Beer Brewing, as Told by Mad Rocket Scientists

Back after a holiday hiatus, the blog is ready to jump right back into the wide world of alcohol, and what better way to do it than profiling a local brewery?

from right: Full Steam Founder Sean Lilly Wilson and Brewer "32" Chris Davis

Still very much a local brewing company, Full Steam offers their wares mostly within 50 miles of their Durham brewery. Their reputation is that of the mad scientists of the brewing world, experimenting with local ingredients to craft unique beers that take on the personality of the South. From their website:

Our mission is to craft a distinctly Southern beer style using local farmed goods, heirloom grains, and Southern botanicals. Like what, you wonder? We’re making beer with sweet potatoes, corn grits, summer basil, and malted barley house-smoked over hickory. Other successful “plow to pint” experiments to-date include beer brewed with scuppernong grapes, persimmon, paw paw, rhubarb and more.

Ultimately, our vision is to craft a year-round, sustainable, scalable, and distinctly Southern beer brewed 100% with local ingredients. That’s the quest. We’re a long ways from realizing this vision, but we hope you enjoy the adventure as much as we expect to.

I’d like to do a more in-depth profile of the brewery at a future point in time. For now, I want to share my first experience with this brewery, their Rocket Science IPA. Part of their Worker’s Compensation line meant for, in their words, “conversation, not introspection,” the IPA offers an easily enjoyable IPA experience for a variety of taste buds, not just the trained palate.

I picked up a half-gallon growler of their IPA for $10 at Weaver Street Market, our local organic co-op and the go-to market for local and organic craft beers. I wanted a beer to go with watching my Hokies play football, but we didn’t get to this one before the game was over.

That’s probably a good thing, as the bad loss would have diminished my enjoyment. Now that I’ve gotten to give it a try with a level head, I can safely say I’ll be purchasing many more of their beers in the near future.

Full Steam Rocket Science IPA

The beer has a fairly complex appearance, a base of light brown with golden-orange at the edge and a deep red hue in the middle of the glass. It forms a good, thick, long-lasting head that treats the aromas right without being something you have to chew through.

The nose consists of the usual IPA aromas: floral, orange, and light blueberry, all bolstered by a strong smoky, woody scent.

The beer is delightfully full-bodied, with a hefty, active mouthfeel. It has a fairly aggressive carbonation, but nothing too rough.

A bit of a departure from the standard IPA, the attack is smoky and woody with a generous flavor of minerals, overwhelming the bitterness of the hops from the outset. Once the smokiness fades away, the bitterness takes center stage with a brisk, tart orange flavor. There is a slight metallic tinge on the finish, which otherwise tastes of lavender and orange peel.

This is a great beer to pair with a heftier meal. I’d certainly put it up against red meat or a medium level of spice in wings, ribs, or barbecue. It’s not as intense as some IPAs, so keep the spicy to a reasonable level. It’s definitely built to tackle the best your tailgate has to offer. 7/10

Beer: Rocket Science IPA

Producer: Fullsteam Brewery

Region: North Carolina, USA

Hops: Centennial, Amarillo

Alcohol: 6.5%

Price: $8.99 for a half-gallon growler

Full Steam can be found on Twitter at @fullsteam, and you can learn more about the brewery and their events or contact them at their website.

The Great Beer Region Experiment Part 4: North Carolina

As I was working my way through college, I held a multitude of jobs. I worked in retail, in restaurants, in a warehouse, in construction, in an engineering firm… a variety of fun and interesting places. My favorite spot, though, was a 6 month stint at a  now defunct North Carolina sports bar called Overtime. With a variety of local beers bottled and on tap, I should have been in a North Carolina beer lover’s mecca. Unfortunately, I was barely 21 at that point, still embracing my college tastes, and it took me months to even branch out from my macrobrew lager fare.

To be honest, I swore up and down that I despised dark beer. I thought it was ludicrous that people would drink a high calorie brew that tasted like liquid bread… getting drunk shouldn’t be so suffocatingly thick! On one of my off nights, I decided to head into work and get a beer while I did some reading for next semester’s class. I decided to give one of the non-cheap beers a try, and went with a Natty Greene’s Guilford Golden Ale, a Raleigh, North Carolina brew.

I was blown away! So that’s what I was missing! A beautiful nuttiness, very pure, with a pleasant hop flavor that was neither skunky nor watery. From then on out, I was willing to try any beer in the bar. My first experience with the Highland Brewing Company, out of Asheville, North Carolina, came from that revelation. Though Overtime didn’t carry the Gaelic Ale, their most widespread brew, they did carry the Oatmeal Stout. It was the first dark beer that I could quaff with a smile, and it changed my opinion on everything. It may or may not make a difference in your mind, but I now have an Asheville Brewers Alliance bumper sticker on my car.

On a side note, there’s The Great North Carolina Beer Festival coming up on August 28th, in Tanglewood Park in Clemmons, North Carolina (thanks to Jean at NCVine for the heads up!).

Enter the Kashmir IPA: Named after the hotly contested region between India and Pakistan, this beer is brewed with a large variety of hops, a couple of which I’d never even heard of before: Stryian Goldings, Mt. Hood, Fuggles, Magnum, and Willamette. What’s the connection to Kashmir? Kashmir is technically in India, and Kashmir is technically an IPA. I say this because if someone put this beer under your nose in a blind smell test, you might decide it’s something slightly different…

The Results:

Highland Brewing Company Kashmir IPAThe appearance of the beer is a very pure, very clear gold. Carbonation is aggressive with medium-sized bubbles, and head retention is fairly weak, with the head dissipating in less than a minute.

The nose of the beer is a bit weaker than a typical IPA. In fact, the initial bready and nutty aromas make it smell much more like a Pilsner. As the beer develops its aromas, it begins to resemble its style, displaying heavy notes of pineapple, buttered biscuit, and almond as well as a very light, lightly acrid hops smell.

The mouthfeel of the beer is a bit thin, with a lightly tangy activity. The carbonation foams and dissipates easily.

The flavor of the IPA is also slightly weak. The initial flavor is very lightly malty and metallic, with the metallic flavor coming forward more after the attack, joining a slightly yeasty note. The finish consists of mandarin orange with a slight bitterness.

For the Casual Drinker:

Like the last IPA I reviewed, this is a beer with a little more heft than the average beer drinker is used to. Unlike the last one, however, this IPA isn’t nearly as strong, making it qualify more as entry level fare. The flavors are fairly typical for an IPA, just more subdued, making it a good choice for getting your palate ready for heavier beers.

The Conclusion:

Though I didn’t paint an especially flattering picture of this beer above, make no mistake: it’s a very good beer, a serviceable IPA, and a worthy investment of under $2.00 per 12 oz bottle. 6/10

In Case You Missed It:

Beer: Kashmir IPA

Producer: Highland Brewing Company

Region: Asheville, North Carolina

Vintage: n/a

Alcohol: 5.6%

pH: unknown

Price: $1.75 per 12 oz bottle

Purchased at: A Southern Season, Chapel Hill, NC, also available online at Bruisin Ales

Exploring an Utter Mystery in the Yadkin Valley

From the first moment that I saw the name of the winery, “Cellar 4201,” on the North Carolina map, I was intrigued. The name reminded me, strangely, of the vaults from Fallout, and I half-expected to come across some sort of bomb-shelteresque hole in the ground a la Vault 101:

Fallout Vault 101 Door

Instead, you’re greeted by an elegant wooden door surrounded by sub-tropical plants and set in a cottage-like tasting room that seems yanked directly from Italy’s Piedmont countryside:

Cellar 4201 Entrance

Words cannot convey how intrigued I was by this winery simply because of the name. Mysterious, entirely non-descriptive, and surrounded geographically by quirky names like Divine Llama and Rag Apple Lassie and old standbys like Shelton Vineyards and Flint Hill, Cellar 4201 provoked every curious bone I had in my body (206 I believe is the current scientific count). Looking at the pictures from their website only made me even more intrigued.

Oh, and by the way, that pour they put in the montage on the home page? That’s actually about the pour you get if you pay for a glass of wine. All their wines are only $5 by the glass, and you get to keep the glass as a souvenir every single glass you buy. They, uh, they take care of their customers.

The owner, Greg, was out straightening up the patio when we arrived; he gave us a friendly welcoming, and we started conversing. He gave us a rundown of the history of the vineyard, about how he and his wife, Donna, developed their passion for wine through traveling and decided to bring their favorite varietals from France and Italy to North Carolina. While they’ve been growing the grapes since 2003, their tasting room has only been open for a year. They took plenty of time to ensure their wines were top quality before they invited the public in. He also explained the name and the label; rather than gussy up the winery’s name, they wanted to quite simply describe what they were, a wine cellar located at 4201 Apperson Road. All their labels feature an arrowhead, an homage to Donna’s Cherokee heritage. The vibrant orange that runs through their label, their logo, and the flora on-site stems from Donna’s affinity for that color.

The expansive lawn of Cellar 4201 (yes that's a cornhole set out there)

While we talked, Greg began to pour a tasting for us. He described the intent behind each wine, each vintage, explaining why things tasted the way they did. Far from a hands-off owner, Greg planted himself firmly in the winemaking, though he defers to the knowledge of Sean McRitchie, a second-generation winemaker from McRitchie Winery and Ciderworks, whom he recruited to lead the process.

Halfway through the tasting, Greg had to leave to attend to his other business, but his tasting room partner and best friend Aaron continued the customer service. With a sleeveless shirt, tribal bicep tattoo, and a deep tan, Aaron struck me more as a rugged, outdoorsy type than a tasting room attendant, but he quickly demonstrated his passion for and knowledge of Cellar 4201’s wares as he poured the last wines. Aaron described how, after a long friendship spanning decades (“We’ve never had cross words for each other,” he proudly told us), Greg recruited him to help follow his dream and create the vineyard. They attended classes together, conducted blind tastings, and otherwise educated themselves on the varieties they planted. Now, they harvest the grapes, make the wine, and pour the wines together as a seamless duo.

Gotta stop before I write too much again. How about the wines? None are over $15, and all are absolutely fantastic. Small lots are maintained from 5 total acres of vines, and their wines are 100% estate-grown, meaning all the wine gets plenty of attention throughout the process.

Cellar 4201 is a winery after my girlfriend’s heart. She’s a big red drinker, lover of Bordeaux, and very particular about her white wines. Completely flying in the face of the typical North Carolinian palate, Cellar 4201 offers only two whites (neither of them sweet), and the rest of their wines are classic left-bank Bordeaux reds and an Italian red and off-dry Rosé, both single varietal Sangiovese.

09 Stainless Steel Chardonnay – Offers a bright nose of citrus, primarily pineapple, with a surprisingly full flavor of citrus and tropical notes and a very light perceived sweetness balanced by a superb, soft acidity. Finish is medium-long and tastes like lemons. 7/10

06 Barrel-aged Chardonnay - Spent 9 months in older French and American oak, imparting a very light oak on the nose and flavor. Tropical notes still come through on the nose, and the flavor introduces a slightly buttery characteristic as well as tropical and spices. The wine has a beautiful mouth-soaking texture, incredibly smooth and firm. 7/10

Cellar 4201 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Cellar 4201 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

NV Sangiovese – A quick note about the non-vintageness of this wine, straight from Greg: in 2007, frost killed almost all of their Sangiovese, leaving them with just 100 gallons after winemaking. Rather than bottle this as is, Greg decided to barrel-age the whole lot for an additional year, 2 years total, blending it with the 2008 Sangiovese after it had aged for a year.

The result is, in my opinion, the best wine they currently offer. A deep reddish-purple color like the skin of a black cherry, offering a light pepper and smoke that gives way to a rich black cherry flavor. The oak provides an incredibly nuanced, velvety texture while hardly encroaching on the pure flavor of the grapes. The tannins are chalky and delicate, offering a surprisingly smooth red wine that was perfect for sipping out in the sun. 8/10

Also, why Sangiovese? From the about us section: “After traveling to Italy, Donna developed a passion for Sangiovese. While admitting it is difficult to grow, it is currently our signature wine.” Simple.

2006 Merlot - With a nose of brisk cherry and black pepper, the Merlot hardly exhibits the 10 months it spent in French oak. It has a great structure, perhaps a bit lighter than a typical Merlot, but the flavors and texture are simply delightful. 7/10

2006 Reserve Merlot - With their Merlot, they split the vintage, oaking one twice as long as the other. Thus, the Reserve Merlot has all the characteristics of its purer brother, but with a palpable, pleasant oak characteristic. The flavor is fuller, darker, with cherries and pepper just bursting onto the palate. The texture is fuller as well, coating the mouth very nicely. Both styles are equally delicious and affordable, so choosing a Merlot is as simple as figuring out how full you prefer your reds to be. 7/10

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon - Very smoky nose. Complex flavor of dark fruits, tobacco, and wood with a smoky finish. Beautiful full flavor and texture. 10 months in French oak softened it without masking the flavor. 7/10

2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon - With a fuller dark fruit flavor, light oak on the nose and palate, remnants of the smoky and woody character of its lighter brother, and a raisin quality on the finish, the 2006 Reserve Cabernet takes 20 months in French oak in stride. Great texture on this one. 7/10

2006 Sweet Native - The one concession Cellar 4201 has made to the sweet-drinking crowd, the Sweet Native is an off-dry Rosé from 100% Sangiovese with 3% sugar. The flavor is an array of citrus and red fruits, with a pleasantly crisp acidity and a decidedly non-syrupy texture. As Mr. Drink Pink, I approve. 7/10

This post accompanied by a bottle of the Cellar 4201 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. I made it almost 4 days without opening it.

No, Seriously, North Carolina Wine Pt.1: Westbend Vineyards

I just realized that it has been almost a month since I’ve focused a piece on North Carolina wine. That is entirely unacceptable. Luckily, I went on a wine tour this weekend, hitting two of the hottest vineyards in the state, and I’ve got the pictures and tasting notes to prove it.

I might have the tasting notes, but they've got the medals

You might remember the Westbend Vineyards Riesling from an earlier review on my blog (you can check it here). There, I quote a mini-raving by Robert Parker about Westbend’s wines:

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.

Well, I finally got to try the rest of their wines. Want to know what I thought of them? First, a bit more about the vineyard.

Westbend Vineyards began its life as a hobbyist’s farm back in 1972. Originally designating his land a weekend getaway for experimenting with new crops, Jack Kroustalis decided to go against the grain and plant vinifera. He started with the standard French varietals and French/American hybrids, found some early success, and rolled with it from there.

Oh, and the original 150 year-old homestead still stands on one of the vineyards, and they’re currently restoring it to use for events. You’ll recognize it immediately from their labels, which have featured artwork of the homestead pretty much every year since their first official vintage back in 1988.

Recently, they’ve been revamping the vineyard, which was a sprawling mix of various varietals. Old growths of vines that had fallen out of favor were torn out and replaced to homogenize the sections of the vineyard. You can see the results in the picture below, with thick, old vines sharing space with grow tubes.

old and new growth side by side, a sign of changing for the better

The vineyard overall has been growing steadily ever since that first vintage. They’re now up to 300 oak barrels, a mix of American, French, and Hungarian, in addition to their sizable stainless-steel fermentation tanks, recently retrofitted with cooling jackets. They also brought in a winemaker from Long Island, Mark Terry, to take the winery in a new direction. I have to say, based on what I tasted today, that was one savvy business decision.

We got to chat with Mark for awhile, discussing some of his experiments, future plans, and past decisions. I especially liked learning his thought process behind ideas such as fermenting Chambourcin in all three kinds of oak and blending them together. He’s got a bit of a mad scientist kind of mentality about his wines, which is big help when you’re trying to make your winery stand out.

But about those wines…

note: all vintages are what were poured in the tasting room as of June 19th

Let’s start with the reds, and begin with my least favorite wine of theirs, which is something like being the least warm spot on the sun.

Pinot Noir: Yes, a Pinot Noir, that finicky, cruel, flighty varietal, grown in North Carolina. And you know what? It’s on par with many Pinot Noirs I’ve had. Chocolate, coffee, and nutty aromas and flavors lead to a medium chalky finish accompanied by espresso. The mouthfeel is a bit thin, the acidity maybe a tad high but the tannins are pleasantly chalky. 5/10

Chambourcin: One of the most blueberry-heavy wines I’ve experienced in awhile, this is yet another great example of how well Chambourcin does in North Carolina. A dusty, earthy flavor accompanies blackfruits and blackberries on a decent finish. 7/10

Cabernet Sauvignon (’06): Beautiful nose of coffee, slight chocolate flavor, bright cherries, and the oak is nuanced and surprisingly tasty. Bordeaux varietals do very, very well in the Yadkin Valley, and this one is no exception. 7/10

Cabernet Franc: A blend of 85% Cab Franc, 10% Chambourcin, and 5% Merlot. Tobacco on the nose, which is light enough to not overwhelm my senses. Black fruits, raspberry, and heavy cinnamon flavors, and a medium finish with a very stark black pepper flavor, which I actually enjoyed. Beautifully full mouth feel. 7/10

Vintner’s Signature: 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Merlot. A very interesting aroma of raisins, mocha, and cedar. An equally interesting array of flavors: woody, cloves, red fruits, leather… with a velvety mouth feel and a good finish. All I can say is this wine is unusual, and I rather like it. 7/10

“Les Soeurs” Cabernet Sauvignon (’07): A pungent, woody nose of smoke, sawdust, and cigar box. Flavors of espresso, cedar, and ripe black cherry combine with extremely fine, powdery tannins to create a beautifully complex experience. The finish is long and woody. 8/10

So what about the whites?

Viognier: Nose of hot house strawberries, oddly enough. Flavor is pear and minerals. Rather simple, but very pleasant, with a brilliant acidity. 7/10

Barrel Fermented Chardonnay: Heavy nose and flavor of oak, though it pairs fairly well with the coconut flavor. A little overdone, but still enjoyable and smooth. 6/10

Chardonnay: I scribbled in the margins “surprisingly full-bodied.” That it was… that it was. Citrusy and tropical, with pineapple really standing out on the nose. Bright flavor of lemon-lime that matches a crisp acidity and perceived sweetness rather well. 6/10

Watching Chardonnay ferment: more or less exciting than watching paint dry?

Sauvignon Blanc: Rather acidic, with a flavor that’s more nuanced than aggressive. Notes of lemon-lime and melon really match the acidity well, and there’s an herbal overtone that feels right at home with the Sauv Blanc experience. 7/10

First in Flight (NV): Based on the blend, 68% Seyval Blanc, 30% Chardonnay, and 2% Riesling, and the lack of vintage, my initial reaction was lacking in anticipation. Boy, was I wrong. Beautiful pear on the nose, with lemon-lime (seeing a pattern in the whites yet?) matching a light sweetness and strong acidity, and a beautifully clear tart granny smith apple on the finish. 7/10

Do they have good dessert wines?

Hell yes, they do.

Lilly B: A citrusy, floral nose with orange peel and marmalade accompanying a honeyed scent. Very pleasantly sweet, not at all syrupy, with apricot and honey really standing out in the flavors and an explosively active acidity providing a serious backbone to a deliciously pungent wine. 7/10

Lillmark Blanc de Noir: Sparkling wine with a beautiful peach-orange color and a very active carbonation. Absolutely dazzling flavor of sour apple candy. I’ve rarely tasted a flavor as pure and aggressive as this one. We tried it on a whim, and 5 minutes later I was spending $35 on a bottle. Totally, completely worth every penny. 8/10

note:: you can purchase all of these wines at their current vintage on their website at http://www.westbendvineyards.com/

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

Everyone Deserves a Second Chance

The Back Story:

You might remember my post last week, “The Occasional Risk of Buying Local” (or if you don’t, you can find it here), where I brought down some pretty heavy criticism on a Rosé from Grove Winery, a local vineyard. I received by far my highest visitor count on this post, owing to a vigorous discussion of it both online and off, and I also prompted a response from the winemaker himself, Max Lloyd.

Since I basically purchased this wine blind, I wasn’t clear on the specifics behind it. Max explained the history of the wine and offered to ship me a bottle of one of the winery’s specialties, a 2007 Sangiovese, to “cleanse my palate,” as he put it. Rather than shipping one bottle, he sent me two, that and a 2007 Cabernet Franc, giving me a better chance to explore the wines that Grove is better known for. Since it it would be entirely unfair of me to write off a winery after one bad wine, I welcomed the opportunity to give them a fair shake. I popped the cork on the Cabernet Franc, and here’s how it went.

The Results:

The appearance of the wine was a very deep garnet with a pure red translucency when it was held to the light. The swirl suggested a good texture and a rather high viscosity.

The nose of the wine was very fruity, primarily raspberry, a little black pepper, with a slightly spicy aroma and an herbal undertone.

The mouth feel of the wine was velvety, though the initial texture was a little weak. After it hit the tongue, it coated the mouth very nicely.

The flavor of the wine matched the nose pretty well. There was an immediate and dominant raspberry, sweeter than I expected, though the alcohol came forward a little more than I would have liked. The mid-palate had an earthy undertone, maybe a bit too bitter and medicinal, with mocha and red pepper. The finish was a strong, rich cherry. It had a rather high acidity, but the wine is pretty well balanced. The flavor declined slightly after a couple of days, but it’s still entirely enjoyable after 48 hours without any preservative measures.

For the Casual Drinker:

This is a fairly easy-drinking wine. The fruitiness is certainly at the forefront here, which always sits well with the casual palate. There might be something a little bitter that doesn’t quite fit with the taste, but as long as it doesn’t surprise you, you might find it enjoyable. The acidity is also quite high, so it’s a heartburn risk if you’re not ready for it. It didn’t need decanting, and passing it through an aerator barely affected the flavor at all. This wine is ready to go. Paired pretty well with a chocolate brownie, just by the way.

The Conclusion:

While I wouldn’t call this my favorite wine, it’s certainly a good example of the potential that North Carolina wine has. I feel like this wine would have benefited from a little aging to soften the bitterness and acidity, and I’m tempted to sit on my Sangiovese for a year or so and see how kind time is to it. Depends on if I can taste it relatively soon, I guess. Regardless, the wine was leaps and bounds better than the Rosé, and if Grove’s output is more similar to their Cab Franc, I would gladly recommend them to visiting winos. At $15, it’s a relatively inexpensive way to taste the upper echelon of NC wine. 6/10

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