Volume 7, Number 5
"Yadkin Valley Pleasures"
It is indeed a pleasure to travel west on I-40, through the bustling Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Triangle, past Greensboro, past Winston-Salem onto Highway 421 north and into the Yadkin Valley wine country. A couple of weeks ago, Yvonne and I caravanned with Washington Wine & Gourmet store manager Mary Mehlich and her husband Mark. We followed the familiar "bunch of grapes" directional signs off the highway and through the rolling farmland hills surrounding the Yadkin River valley. It was a beautiful early spring day, with little colts and calves (Chef Yvonne saw the latter as "veals") frolicking in the achingly green fields. We renewed old friendships, made some new ones and brought back some great Carolina wines.
Prices marked are the regular retail, followed by the Feature Price with a 20% discount.
In addition to the Featured wines this month, we are putting all in-stock Carolina wines on sale at 20% off.
Westbend was our first NC winery when we opened Wine & Words 6 years ago. We were very graciously received by co-owner Lilian Kroustalis on that first visit and so impressed by the unpretentious way they went about helping to establish Yadkin Valley wines, that they've been one of our favorite places ever since. We rarely saw Lilian's husband Jack because he was usually out in the vineyards on a tractor. But we felt like part of the family, and it was with great sadness that we heard of Jack's death over a year ago. On this trip, Miss Lillian greeted us with her usual charm and left us in the capable hands of Jason the Sales Manager for our tasting. We are very pleased to bring you these fine wines from the fine people of Westbend.
2006 Viognier Regular $20.00/ Feature Price $16.00
A lovely summer wine, with good fruit nose and light floral underpinning. At only 12.5% alcohol this wine has a luscious ripeness without being overblown. Perfect for summer sipping or paired with a fruit salad. A thorough delight!
Carolina Blush Regular $12.50/ Feature Price $10.00
From its label that depicts the state bird (Cardinal) and state flower (dogwood) to the light sweetness made to appeal to southern tastes, this is a Carolina classic. "Serious" wine drinkers, don't be afraid. This wine is fun and refreshing. It's summer, lighten up.
2006 Chambourcin Regular 18.50/ Feature Price $14.80
This wine introduced me to the Chambourcin grape, an American-European hybrid that has become a signature red for Westbend. It's light and spicy, and serves as a perfect introduction to people who aren't sure they like red wine.
Lilly B 2006 Late Harvest Vidal Blanc, limited production, 375 ml Regular $35.00/ Feature Price $28
A wine like this comes along only every few years when weather conditions are just perfect to allow the grapes to hang and ripen for a long time – "late harvest." The resulting lush sweetness creates a very special dessert wine that I would compare favorably with the famous Sauternes of France. Serve it cold in a small glass with a fruit dessert. Carolina heaven!
Over the river and through the woods and we came to the high farmland of Rag Apple Lassie Winery. If you've seen the poster on the wall of either of our stores you've heard the story of Rag Apple Lassie the blue ribbon calf and Frank Hobsen, Jr the third generation NC tobacco farmer, and his wife Lenna, marketer extraordinaire, who wears the diamond-crusted Clovis arrowhead Frank gave her, and how their 2003 Chardonnay won "Best in Show" at the NC State Fair and….well, the story goes on. We had a lovely time with Lenna and winemaker Linda King, tastin', talkin' and tellin' tales.
In addition to the ever popular semi-sweet Boonville Blanc and Rockford Red, we decided to bring back the delicious Rag Apple Lassie Cab. But the high point of our visit was when Linda brought us some beakers from the lab, filled with her new red and white blends. Called "Kaleidoscope" each is a blend of all the white grapes or all the red grapes they grow. Think Caymus Conundrum. The samples we had were dee-luscious! Linda will be bottling them in June and Lenna promised she would "personally" bring some down for us. We can't wait!
Rag Apple Lassie Cabernet Sauvignon Regular $20.75/ Feature Price $16.60
This is a great example of a North Carolina red wine, light in body but with a spicy full-fruitedness that makes it both easy drinking and food friendly. If you've got friends who think all North Carolina wine is nasty sweet stuff, turn them on to this Cab and show them we're growing up down here.
I'd been hearing about this place for some time, how they were an Italian family growing Italian varietals in the Yadkin Valley. So we made an appointment to go see them and check out the wines. I'm glad we went, because what we found was that the wines are truly excellent but that what they're really selling is …winery events! Now there's nothing wrong with that. There's a good market for a massive Italianate villa on the side of a hill overlooking the vineyards to stunning views of the Brushy Mountains, with two levels of terrace, a massive fireplace, tasting bars, etched glassware… well, you get the picture. We brought some wine back for you, because the wines are as good as I'd heard they were. But I'm afraid that's all we'll have. They don't have a distribution network, and I think they'd rather sell their wines directly from the villa, rather than shipping it down to us coasters. So try (and buy) what we've got. You'll be glad you did. It may even inspire your own trip to the villa.
Fiori Regular $21.50/ Feature Price $17.20
All of the Raffaldini wines have Italian names. This one, Fiori, means "flowers." It's a lovely bouquet of 39% Chardonnay, 38% Viognier and 23% Malvasia Bianca. It's complex and sophisticated (your wine snob friends won't believe it's from North Carolina). They recommend pairing this with mild cheeses or an Italian dish like Chicken Alredo. I agree. If you can make wine like this, who needs a villa?
Chiara Regular $15.00/ Feature Price $12.00
This lovely, clear (the meaning of "chiara" – key-ARE-uh) rosé is an aromatic, sophisticated refresher. Made of a blend of Malvasia Bianca, Aleatico and Dolcetto, grapes know for their rich aromas. This one will really open eyes out on the deck. It's got enough flavor that I'd even buck tradition and (shudder) serve it on ice.
Bella Misto Regular $16.25/ Feature Price $13.00
The Raffaldini red we chose is also a blend, called Bella Misto ("beautiful mix"). And a very "bella" wine it is, too. A blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot, this one could pair well with any of your favorite Italian cuisine. How about a piece of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and a couple of slices of the handmade salami we're featuring from Giacomo’s Market. Mange! (that's "eat" in Italian).