Monday, October 15, 2018

WINE TASTING: The wines of Arizona's Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards

Photo c/o Jeff Shewan
A view from the tasting room at Caduceus Cellars in Arizona.

When you think of Arizona, you think of dry lands, cactus and the Cardinals' continuous losing record – and not wine. But believe it or not, the state has been producing wine since the 16th century, and if you tried some, you'd probably love it.

If you are a fan of the rock band, Tool, or its head honcho Maynard James Keenan, you probably already know about the wines being produced by Caduceus Cellars. And if you don't, well, here is your chance to learn.

As owner of Caduceus Cellars, as well as Merkin Vineyards in Arizona, Keenan is known for some pretty powerful and tannic wines in the likes of Judith, Airavata and Anubis. Keenan is also a partner with Stronghold Vineyards – so you might say Keenan is holding down the fort in Arizona.

Both Caduceus and Merkin don't see a lot of distribution here in North Carolina, if you see it in a bottle shop, it's probably thanks to 17th Street Distributing out of Concord. So when our friends at Wine & Beer 101-Wake Forest posted on Facebook its "The Great Wines of Arizona," we knew we had to attend.

Wine & Beer's Rufus Hoffman told the intimate crowd of around 18 people that this event is just one of many he plans for the future – a day to "try to find some unique stuff," he said. After a brief introduction on Arizona wines, he handed it over to the representative from 17th Street Distributing.


Merkin Chupacabra Blanc (Reg. $19.99) – This was a blend of 45% Sauvignon Blanc and 55% Riesling. We have lately lost our love for Sauvignon Blanc, but blended with the Riesling, keeps this wine from being either too sweet or too dry. It was a great wine to start out this tasting.

Caduceus Dos Ladrones (Reg. $26.99) – Roughly translated meaning "Two Thieves" this wine is a blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Malvasia. This was an interesting wine – for us not being fans of Chardonnay. However, we were enthralled with what the Malvasia grape brought to this wine. A native of the Mediterranean, this grape is starting to see more growth on the west coast (California, Arizona and parts of New Mexico).

Merkin Chupacabra Red (Reg. $26.99) – The Chupacabra is a blend of 45% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 15% Mouvedre, a GSM, if you will. GSM's usually come from South of France in the Rhone Valley, but you sometimes see them here in the U.S. – and it's usually a gem when you can find one. This was a great wine to have with any sort of meal (pastas with red sauce, pizza or burgers).

Caduceus Primer Paso (Reg. $44.99) – Now we're starting to get into the big boy section. This is where the deep, dark, rich fruit and high tannins come into play. And it started out big with the Primer Paso. This is the wineries take on the Coté Rotie-style. However, this wine was altered using Malvasia Bianca in place of the Viognier – and is made up of 60% Syrah, 36% Petite Sirah and 4% Malvasia Bianca. This wine got a lot of praise around the table. 

Caduceus Naga (Reg. $44.99) – This is Keenan’s take on a classic super tuscan wine. The Rep mentioned how the blends can change on this wine depending on the year, and the one we were enjoying happened to be a blend of 70% Sangiovese and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. We liked the Primer Paso a little more than this one, but still one great wine.

Caduceus Anubis (Reg. $59.99) – Of course they saved the best for last. The blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and a dash of Petite Sirah was the perfect way to end the night. It’s Caduceus’ beefiest beef friendly wine in its lineup.  Produced in small batches, it left us wanting more … and so we bought more – to take home!

Many at the tables really loved the Cabernet Franc taste in the last wine, which lead the rep to praise North Carolina winemakers, and the wines they've produced using the Cabernet Franc. "Cabernet Franc is growing well in North Carolina, and there are some very incredible wines in this state to check out," he said. "Cabernet Franc loves the red dirt and really does well here." We have to agree – along with Chambourcin and Traminette, these grapes grow well in our state.

Monday, October 8, 2018

North Carolina Wine: Piccione Vineyards celebrates 3-year anniversary

North Carolina's Piccione Vineyards recently killed two birds with one stone. The winery paid homage to the end of La Vendemmia, or harvest, as well as celebrating its 3-year anniversary of catering to guests with good wine and customer service.

On an overcast Saturday afternoon in October, which eventually opened up to a bright day with the sun's rays overpowering the clouds, the festivities began. We arrived at around noon, after paying a visit to the Shiloh General Store to pick up some fresh-made sandwiches and snacks.

The event was $15 per person, or $10 for wine club members (which we currently are), and included a ticket for one glass of wine. So we paid our $20 and talked to tasting room manager, Hailey Klepcyk. Upon walking down the steps towards the tasting room, and getting the great view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, we were able to hear the tunes from James Vincent Carroll – a regular musician in the wine world out in Yadkin Valley. His interpretations of classic rock tunes, as well as his original works have made him a great addition when enjoying a glass or bottle of North Carolina Wine.

Check out our brief interview with James Vincent Carroll here!

The crowd was already filling up all the outside seating, so we decided to take a look inside, which was pretty packed as well. We were able to pick up our three wines as part of our wine club and then decided on a couple glasses of wine to start off the afternoon. Jen went with the Rosato rosé, while Dathan selected the Nero.

We found a park bench towards the entrance of the tasting room, where we sat down and ate our sandwiches, while listening to JVC belt out classics by Pink Floyd, The Eagles, Bon Jovi and an awesome rendition of Jace Everett's Bad Things, which you might know as the theme song to the HBO vampire series "True Blood." If you didn't pack a lunch like us, that wasn't a problem – Full Moon Oyster Bar was selling plates of oysters, shrimp, fish and chicken sandwiches. There was also Café Gelato and Heritage Homestead, who was selling goat cheese products, including goat milk fudge.

After we finished our glasses of wine, we decided to take out the lawn chairs out of the back of the car and finish listening to JVC's set while enjoying a bottle of the Rosato – which we finished under the now glaring heat of the sun. But the people enjoyed the entertainment, food and of course, the wine. As did we. Piccione Vineyards, the Piccione family, who were on hand, the staff and Hailey did a great job organizing this event. And we left pretty content. I think the only thing we missed out on is we didn't get to hear Shelley Ruffin and Soul Revival perform. But we will leave that for another time.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook at Triangle Around Town to keep up with our wine and beer travels around the Tar Heel State.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Pepper Festival returned to Chapel Hill for 11th annual event

By Dathan Kazsuk

It was all about the peppers. Spicy peppers. Mild peppers. There’s the Jalapeno peppers for that nice heat. Serrano peppers are great when cooking. Poblano peppers are for fixing up a batch of Chile Rellenos. And you’ll always have someone go crazy with Habanero heat. Or downright insane with Carolina Reapers. I tend to like the heat and flavor that stems from peppers such as the Fresno or Hatch. It really comes down to your palate and where you like your Scoville scale to lean towards.

Peppers are something I enjoy in my food – spice it up – kick it up a notch – all of that. However, at home, I have to be mindful of the better half of Triangle Around Town, who doesn’t prefer intense heat. So, when we got the invite to be two-thirds of the judges in the beverage department for the 11th annual Pepper Festival in Chapel Hill on September 23 – we were thrilled.

It was an afternoon of sampling pepper-themed drinks and food crafted by dozens of local chefs, brewers, distillers and artisans. All of this brought to life by Abundance North Carolina – an organization that brings people together to cultivate and celebrate community resilience in our Piedmont-region of our state. We were anxious to begin.

Once signed in, we made our way around to the vendors. After a quick pass around the lot to get our bearings and away we go! As soon as they started letting people in, it was just like an old ‘60s movie where flocks of men would surround a beautiful girl – that’s how it was with long lines starting to grow around some of the more popular restaurants and breweries. On the south side of the lawn you’d think that Mystery Brewing, The Brothers Vilglays and Heirloom were the Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot of the festival. But instead of blowing kisses and batting an eyelash, they were serving up pepper beers, spicy mojitos and pulled chicken sliders with homemade pickles.

Tracking our way slowly, so we’d have time to take in all the vendors, we made a pit stop at Chatham Cider Works to taste the guava pepper mimosa, which was brilliant – as well as buy a full pour of the bourbon barrel-aged dry cider. The cider, which had just a hint of sweet wood and peaty aroma paired well with some of the other pepper treats we tried. Come to think of it, a lot of the chefs that afternoon were keen on blended soup-based elements as well as experimenting on various forms of succotash.

Around the north side of the lawn, we found Diane Currier, owner of Honeygirl Mead in Durham. We were happy to see her at the pepper festival, knowing the last time we visited her meadery we sampled a few meads that weren’t quite ready at the time – but thought would be perfect for this festival. “I made those meads just for this event,” she said as she poured her first mead for us to try. So now we got to try the finished products – a mango habanero and a strawberry habanero mead.

Bidding adieu, we continued on our journey – to judge. And by God, judge is what we were going to do. But with just about an hour to hit up 10 different places, it was going to be a drink and dash sort of afternoon – at least until we were done tallying up our scores. Jen points out the first of my list of vendors, and that was Chapel Hill’s TOPO Distillery. Pulling up to the tent, TOPO was quick to see the clipboard in hand and started pouring samples of all three drinks they were offering that afternoon. From there between the two of us we hit up local-area businesses such as Brothers Vilglays, Vencino Brewing, Fair Game Beverage and Fullsteam Brewing to name a few.

While pulling up shop at a wooden table, sampling around 6 different beverages on the table, we were greeted by Dave Tollefson of NC Beer Guys fame. He, along with his wife, Linda, thought it was funny that the ‘beer guy’ didn’t have any beers to judge this time around. Which was quite funny, I have to admit. However, he raved about Honeygirl’s habanero meads, as I told him about some of our favorites that afternoon.

So let’s mention the judges for this year’s Pepper Festival. Judging the food were Nancy Thapa (Yelp NC Triangle); Ashley Freeman and Andrew Keravuor (Raleigh Food Pics); Lisa Jeffries (Raleighwood Media Group). Judging the beverages were Dave Tollefson (NC Beer Guys); Dathan Kazsuk and Jennifer Primrose (Triangle Around Town).

And without further ado, we present to you, the winners of the 11th annual Pepper Festival.

  • Feeling Spirited, Best Spirit: Fairgame Distillery
  • Ale Drink to That, Best Beer/Cider/Mead: Honeygirl Meadery
  • Most Loved Libation, Best in Show Drink: HomeBucha
  • The Savory Stunner, Best Savory Dish: Little River Eco Farm
  • My Sweet Heat, Best Sweet Dish: Big Spoon Roasters
  • The Double Take, Most Creative Dish: Fusion Fish
  • The Platinum Pepper, Best in Show: The Food Fairy
  • The Staff Sweetheart, Most Local: Angelina’s Kitchen