Monday, May 24, 2010

Wine Tasting in Downtown Winston-Salem

We are by no means experts at wine tastings, but there is that proverbial method to our madness which includes meandering through the process, asking about the winery—history, does it grow its own grapes, does it make its own wine, ownership, winemaker, and so on—sipping most if not all of the available samples and making notes such as likes and dislikes.

It’s not a process as much as it is a total experience, absolutely necessary when you’re about to make a purchase, especially of North Carolina wines which are usually priced a little higher than similar brands shipped to our state from California, Oregon, other parts of the USA and from throughout the world.

Touring North Carolina wineries has become a nice hobby, not something of every day scheduling mind you, but one that has taken us to all parts of the Tar Heel State, allowing us to meet some very nice folks, both those who offer their delectables and other who are there for the tasting. We know when to squeeze up to a tasting bar and then we also know when to back away.

“Give me some of that sweet stuff” is when we back off and let the drinkers move in. “Please tell me about how you aged this particular wine” is when we stick with it, wanting to know more.

This past weekend—Saturday primarily—took us on a one of our most interesting and thorough tours of North Carolina wine yet. Not wine country; just North Carolina wine. With all due respect to the Got To Be NC mini-State Fair in Raleigh, if you were looking for a nice sampling of this growing agricultural product, downtown Winston-Salem on a five block run of 4th street was the place to be.

It was the 5th annual Salute! The North Carolina Wine Celebration, featuring at least 30 wineries and samplings of their products. It was a six hour orgy of wine tasting, promptly starting at high noon and ending at 6 p.m., just enough time to casually visit as many exhibitors as you wish, listen and learn and taste.

From the sweetest of sweets to the driest of dry wines, the tasting brought us face-to-face with many owners and operators promoting their wares. We renewed acquaintances, sipped some familiar wine and got to know other fermented beverages and those who enjoy the same.

It would have been easy to purchase some our favorite wines from some of our favorite wineries, but this time, selections were made from two wineries not visited but soon to be on our list of travels, from two where purchases were made too long ago for remembering, and from one toured just last fall.

Never Visited:
Divine Llama Vineyards, East Bend: 2007 Merlot; 2008 Cabernet Franc; and, 2007 In A Heart Beat, a off dry blend (1% residual sugar) of 2007 Merlot and 2007 Franc and named for one of the 40 llamas owned by the vineyard owners. No sampled but offered by Divine Llama is Rita Red Rosé, made from 90% Chardonnay and 10% Cab Franc with 3% residual sugar and named for the llama herd (there’s at least 40 llamas on site) matriarch. This place is due a visit if just for the llamas. By the way, llama do not have a real purpose in life, we were told except to look cute and to once be used as caddies on a golf course in the Southern Pines NC area.

Rocky River Vineyards, Midland: Cabernet Sauvignon; Scarlet, a blend of (primarily) Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. It is not our policy to purchase wines sans dates such as 2007 Name The Grape or 2004 XYZ Blend, but when tasting at this display, we enjoyed the wine and wanted a kindly reminder to visit the winery. While buying dated wines is preferable, these wines were exceptions but not necessarily exceptional, just good enough to want at a later date.

Visited Long Ago:
Hanover Park Vineyard, Yadkinville: 2004 Michael’s Blend, a delicious mixture of Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes of that year, aged in oak for four years and then bottled in 2008; 2005 Mourvedre, a blend which includes less than 20% Merlot with the Mouvedre grape; and, 2009 Viogner which also includes a bit of juice from Marsanne and Rousanne grapes. Hanover Park is located in a neat house in a beautiful setting. It’ll be scheduled soon for a return visit also instigated by a little sip of an unnamed red blend which sells for $42 a bottle. Not that it’ll be purchased but it will be sampled again.

Uwharrie Vineyards, Albermarle: Cabernet Sauvignon; Merlot; Noble, and, Red Velvet Noble, a port style wine blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Noble that’s nearly 17% alcohol. These bottles do not list dates and our earlier visit to the winery was not very informative. While it’s a showcase of a facility that’s used much for receptions, weddings and parties, the tasting, as we recall was fast and lacking. This time in Winston-Salem, the presenter made a better and more informative presentation. So, selections were made even without the dates (though the website lists 2007 for these).

Recently Visited
Sanders Ridge, Boonville: 2007 Big Woods, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah; and, 2008 Roundhill, a sweeter red wine, the only really sweet wine purchased. The last visit to Sanders Ridge included a nice lunch. The setting is nestled in a cool, wooded area; the facility is beautiful.

There’s much more to tell about this festival, but please be of no worry about tasting and driving. In addition to the many wineries lining the streets, Salute! was just a block from the Marriott which offered a very affordable rate, allowing us to park the car and enjoy the day. Salute! is already on our calendar for next May.

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