of the chocolate chip cookie. Hey, it worked. This is a rich wine that won over our tasting group.

Warre’s Warrior Finest Reserve Port

Pairing: Chocolate truffles, Fig Newtons, walnuts, blackberries.

Reserve Tawny reflects the true style of Port and this wine was the shining star of the tasting. Warrior is the oldest brand of Port in the world, having been shipped continuously since the 1750s. Warre’s head winemaker, Charles Symington, selects the best lots of wine to be matured for this reserve wine. It has classic taste with full-bodied richness and balance.Reserve Tawny must be aged in oak for at least seven years. The opulent flavor includes layers of ripe plums and cherries with a hint of pepper on the back end. The finish is long and lingering. While the other Ports we tasted were each 19% ABV, this went a step further at 20% ABV.

PXL_20220312_192522986Port-Style Wines From North Carolina

We also sampled the Port Hanover red dessert wine from Hanover Park Vineyard and Wiseman’s View Dessert-Style Noiret from Linville Falls Winery, both from North Carolina. While it was interesting to see what dessert wine is produced in our home state, they are not on the same level as the true Ports we enjoyed.

Warre’s Port wine that we sampled is all reasonably priced, ranging from $16 for the Heritage Ruby and the King’s Tawny to $18 for the Warrior. Warre’s has an extensive line of Port, including vintage Port, some of which is priced at $90.

Special thanks to Arthur for hosting the event (and providing the delicious food pairings) and to Brant, David, and John for joining the tasting adventure and contributing to the fun afternoon.

Full disclosure: The Port was received as a marketing sample

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Tualatin Valley A Captivating Destination In Oregon Wine Country

David Hill Vineyard: Washington County Visitors Association, photo by Paul Loofburrow

Sake, crystals, wine, and amphorae – all in Tualatin Valley…

Tualatin Valley Wineries And More

The world of wine is full of valleys: Napa Valley, Rhone Valley, Barossa Valley. If you love wine, or if you just love to travel to interesting places, add another valley to your list: Oregon’s Tualatin Valley.

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Tualatin Valley is just minutes southwest of Portland. It’s located in the northwest corner of the famed Willamette Valley. Just east of the Northern Oregon Coast Range, the valley is formed by the Tualatin River.

I’ve visited Tualatin Valley twice, although at the time I didn’t know this area had an identity distinct from the larger Willamette Valley.

Tualatin is home to the amazing Alloro Vineyard. Allora is a Tuscan-inspired winery and I tasted their terroir-driven wines that showcase the purity of fruit during my first visit. During my last trip I toured Beckham Estate Vineyard where potter and winemaker Andrew Beckham creates his own handcrafted, terra cotta amphorae wine vessels. Beckham Estate is likely the only winery in the world where the production of the terra cotta vessels for fermenting and aging is on-site, and is integrated with the farming and production of the wines.

All told, Tualatin has a total of 33 estate wineries and nine tasting rooms. If you visit Tualatin Valley, you may be drinking wine in four different AVAs. Willamette Valley is a large AVA with more than 5,300 square acres. A portion of the  Chehalem Mountains AVA is in Tualatin Valley as are two of the newest Oregon AVAs. The Laurelwood District and Tualatin River AVAs were both established in 2020.

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To become an AVA, a region must prove it has unique qualities, like a geographic feature or climate that distinguishes it from surrounding and affects how grapes are grown. The Laurelwood District is located on the northern slopes of Chehalem Mountains and has Laurelwood soils, an iron-rich loess from the Missoula Flood that occurred during the Ice Age. The Tualatin River AVA aligns with the Tualatin River watershed and also features Laurelwood soils, but a much warmer climate than the Laurelwood District.

Proprietor David Nemarnik in the Alloro cellarYou can be forgiven if you think Oregon is all about the Pinot Noir. Sure, there is plenty of premium Pinot Noir in Tualatin Valley, but it also features dozens of unique varieties. On the red side you’ll also find Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Tempranillo  and Sangiovese. Pinot Gris is the biggest white grape in Oregon, but in Tualatin, you’ll also find Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc, Arneis, Gewürztraminer and Grüner Veltliner. Riesling is also popular.  and Apolloni Vineyards even makes Pinot Grigio – the same grape as Pinot Gris, but with a decidedly different style.   

Diversity Beyond The Landscape

The diversity is not confined to the vineyard. Washington County (which encompasses Tualatin Valley) is the most culturally diverse county in the state of Oregon. Japanese influences can be found in abundance at culinary destinations throughout the region. Fun and tasty Japanese creations await at Beaverton’s Oyatsupan Bakers, while the city sees the emergence of chain ramen shops from Japan. Uwajimaya, an Asian grocery, sells foods and other wares from Japan. In the city of Forest Grove, many Japanese traditions of crafting premium sake can be tasted at SakeOne, the first American owned-and-operated sake brewery.

Tasting at SakeOne. Photo by Jim Shea.Lovers of natural and biodynamic wines will also enjoy the Tualatin Valley scene.   
In 1999, Cooper Mountain Vineyards was the first vineyard/winery to be Demeter-certified biodynamic in the Pacific Northwest. Montinore Estate uses the property’s meadow, lake, cover crops and “unusual” farming techniques are a part of its biodynamic farming process. Their interesting L’Orange, is made from white wine grapes that get extended skin contact, and are blended with clay amphora-fermented Gewürztraminer to add complexity.

Of course there is more to Tualatin than beverages. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy the 50-mile paved Tualatin Valley Scenic Bikeway or try ziplining or a birding and wildlife watching walk.

Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals is one of the world’s finest collections of crystals from worldwide localities. In addition you will see spectacular fossils, meteorites, petrified woods, oddities, fluorescents, lapidary arts and the best from the Northwest.

Whether you are thirsting for wine or a scenic outdoor adventure, Tualatin has something for everyone. For more information, check out the Tualatin Valley website.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Serbal Malbec Leads Mardi Gras Parade


King Cake and King Darren

Wine highlights night of New Orleans-style festivities

Serbal Malbec

Mardi Gras Is Back!

No matter where we’ve lived over the years – Oklahoma, Ohio, or North Carolina – we’ve always celebrated Mardi Gras with friends and festivities. COVID quashed that the past couple years. Thankfully we were able to crank up the Zydeco music once more for a celebration this year.

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To accompany our Cajun-Creole styled meal we had a curated selection of wines. The first red we uncorked was the 2020 Serbal Malbec from Bodega Atamisque from Argentina’s Uco Valley.

The vines for Serbal are planted in higher altitude areas and grapes from these elevations tend to be fresher and more floral. That’s the case with this Malbec, as the red fruit notes come shining through with some plum and floral touches.

We also opened a unique white wine, Domaine Estrade 2020 Côtes de Gascogne. A 50-50 blend of Colombard and Sauvignon Blanc, I was delighted by the fresh taste of peach and grapefruit. The flavor is round and gushing. The light alcohol (12.5%) made this a perfect aperitif while we mingled about. At a cost of about $15, this is a white wine ripe for a purchase of multiple bottles. I can see this as a great match with a casual seafood dinner as well as a friendly gathering on the patio. Needless to say, it’s also dynamite at your next Mardi Gras party.

Domaine Estrade and Maxville CabNever Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

We uncapped a Piesporter Michelsberg Riesling as well. The slight pop of sweetness was a nice match for our spicy Cajun dishes. For the big red fans, we cracked open the Maxville 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a heavenly bottle of goodness.

The Maxville Lake Winery is located in Chiles Valley, a small AVA nested within Napa Valley. Elevations in the AVA range up to 1,200 feet, providing a cool climate that allows the grapes  to fully develop their flavors without sacrificing the acidity. The acidity results in a balanced wine.

It is a rich wine, with rounded flavors of currant and cranberry. There are some nice oak moments as you savor the long lingering finish.