An Iterative Pun: Dry Chenin from Dry Creek

The Back Story:

I just had long, fulfilling day, early at work, tossing cardboard boxes off a truck, getting my wine(accessorized) affairs in order before I took an early weekend, then spending the afternoon wrestling with the DMV (not the people there… they were without a doubt the nicest people I’ve ever dealt with in a government capacity, I just have bad mojo when it comes to multiple choice tests on touch screens).

Once I got home, I broke into the remainder of a sub-$10 Italian Rosato, Vecchia Torre Leverano Rosato, to be exact. It was over 90 degrees outside, the house was warm, and that wine just didn’t hit the spot. I said in its review that it’s good for a warm spring or summer afternoon. When it’s that hot and humid, though, honest-to-god-I’m-sweating-just-from-opening-the-door-that’s-how-bad-it-is-hot, this wine doesn’t work.

Instead of making the effort to make a decision myself, I decided to leave it up to the Twitterverse. I offered up the choice between a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, a Chablis, or a dry Chenin Blanc. The response came back 50/50 for the Sauv Blanc, Chenin Blanc. Becauce I’ve been on a Sauv Blanc tear recently, I went with the Chenin Blanc. I’m gonna have to say, thank you, Twitterverse.

The Results:

Dry Creek Dry Chenin BlancThe appearance of the wine is a light yellow with a slight green tint. It appears to have a fairly low viscosity.

The nose of the wine is fairly typical for a dry Chenin Blanc. It’s rather subdued, fruity, with a bit of alcohol heat. It has a fairly simple scent of honey, crisp green apple, and lime.

The mouth feel of the wine is a bit fuller than I expected, very creamy, with a tingling, lasting acidity.

The flavor of the wine mimics the nose, but fuller, smoother. The attack is very minerally, which fades into a nice apple and citrus. There’s also medium finish with a very pure flavor of ripe banana. The flavor is very, almost surprisingly soft, yet still tart. It’s dry, yes, but offset by enough residual sugar that it’s on the lower end of dry. It’s an interesting and sublime sensation, and that sensation goes with the flavor on the finish extremely, extremely well. I absolutely love the balance of this wine.

For the Casual Drinker:

This is a very pleasant, very flavor neutral kind of wine. The acidity and alcohol aren’t terribly prominent, which keeps the wine in balance with the subtle flavors and lack of sweetness. The apple, citrus, and tropical notes on the nose and palate are pretty suitable to most white wine enthusiasts, and the soft dryness will be more palatable to red wine drinkers. As far as food pairing, chicken, not too spicy, or pork, not too spicy. Grilling these meats outdoors with this wine just sounds like a winner to me.

The Conclusion:

As @jontroutman said as he answered my request, a dry Chenin Blanc “when done right, [is] one of the greatest wine pleasures.” While this isn’t the greatest Chenin Blanc I’ve had, it certainly hit the spot after a long, arduous day. That this one comes in at around $13 makes it all the sweeter. 7/10

P.S. Oh look, a screw-cap!

The Search for the Best Boxed Wine: Week 10

The Back Story:

Ladies and gentlemen, the first iteration of the Search for the Best Boxed Wine has come to an end. After this boxed wine is exhausted, we will take a hiatus to allow the boxed wine market to change and develop. Once the 2009s are in full swing, we’ll revisit the experiment. Until then, I’ll continue to monitor these boxed wines, and I’ll create a full wrap-up post at the end of June. I appreciate you guys sticking through with this, giving me your attention, and not mocking me too much as I binged on mediocre juice. Hopefully we’ve at least been able to change a few minds about the economic viability of serving wine in bag-in-boxes.

I was hoping to end the first 10 weeks with a really kick-ass boxed wine, one that would put all the others to shame. We head to the unplumbed depths of the “award winning” 2009 Angel Juice Pinot Grigio in search of untold beauty wrapped in PET and cardboard.

(Disclosure, I snort-laughed when I noticed the “Outstanding Value” label on the box.)

The Results:
The appearance of the wine is a slightly pale straw, and it appears to have a medium viscosity.

The nose of the wine is very sweet and ripe, with tropical notes, melon, and citrus. Alcohol is detectable but not particularly hot at 12.5%.

The mouth feel of the wine is medium-bodied, a bit creamy, but it has a dead-weight kind of feel to it. Not a whole lot of activity.

The flavor of the wine is surprisingly bland. There’s a bit of honeydew melon and lime, but that’s basically it. Finish consists of, as far as I can tell, some sort of tropical fruit, possibly ripe banana. It’s difficult to tell because the balance is a bit off… you can taste the acidity on the finish. Alcohol is pretty well balanced, at least at around 50 degrees. As soon as the wine warmed up a bit, the flavor actually got a little bit more open. Apple became detectable, even prominent, and the citrus and melon flavors matched the acidity even better.

For the Casual Drinker:

It’s difficult to entirely recommend this wine. Pinot Grigio isn’t known for having an aggressive flavor, but that’s exactly what this wine needs in order to counteract the acidity and alcohol. As such, you’re getting a good, pleasant flavor, but it’s tempered by the imbalance. The acidity is definitely a heartburn risk and it’s a bit temperature sensitive, so don’t serve it too cold or the flavors will be too subdued. The flavor’s not opening up any in the glass.

The Conclusion:

At $20.00, or $5.00 per bottle, it’s certainly filling its niche as a bargain wine. It’s not inherently bad, just a bit flawed, but at that price, it’s perfectly fine. 5/10.

Current Line-Up:

Angel Juice Pinot Grigio 2009

  • Week 0 – Decent Pinot Grigio flavor, slight imbalance, opens up as it warms.

Bodegas Osbourne Seven NV

  • Week 0 – 6/10 – Red-fruit, spicy, slightly earthy. Bit imbalance in the alcohol. Very smooth and well-rounded.
  • Week 1 – 6/10 – Still a great flavor and a good balance. Still a pleasant tannic character.

Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc 2009

  • Week 0 – 6/10 – Tropical, citrus, herbal flavors and nose. Slightly imbalanced acidity and alcohol.
  • Week 1 – 6/10 – Very similar to last week. Possibly I forgot to flesh this out last week :-). It’s still great.
  • Week 2 – 6/10 – Very good flavor, balance is maybe a little bit more off.

Double Dog Dare Chardonnay, California NV

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – Very off-putting nose, dull, listless color, rough mouth feel, apple and oak flavor, imbalanced acidity.
  • Week 1 – 2/10 – Flavor and balance have taken a dive. The chemical from the nose is noticeable on the flavor
  • Week 2 – 2/10 – Consistent from the last week. Weak flavor and nose, imbalance.
  • Week 3 – 2/10 – Still doing what it does. It’s imbalanced, chemically, but still clinging to its flavor.

Big House Red, California 2008

  • Week 0 – 7/10 – Lean, light texture, floral and red-fruit flavors, good balance, slightly hot nose, medium finish
  • Week 1 – 6/10 – Flavor has deteriorated a bit, and there’s a harshness that I possibly didn’t detect before
  • Week 2 – 5/10 – Harshness has intensified. The flavors are still good, just slowly fading.
  • Week 3 – 4/10 – Alcohol is detectable in the mouthfeel, finish, and nose. Flavor is a bit rougher.
  • Week 4 – 3/10 – Odd cigarette flavor and scent now… this wine is not lasting well at all.

Retired Line-up:

Pinot Evil Pinot Noir NV

  • Week 0 – 5/10 – Slightly imbalanced acidity, balanced alcohol, earthy nose, red fruit flavor, short finish, slight metallic undertaste.
  • Week 1 – 5/10 – Still as fresh as when it was opened. Similar earthiness, red fruits, short finish, slightly imbalanced acidity.
  • Week 2 – 5/10 – Still tasting pretty fresh. Still balanced. Flavor tastes on par with previous tastings.
  • Week 3 – 4/10 – Flavor is beginning to diminish, causing the alcohol flavor and metallic taste to come through more.
  • Week 4 – 4/10 – Holding steady from last week. Still a slightly off flavor, but it hasn’t diminished since.
  • Week 5 – 4/10 – Nose is a bit more harsh. Cherry flavor is strangely more prominent.
  • Average score: 4.5/10. Length of stay = 5 weeks. Final score is 5/10. I would completely recommend this wine as a stalwart backup for any occasion as well as a decent sipper on its on right.

Monthaven Central Coast Chardonnay 2008

  • Week 0 – 5/10 – Imbalanced (high) acidity, balanced alcohol, apple, tropical, oaky flavors and nose, medium-bodied, way too bitter finish.
  • Week 1 – 5/10 – Similar balance in acidity and alcohol, similar flavors and nose, similar bitter finish
  • Week 2 – 5/10 – Starting to taste a bit more imbalanced, flavors and nose have faded slightly, finish is less bitter
  • Week 3 – 4/10 – Odd caramel scent on the nose. Flavor has deteriorated and the balance is still off.
  • Week 4 – 3/10 – Flavor has deteriorated further. Alcohol flavor is starting to take a prominent feature.
  • Week 5 – 3/10 – Held steady for the final week. Still drinkable, and the flavor’s still partially there.
  • Average score: 4.2/10. Length of stay = 5 weeks. Final score is 5/10. Though it didn’t finish strongly, this boxed wine is good for a few weeks of very tasty drinking.

Wine Cube California Vintner’s Red Blend 2008

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – Weak structure, heavy oak nose, red-fruit profile, heavy vanilla oak flavor, light-bodied, very short finish.
  • Week 1 – 3/10 – Exactly the same as before. Somehow, and I don’t know how, this sweet vanilla red wine manages to be drinkable.
  • Week 2 – 3/10 – Nose is a little bit off, but the flavor is still the same as before.
  • Week 3 – 3/10 – Same flavor, just a bit weaker. Odd buttered popcorn scent on the nose now.
  • Week 4 – 3/10 – Alcohol is becoming prominent on the nose and flavor. Other than that, it’s holding up well
  • Week 5 – 1/10 – Became much harsher, flavor took a nose-dive. It’s about time… it’s time to retire.
  • Average score: 2.7/10. Length of stay = 5 weeks. Final score is 3/10. I really didn’t want to like this wine, but it held up extremely well after being opened. Too bad it simply wasn’t well made.

Bota Box Shiraz California 2006

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – Imbalanced (high) acidity, imbalanced (high) alcohol, smooth texture, black fruits, very hot nose
  • Week 1 – 3/10 – Imbalanced acidity and alcohol, smooth texture, no loss in flavor, hot nose, maybe a bit more bitter finish
  • Week 2 – 3/10 – Still imbalanced, same texture, flavor, and nose. Holding its meager flavor well.
  • Week 3 – 3/10 – There’s something a little off on the flavor, but it’s not enough to drop the score. Still mostly the same.
  • Week 4 – 2/10 – Tastes very soft now, like the structure is beginning to deteriorate. Weak flavor, alcohol is strangely no longer prominent in the flavor
  • Week 5 – 2/10 – The flavor profile is very different. Very soft, very meek, hardly representative of the big fruit that preceded it.
  • Average score: 2.6/10. Length of stay = 5 weeks. Final score is 3/10. Had a pretty decent stay, though it came from humble beginnings. If nothing else, you’ve got over a month to drink it.

Black Box Chardonnay Monterey 2008

  • Week 0 – 4/10 – Imbalanced (high) acidity, balanced alcohol, briny, weak texture, slightly sour, fruit-forward, weak nose
  • Week 1 – 3/10 – Lost nothing on the nose, lost some flavor, still very imbalanced acidity, similar mouth feel, texture, increased sourness
  • Week 2 – 2/10 – Nose and flavor are starting to get musty, still overly acidic, beginning to taste flat, metallic, alcohol flavor still balanced
  • Week 3 – 1/10 – Nose and flavor lost distinguishing characteristics. Taste mostly of acid and alcohol. Flavor is officially wince-inducing. Consider this guy retired.
  • Average score: 2.5/10. Length of stay = 3 weeks. Final score is 2/10. Started off all right, but deteriorated too quickly to make it a contender for the best boxed wine.

Washington Hills Merlot NV

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – Imbalanced (high) alcohol, decent acidity, red fruit, blueberry, oaky flavors and nose, short finish.
  • Week 1 – 3/10 – Still hot on the tongue, balanced acidity, flavors are all holding true. Nose hasn’t changed.
  • Week 2 – 3/10 – Nose and flavor are still the same, mediocre but not any worse.
  • Week 3 – 2/10 – A slightly unusual, chemical flavor is starting to come forward. It’s really affecting the flavor.
  • Week 4 – 0/10 – Nose consists entirely of alcohol now. Flavor is unrecognizable. This guy is retired.
  • Average score: 2.2/10. Length of stay = 4 weeks. Final score is 1/10. Started poorly, and the wine was essentially undrinkable after 3 weeks. Not a good trait in a boxed wine.

Along for the Ride: United Slurps of America

Today, I have the distinct honor of joining Swirl Smell Slurp for their United Slurps of America tour. Representing the great state of North Carolina is McRitchie Vineyard, a winery from Yadkin Valley AVA. Come to think of it, I should have just called this Yadkin Valley Week. If nothing else, I hope this week on Wine(Explored) and this collaboration proves that North Carolina is capable of producing a premiere wine-growing region.

Make sure you head to check out the full post at Swirl Smell Slurp. They’re the ones who conceived and organized the idea; I’m just along for the ride.

Onto the wines!

McRitchie 2009 Yadkin Valley Fallingwater

The Fallingwater has a very light yellow color, with just a tinge of green, and it has a lower viscosity than I would have expected. The nose consists of overly ripe tropical notes, apricot and a sweetness like honey, and a bit of vinyl. Rather dry, with a detectable alcohol flavor and a hot scent. Flavor of apricot preserves, pineapple, and there is that slight vinyl flavor. It’s got a very luxurious, tropical medley on the finish that’s hard to pin down but still very enjoyable.  Has a very strong acidity that becomes prominent on the finish. Balance isn’t quite there for me. 5/10.

McRitchie Apple Cider

McRitchie North Carolina Dry Hard Cider

It’s much, much lighter than most hard ciders I’ve seen. I cheered inwardly a bit when I noticed the carbonation in the glass. It’s very fine, frizzante, not aggressive like the more common hard ciders. It has a musty, Champagne-like nose with a very subdued apple scent. I honestly don’t know what to expect just from the smell. The flavor is very subtle, and, as the name states, very dry. The apple flavor is pure, but not sweet, like apple juice. If it weren’t for the warming sensation in my throat and stomach, I wouldn’t even be sure there was alcohol here. It barely comes through on the finish, but there’s just enough there to give it a bite. Its got a great balance. 7/10.

McRitchie 2008 Yadkin Valley Merlot

Before I even get to the color, I can smell the chocolate. My exact words: “mmmm, chocolatey.” Anyway, the color is a wonderful, deep, rich red with a very, very light purple tint that becomes noticeable on the swirl.  In addition to the chocolate on the nose, there’s a jammy cherry scent. I also, and I think I’m a bit crazy, get a hint of both burlap and maple syrup. Was this aged in French oak? I can definitely detect the oak influence in the flavor, contributing a powdery vanilla-sugar flavor. I also get a tart cherry and coffee and a bit of chocolate on the finish, which is long and clean. There’s also a certain sort of baking spice flavor like cloves or cinnamon. Mouthfeel is a bit stringy and the alcohol/acidity balance is a bit harsh, but the overall experience is a clean, medium-bodied, classic Merlot flavor. 6/10.

McRitchie Ring of Fire

McRitchie 2008 Yadkin Valley Ring of Fire

Color’s a very deep, almost opaque reddish purple. Rich scent of redcurrant and coffee. It has a very smooth, very full texture, evidence of a very good amount of time in oak. Flavor is a very rich mocha with a bit of cherry. Tannins are chalky, not quite chewy, and the sensation lingers on the finish. Good balance on the alcohol here; it contributes to the structure without coming forward. This one is my favorite of their wines. 7/10.

If you’re looking to get your hands on some of their wine, just drop by They’ve got all the info you need to start experiencing their wines for yourself!

Note, these wines were provided by the winery as a sample for review.

Westbend Riesling, More Fine Wine from Yadkin Valley

Because I neglected to ask for permission to use Westbend's winery photos, here's a picture of a Panda playing a tabla.

Westbend, like Childress, is a winery that I’ve heard quite a lot about since I moved to the area but never got around to tasting. Also like Childress, it is situated in the Yadkin Valley, the fertile wine-growing region southwest of Greensboro. Its name is derived from its situation near a particular part of the Yadkin River that briefly bends back towards the west before meeting the South Yadkin River and continuing on towards South Carolina.

There’s a pretty good reason why I’ve heard quite a bit about Westbend, and it’s spelled out rather clearly on their website: “Wine Spectator has scored Westbend wines the highest of any other North Carolina wines.” Pretty high praise you’re heaping on yourselves, there, Westbend. I kid, I kid. There are only 50 wineries that can claim that outright in their particular state. I’m no statistician, but my money’s on that being fairly good company.

For more on Westbend Vineyards, here’s Robert Parker: “One of the South’s best kept wine secrets is Westbend Vineyards in Lewisville, North Carolina. Westbend produces two excellent Chardonnay cuvées; a tasty, rich Seyval, a good Sauvignon, and a surprisingly spicy, herbal, cassis and chocolate scented and flavored Cabernet Sauvignon. As fine as these wines are, I am surprised they are not better known outside of North Carolina.”

You forgot one, Mr. Parker: the Riesling. Facepalm yourself, good sir. As for me, here’s what I thought of their 2008 Riesling.

The Results:

The appearance of the wine is a deep yellow with a green tint. It has a moderately high viscosity.

The nose of the wine is very floral and perfume-y, with an orchard fruit smell of apple and pear. There is a very slight alcohol scent.

The mouth feel of the wine is rather full-bodied with a creamy, tangy texture. It feels very active on the tongue.

The flavor of the wine is, like the nose, extremely reminiscent of an orchard. There’s a rich, ripe pear attack with hints of citrus, apricot and minerals, and a long floral finish, sweet and full. The balance is phenomenal. A decent sweetness matches a rich acidity, and the alcohol, at 12.5%, accents the flavors very well.

The wine was paired with a cajun dish of chicken and potatoes, and the pungent flavors and sweetness counteracted the spice supremely well.

For the Casual Consumer:

This wine is aggressive and beautifully flavored, but not a dessert wine, an eye-opening combination for someone expecting a sweet, fruity wine or a drier, lighter one. This wine is great on its own, maybe a little too full to be a summer sipper, but it’s really built for spicier meals. Like the aforementioned chicken dish, a white meat pairing does this wine justice.

The Conclusion:

I’ve had few white wines that would justify a $20 price tag, considering how many fantastic whites you can get at a value price. This wine fully justifies its suggested retail of $17, and even if you see it for over $20, I’d recommend picking it up. This is what North Carolina is capable of. 8/10

This review was cross-posted at NC Vine.

For a review of the 2009 Westbend Riesling, check out Cork’d.

How NASCAR Drivers Do Cabernet Franc

The Back Story:

I’m going to say this straight: I am not a NASCAR fan. I’ve grown up in NASCAR country, lived near a speedway of one kind or another most of my life, and it’s just never rubbed off on me. A former NASCAR driver worked on my car once in Alabama.

He had a trophy up from Watkins Glen in his auto shop. I couldn’t tell you in which state he won that.

Checkered flag imageChildress Vineyards was founded by former NASCAR driver Richard Childress. His career in racing took him near the major wine-producing regions of the country, coast to coast. He developed a passion for wine as he traveled, and when his career came to a close, he researched the wine-growing conditions in the area and decided to pursue this new passion in the North Carolina piedmont.

Some of his wines have a checkered flag pattern on the label. I didn’t know why until today. I just thought it was a cool stylistic thing, like a tablecloth pattern to designate a table wine. I’m kind of dense like that sometimes.

I want to point out that I knew none of this history until I checked out the Childress Vineyards website. The only Childress I ever knew before today was my second-grade teacher. And that coach for the Vikings. That dude’s alright.

So what’s the deal with this wine? It’s made from grapes grown in North Carolina’s own Yadkin Valley and pressed and bottled on site. It contains 77% Cabernet Franc and 23% Syrah, and it spent 15 months in French oak. Thanks for springing for the French, Mr. Childress.

The Results:

Childress Cabernet FrancThe appearance of the wine is a fairly deep ruby color. The swirl suggests a fairly light viscosity and a smooth texture. It has a very beautiful, very rich depth.

The nose of the wine is just as inviting. It’s very aromatic with black cherry, cloves, and chocolate all coming forward. It has a hint of red apple, and there’s a cool alcohol scent, but it doesn’t overwhelm or otherwise negatively impact the nose.

The mouth feel of the wine is very soft, with a milky, silky texture and a medium body.

The flavor of the wine is simply a delight. There’s a dark cherry attack, with flavors of coffee and chocolate on the mid-palate accompanied by very soft tannins. I’m getting a red-fruit finish, like ripe strawberry, with a slightly bitter acidity and a subtle earthiness. As I was tasting this wine on Twitter while I wrote this review, one of my fellow Raleigh dwellers, @SeanNally, responded that it sounded like German Black Forest cake. I’ll be damned if it doesn’t! Those macerated cherries with the sour notes amplified by a sweet syrup, with milk chocolate shavings and a rich mocha cake? That’s the flavor profile for this wine. The balance is phenomenal with a relatively low acidity (3.59 pH) and alcohol at 13.3%.

For the Casual Drinker:

This is a very approachable red wine. The tannins are soft, the acidity very much in check, the flavors both straight-forward and bright. It’s a very luxurious and understated red wine, not chewy, aggressive, or overwhelming. Most people, I think, would be right at home with the chocolate-y, red-fruit characteristics. Because its flavor is a bit delicate, pairing it is trickier. Keep away from red meat, anything overly spicy or salty, anything you would describe as piquant. Pork, marinated chicken, cheese dishes seem to be the key here.

The Conclusion:

For my second big foray into North Carolina wine, this was more than I expected. In addition, 5 years was the perfect age for this wine. I would recommend this wine to anybody as an example of what North Carolina wine is capable of. For roughly $20, this wine delivers splendid value. 7/10


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