Chianti in the Carolinas? Yadkin Valley’s Raffaldini Vineyards aims to inspire with Italian excellence.
Wine Tasting in Carolina Wine Country
We are big believers in drinking local – patronizing local wineries who are crafting vino in our own backyards. Just like the farm to table food movement, there’s a lot to be said about the “locopour” movement. Regional wineries are members of the community, caring for the land and often producing great wine. Frequently they fly under the radar, without the benefit of the huge marketing budgets of national brands.
With a break in the winter weather, Green Dragon and I set out for North Carolina wine country. Wineries dot much of the state map, but Yadkin Valley has a reputation for producing the best wine in the state. We targeted the Swan Creek AVA, which is located 35 miles west of Winston Salem and includes seven wineries.
Our first stop was Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery. The Raffaldini name harkens back to 1348 in Lombardy, Italy. As we neared the estate, we beheld a striking villa silhouetted against the light blue winter sky that would look right at home in Tuscany.
Italian Pleasure In The Hills
Walking to the tasting room, we were struck by the beautiful surroundings. Perched on a hill overlooking sloped hillside vineyards, Raffaldini’s tasting room and large terrace have a commanding view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.
Entering the tasting room, decorated in Tuscan yellow and dark wood, we had a surprise. There was world famous singer Rod Stewart!
Actually, we discovered it was Rob Caudill, who performs a tribute to Rod Stewart called “Tonight’s the Night.” He was joined by friend Helen Anthony.
Already impressed with the first class surroundings and clientele, we were ready to taste some wine.
The cost for a tasting is $12 per person for eight wines and includes a high quality Riedel glass. We started our tasting journey with the whites.
Kicking off was the 2016 Pinot Grigio. We had been driving for several hours, so the refreshing bouquet was welcome. We also sampled the 2016 Girasole Rosato, an orange-hued rosé made with Sangiovese and Motepulciano grapes.
Our favorite of the opening trio was the 2016 Vermentino Superiore. Raffaldini was the first winery on the east coast to plant Vermentino and this is a full-bodied white. Most of the grapes come from the oldest block of Vermentino on the estate. The soil has schist and mica, adding a delightful minerality to the wine.
Carolina Chianti – That’s A Big Yes!
Reds were next in line and we were ready to see if the “Chianti in the Carolinas” etched on our tasting glasses was only an idle boast. The 2015 Bella Misto is a beautiful mix of four grapes that is light ruby in the glass. The blend is Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Petit Verdot and Malbec. This is juicy and rewarding at an SRP of $19. We bought a bottle of this and drank it at the hotel’s hot tub that night.
We next sipped a pair of Sangiovese, the 2015 and 2014 Sangiovese Classico. Chianti is the world-famous Sangiovese wine from Tuscany and Classico designates wine made in the historic center of the region. The Raffaldini Sangiovese is some of the best I’ve had from the US. The Vino Nobile clone (there are several Sangiovese variants) is used, but the main difference is the use of the appassimento process.
Drying Grapes – For What?
Appassimento involves partially drying grapes on a rack to concentrate flavor. In fact, Raffaldini is the foremost practitioner of appassimento in the US and dries more fruit than any other vineyard.This gives weight and complexity to the wine. The 2015 was our favorite with juicy sour cherry flavors, soft tannins and a nice acidity. The Sangiovese retails for $29.
The 2015 Montepulciano Riserva is co-fermented with Petit Verdot and gets oak aging. Raffaldini is one of a handful of wineries in North Carolina that grows Montepulciano.
We closed with the 2016 La Dolce Vita, a frizzante style sweet wine similar to Moscato, but made with Traminette. This didn’t flip our switch, but there’s no doubt this would be tasty on the sunny terrace in the summer.
The “big daddy” wine is the 2015 Grande Riserva. This is a blend of Montepulciano, Petit Verdot and Sagrantino grapes. Unfortunately, this wasn’t on the tasting menu. I asked if they would open a bottle if Rod Stewart sang a song – but that ploy didn’t work. Nevertheless, we bought a bottle for $55 and look forward to uncorking it with a nice Italian meal.
Raffaldini checks all the boxes. Their tasting room is first class inside and out. The staff is friendly and helpful and the wine offers complexity and a taste of Italy. We suggest you visit the Raffaldini villa and make a memory.