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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Nysa Wines Offer A Glimpse of Willamette Valley Greatness


Dundee Hills is the epicenter of Oregon Pinot Noir. Now we know why.

In Greek mythology, Nysa is the secret land full of lush fruit trees and vineyards where young Dionysus, the god of wine was raised. The forces emanating from Mount Nysa are said to be powerful. We found ourselves falling under the spell of three new wines from Nysa – actually from Nysa Vineyard, the Willamette Valley winery in the Dundee Hills.

The family-owned operation was begun in 1990 when owner and winemaker, Michael Mega purchased a parcel of orchards high with the goal of creating world-class Pinot Noir. The goal creating wines of complexity, concentration and balance while using minimalistic winemaking techniques and organic farming.

The grapes are grown at 600 to 720 feet elevation. Nysa case production is under 1,000, but that may soon change as wines will soon be available outside Oregon in shops across the US in such wine loving states as California, Texas, New York, North and South Carolina and Illinois.

We had the opportunity to taste the 2019 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and the 2016 Pinot Noir, all from Dundee Hills. Dundee Hills is where Oregon Pinot Noir first gained its worldwide reputation.  Early pioneers such as David Lett of Eyrie, Dick Erath and the Sokol Blossers planted many of Oregon’s first vineyards.

To taste the Chardonnay and 2016 Pinot, we planned a special dinner, an amazing meal with Duck Breast l'Orange entrée. Duck is a perfect pairing with Pinot Noir, whose fruity notes play perfectly with the rich dark meat. I wasn't sure about Chardonnay.


The Chardonnay uses grapes from the Nysa estate block of Wente clone vines. This wine went through malolactic fermentation and then spent 10 months in neutral French oak barrels. We discovered that this Willamette Valley Chard with beautiful tropical fruit notes and taste of honey worked wonderfully with the duck, asparagus, and mushroom risotto.   


The 2016 Nysa is an amazing Pinot. It is a blend of different vineyard blocks throughout the estate.The grapes were fermented in small lot bins before aging in French oak (25% new). Light garnet in the glass with the perfect touch of acidity, delicate layers of red fruit, dry herbs, leather and nuanced earth tones show through. This was an ideal pairing and just an exceptional wine. 

We got a look at the younger 2019  Nysa Pinot. On the palate there is beautiful smooth red cherries a touch of baking spices and a touch of minerality. Tasty now, we expect this vintage to rock after another two or three years of aging.

Nysa Pinot Noir ranges from $75 to $105, and Chardonnay starts at $65, all depending on the vintage.

Full disclosure: These wines were received as marketing samples.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Virginia Petit Wines Offer Glimpse Of Old Dominion Wine Excellence

PXL_20230412_225255721~2Petit Verdot and Petit Manseng showcase Virginia’s award-winning winemaking.    

Four Hundred Years of Winegrowing History

Virginia may seem like an uncommon choice for wine lovers. Not if you’ve had a chance to taste its delicious wines that blend the subtlety of the Old World with the boldness of the new.

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The state boasts more than 5,000 acres of grapes and has a history that dates back to 1619 when the House of Burgesses passed a law requiring each household to plant 10 grape vines for the purpose of making wine.


Founding father Thomas Jefferson experimented with winemaking and in 1873 a Virginia wine was chosen as the Best Red Wine of All Nations at the Vienna World’s Fair. The wine industry struggled through Prohibition and world wars and in 1979 there were just six wineries in operation. Thankfully for us, wine in Virginia is thriving today.

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There are currently more than 300 wineries in Virginia and the quality is better than ever. We recently uncorked bottles from two award-wining Virginia wineries, Jefferson Vineyards and Veritas Winery, in conjunction with a webinar by the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association.

Jefferson Vineyards 2021 Petit Manseng

The site of Jefferson Vineyards was owned by Thomas Jefferson and was later given to Italian viticulturist Filippo Mazzei who formed the Virginia Wine Company. Unfortunately, the vines were later trampled by the horses of a Hessian General during the American Revolution, ruining the labor of four years. In the 1980s vineyards were reestablished and in 1993 the business name was changed to Jefferson Vineyards. Jefferson is recognized for having one of the region’s most consistent record for producing quality wines .

We decided to taste the 2021 Jefferson Petite Manseng with Ricotta Gnudi with Quick Tomato Confit & Fresh Corn. This is a recipe created by Haidar Karoum specifically for Virginia Petit Manseng. I’m told by one of my Italian tennis buddies that the dish is pronounced like “naughty.” This was one of the very best culinary creations we’ve tasted in a while.

Veritas Petit Verdot and Lamb Chop

It was a perfect match for the Petit Manseng. The wine offers notes of smooth pineapple, white peaches, and honeysuckle. It blended nicely with the ricotta dumplings and cherry tomatoes. The Petite Manseng has no jarring acidity, just a gorgeous, luscious finish.

Veritas 2017 Petit Verdot

For the Veritas 2017 Petit Verdot, we prepared hearty Herb & Garlic Marinated Lamb Chops with Pine Nut Couscous and Broccoli Rabe. My first experience with a single varietal Petit Verdot was many years ago at Flying Fox, a Virginia winery with a family connection to Veritas winemaker Emily Pelton. Although you are more likely to encounter Petit Verdot as a blending ingredient in a Bordeaux-style wine, on its own it shines as a luscious wine.

A 20-year-old family business,  Veritas is on the leading edge of the Virginia wine industry. With over 50 acres in the Monticello wine region, it produces a complex portfolio of wine ranging from sparkling to beautifully balanced red wines.

The Veritas Petit Verdot exudes generous black fruit notes of currant and blackberry whilst smooth tannins and a touch of tobacco create a posh finish. This wine includes 15% Merlot and is aged in 50% new French oak for 16 months.

Full disclosure: These wines were received as part of an educational program.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Wines For Animal Lovers: Sipping These Great Values Benefits Four-Legged Friends

Firesteed and Bar Dog Wines - 1

We love California Cab and Oregon Pinot Noir, especially when they support charities that help animals.

Time was when an upstart wine from Australia planted a picture of a kangaroo on its label and conquered the American wine market. After the success of Yellowtail, many animal labels emerged: birds, bears, cows, mice and pigs. Animals can make an attractive label, but it is what inside that is the primary attraction for me.

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We recently popped open two wines with an animal theme, but with a difference. The labels aren’t simply to draw in the curious, but to celebrate there commitment to helping four-legged friends.

Firesteed 2021 Pinot Noir, Oregon

Firesteed winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley produces an array of Pinot Noir and other wines like Pinot Gris and Riesling. It also has some AVA-specific Pinot Noirs, that highlight select vineyards in Willamette. They also offer a wallet-friendly Oregon Pinot Noir from several sites around the state.

We opened this 2021 Pinot Noir and immediately found a satisfying wine that delivered a great Oregon Pinot experience. The price is a mere $17 and for that, it was surprising to taste cherry notes with a healthy earthiness. Toast and spice round out a silky palate.

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Not only does Firesteed deliver a great QPR (quality price ratio), but a portion of each sale benefits our animal friends. The winery has partnered with Dreamer Horses Colorado,which provides boarding for retired horses on a 100-acre pasture on a family cattle ranch. Firesteed also contributes to the support of retired horses as they live out their best lives surrounded by fresh grass, sunshine, and equine friends.

Bar Dog 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon, California

Bar Dog Cabernet with Blue Cheese BurgerBar Dog’s Cabernet Sauvignon from the statewide California AVA is a smooth drinking Cab we paired with grilled blue cheese burgers and sweet potato fries. The inspiration for the wine’s name comes from wine creator Terry Wheatley who has a Boston Terrier on her Central California ranch. The dog is a constant companion, like my dog Amber who is laying patiently a few feet away from me while I write this post.

The wine is a delicious everyday drinker. There are no complex layers but at a price point of about $12, it is what you expect it to be: a loyal, friendly, and tasty friend. The expressive flavors of black cherry, cocoa, and vanilla provide plenty of satisfaction right now. There are no heavy tannins and no need to age this wine, that we would suggest should be consumed within three years.

The Bar Dog certainly elevated our burgers-on-the-patio dinner. The winery also takes its commitment to animals beyond the bottle label. For the love of dogs and all they bring to our lives, Bar Dog wines has committed to supporting rescue shelters across North America in partnership with the Petfinder Foundation. The Petfinder Foundation awards grants funded by Bar Dog wines to shelters, helping them provide pet food, supplies, and veterinary treatment for dogs awaiting adoption.

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