Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Social House Vodka teams up with Carolina Hurricanes for Chef Series

Social House Vodka has teamed up with the Carolina Hurricanes for a multi-year unique dining experience – the All-Star Chef Series.

Not to be confused with other "competitive" cooking challenges that have graced the Triangle-area in the past, the All-Star Chef Series provides exclusive access to some of North Carolina's leading chefs in an engaging multi-course seated dinner prior to selected Hurricanes home games.

Each dinner will take place inside the Arena Club restaurant at PNC Arena two hours before the puck drops. The experience will feature two acclaimed chefs showcasing their creative ways of serving up new and exciting flavors.

"We are really excited to partner with Social House Vodka on this campaign as it's another opportunity for us to highlight North Carolina and all it has to offer," says Mike Forman, vice president of marketing and brand strategy for the Hurricanes. "The culinary scene in this state has taken off and thanks to Social House Vodka, we are able to bring 12 of the best chefs throughout the state right here to PNC Arena."

The feelings are mutual according to Social House's President Cary Joshi. "It is an honor to work with the Carolina Hurricanes, given that we share common beliefs and values. We look forward to working with the Hurricanes organization and leveraging our networks to create and provide the best game day experience for fans."

The All-Star Chef Series team line-up includes:

  • Nov. 10, 2018: Dean Neff of PinPoint Restaurant, Wilmington and Chris Coleman of Stoke Charlotte, Charlotte
  • Dec. 11, 2018: Katie Button of Katie Button Restaurants, Asheville and Meherwan Irani of Chai Pani Restaurant Group, Asheville
  • Jan. 4, 2019: Jacob Boehm of Snap Pea Underground, Raleigh and Michael Lee of M Sushi, Durham
  • Feb. 19, 2019: Matthew Register of Southern Smoke BBQ, Garland and Eric Montagne of Locals Seafood Market & Oyster Bar at Transfer Co, Raleigh
  • March 16, 2019: Matt Kelly of Mateo, Durham and Sean Fowler of Mandolin, Raleigh
  • March 28, 2019: Walter Royal of Angus Barn, Raleigh and Serge Falcoz-Vigne of Saint Jacques, Raleigh

Tickets for the Carolina Hurricanes All-Star Chef Series pregame event and lower level
game tickets are $135. Carolina Hurricanes season ticket members also have access to purchasing tickets to the All-Star Chef Series pregame event for only $75.00.

Monday, October 22, 2018

WINE DINNER: NC Fine Wines presents winners paired with Raleigh restaurant

Pickled shrimp with apples and smoked trout with Krispy Kreme croutons were paired with NC Wines.

The NC Fine Wines Society, in partnership with Raleigh’s Buku restaurant, hosted its sixth and final North Carolina Fine Wine Society dinner of the year on Oct. 11.

The dinner showcased six of its 12 award-winning wines from the 2018 fine wine competition. NC Fine Wines Society was established two years ago as a nonprofit organization aimed at promoting the quality of North Carolina wines (Vinifera- and Hybrid-style) and to fund scholarships for North Carolina students pursuing careers in Enology, Viticulture and wine-related hospitality and agritourism programs.

The blind judging took place in early 2018 using the Wine Spectator scoring method by some of the best sommeliers around. The winners were announced at a gala event in February and soon after the winners went on the road, so to speak, by partnering with NC Fine Wines Society and restaurants across the state to highlight these award-winning wines.

Related Story: And the winner is ... North Carolina Fine Wines Society to host awards ceremony

We were pleased when we heard an event would be hosted in Raleigh at Buku and could not wait to attend. Unfortunately, it seemed that an unwanted visitor also made his way through Raleigh that day, as well as across the state. Hurricane Michael, heading up from the south, made a quick pass through Raleigh as he continued on his way north leaving destruction in its path. Questions were raised if the event would go on as planned and sure enough, it did. Sadly, some of the winemakers/owners were unable to make the trip across the state, from the coast or from the piedmont, due to the weather conditions – but the show went on.

As guests arrived, we made our way around the room chatting with Diana Jones and Jenny Miles of Jones von Drehle, Lou Anne Gaffney with Surry Cellars and Dan McLaughlin of the NC Fine Wines Society. As our glasses were filled with sparkling wine, Buku's wine director Troy Revell, kicked off the evening by welcoming guests and telling everyone a little about Buku and their new partnership with NC Wines. He then passed the microphone over to McLaughlin who introduced us all to the event and to the wines we would be trying this evening. Before each pairing, executive chef Amanda Haisley spoke about her inspiration for the dish we were about to enjoy and each winemaker or a representative spoke about their wine and pairing.

The pairings for the night were:

First Course – Pickled shrimp with pink peppercorn-compressed apples, persimmons, pickled scallions, orange blossom honey and micro herbs
Wine Pairing – Raffaldini 2016 Vermentino Superione
Our Take – Of course we've had the Vermentino from Raffaldini Vineyards before – and really enjoy its clean nose with a finish of citrus and pear. This wine contains no oak and has a nice lingering taste in the mouth. The slight peppered finish of this wine paired well with a healthy mouthful of apples and peppercorns. Then add to it the mild buttery taste of the shrimp. Magnifico!

Second Course – Smoked trout with Cheerwine-poached sour cherries, toasted nutmeg pecan butter, herb Krispy Kreme croutons and charred onions.
Wine Pairing – Midnight Magdalena Merlot and Laurel Gary's 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon
Our Take – We're having red wine with trout? That seems odd. Yeah, that was some of the thoughts of people at our table. But after we tried the trout and the two red wines, we all knew this was a great pairing. Our favorite part of the plate was getting a Krispy Kreme crouton and some of the cherries together for an instant taste of our childhood – the pairing tasted like one of those old Hostess cherry fruit pies. As for the wines, they were both good, but the Cabernet beat out the Merlot – only by a bit.

Third Course – Larry’s Beans Braised Pork Cheeks, smoked sweet potato puree, massaged collards, espresso blackberry jam, fried boiled peanuts
Wine Pairing – Jones von Drehl 2012 Reserve Petit Verdot
Our Take – This was our favorite pairing of the evening. The pork cheeks paired perfectly with the wine – and pretty much all our tablemates agreed. We've had many Petit Verdot's from very earthy to incredibly smooth – this wine resides somewhere in the middle, which made it the best balanced wine for a dish like this. Not only did it go well with the main component, but also with the sweet potatoes and the collards.

Fourth Course – 
Sorghum-glazed Lamb Belly, crispy Goat Lady Chevre grit cake, mushroom confit, pepper-pickled pumpkin, Videri chocolate-cola gastrique
Wine Pairing – Sanctuary's 2015 Double Barrel (Tannet/Petit Verdot)
Our Take – We love our pork belly, and thought lamb belly would be just as good. It wasn't bad, but was also hard to eat. We tried eating like baby-back ribs. That didn't work. We tried cutting between the ribs – that was a lot of work. In the end, we did eat most of it, but have to admit, it was a little to 'fatty' to pair with the robust red blend. Usually fatty meats pair well with a ripe Tannet – but not this time. We were hoping for a little something better to pair with what was the Best in Show wine in this year's competition.

Dessert – Fall for You: pumpkin cake, bourbon pecans, tart cranberry sauce, pumpkin whip, cookie butter ice cream
Wine Pairing – Surry Cellars 2013 Iced Petit Manseng
Our Take – This dessert was the embodiment of Fall. It was simply to die for and paired so nicely with the Ice Petit Manseng from Surry Cellars. Pastry Chef Brittany Grantham outdid herself. We could have this for dessert every day!

Related Story: 2018 NC Fine Wines Competition Awards Results

Thursday, October 18, 2018

EXCLUSIVE: Best in Show NC Wineries Talk About Awards

TV personality Lisa Prince interviews one of the live judges during the best in show competition.

The North Carolina State Fair is an event that North Carolinians look forward to each Fall. What's not to love? From the exhibits, rides and games to entertainment, animals and exploring the latest in deep fried foodie goodness. And we can't forget the competitions from 4-H to North Carolina wine. The State Fair has something for everyone. And this year, for the first time, the Best of Show wine competition was held live at the State Fair on Oct. 15. We, as well as fellow bloggers, The Wine Mouths, were on hand for this monumental event.

All wines entered were judged on their own on July 19 at Surry Community College. The top wines were then judged against each other in this blind Best in Show tasting. There were three categories: 
  • Bunch Grape
  • Muscadine Grape
  • Fruit & Honey
The winning wines were reached by unanimous decision by the NC State Fair Best of Show judges, who were as follows:
  • Henk Schuitemaker, certified sommelier, beverage director at Angus Barn Restaurant
  • Dan Carroll, NCSU viticulture, retired – co-founder of the NC State Fair Wine Competition
  • Scheryl McDavid, American wine society certified wine judge
  • Alex Ancuta, American wine society certified wine judge
We arrived shortly before the judging was to begin as the audience of winemakers, winery managers and representatives were on hand nervously awaiting the final decision. Mingling in the crowd were employees from Windsor Run, Shadow Springs, Piccione, Carolina Heritage and Adams Vineyards.

The Best Bunch Grape Wine, or vinifera and hybrids, if you will, went to Thurmond’s Jones von Drehle Vineyards & Winery. Co-owner Diana Jones, as well as the winery’s local Raleigh representative Jenny Miles were inside the education building at the NC State Fair for the live judging.

The wine that brought home Best in Show was the winery’s 2013 Steel & Stone, a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. “Our wines have won many awards, but this is our first NC Best in Show. That made it quite special,” said Jones. “We have a small, fantastic team that works exceptionally hard, and for all of them to see their efforts rewarded is extremely fulfilling.”

Jones was also in Raleigh on Oct. 11 for the North Carolina Fine Wine Society’s food and wine pairing at Buku, where she showcased the 2012 Petit Verdot Reserve with braised pork cheeks prepared by Buku’s executive chef Amanda Haisley.

The second award handed out that afternoon was for Best Muscadine Grape Wine, which went to Cypress Bend Vineyards out of Wagram.

Piccione Vineyards, Flavor, NC
Piccione Vineyard's tasting room manager, Hailey Klepcyk
(left) talks with Flavor, NC's Lisa Prince.
“This is the second cup for our Catherine and the fifth cup from the State Fair,” says Cypress Bend’s president and owner, Tina Smith. “I believe we are the only winery in the state to have earned 5 best cups for Muscadine wines,” she reflects.

The winning wine, Catherine, is a semi-sweet white Muscadine that is full of fruit but with a robust aroma. Tasting this wine will give you a mouthful of peaches and pineapple.

Smith believes that the wines produced from Cypress Bend are a true essence of our states native grape. She wants everyone to know that the Muscadine grape has so many beautiful characteristics and aromas that can truly be enhanced when using the proper yeast and fermentation procedures. A lot of that falls on Nadia Hetzel, the winery’s head winemaker. “Nadia Hetzel is a highly skilled and professionally trained winemaker that holds her engineering degrees in viticulture and enology from Germany,” says Smith. And that comes across in her treatment – wines that are true art and science.

Rounding out the Best in Show was the Fruit & Honey Wine award which went to Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards in Hendersonville. The winery won for its blackberry wine, Home Place. Winery manager Barbara Walker was pleased to be recognized as the best fruit wine in the state. “This was the second year in a row for one of our blackberry wines,” she says. “In 2017 we won this category for our Chestnut Gap Cottage, and this year’s winner is the Home Place, a semi-dry, 100 percent blackberry (wine).”

Walker says after finding out they won, her first call was to winemaker Stephen Rigby to thank him for all the hard work. Home Place really hits close to home, as all the berries come from Henderson County courtesy of M&M Berry Farm, operated by Mike Pack.

With the holidays upon us, Walker informs us of the upcoming sparkling blackberry wine, which she says is “a great wine to use to celebrate the holidays and to bring in the New Year.” We would have to agree, and during our next visit to Hendersonville in November – we’ll be picking up bottles of both.

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.