Saturday, February 7, 2009

Two Days of Wining in Yadkin Valley

On Thursday the 5th of February, cloaked in the noble intention of business research, Carmen and her husband John and my husband Ron and I set out to enjoy two days of Dixie wine tasting in the beautiful Yadkin Valley. As we crossed over I-40 we could see the beginnings of the Blue Ridge out in the distance and knew that she was whispering her magic upon the rolling hills of North Carolina's fertile wine country, beckoning us to taste her blue skies and viniferous music.
Our first stop was the charming grounds of Laurel Gray Vineyards where a crisp Chardonnay started our journey. They offer a well rounded variety that does not have any kind of an identity crisis. It's forward, balanced and begging for food (and summer!). The surprise of course is that you can sip on a Chardonnay of character this far east of the California grape gurus. Their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and their luscious 2005 Estate Reserve Cab are flavorful and well crafted. The 2006 bursts in your mouth with tart cherries, mellow licorice and ends with a purposeful explosion of buttered toast. As we took a mouthful with their famous Cabernet Chocolate sauce we considered camping there for the rest of the day, but more grapes were calling.
As a sidebar, don't miss the detour to the Amish General store not far from the vineyard. Simple and clean surroundings, decadent pastries, and a deli sandwich awaits you that is slathered with the leanest corned beef I've ever had. It's a perfect rest stop.
Back to our trip, or shall we say back in time for a visit to Italy and Raffaldini Vineyards in the Swan Creek growing region. "Chianti in the Carolina's" is the motto and when you drive up to the large, stone villa, you know the fun is just beginning. First of all, you must request Paula next time you're there. She made the experience delightful and had a lot of insight into the winemaker and the story of Raffaldini. But stealing the stage were some fantastic wines. Of note the Vermentino is crisp and summery. The fruit is ripe but tannic. It is wonderful with smoked oysters, turkey and honey mustard sandwiches (Yep, that's what we had for lunch. Yum!). The Sangiovese is charming and full bodied. For $15.00 it's a steal and very popular. So much so that unless you're in the wine club, you can only buy 6 at a time (only 12 for members!). This is valuable stuff.
Their MCCCXLVII is ethereal and warm boasting a rustic blend of Malvasia Nera (yah, that's a grape!) with smaller portions of Sangiovese and Syrah. If you're not craving a moist bite of lamb with this wine then pass your 6 bottles on to me! (Yes, there's a limit on purchasing this wine, too.)
As we sped up I-77 toward another favorite, we remarked about the surprising complexity of North Carolina wines. Yes, there's a distinct flavor to this region, and not unlike the people they're polite and refined, but they always share their opinion with confidence and authenticity. We knew there were more stories awaiting us.
Round Peak, in Mt. Airy is one of those vineyards not to be missed. And since the winery recently changed hands in December, the new owners and wine maker have even more plans to explode onto the scene. If you haven't had a Round Peak Cab, you're missing a great value. All award winners, you'll want to zero in on the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (memorable, earthy and wonderfully dry), the 2004 Cabernet Franc (woodsy and tart with plumy flavors), and the 2005 Merlot (better than the 2004!). Oh, and ask for Ken Gulaian. He is the new owner and he's passionate about creating wines that will make you sit up and take notice as well as supurb plans to enhance the entire tasting experience!
Dinner at TwentyOne and Main, in Elkin is an oasis of perfection. The Salmon and Scallops will lay you out and don't forget to try the fried artichoke hearts. This restaurant is classy and inventive and a perfect ending to a day of wine tasting.
Friday dawned with anticipation, and after enjoying our prized Amish breakfast rolls we headed out to Shelton for a plethora of amazing flavors (By the way, the best time to taste wine is the morning when your palate is rested and clean.) Let's start with the 2005 Estate Cab Franc which is just plain transforming and Shelton makes the most of this NC friendly grape. Their Kudzu Block Syrah tastes deep, poignant and smokey and the Family Reserve Claret is mysterious and romantic. Hurry and you'll be able to buy a case of this Claret closeout wine for half of it's $40 price tag. A deal worth getting in the car for -- uh now. Hurry! Yes, go!!!
After our aforementioned lunch of oysters and white wine, we sped back down 77 and over 421 to Hanover Park Vineyards. The second oldest winery in NC, you'll find some hard to find favorites and a Cab Franc that rivals any I've had. The Chambourcin is reminiscent of eucalyptus, spice and licorice. The 1897 is a more complex blend of the popular Michael's Blend which sells out quickly every year. Outside this 100 plus year old home, four rocking chairs simply call your name for reflection and tasting.
We ended our day by discovering Westbend Vineyards (we're told this is THE oldest winery in North Carolina), a hidden jewel in the crown of southern viticulture. The Chambourcin tastes like Christmas with clove and earthy flavors that will surprise you. Westbend wines are all award winners from a smile generating Cab Franc to their amazing Estate Cab (one of the best cabs we drank all day!)
After returning home with our collection of engraved glasses, enough wine to serve at a wedding, and a wonderful dinner at Caruso's in Cornelius (Oh my, don't miss it!) We realized that we can't leave this kind of business planning to just anyone. We'll have to do this again and again until we've discovered every nook and cranny of the wonderful world of North Carolina wines!


  1. Thank you so much for this post! Based on your glowing description, I just called Paula at Raffaldini's to arrange for a group to do a tour and tasting in April. It's great to live so close to wine country!

  2. Thanks for the kind comment - Paula at Raffaldini's is my mom :) She is very passionate about wine, and I'm glad she made your visit enjoyable.

    Neil Myers - Artist