Wine, Wineries and Vineyards

Starting off NC Wine Month in Western North Carolina

Starting off NC Wine Month in Western North Carolina

To start off our NC Wine Month celebrations, we decided to make a trip out to vineyards in far western North Carolina.  How far west?  Well, at one of the vineyards, you can see Tennessee and Georgia as well as North Carolina.  That’s right, we made a trip out to the wineries out in Murphy, Andrews, and a surprise visit to Robbinsville. 

Making our way to Murphy, NC

The Vineyard at Nottley River Vineyards
The Vineyard at Nottely River Vineyards

From our home base in Mooresville, our first stop at Nottley River Vineyards in Murphy, NC was about 4 hours away.  We took off early, made a quick stop for lunch, and made it to Nottley River Vineyards not too long after they opened.  There was already a good crowd there when we drove in, so we made our way to the tasting bar.  After the formal tasting, Steve took us out to the crush pad and gave us a sneak peek of the 2016 releases (which was a stellar year).  Most of these will be ready in Spring 2019, so we’ll be making a return visit for sure.

Our Visit in Andrews, NC

The FernCrest Tasting Room

Next up was FernCrest Winery in Andrews, NC.  This was our first visit to FernCrest and we had a great time.  Co-owner Jan Olson guided us through our tasting.  They have a small vineyard of their own, but also buy fruit from across the state and elsewhere.  One interesting fact is that each of their wines are named after a different fern, and each label has a drawing of that fern.  The white wines we tasted had a great acidity and will be perfect with some early fall foods.

Calaboose Cellars

Calaboose Cellars is just a few blocks away from FernCrest.  This winery is officially the state’s smallest self-contained winery, measuring in at about 300 square feet for the whole operation.  They focus on producing small batch wines that are very well crafted and fruit forward. Judy conducted our tasting and we were happy to see all the new wines on the list.

Mead in the Mountains

The Tasting Room at Wehrloom Honey

After we finished up, we decided to head back to our hotel.  On the way, we made a last minute decision to head to new-to-us meadery, Wehrloom Honey in Robbinsville, NC.  This unexpected stop turned out to be a great visit.  Wehrloom is an active farm with hundreds of beehives.  Honey from these hives is used to make their meads along with the other honey products they offer in their shop.  We went through a quick tasting at their tasting bar and went on a walking tour of the farm.  If you stop by, be sure to take a quick hike up the hill and see massive land tortoise that’s in with the goats and chickens. He’s a lively thing.

Read on for tasting notes of the wines at each of the locations we visited.  If you find yourself out in far Western North Carolina, we highly recommend a visit to each of these wineries.

Our Tasting Notes

Nottley River Valley Vineyards

Standard Tasting

2014 Seyval Blanc – This wine went through partial malolactic fermentation.  It had a mellow nose of stone fruits.  The palate was rich in minerals with a flinty finish.

2015 Chardonnay – This Chardonnay is Chablis style meaning all stainless steel and no oak.  Green apple, fresh acids and a nice overall fruit profile were present on this wine.

Dry Rose – A blend of Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Watermelon and red fruits came through on the nose.  Nice acids, mild strawberry and a rounder profile were present on the palate.

2015 War Woman Red – This blend of both Cabernets had an herbaceous nose.  The flavors were light with strong acids and slightly twiggy tannins.

2015 Chardonell – This off-dry wine was filled with big yellow apples, nice acids and a mildly sweet profile.

2015 Riesling – This semi-sweet Riesling had a floral nose mixed with apricots and wet stones.  Overall fruit forward and well rounded.

Pre-Release Tastings

2016 Oaked Chardonnel – Aged in Hungarian oak, this wine had a very nice oak presence.  Grapey acids came through on the palate with excellent fruit character.

2016 Chardonnay – Aged in Hungarian and American oak, toasty vanilla clearly came through on the aroma.  No malolactic fermentation means this wine has great green apple notes with crisp acids.

2016 Cabernet Franc – This wine had a classic cabernet franc nose with light pepper gracing the aroma.  Green and White peper came through on the finish and were supported by a bright cherry profile.

2017 Seyval Blanc – This bubbly wine was nice and effervescent.  The nose was slightly slightly foxy with wile grape flavors balanced by a nice acidity.

FernCrest Winery

Royal White (Vidal Blanc) – This wine had a nice floral nose with subtle white fruits.  The flavors were nice and acidic with an overall pleasing profile.

Southern Lady White (Chardonnel) – The nose was of lemon cream.  The flavors were bright with citrus lemon and very zesty.

Mountain Holly Red (Bordeaux Blend) – The nose was of tomato jam and figs.  Red fruits came through on the palate with gentle tannins.

Mountainwood Red (Cynthiana) – The color on this wine was incredibly dark. Baking spices and dark fruits came through on the nose.  Big acids came through on the palate with a smooth overall profile.

Fiddlehead Red – This slightly sweet red blend had a great fruit forward profile.

Black Lady – This dessert wine of blackberry and blueberry was nicely balanced.  It was only mildly sweet with a great fruity profile.

Calaboose Cellars

2017 Seyval Blanc – Pleasing apricot and mild fruits came through on this mildly sweet white wine.

2017 Norton – This was dark and inky. Having gone through malolactic fermentation, it imparted a jammy flavor with a slightly acidic profile. Not yet released.

2017 Chambourcin – This wine had a classic Chambourcin profile with light baking spices.  Being off-dry, it highlighted the red fruit flavors with an overall smooth profile.

Sparkling Niagara – The grapey nose was unmistakably Niagara grapes.  The flavors were not too sweet with a nice fruity balance.

2017 Catawba – Fresh acids and a great grapey profile made this wine very easy to drink.

Revinoors Red – This wine made from the Sunbelt grape is brightly colored with an overall foxy profile.

Wehrloom

Dry County Dry – This mead was very herbaceous with a nice and mellow overall profile.

Home Sweet Home – This mead was made from sourwood honey. It had a nice nose, slightly sour, with a fantastic honey profile.

Black “Bear”ry – This mildly fruity mead was less sweet than the sourwood, but still had a great herbaceous profile .

Pretty in Peach – With a name that implies sweetness, this mead was surprisingly tart with clean peach flavors and a nice overall profile.

Posted by Matt Kemberling in Wine, 0 comments
Summer 2018 Visit to Blenheim Vineyards

Summer 2018 Visit to Blenheim Vineyards

Our group with Kirsty Harmon at Blenheim Vineyards

We recently had the pleasure of traveling to Charlottesville, VA.  We met up with fellow bloggers, wine tourists, and oenophiles, Brian and Dax Yost.  Brian and Dax are known for Wine Tourist Magazine.  Brian also writes The Virginia Grape wine blog.  Both are big advocates for East Coast wines.

Brian was able to arrange some tours for us.  We started with a visit to Blenheim Vineyards.  We had the pleasure of meeting Blenheim’s winemaker and General Operations Manager, Kirsty Harmon.  Kirsty is a respected Virginia winemaker.  She describes her wine style as fruit forward and approachable.

Blenheim does have a famous owner.  Singer Dave Matthews who has ties the Charlottesville area owns Blenheim.  Dave and Kirsty have an agreement.  She sticks to the wine and he sticks to the music.  Dave does provide artwork for some of Blenheim’s wine labels.  Otherwise, Kirsty has pretty much free reign to create the wine she wants.

Blenheim is unique in that all of its wines come in bottles with screw caps rather than the traditional corks.  Some folks turn their noses up to screw cap wine, but it has a much lower failure rate than traditional corks.

A view of Blenheim’s Vineyards from the back deck

Blenheim is a 30 acre estate with 17.5 acres under vine.  They produce around 8,000 cases of wine a year.

Kirsty picks her grapes for acidity rather than sugar.  This is typically between 21 and 22 Brix.  She also makes picking decisions by tasting the grapes.

No wine is overly oaked.  Ten months or so is about all a particular wine might spend in oak.  Kirsty uses a combination of French, American, and Hungarian barrels.

Grapes are harvested by hand.  They’re also sorted by hand.  A sorting table is used to find the best berries for wine making.  The 3 ton bladder press is used to press the juice from the grapes.  Kirsty using punch downs during fermentation.  The winery sits just below the tasting room.  Glass enclosures allow for a bird’s eye view of the activity of the winery.

 

Tanks in the Winery at Blenheim Vineyards

Kirsty let us taste a number of wines from the 2016 and 2017 harvests.  Stand outs were the 2017 Albariño and 2016 Painted White.

The Albariño was whole cluster pressed, fermented and then filtered. It had notes of peach and pear.  The nose was soft and floral.

The Painted White whose label features a painting by Dave Matthews is a blend of 59% Sauvignon Blanc, 31% Viognier, and 10% Chardonnay.  It spent 10 months in predominately French oak.  It had notes of peach and honey with just a touch of oak.  The finish was crisp and clean.

We highly recommend a trip to Blenheim anytime you’re in the Charlottesville area.  They’re always one our of favorite stops.

Thanks to Kirsty for taking the time to show us around and taste some great wines!  We look forward to visiting again soon!

Posted by Joe Brock in Wine, Wineries and Vineyards, Wineries and Vineyards, 0 comments
McRitchie 2017 Pétillant Naturel Wines

McRitchie 2017 Pétillant Naturel Wines

We recently hosted a wine tasting with friends.  Late last year McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks released two Pétillant Naturel wines for the first time.  We had heard of Pét Nats, as they’re sometimes called, but we had never tasted one before.  Curious and big fans of McRitchie, we purchased a bottle of each and decided to share them with friends.

When we purchased these wines, we were advised to store them upright and serve them very well chilled.  We were also advised to be very careful when opening these wines and to have something to catch any wine that might come rushing out.

We reached out to McRitchie for more technical information about the wines.  The Petit Manseng was harvested at 26° Brix on September 7, 2017.  The Petit Verdot was harvested at 21° Brix on September 27, 2017.  In both cases, the grapes were whole cluster pressed, settled and racked with no filtration or added carbon dioxide.  Both were bottled with residual sugar.  The Petit Verdot had skin contact but there was no barrel aging.  Both wines are off dry to dry with high acidity.  The Petit Manseng is a bit higher in acidity at 8 grams/Liter vs 7.8 grams/Liter for the Petit Verdot.  Thirty-three cases of the Petit Manseng were produced.  While forty-five cases of the Petit Verdot were produced.  The Petit Manseng was bottled on September 30, 2017.  The Petit Verdot was a little later on October 10, 2017. Both wines were released on November 18, 2017.  We’ll cover tasting notes later in this post.

So, just how are Pét Nats made?  These wines are naturally sparkling.  The wine is bottled before the primary fermentation has finished.  Unlike méthode champenoise, no additional yeasts or sugars are added.  Since fermentation is still on-going, carbon dioxide is produced by the sugars that remain. This method is referred to as méthode ancestrale or ancient method.  It produces a more simple sparkling wine that isn’t filtered.  Thus the wine is usually cloudy.  Pét Nats are also usually bottled with a cap rather than a cork.

Pét Nats are believed to have originated in southern France.  Monks in the early 16th Century near Limoux are thought to be first producers of these type wines.  (Source – Vine Pair)

Not having tasted these wines before, we also reached out to Patricia McRitchie for suggestions on pairings.  She suggested pairing the Petit Manseng with salty or creamy foods.  For the Petit Verdot, she suggested anything that you might pair with a Nouveau or Sparkling Rosé such as charcuterie, turkey, dishes with a little heat, or foods with a some creaminess or nuttiness.  We settled on creamy artichoke dip and brie with the Petit Manseng and spicy cured sausage with the Petit Verdot.

Now for our tasting notes, we really did enjoy both of these and have since purchased replacement bottles to enjoy them again.  Both were funky and interesting and a delight to drink.

2017 Petit Manseng Pétillant Naturel

The nose was yeasty but was unmistakably Petit Manseng.  The palate was also yeasty along with tangy.  There was a light pineapple and grapefruit undertone.

The character was wild.  It paired nicely with the creamy artichoke dip, but with brie, it was a match made in heaven!  This wine tasted better with food than without.

The wine was definitely cloudy as you can see from the picture.  The color reminded us of pineapple juice.

Sean McRitchie provided his tasting notes too.  Sean says the flavor profile is honey and acid.  It reminds him of Mountain Dew.  The texture is rich with fun bubbles.  The acid balance contributes to a general rich fruit dimension.

2017 Petit Verdot Pétillant Naturel

This wine’s nose was light strawberry.  It was dry and sour.  Some said it reminded them of a sour beer. The palate was funky and gave more strawberry flavors.

It paired nicely with the cured sausage, but it was even better without food.

This wine was also cloudy.  The color was pink but nearly red.  There was much more sediment with this one than the Petit Manseng.

Sean McRitchie says this wine has a flavor profile of sour candy and bright cherry.  It’s foamy with high acid.  There is some yeast grit as the lees are stirred.  This is a fun wine that is good with an intense cheese.

We look forward to opening our second bottles of these wines.  McRitchie still has a few bottles left, so if you’re interested, you should hurry to the tasting room and pick them up.  They sell for $25 each.  Hopefully there will be new vintages coming out later this year from the 2018 harvest!

Cheers!

Posted by Joe Brock in Wine, 0 comments
Sensoria Food and Wine Festival 2018

Sensoria Food and Wine Festival 2018

We recently were invited to attend the Sensoria Food and Wine Festival.  This festival was a one day event to conclude “Sensoria:  A Celebration of Literature and the Arts” at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte.  The food and wine festival was presented by the Piedmont Culinary Guild with sponsorships from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture’s #GotToBeNC Program and Springer Mountain Farms.

The day featured classes ranging from Riedel glass seminars to turning wine into vinegar to blind tastings just to name a few.  Another part of the event was a food and wine pairing.  Food from Charlotte area chefs was paired with North Carolina wine!

Below are photos from the event.  We hope this event is held again next year!  We also appreciate the complimentary tickets for this event!

From Wine to Vinegar Class – We learned about the science behind how vinegar is made.  We also got to taste a variety of wines and vinegars made by the instructor.  The fennel vinegar and carrot wine were very interesting!

Wine Line Up / A Blind Tasting – We blind tasted Chardonnays and Cabernet Franc.  This lineup included the Jones von Drehle‘s Steel Chardonnay and Dover Vineyards‘ Cabernet Franc!

The highlight of the festival was food and wine pairing featuring Charlotte area chefs and North Carolina wines!  Photos below show all over the beautiful and tasty creations!

Our first pairing turned out to be the winner of the votes for best pairing.  It featured Chef Greg Collier of the The Yolk in Rock Hill, SC paired with Biltmore Estate.  Chef Greg’s cornbread toast, smoked trout and apple salad, meyer lemon hollandaise, and charred strawberry espelette spice was paired with Biltmore’s 2015 North Carolina Blanc de Blancs Brut Sparkling.

Next up was Chef Chris Coleman of Stoke.  His smoked and fried chicken wing with spicy peach and jalapeño chow-chow was paired with Laurel Gray Vineyards‘ 2015 Viognier!

Duck pâté en croûte from Chef David Quintana of dot dot dot was our next bite.  This was paired with Shelton Vineyards‘ 2016 Reisling.

Chef Justin Solomon from Foxcroft Wine Company paired cured salmon with celeriac remoulade, fennel chutney and duqqa with Shelton Vineyards‘ 2016 Bin 17 Unoaked Chardonnay.

Surry Cellars‘ debut Albariño was paired with beef heart carpaccio, apricot mustard, pickled green strawberries, beet and petite greens from Chef Matthew Krenz of The Asbury.

Chef Joe Kindred of Kindred was next on our list.  His pasta with green garlic, spring greens and lamb was paired with the 2016 Rosé from Dover Vineyards.

Jones von Drehle‘s 2014 Cabernet Franc was our first red.  It was paired with rabbit-mushroom bolognese, grits and green garlic from Chef Clark Barlowe of Heirloom.

Chef Bruce Moffett of Stagioni was next up with his prosecro-battered crab-stuffed squash blossom, ramp aioli and red pepper agro-dolce paired with Piccione Vineyards‘ 2014 red blend, L’Ottimo.

Fahrenheit Chef Dave Feimster paired his kalua pork and pickled cabbage slider with RayLen Vineyards‘ 2016 Category 5 red blend.

RayLen was up again with their 2016 Petit Verdot paired with a cherry-smoked chicken thigh croquette with green chili mole, spring asparagus, and aji amarillo from Chef Blake Hartwick of Bonterra Dining and Wine Room.

Last but not least was Childress Vineyards‘ 2012 Finish Line Cabernet Sauvignon port-style wine paired with dark chocolate crémeux, coffee crunch, hibiscus and port gelée from Chef Ashley Boyd of 300 East!

This event was a fantastic way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

Posted by Joe Brock in Wine, 0 comments
Raffaldini Vineyards Tour

Raffaldini Vineyards Tour

Prior to the first ever #NCWine Bloggers Summit, Thomas Salley of Raffaldini Vineyards offered to host a behind the scenes tour and tasting for bloggers who were attending the event.  We graciously accepted Thomas’ offer.  This led to additional tastings that day in the Swan Creek AVA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Raffaldini tour began on a cold Sunday morning at Raffaldini’s winery.  There was a bit of snow on the ground from the night before.  The mountains of the Blue Ridge were covered in snow.

Thomas walked us through some of the history of the estate.

  • The site was an abandoned farm and was one of around 60 sites looked at by the Raffaldini family during their search for vineyard land.
  • The data collected from scouting the land was used in the case for the creation of the Swan Creek AVA.
  • The estate includes 120 acres with about 36 currently under vine.
  • Over 30 different varieties have been planted over the year.
  • The current estate grapes are Vermentino, Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Sagrantino, Petit Verdot and Nero D’Avola.

Small Drying Room

Large Drying Room

Racks used for Drying Fruit

It was appropriate that our tour began outside of the Fruttaio Grande.  Raffaldini’s is known for the Appassimento process for drying fruit to concentrate flavors.  This leads to more complex and structured wines.

The racks used for drying were self made and each holds about 5 pounds of grapes.  The grapes are laid in a single layer.  The room is pre-heated to 85 Degrees with about 20% humidity.  Four to five days of drying removes about 30% of water from the fruit.  In a typical year, around half of the harvest is dried.  Raffaldini is one of the largest winery dryer of fruit in the US.

Large Tanks Inside the Winery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raffaldini also uses a sorting table to sort the fruit harvested.  This helps remove green berry and other undesirable items.

Production at Raffaldini is around 6500 cases per year.

Large Oak Fermenter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raffaldini is one of the first wineries in the state to us a large oak fermenter.  Currently grapes/juice spend about 30 days in the fermenter before moving to a barrel.  Eventually this will change as barrels are phased out for the more cost effective oak fermenter.

Large Barrel Room

Smaller Barrel Room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After all of this information, it was time to taste wine!  The first sample was the base wine for Raffaldini’s upcoming sparkling wine, Auguri (Cheers/Best Wishes in Italian).  This wine will be made in the traditional method, but it will use encapsulated yeast yeast during the second fermentation.  This means the traditional riddling method will not be required.  This wine is set to be released in August, 2018.

We then moved to the barrel room. We first visiting the larger room and then moved to a second room to finish our tastings.  We sampled 2017 Sagrantino with a bit of Nero D’Avola which had big gripping tannins.  Next was a co-fermented 2017 Petit Verdot and Montepulciano which was inky and dark as well as tannic.  Finally, we tasting a 2017 appassimento Petit Verdot.  It was stunning already!  Dark fig, cocoa and tart blueberry were the flavors.

Bottling Line

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We ended the winery portion of the visit with a look at the bottling line.  Then we moved to the villa.  We made a quick visit out to the edge of the vineyard for a discussion of growing degree days and soil types.  Growing degree days is a measure that predicts when fruit will be ripe.  Raffaldini practices leaf pulling after bloom to provide as much sunlight for the grapes as possible.  This is common throughout bunch grape growers in the state.  Finally, we took a look at rocks in the vineyard.  The soil consists of schist mica and granite with a loam topsoil.  This is ideal for grape growing.

We concluded our visit with a private lunch and a tasting of current releases in the upstairs of the villa.  We want to thank Thomas and the whole Raffaldini team for hosting our group and providing this in depth tour and tasting.  It was much appreciated!

Be sure to go visit Raffaldini and see for yourself!

Cheers!

 

 

Posted by Joe Brock in Top Pick Winery, Wine, Wineries and Vineyards, Wineries and Vineyards, 0 comments
Library Tasting at Junius Lindsay Vineyard

Library Tasting at Junius Lindsay Vineyard

By now the fact we like to share our experiences with older vintages of NC Wine should come as no surprise to anyone. Whenever a winery is advertising a special library tasting or a vertical event, we try our hardest to attend. Most recently we had an opportunity to attend a special library tasting at Junius Lindsay Vineyards. Owner Michael Zimmerman has decided to share some of his library collection of past vintages. When we saw the announcement that his first library tasting would be his Triomphe blend, we jumped on the chance to reserve our spots.

Continue reading →

Posted by Matt Kemberling in Wine, 0 comments
Takeaways from First #NCWine Bloggers Summit

Takeaways from First #NCWine Bloggers Summit

Networking at Lunch during the First #NCWine Bloggers Summit

On Saturday, March 24, 2018, we held the first ever #NCWine Bloggers Summit at Hanover Park Vineyard.  Around 30 folks attended.  This included bloggers, winery owners / representatives and wine industry folks.  It was a great day of discussion, networking and excitement.

In reflecting back on the summit, we have a few takeaways what we would like to share.  Here they are:

  1. We should haven’t have waited until 2018 to hold this event for the first time. – Many wineries know bloggers exist, but often they don’t completely understand how we can help.  We as bloggers had not had a chance to collaborate and make connections in person.  This event was invaluable for this.
  2. We should hold the next summit on a Monday. – While most bloggers have day jobs and work on Mondays, we would have better participation from wineries if we did not hold the summit on the weekend.  Look for next year’s date soon so folks can plan.
  3. Sunday Wine Tours for bloggers need to be a staple of the event. Thomas Salley at Raffaldini Vineyards offered to host a tour for bloggers following the summit.  This spiraled into an whole afternoon of visits in the Swan Creek AVA.  We want to thank Thomas for this idea and for his hospitality.  We also want to thank Hailey Klepcyk at Piccione Vineyards for hosting us for a tasting.  We ended the day with a joint tasting at Laurel Gray Vineyards hosted by Benny and Kim Myers.  We would like to thank Benny and Kim along with Chuck and Jamey Johnson of Shadow Springs Vineyard and Windsor Run Cellars and Charles King of Dobbins Creek Vineyards for sharing their wines with us!
  4. We need other bloggers to present content. – We did a lot of talking this year.  Next year, we would like to break that up and have other bloggers present content.  Look for a call for content a few months before the next summit.
  5. A panel discussion would be a great way to break up the day. – A panel could provide unique opportunities for conservation and the sharing of ideas.  This could include wineries, bloggers and industry insiders.
  6. Wineries should utilize bloggers more.  We are influencers with followers who can impact a winery’s business. – Wineries can engage bloggers to help to tell their stories and to assist with sharing events on social media.  Many bloggers are also open to volunteer opportunities to learn more about wine.  Also, bloggers are open to attending events and/or receiving story ideas.  Just reach out!  Finally, wineries can share our content to their followers as long as it is consistent with their brand.  If it isn’t, please tell us.
  7. We should make a larger effort to invite bloggers from other states. – After the summit posts got shared through social media and several folks commented how that want to be included in the next event.  This will be a great way to expand North Carolina Wine‘s reach.
  8. We need a few sponsors for next year’s event. – To control costs for attendees and/or allow for new options, funding from sponsors would be helpful.
  9. We need an official press release about the event. – A press release could be used by local media to inform their consumers of the event.  It would also be a great way to get press for any sponsors for next year.

We want to thank our fellow bloggers who participated:

Wines available for Sharing!

Finally, we would like to thank the wineries and wine industry folks who participated:

Notes from the event can be found here.

Stay tuned for the announcement of the date of next year’s summit and thanks for your support of #NCWine!

Cheers!

 

Posted by Joe Brock in Wine, 4 comments
McRitchie Winery – Ring of Fire Vertical Tasting

McRitchie Winery – Ring of Fire Vertical Tasting

Ah!  McRitchie Winery‘s Ring of Fire, a highly regarded red blend in the North Carolina wine world.  Some have called it North Carolina’s Octogon.  Octogon is the highly acclaimed red blend from Virgina’s Barboursville Vineyards.  We’re certainly not going to disagree with that assessment.

Ring of Fire is consistently a great wine.  And, that name, an homage to the classic song by Johnny Cash, makes for a memorable wine too.  Although, the wine itself doesn’t burn, burn, burn.  Well, perhaps, it does burn a memory.  A memory of the first North Carolina wine that captured my attention near the time of the first vintage which was in 2006.  It’s since become a favorite of Matt’s too.  So, when we heard that Sean and Patricia McRitchie were planning a vertical tasting as part of their winery’s 10th Anniversary, we just couldn’t miss it!

Table Setting at Ring of Fire Vertical Tasting

The tasting was limited to about 25 or so people.  We were seated at tables throughout the tasting room.  The tables were beautifully set.  The first wines poured were the 2013, 2012, and 2011.  Before we began tasting, Sean and Patricia welcomed us.

Sean and Patricia McRitchie Welcoming Guests

Sean and Patricia thanked us for attending.  Patricia apologized for not having their first two vintages, the 2006 and 2007, of Ring of Fire.  They never imagined the success of it and didn’t consider keeping a few cases for an event such as this until a few years into making it.  Patricia mentioned how proud she was of Sean and his winemaking.  Sean talked about the “unique opportunity to taste from one label, from one winery, and from one winemaker.”  He told us to expect subtle differences in each vintage.  Patricia mentioned that Ring of Fire was the first North Carolina Wine offered by the glass at the storied Grove Park Inn in Asheville and the Umstead Resort in Cary.  Sean said he keeps varietals separate until just before bottling.  Then he blends them with the goal of making “consistent serious red table wine in a Bordeaux style.”

Tasting Note Sheet at Ring of Fire Vertical

Now, it was time to taste!  We began with the 2013 and worked our way backwards.  The first round allowed us to taste the 2013, 2012, and 2011.  Each was served in a different glass.  Later, we were served the 2010, 2009, and 2008.

To continue the similarities with Octogon from Barboursville, Ring of Fire is also predominately Merlot and Cabernet Franc with a bit of Petit Verdot.  Only two vintages differ. The 2012 is Merlot, Sangiovese, and Petit Verdot.  The 2011 is Merlot, Syrah, and Petit Verdot.

In addition to the wine, food was served.  Some items were intended to pair with the wine.  Other items were there to prove a point that some food and wine pairings just don’t work.  The first plate consisted of apricots topped with blue cheese, a pecan, and rosemary along with a skewer of tortellini tossed in pesto with artichoke, mozzarella, and basil.  The second plate consisted of meatballs made with Ring of Fire, BBQ sandwiches with a mustard sauce and a more traditional sauce along with a few shrimp. Our favorites were the apricots and the BBQ.

Here are our tasting notes:

  • 2013 – The nose was woody with nice cherry aromas.  The palate presented rich cherry and oak with smooth tannins.  This wine is still very young.
  • 2012 – An earthy yet softly floral nose led to a lush palate of cherry and oak.  We preferred this one over the 2013.
  • 2011 – A floral nose with notes of plum and dried herbs made way to a tannic palate of dark fruits, cedar, and vanilla. The tannins of this vintage surprised us.
  • 2010 – Very old world in style, the nose had notes of spice with dark cherry.  The palate gave us dried berries with soft tannins.  This was our favorite of the lineup.
  • 2009 – Spice and oak on the nose along with cherry and vanilla on the palate, this vintage really showed the Merlot.  There was also good acid.  The boldness of this vintage surprised us.
  • 2008 – Sean hinted that one vintage was different.  When we got to the 2008, we knew it was this one.  The nose was floral and woody with a hint of sawdust.  The palate was wild with dark fruits.  There was something off.  We suspected brettanomoyces.

Sean and Patricia Recap the Event

Following our tasting, Sean and Patricia spoke once more.  Sean mentioned that blending is a way to deal with the difficult North Carolina weather.  It allows you to control the winemaking a bit and make adjustments as necessary.  His winemaking style is that of experiences.  He thinks of what will pair with the wine.  The desire with Ring of Fire is pair it with a steak from a Chicago steakhouse.  Given that, Ring of Fire has more acid than a red blend from Napa making it better accompaniment with food.

Sean also provided his tasting notes.  Here are some highlights:

  • 2013 – This vintage is fresh with the most straight forward fruit.  It will age very well.
  • 2012 – Sean’s second favorite of the group, this vintage has notes of clay and earth.  It reminds him of a terra cotta pot.
  • 2011 – He found this vintage to have aggressive spice with notes of fresh flower.  Complex and young with good berry and tannins, he feels this wine will be better in three or more years.
  • 2010 – Sean’s number one standout features red fruits and light earth.  Other descriptors are wet clay and stone.  The tannins are balanced.  This is very old world like.
  • 2009 – Patricia’s favorite features bright fruits with tighter acid and tannins.  It’s still excellent.
  • 2008 – This wine still looks young with dark berry color.  Cherry and anise are on the nose, but the wine is faulted.  Brettanomyces is indeed the issue, but we had several folks who loved it.  After this vintage, Sean purchased an ozone machine to clean barrels in the winery to prevent brett in future vintages.

Sean then finished with a few more remarks.  He gave a preview of the 2014 Ring of Fire which has been bottled and will be released soon.  He says, “I like that a lot.”  It meets the Chicago steakhouse criteria.  Sean purchases fruit by taste rather than brix.  He added that he was pleased with the consistency of the each vintage of Ring of Fire and notes, “I feel like I passed.”  He’s pleasantly surprised how well he liked the lineup.  We agree!

Sean also mentioned that Patricia makes him keep a library of wines.  We thank her for that.  They also mentioned that reserve sit-down tastings of library wines might be offered soon!  Sign us up!

We thoroughly enjoyed this experience.  We thank Sean and Patricia for all they do for North Carolina Wine and Cider and look forward to the next vertical tasting!  Go visit them and see for yourself!

 

Posted by Joe Brock in Wine, 0 comments
Looking Back at 2017

Looking Back at 2017

2017 has been another great year for NC Wine. As we look back at the year, we reflect on some of the highlights of the year as well as what we’re looking forward to in 2018.

Looking Back

If we go back three harvests to the 2015 vintage, our notes promised it would be a season for the record books. Fast forward two years and you find that several wineries already released their 2015 vintages. White wines of this vintage are selling out, but in general are fresh and crisp with brilliant fruit. 2015 reds are still drinking young but show great potential. Continue reading →

Posted by Matt Kemberling in Wine, 0 comments
Festivus 2017 – Airing of Wine Grievances!

Festivus 2017 – Airing of Wine Grievances!

Today, December 23, 2017, is the celebration of Festivus.  Created in 1966 by Daniel O’Keefe and popularized during an episode of the hit TV show, Seinfeld, Festivus is celebrated with Feats of Strength and the Airing of Grievances.  So, in that spirit, we’re here to air a few wine grievances.  We’re looking to make this our one post a year that’s not entirely positive.  So, sit back.  Pour a glass and read on!

These are in no particular order:

  • Lack of hashtags in posts on social media about wines, wineries, vineyards.  You see we’re big proponents of hashtags as a way to brand.  So, all you #NCWine folks out there, USE THE DANG HASHTAG!
  • Untrained tasting room staff.  There’s nothing worse than a tasting room staff who know nothing about the wines they are pouring.  We understand that getting good help can be difficult, but a poor experience affects your brand.
  • Poor tasting glasses.  We’ll admit it.  We’re glass snobs.  Please no glasses with the “lip” around the rim.  These just don’t show wines well.  Upgrade the glass and the experience!
  • Too many wines on the list.  We see this all the time.  Wines lists with 10, 15 or even 20 wines.  We feel this is just too many to be able to focus on quality unless you have a large production staff.  So, scale it back.  You don’t need a new wine for every season.
  • Wineries who aren’t forthcoming in where the grapes for their wine are sourced.  We like to know what we’re tasting and where it was sourced.  If you’re not using local fruit, admit it.  Don’t try to hide it.

  • Children in tasting rooms.  This is probably our #1 grievance if we had to rank them.  Children can’t drink.  Don’t bring them with you to a winery.  Wining is an adult thing and many of us wish to adult in peace and quiet.
  • Parties of 6 or more in tasting rooms who have not called ahead.  This is annoying for tasting room staff and other customers.  If you’re in a group, be courteous!  Call ahead!
  • People who only drink dry wine.  You’re missing out on some really great sweeter wines.
  • People who only drink sweet wine.  Again, most of the wine world is not sweet.  You’re missing out on a lot more than those who only drink dry wine.

  • People who only drink Chardonnay or Cabernet or Merlot.  Give us a break!  We’ll try pretty much anything.  We’re all into to food and wine pairings.  Chardonnay with steak isn’t exactly the best match.  A big, bold Cab with sea bass probably doesn’t work so well either.  So, keep an open mind and try something different!
  • People who constantly bash muscadine wine.  We get it.  Muscadine wine is different.  There’s a distinctive foxy quality in a lot of muscadine.  We’re not big fans of red muscadine, but we won’t turn up our noses at it.  You shouldn’t either.  Find some that are well made.  Maybe one that isn’t so sweet and try it.  You might be surprised!
  • People who think all US wine comes from California.  Yes, California is responsible for 85% of the wine produced in the US, but if you’re only drinking Napa Cab, you truly are missing out!

  • People who think cider is more akin to beer.  Repeat after us!  Cider is NOT brewed!  It’s fermented!  Thus, it is like wine!  Just because you often see is on tap doesn’t mean it’s beer.  Wine can be served on tap too.  We’d like to see more of that!
  • People who think mead is more akin to beer.  Mead is honey WINE!  It’s fermented.  It’s typically bottled in WINE bottles.  If you’re drinking mead, you’re drinking WINE!
  • People who think all cider is sweet.  Cider can go the range from super sweet to super dry.  Again, don’t be afraid to try even if you don’t think you’ll like!
  • People who think all mead is sweet.  Just because mead is made from honey doesn’t mead that it’s all sweet.  Yes, it will almost always have a flavor of honey, but that’s different than sweet.

  • Farm to fork restaurants who don’t have local wine on their lists.  This is probably #2 on our grievance list right after the kids at wineries.  Don’t call yourself a farm to fork locavore restaurant if you don’t have local wine on this list.  There’s just no excuse!
  • 2017 wines that are already out for sale.  Harvest just happened a few months ago.  There are a few exceptions to this, but as a general rule, wine needs time to age, even white wines.  Don’t rush it out!
  • Shiny black labels on a wine bottle.  They look great, but they’re very difficult when it comes to taking a picture of the bottle.  There are too many glares and reflections.  Matte is the way to go!

So, that’s our list for this year.  Here’s hoping next years list is shorter!  And keeping with this theme, leave us your comments of what’s your grievances are.  Just avoid personal attacks.

Cheers and Happy Festivus for the rest of us!

Posted by Joe Brock in Wine, 6 comments