North Carolina Wine vs the World — a Blind Tasting at RayLen Vineyard

All too often we get the question “is North Carolina wine any good” or “how does North Carolina wine compare to California wine?”  Most of the time we encourage people to try North Carolina in for themselves. In reality, this could be a little daunting to some as they may not know where to start. And to answer the question of North Carolina versus California on your own would require you to go out, buy a lot of wine, and sample them side by side. To the average consumer, this may seem a little overboard and quite frankly, a little scary.

How do you know which wines to buy?  How can you get a bottle that’s close enough in composition and profile to accurately compare the two wines?

If you’re not familiar with the wines from North Carolina, you might not get wines that adequately pair with each other. After all of that, you might think it’s not worth the risk. But never fear, there are some who know exactly what they’re doing. Cue the wine experts at RayLen Vineyards & Winery. This past weekend they hosted a blind tasting event where they paired six of their wines against six popular wines that you can pick up at any wine store. The results — the difference was not as easy to tell as you might think.

Let’s start off with the basics. Six wines from RayLen, six from around the world. The wines were poured two at a time pitting NC versus the world. For each pour, participants were tasked with guessing the varietal, the region, and the vintage. Points were awarded for each correct answer, 2 for the varietal, 4 for the region, and 6 for the vintage (24 each round for a total of 144 points).  Let me just tell you, it was more difficult than I thought it would be!

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Round 1 – RayLen Sparkling Brut vs. Burgundy Sparkling

Score: 8 points

This one wasn’t too hard to tell, but both wines were quite tasty. The French sparkling was a bit more buttery and oaked, while the RayLen was more crisp and clean.  The bright and fruity character of the RayLen sparkling was the giveaway. I would have scored more, but the RayLen was there current vintage and I didn’t realize it was already out!

Round 2 – RayLen Barrel Chardonnay vs. Sonoma Chardonnay

Score: 22 points

This was another easy round.  The super oaky California Chardonnay was easy to pick out when compared to the refined and nicely balanced RayLen Chardonnay. The latter was more delicate and had a bit of a zing. The clear winner for this round was the NC Chardonnay.

Round 3 – RayLen Rosé of Cabernet Franc vs. Bordeaux Rosé

Score: 14 points

This round provided a bit more of a challenge. The rosé from RayLen is a deep dark pink and so was the Bordeaux. Both were equally flavorful and vibrant. I think the only was I was able to tell the difference is that we recently had the RayLen rosé and the flavor profile is quite memorable. The Bordeaux had a bit more spice to it and was definitely unfamiliar.

Round 4 – RayLen Merlot vs. Yakima Valley (WA) Merlot

Score: 7 points

This was the easiest of the red wine comparisons. The Washington wine was a major fruits bomb with a bold brown sugar mid-palate. The RayLen wine had a bright cherry nose and a mildly woody note on the mid-palate. Even though the RayLen wine was easy to pick out, I totally thought the Washington wine was from California and got the vintage wrong on both.

Round 5 – RayLen Cabernet vs. Paso Robles Cabernet 

Score: 4 points

This was by far the hardest round of the evening! Both were velvety and smooth with almost the exact same profile. If the necks of the bottles weren’t different, I’d swear that the wines were the same. The only thing I got right on this round was the varietal for each.  Both had a classic Cabernet profile and that showed through without a doubt.

Round 6 – RayLen Riesling vs German Riesling

Score: 16 points

Having grown up in the Finger Lakes, I’m certainly no stranger to Riesling. The big change here was that both wines were semi-dry, yet still had a good acid balance. The only mix up I had on this one was the region.  The German Riesling was sweeter than I expected, so naturally I thought that was the North Carolina wine. In this case, I was wrong. The RayLen was more refreshing and had a subtle honeysuckle and apricot profile, matching more of the Rieslings I’m familiar with.


The entire evining was a whole lot of fun, even though I only scored a 71. If you missed it this time, they host these types of events throughout the year. Back in January they had a wine and cheese pairing educational session and they usually have one educational session each month. For more details, head on over to their events page or drop by the winery to see all they have to offer. I hope this gives you enough courage to possibly go out and see for yourself how North Carolina wine compares to the rest of the world.  Cheers!

RayLen Vineyards is located in Mocksville, NC.

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Posted by Matt Kemberling

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