Friday, August 31, 2018

Wine Pairing Weekend – Summer Whites in Yadkin Valley

The Yadkin Valley Summer Whites event, sponsored by Yadkin County Tourism Development Authority, took place this past weekend, Aug. 25-26, 2018. Being more red wine drinkers, we've attended the Winter Reds event a handful of times but it was now time to help wind down summer with some refreshing whites!

This year's event included 11 wineries and 2 days. Believe it or not, we met some daring wine drinkers who accomplished all 11 wineries in one day. Not us! We decided to take our time and turn this into a weekend getaway. And we are so glad we did.

The Summer Whites event pairs a 2 oz pour of a featured white wine at each winery with a 3 oz food pairing for a $25 fee. It's a great way to visit several wineries and see what they all have to offer.

So, what exciting food pairings did we try? Let’s find out!

Pairing up wines at Laurel Gray, Shadow Springs and Windsor Run Cellars.
Day 1:

We started our tour at Laurel Gray Vineyards. Here we were treated to Mexican street corn pasta paired with pinot gris.

Next, we headed down the road to Shadow Springs Vineyards and enjoyed a serving of meatballs with a golden BBQ glaze and fig sauce paired with a seyval blanc. We have to say, the glaze and fig sauce was quite tasty!

Practically around the corner from Shadow Springs, we came up on Windsor Run Cellars. Here we got a little taste of fall with an apple sausage kabab paired with the winery's apple mead. While there we decided on a tasting of their fortified wines. We had an enjoyable time with our host being sure to keep us on our toes with corny jokes.

Sweets at Dobbins Creek, our ticket for the weekend, pasta salad with traminette at Midnight Magdalena.

We then headed over to Dobbins Creek Vineyards where they were serving up a honey crisp tart paired with its chardonnay. 

It was suppose to be our last stop of the afternoon – as we headed over to Midnight Magdalena Vineyard where we were treated to Mediterranean pasta salad with chicken paired with the 2016 traminette.

At the 4 o’clock hour and the event ending at 5 p.m., we decided to hightail it to one last winery for the afternoon.

We headed over to Brandon Hills Vineyard where they were serving roast chicken sliders with a mango-peach salsa paired with its viognier. This was only our second time visiting Brandon Hill, so we decided to also do a full tasting and had a great time talking with the owner before he had to dash and get ready for a trip to Paris the following day.  

Day 2:

On day 2 with 5 wineries left and only 4 hours to finish them all. Our first stop was at Sanders Ridge Vineyard. Sanders Ridge is also home to Roots Restaurant. The pairing today was blackened salmon tostada with poblano cream sauce, paired with barrel-aged chardonnay. We loved this pairing together, especially the tostada! Yum.

Down the road and to the left, we come up on RagApple Lassie Vineyards where we were served divine liquid center truffles paired with Kaleidoscope Gold. These truffles, filled with, you guessed it – wine, will be a staple there soon. Note: do not bite into the truffle, else you’ll be wearing it.

Sliders, salmon tostadas and a specially-made white chocolate candy.

Our next stop was Sweet Home Carolina Vineyards where we were served corn bread and chicken salad paired with Sweet Dreams. The Sweet Dreams is sweeter wine but paired nicely with the chicken salad and the corn bread was great.

We decided on Cellar 4201 next where we were served lemon pepper grilled chicken skewer paired with a stainless-steel chardonnay. Cellar 4201 was offering $5 tastings along with Summer Whites, so we decided to take them up on their offer since we hadn’t been in a while.  

Our last stop of the day and last stop of Summer Whites was at Flint Hill Vineyards where they paired Hawaiian pizza with Olde Yattken Semi Sweet. We could finally breathe now that we finished all 11 wineries. They, too, were offering $5 tastings so we decided to stick around. The hospitality was top-notch and really enjoyed our time unwining. Before we left, we picked up an extra wood-fired pizza to go and we were back on our way home. 

Cornbread, chicken skewers and pizza ... a nice way to end the weekend.
We truly hate to feel rushed while wine tasting or not patronize these establishments better while we are there, but with 11 wineries and 2 days, we were on a mission. We were, however, grateful that we were able to enjoy some tastings and being able to chat with other patrons and wine owners is always an added bonus. 

This was a perfect way to spend the $25 it cost per ticket. In the two days we got to try 22-ounces of wine, or roughly three-and-a-half glasses of wine, 11 bite-size food pairings and have a relaxing weekend away from the mayhem of home. This was a great way to start our farewell to the summer of 2018.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

North Carolina Wine Month kicks off in downtown Raleigh

The Norris House in downtown Raleigh played host to the 2018 NC Wine and Grape Month Kickoff

By Dathan Kazsuk & Jennifer Primrose
Twitter: TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: trianglearoundtown | Pinterest: TriangleAT | Email:

It's one of our favorite times of the year. Fall is approaching, and those dreaded days of the bombastic humid heat will soon to be left in the rear-view mirror. As we say goodbye to summer this month, we also say hello to NC Wine Month. What better time to drink local wine and hopefully inspire others to give it a shot as well. Remember, it's not all sweet muscadine. North Carolina produces a wide variety of wines, many of which are award-winning.

Related Story: N.C. wineries win awards in largest American-made wine competition

This year to kick off NC Wine Month, the Got to be NC Grape Counsel reached out to fellow NC bloggers, the NC Wine Guys, to put together an event to bring together both wineries, bloggers and industry alike to converge and taste some wine. You don't have to ask us twice! This last minute event, found its home at the historic Norris House in Raleigh on Aug. 28.

We arrived on this hot and humid August afternoon ready to network, taste and kickoff North Carolina's wine month. As we circulated the room we caught up with Jones von Drehle’s Diana Jones and chatted about how pleased we are to see their wines more and more in the Raleigh-area. We also caught up with Laurel Gray’s Kim Myers, who we just saw this past weekend at the Summer Whites event in Yadkin Valley. We finally had the pleasure of meeting in person fellow blogger, Dennis Turner, from WineryEscapades, as well catching up with Jessica Adams and Jessica Byrd from Wine Mouths.

NC Wine Guys and Whit Winslow, Executive Director of the NC Wine and Grape Council, 
kick off NC Wine Month.

Around 2 p.m., the NC Wine Guys kicked off the official program. One of the highlights of this event, now in its second year, is having Gov. Roy Cooper and agricultural commissioner Steve Troxler attend and kick-off the month in style. Unfortunately, this year schedules did not align and neither were able to attend. In their absence, NC Wine and Grape Council’s Executive Director, Whit Winslow, stepped in and read the official proclamation from the Governor to a group of about 50 attendees.

Whit Winslow 

Next, we all received our official Kickoff wine glasses and we were off to wine taste, nibble on charcuterie and network. With bread donated by LaFarm Bakery out of Cary and an assortment of meat and cheeses courtesy of the Norris House, this made for the perfect accompaniment to the wines we would be tasting.

The featured wineries in attendance included Biltmore Winery, Banner Elk Winery & Villa, Childress Vineyards, Cypress Bend Vineyards, Jones von Drehl Vineyards and Winery, Junius Lindsay Vineyard, Laurel Gray Vineyards, RayLen Vineyards and Sanctuary Vineyards.

We started our tour against the flow of traffic and wound up at Cypress Bend Vineyards. Known for its muscadine wines (something we're not fond of), head wine maker Nadia informed us that she's producing the grape the right way and not making it as sweet as what people are used to drinking. And she was right. Many of the wines were made in the dry-style and had us rethinking muscadine.

Next we stopped at Sanctuary Vineyards. There sales manager, Nick Beadles, went through a list of four wines he poured for us, ending with the winery's Double Barrel red blend – the wine that won the best in show in this year's NC Fine Wines competition.

Related Story: 2018 NC Fine Wines Competition Awards Results

Other stops among the historic home included Banner Elk where we tried the Marechal Foch, a French-American hybrid with soft tannins and flavors of plum and dark, ripe cherries. We also paid a visit to Childress Vineyards where we ran the gambit of its viognier, cabernet sauvignon and Starbound dessert wine. We talked with the owners of Junius Lindsay out of Lexington. We visited this winery a couple of years ago and look forward to visiting again in the near future. There we sampled the petite sirah and the Special Delivery. We continued on with the fabulous wines of Jones von Drehl, Laurel Gray and RayLen. All in all, we had a fantastic time and made new contacts and friends.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Top-Selling Wines in N.C.'s Swan Creek AVA

North Carolina's Swan Creek AVA is located in the northwestern portion of the state in the Piedmont region. The AVA was established on May 27, 2008, and the petition was submitted by Raffaldini Vineyards on behalf of the vineyards of Swan Creek.

Currently, Swan Creek is home to 7 wineries all within a 10-mile stretch. In that drive you can try many award-winning and stellar wines. On a perfect July afternoon, which was not to humid, Triangle Around Town paid a visit to all of these wineries and asked one simple question ... "What's your top selling wines?"

Our question was answered – and we bring to you – the results!

LAUREL GRAY VINEYARDS | 5726 Old U.S. 421, Hamptonville
At Laurel Gray we talked with owner Kim Myers, who selected 3 wines for us. Laurel Gray's cabernet sauvignon has been flying off the shelves at the winery since it was selected as one of the winners in the 2018 NC Fine Wines Competition. Myers also selected the estate chardonnay. She said in these warm days of summer, the chardonnay is always a big hit. Finally she selected the Scarlet Mountain red blend – a customer favorite.

WINDSOR RUN CELLARS | 6531 Windsor Rd., Hamptonville
The gang at Windsor Run Cellars had so many medal-winning wines and fortified wines that they couldn't decide – so they grabbed them all! The chambourcin/cabernet sauvignon blend of WRC's Guilty is a taste of blackberry, cherry and plum in each sip. Others include the rich and hefty fortified wines such as Hillbilly Holiday (apple mead fortified with 170 proof brandy) and the Midnight Run (an 18% port-style wine with hints of chocolate, mocha and black currants).

Raffaldini's tasting room manager, Thomas Salley, personally told us that the winery's montepulciano riserva and liguria are the two choices here at the winery. Its flagship red is a full-bodied wine with unparalleled structure. The liguria is a vermentino-based wine with subtle flavors of both grapefruit and lime – a perfect summer beverage.

PICCIONE VINEYARDS | Cedar Forest Rd., Ronda
Right around the corner from Raffaldini, resting on top of a hill overlooking the Blue Ridge Parkway, you'll find Piccione Vineyards. The Italian-style wines produced by Piccione are something you wouldn't expect to find in North Carolina (other than at Raffaldini Vineyards). So, it comes to no surprise that their top selling wines are the nero (Nero d'Avola) and the vermentino. Both wines are an important part to Sicilian culture and grow well here in North Carolina.

MIDNIGHT MAGDALENA VINEYARDS | 5109 Howell School Rd., Jonesville
The latest winery to be added to the Swan Creek AVA is Midnight Magdalena. There Jim and Tauny Zimmer are already making some worthwhile wines. When asked what their top selling wines are, they reached for the 2016 traminette and the 2017 corot noir? Never heard much of the corot noir? That doesn't come as a shock – MMV is the first winery in the state growing this grape that's a hybrid that came to life by grape breeder Bruce Reisch at Cornell University in New York.

SHADOW SPRINGS VINEYARD | 5542 Crater Rd., Hamptonville
Born in April of 2005 and serving its first wines out of its tasting room in 2008, Shadow Springs Vineyard is the brainchild of Chuck and Jamie Johnson. The winery is right down the road from the Johnson's second-owned winery, Windsor Run Cellars. When talking to co-owner Jamie Johnson, she picked out the following wines as Shadow Springs top sellers. First, is the seyval blanc, a light, crisp white wine with highlights of mango and peaches. Next is the meritage, a Bordeaux-style blend of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot. And finally, the Dark Shadow. This wine has a warm chocolate cherry flavor – a fan favorite according to Johnson.

DOBBINS CREEK | 4430 Vineyard View Lane, Hamptonville
Resting high atop Hemric Mountain inside a German-style log tasting room you'll find Dobbins Creek Vineyards. Serving up wine since late 2007 the winery has a great view of Swan Creek, and on a clear day, the top of Grandfather Mountain. When asked to select their top-selling wines, the 2015 estate grown merlot reserve was at the top of the list. This limited release is great from start to finish. Dobbins Creek riesling and cabernet sauvignon were also two others selected as a go to wine from its repertoire.

So there you have it. The top-selling wines of Swan Creek, straight from the wineries themselves. The next time you're looking for a NC wine to enjoy at one of these wineries – our research might help you out some. 

Monday, August 20, 2018

Mead Maker: Interview with Starrlight Mead's Ben Starr

We continue on with our exploration of mead, aka honey wine, during our own personal #meadmonth. After talking to many mead makers around North Carolina and Virginia, we have decided that we might try making our own mead sometime in the near future.

Until that time, you can read up on our interview with Starrlight Mead co-owner and head mead maker, Ben Starr. He was kind enough to chat with us on a busy Sunday afternoon inside the production facility. Check out some excerpts from our conversation below.

Related story: What you need to know about this popular honey wine!

Seems like a lot of mead makers got their start in home brewing. Is that how you got your start as well? Actually, no. I’m one of the odd ones. My first batch of alcohol was mead.

When did you get your first sample of mead? Becky and I first tried mead at a renaissance festival. When I was 12 years old, I was a bee keeper, so I always loved honey. So when I had the mead at the renaissance festival – you know honey and booze – it was very hard to go wrong with that combo. I had friends at home that were making mead, and of course, this is over the years, I wasn’t 12 anymore.

Oh, we just thought you had some very cool parents or something like that.

Yeah. Ha-ha. But Becky bought me a mead kit, and then I read this book about wine making, and it told you everything you can do to screw it up. And that’s the way they presented it. And it scared me. So I set aside the equipment for about a year, before I got Ken Schramm’s book, “The Compleat Meadmaker.” I started reading that, and he explains the ‘why’s’ and the ‘not just do this,’ and then it started making more sense to me, and we decided to just go for it. So we made our first batch of mead, and that was around 14 years ago.

Related story: Interview with Ken Schramm of Schamm's Mead in Michigan

So at that time, what were you making as far as gallons? Somewhere between 1 to 5 gallons? Yeah, we started out with a 5 gallon batch, but we’ve also made some 3 gallon batches, and I had some 1 gallon carboys to try some different things.

What type of honey were you using back then? We used all different types of honey. We used mesquite honey, actually the very first batch we used, we did a clover honey. This is not my favorite honey to use, but I didn’t know any better at that point.

And how did all these lead to eventually coming up with Starrlight Mead? We were making so much mead that we ended up giving it away. After about two years we entered a competition with the International Mead Festival in Boulder, Colorado in 2006. We ended up taking the gold medal in our category and the best in show trophy out of the 212 meads.

And that was the point when we decided that we shouldn’t be giving it away, and we started playing around with a business plan. Shortly after, Becky got laid off and then she got a job at Chatham Hill Winery. She worked there for a few years, and shortly after that is when we opened up this place.

When did Starrlight Mead come into the world? We opened up in 2010. In September will be our 8-year anniversary. And that’s when we’re hoping to move to the new place.

You’ll be in the same area as Fair Game Beverage and Chatham Cider Works, right? Yeah. We’ll be right off Lorax Lane. Before you get to them you’ll see a huge industrial looking building. That’s where I’ll be make the mead. Actually, the square footage of that is the same square footage of our entire building here. And then right behind that, you’ll see a beautiful, huge, blue building. That will be our tasting room. And that is a little bit larger than this building.

Related story: Interview with Williamsburg's Silver Hand Meadery

Being in that compound with Fair Game and Chatham Cider Works, we can probably look forward to some collaborations in the near future, right? Some barrel-aged meads, and some cysers? There may be a fortified mead in our future. Using some of the distilled product from Fair Game and adding that to the mead. And with Chatham Cider Works, there’s some collaborations in the works with them as well.  Honey and apples go well together, as you know.

There are so many different mead styles – from cysers to melomels, and metheglins to the basic traditional. Do you have a favorite? I really don’t. I enjoy complexity. Especially when I can take something like our spiced apple – where it’s not just a melomel. It’s not just a cyser. It’s not just a metheglin. It’s a combination of all them together.

We’ve talked to other people making mead here in North Carolina. We recently talked to Diane Currier at Honeygirl Meadery in Durham and Dana Acker at Windsor Run Cellars in Hamptonville. Both had very kind words to say about you. It’s a testament to what you’ve done for mead here in N.C. Is that in part to you being the first meadery here? Actually, we’re the third. Fox Hill Meadery was before us, and so was Desi Dew, but they closed before we opened. Fox Hill is near Asheville and they distribute, and they make some great stuff.

Thanks for spending a few moments with us. We hope to see you and Becky when  you open up your brand new location.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Canned wines you should have tried this summer!

Jennifer Primrose
Twitter: TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: trianglearoundtown | Pinterest: TriangleAT | Email:

The past two years our "Summer Wine Series" has revolved around rosé wine with our "Swine & Rosé" and "Rosé and Sorbet." We had a great time doing both but decided this year it was time for a change. 

As summer begins to fade, we are wrapping up our 2018 Summer Series – Getting Canned!

If you haven’t heard, there is a new craze out there in the wine world. Canned wine! Something that is a little hard for us to get behind. When we think of wine, we think prestige and class … sophistication. Like opening up a nice bottle of Caymus cabernet sauvignon. The sound of the cork popping out of the its neck. Pouring a nice red into a decanter or straight into a Riedel glass. Sipping wine with friends and socializing about the latest trends. Or while at a nice restaurant, with the sommelier popping the cork at your table while he describes the wine and proceeds with the proper routine.

Then came boxed wine. Sure, it has its advantages, especially back in our 20s and single. It's great when hosting a gathering at your house and you really don’t want to open that good bottle you’ve been saving for a special occasion. And to be fair, some box wines truly are not that bad – but others, well, we could do without quite honestly.

Next we saw the evolution from the cork to the screw top. This was another one we had a tough time with. Quite frankly, I can’t pop a cork to save my life. There is only one opener that remotely allows me to get that cork out – and not too gracefully, I might add. 

Going out to a restaurant, or even a dinner party at home and twisting off the top of a wine bottle just doesn’t cut it. Especially when you forked over $50 on that special bottle only for the sommelier to arrive at your table and twist it off. No pop. No smelling of the cork. Just a twist and pour. Now, it does have its benefits – it’s cheaper to produce and has actually been around since the 1960s. Technically, it’s all perception. Perception that screw tops must be cheap wine, when in fact, that too is not necessarily the case.

Now, the latest craze to hit the wine world is canned wine. Sure, it’s convenient. It’s portion control. It’s perfect for the pools, beaches, camping outings or even a nice North Carolina hiking exploration. So, why do we have a problem with this. We even asked the question to our friend in the industry who we know will be honest when it comes to wine, and his response was “why not?” OK, challenge accepted.

This summer we delved into the new world of canned wines on this new summer series.  We reviewed 6 cans and where to best enjoy the snap of these liquid refreshments.

Our first can of the summer comes to us via our only North Carolina canned wine in this series. Skull Camp Winery out of Elkin has a handful of canned wines available for purchase at their winery and brewpub – and we selected the Euphoria.

Euphoria is a sweet, semi-dry, white blend made with Traminette grapes giving way to aromas of honeysuckle and flowers. This wine is perfect on a hot day to drink following that tennis game. Advantage: 

This summer we were introduced to Frico. A small can of Frizzante by Scarpetta. This Italian winery produces wines such as Barbera del Monferrato and Pinto Grigio in bottles, but this little gift comes in small 250mL cans. Frizzante is a blend of Trebbiano, Glera and Chardonnay. The can was savored with its light refreshing bubbles and tastes of green apples and sweet, juicy pears. We thought this one would be a perfect wine to enjoy after a nice hike in the NC mountains. We also want to thank our friend Jim Soffe at Raleigh's Falls Village Wine & Beer for the suggestion.

We typically enjoy doing our rosé series as mentioned earlier, so of course we had to hunt down a rosé in a can – and we found one. With Essentially Geared Wine Co., we were able to find a canned wine being served up in a 12oz. can. The label on the can of this rosé suggest pairing this 12% AVB wine with pizza by the slice, barbecue brisket or falafels. We cracked open our wine and did some yard work outside. Mow the lawn. Pull some weeds. Sweep the front porch. Crack open a can of Essentially Geared. Other cans include a red blend, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and a sparkling.

Next we move on to Dancing Coyote's estate grown white wine, hailing from Clarksburg, California. This 250mL white wine is a blend of several European varietals: Cortese (48%), Falanghina (22%), Loureiro (22%) and Pinto Grigio (7%). This wine, which is 13% ABV, was crisp with a lot of aromatics. It has a slight bit of effervescence. The wine was fermented cold in stainless steel tanks and aged for 5 months, never seeing any oak or malolactic. This wine would be perfect to pack up in the cooler for your next camping trip.

We decided to try something a little different – a sangria. We were introduced to Pulpoloco at our neighborhood wine bar while our friend was doing his Facebook live series. There we learned about this sangria from Spain. The wine, which comes in a paper can, is similar to the paper used from those childhood popsicles, Push-Up Pops. The label states that it's "... a refreshing blend of Tempranillo wine, fruit and spices."

Pulpoloco drank pretty easy, which is to be expected with a 5.5% ABV. We were imagining a full sangria with this base, mixing it up with some apples, oranges and plums as well as a splash of Triple Sec and some vodka. This little gem would be perfect out at the lake with friends for your own Sangrias at Sunset party.

For our final canned wine of the series, we popped the top on Ramona. This refreshing pink grapefruit treat is perfect for the beach – especially on these hot Carolina days. This wine is all natural, organic and comes in at 7% ABV. This easy drinking wine could get you in trouble, especially if you love pink grapefruit. We suggest mixing this drink with your favorite vodka for a kicked-up Greyhound.

Final Thoughts

So, what were our final thoughts and results on canned wines? Canned wines are the future. They are hip, convenient and casual, light weight, unbreakable and easy to pack. What's not to like? Sure, it may remind you of the 1980s and early 90s and the age of the wine cooler but now in 2018, these wines are better and more sophisticated. But please, do NOT drink from the can! Keep it classy and pour your wine into a wine glass or unbreakable tumbler if you’re out and about.

Honestly, going into this, we were thinking “Bartles & Jaymes” wine cooler at best. We were wrong. These wines were actually pretty good. Not the best we’ve had by any means, but there are some good wineries out there heading in this new direction. 

While doing a little research and talking with those in the industry, it is our opinion that canned wine is not just a fad, but that we may be seeing a rise in production of canning wine in the future. Now, I’m sure you’re thinking, but didn’t the price of aluminum just go up which would thereby increase the price? Economists, we are not. Only time will tell on the actual future production. In no way do we see it taking over the traditional bottles just like corks will remain king over the screw top.

As the sun begins to set on Summer, we encourage you to visit your local bottle shop and pick up a can or two and let us know your thoughts. During this series, we estimate that we were spending roughly $7 per can. That's not bad.