Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Wine Shop at Rivergate

We had such a great experience at The Wine Shop at Rivergate today. I'm so excited to blog about it! First of all, this wine shop is right in my hood - a few miles from South Tryon and 485 in the Rivergate shopping center. We had been there once before, but I think we had a fluke bad experience with the food...it wasn't horrible, but it wasn't enough to draw us back in. We stopped in today for late lunch, and I seriously enjoyed myself!

First of all, my husband was happy because they have over 200 bottled beers. The bartender led us over to the cooler, where we could peruse the racks of beer. This was definitely more exiting then looking at a beer list. Shawn settled on a Sam Smith and we bellied up at the bar. This is a win-win - as I have mentioned my hubby is not a huge wine guy, but he'll drink some with me occasionally. But give me a place with a phenomenal beer and wine list? Score!

The menu is gorgeous. All kinds of cheeses, meats, small plates, pizzas, paninis, gourmet burgers...they even have a beautiful brunch menu, which we plan to take full advantage of next weekend. I ordered the atlantic salmon, with grits and julienne veggies, and Shawn ordered a chicken wrap, which included green apples and a delicious dressing. Both were really great. My salmon was on the small plates menu, and was only $8.50 - but was nearly the size of a full entree!

The wine list is really fun, because you can order a taste, flight, or glass of any selection. I started with a flight on my first glass ($3) and I realized I could downsize to the taste ($1.50) and try a lot more wines. Yes. Complicated math here.

Here are the wines I sampled:

Ranga Ranga Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc: This was good - it turned out to be my least fave, but each of the following wines I tried were excellent. It was grassy and herbaceous, as I understand New Zealand SB's usually are, but the fruit flavor (pineapple) was stronger than I expected. Still good though!

Independent Producer Chardonnay: The description told me that the wine touched no wood and had no malolactic fermentation, so I was excited to tasted a crispy, acidic chardonnay - which this was. It tasted delicious with with my salmon and grits as well.

Domaine Serene Yamhill Pinot Noir: AMAZING. I adored this - it was light like a pinot, but had such rich flavors, and a lot of body. It had such a warm and spicy and fruity flavor. The glass was $16, and I got to try a taste for $2. Which is why I love this place.

Michael David Petite Petit: This was recommended by our server, and it is a Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot blend. I thought it was pretty typical of a Syrah - dark and rich, and tooth-coating. It was intense and tasty, with lots of dark berry flavors.

Hill Family Estate Barrel Blend: This was a berry bomb. One sniff and I might as well have put my nose in a case of blackberries and cherries. All I could think was "jammy" - which was actually kind of nice. The wine was a little more complex...it was very fruity and oaky and slightly dry. Overall, I loved it.

What a great experience. I love this wine shop. I just love being able to taste lots of things without paying for a full glass. I'm thinking about going to the Girard tasting there on Thursday, Oct 1. Come join me!

Cooking Class at M5

CWG is back again. Well, kind of. I write this post from my desk at work. On Saturday. At 7 pm. Yes – the tail end of a giant technology project warrants such things…..and I have a break where I am waiting on something/someone else to finish so this seemed like a good time to squeeze in a posting.

I came into the office a little tipsy, if we’re being honest! My hubby and BFF Kiley and I did one of the Harper’s Restaurants cooking classes at M5 this morning. The theme was “Crossroads of the Mediterranean...Cooking & Cultures” and it was pretty freaking fab. Allow me to share the menu with you:

Chilled Ajo Blanco (white gazpacho)
Seared White Anchovy, shaved cucumber& Mache Salad
Slow Seared Sea Scallops
Braised artichokes, crispy Prosciutto & preserved lemon gremolata
Rosemary Marinated Veal Loin
Paprika spiced potatoes, piquillo peppers & gala apple-date butter
Hazelnut Galactoboureko
Hazelnut & Brown Sugar Custard Pie
with hazelnut praline & Frangelico syrup

I have to say each course was delicious in its own way. The white gazpacho was complex and unexpected. It was incredible rich and creamy and salty and earthy – it came in a tiny serving cup, which was appropriate because it was pretty intense. It was served with a beautiful citrus salad, composed of mache, grapes, and toasted almonds – it was good to have some acid to cut through the soup. James paired this with Undone Riesling. Oh! Did I mention my buddy James Corbin was the somellier for the day? It was such a pleasant surprise to see him there. I so enjoyed my first wine class on Tuesday (more about that in another post). So we learned that, in the world of wine, it’s almost a futile effort to pair wine with soups. I guess it’s the liquid on liquid thing. But this Riesling was GOOD – and I never say that. I usually can’t stand Riesling. But this one was crisp and citrusy and fruity – but not sticky sweet. I was very pleasantly surprised! Even my hubby liked it, and he’s a big ass red kind of guy.

Round two were the scallops, and I’ll just cut to the chase. Holy crap, they were good. I adore scallops, and these were seared with a garlic-herb rub, and the braised artichokes were perfect. I can’t say enough good things about this! My husband even said these were the best scallops he’s ever had. It was paired with Dopf and Irion Pinot Gris, which I thought was alright. It had a beautiful golden color, but we all found it to be a little sweet. Now, I have recently learned that fruity and sweet are two different things – one coming from acid, and the other coming from sugar. However, even with this knowledge, I'm still learning the difference because I would say that this wine was pretty sweet. Sweet AND fruity actually.

Round three: the veal loin. This one was pretty delicious, although the fact it was served fairly cold threw off the flavor. The dishes must have sat too long before serving, because the meat was room temperature, and the apple butter (while delicious) was pretty solid. That said, I did enjoy the dish – the piquillo peppers were a nice side. This dish was paired with Chateau Martinet, which was a bit of a Monster Baby. Monster Baby is a term that we use for red wines that are too young, and still a little too sharp and intense. We came up with it at a previous tasting at Nonna’s, where James poured a wine and declared “This one is a MONSTER. It’s a BABY. This wine needs more TIME. It’s 5 years old and it’s STILL a BABY.” Which cracked us up. So, now every time we have an overly tannic wine, we call it a Monster Baby. This wine was such an MB, that we actually found sediment in our glasses. Not complaining. I like a Monster Baby once in a while!

The dessert was interesting – it had a very strange texture, almost like apple oatmeal wrapped in puff pastry. It had a nice flavor, but it was a little goopy for a pie. I still ate my entire serving, plus some of hubby’s, because I was somewhat drunk by this point. Speaking of, this was paired with Garliardo Moscato, a slightly bubbly dessert wine. Surprisingly, all three of us really enjoyed it. It was sweet, but still crisp, and a nice end to the class. I have to say dessert wines are growing on me. I need to quit hating on the sweet wines!

All in all, I have concluded that these cooking classes are an amazing value. Think about it... you get a four course meal from a fabulous local restaurant, four glasses of wine, and a cooking demo and wine commentary. All for 35 bucks. And I especially enjoyed this one because M5 is an absolutely beautiful restaurant.

I'm deciding which class to take next. Check out the full list here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Guess Who's Back

Yes, CWG was MIA for a while there. I took a little hiatus, mostly due to a grueling work schedule (I pulled my first all-nighter since college), which prevented me from attending wine tastings for a few weeks and/or sipping wine with friends at home. I did drink a few shitty glasses, but nothing worth blogging about. Blah blah blah, sob sob sob. Life is rough. But I'm back! My weekly wine classes at Nonna's Kitchen with James Corbin start next Tuesday (yay!) so I should have lots of great information to share.

One little nugget to pass along if you live in South Charlotte, or ever visit the Steele Creek neighborhood...this great wine shop by me has FREE tastings every Saturday. Yes, Free. I'll be there.

http://www.thewineshopatrivergate.com/

Monday, August 24, 2009

Brave the Crowds at Zebra this Friday

If you read my earlier post about wine tasting at Zebra, I hope you'll find this interesting.
This Friday there's an "Around the World" tasting at Zebra. Yes, there's a free bottle of wine again (these people are fearless) but I see they're mitigating the throng by limiting the freebies to the first twenty people. Good thinking.

By the way, I enjoyed my freebie - One Hope Merlot - last Wednesday while I had some great friends, Tracy and John, over for dinner. It was tasty with the balsamic chicken I made. Well, if we're being honest it became blackened chicken, but I like to think that was intentional, right? The merlot was decent - I would say overall very nice. It didn't knock my socks off, but it had nice jammy cherry flavors, a little bit of spice, and a pleasant amount of dryness. Not bad at all for a freebie! Furthermore, 50% of the merlot proceeds goes toward the AIDS Lifecycle charity.

*Image from onehopewine.com

Anyways. I suspect this will be a nice tasting on Friday. I am sure they will be more prepared for the crowd this time, and I really like the theme. I unfortunately can't attend. I'll be in New York for the wedding of two people I absolutely adore - Teresa and Danny.


Stop by, and let me know how it goes!


-------------------------------------------------------------


Greetings From Zebra!

Thank you for the overwhelming positive response to last Fridays wine tasting...we had a record attendance! One more time!


The first twenty guests receive a complimentary bottle of wine to take home...Tasting is 10.00 and includes light hors d'oeuvres! 5:30-7:30

"AROUND THE WORLD" in about two hours with:


'06 Kenwood Vintage White California
'06 Eleven Tongues Chardonnay South Africa
'06 Travis Unfiltered Chardonnay Monterey
'05 Reinares Tempranillo Spain
'07 BV Century Pinot Noir Vin de Pays


Wines will be offered at near wholesale prices...Friday evening only!
No reservations needed for wine tasting.
Call for dinner reservations! 704-442-9525

I'm Going....Come Join Me!

Fun Wine Tasting at Zink
Featuring Master Sommelier, Brian Koziol
Thursday, September 3rd - 6:00 pm
$20 per person
Reservations Required: 704.444.9001


Join us for a fun tasting, featuring six different wines from Constellation Wines, along with our special guest Brian Koziol, one of only 96 master sommeliers in North America. Delicious light hors d´ oeuvres will also be served. Along with being Wine Specialist for Constellation Wines U.S, Brian also conducts training seminars for the Court of Master Sommeliers and is a featured wine speaker.Go Here to learn more about Brian Koziol.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Win-Win

Ladies. Your man doesn't share your enthusiasm for fine wines? Sniffing and swirling and sipping is not his bag? You babble on about tannins and mouth feel and finish while he zones out? Well, you are not alone. I've discovered a foolproof way to enjoy some delicious vino with your gentleman friend. The secret: finagle it in next to some meat. And preferably potatoes. The method is iron clad.

Exhibit A: Husband who doesn't give a shit about wine:

Wife: "Honey, I've got a fabulous bottle of pinot noir to sample tonight! Aren't you excited?"
Husband: "Eh. Er, Okay. Yeah. Wait huh? Sorry I was watching Sportscenter."

Exhibit B: Husband who doesn't give a shit about wine:

Wife: "Honey - your steak and potatoes are ready! Yummmmmy, right? A strong muscular man like you needs his protein....and an amazing athlete like you needs his carbs! By the way I also poured a drink for you."
Husband: "I worship the ground you walk on. I love meat and potatoes and boobs. Wait I meant wine. I love wine!"

See how easy that is! Look what I was able to cultivate in my very own home:



Look closely. Meat? Check. Tates? Check. Pinot Noir? Check? Bacon's eyes on the prize? Check. Mission Accomplished. That wasn't so hard.

In all seriousness, we drank the Uptown Pinot. It was mediocre at best. It was extremely light, and fairly fruity, but not really. It was almost like an under-ripe fruit - harsh, a little sour, and no tannins whatsoever. I mean, it wasn't awful. Even Shawn said "well, it's a nice light summer wine". He said it in a meat coma! I wouldn't recommend it - especially for 16 dollars a bottle. Michael at Vino 100 warned me....with his "mehhhhh, it's fine" reaction to my selection. If it were 7 or 8 bucks, I wouldn't be complaining. But you can do better for your money.

However, bribing your husband with meaty and/or starchy delights? Priceless.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Friday Night Volume 2: Dolcetto Wine Room

Dolcetto Wine Room, I heart you. Cameron at Dolcetto, I heart you. Best time ever at Dolcetto. We drank DELICIOUS wines, received excellent and thoughtful service, and an absolute smorgasbord of information from a true wine expert.

So, after Zebra, we decided to swing over to Dolcetto in search of the aforementioned Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape. We took a seat and immediately asked about it, and Cameron (who is the wine director, and our server for the evening) told us that they don't carry it because there's just not much of a draw for it in Charlotte. So we all kind of looked at each other with a stupefied "what do we do now?" face....and Cameron said, Ladies. I'll take care of you. Don't you worry about a thing. He reappeared 30 seconds later with a 2 oz pour of Liberalia Tempranillo, which he said was his favorite international wine in the store. YUM. It was so good. It had a deep, rich flavor - not as bright as some tempranillos. Deep dark fruits, like plum almost. Cameron informed us that this wine comes from the Toro region of Spain, which is "hot as shit", and that the grapes grow so low to the ground that they hire midgets to pick them. If that is not blogworthy, then I don't know what is.

Next up: Peter Lehmann Cabernet from Australia. This was Kristen's favorite wine of the night, I believe. I really liked it - not love - but it was great. Very fruity, not as spicy/woody as Cali Cabs, but just very pleasing to the palette. Cameron told us that he lived in Australia for several years, working in the wine industry and earning a degree in wine chemistry (I believe). This guy knows his shizzle.

Round 3: Fog Bank Cabernet (I think it was Fog Bank. I took notes, and all I wrote was Fog=yum). At any rate, we called this the California Cab the entire night, and it was fabulous. Brianna, who I consider a wine goddess by the way, thought it smelled like raw green pepper. I definitely smelled and tasted the spice. It was so balanced and tasty, but still bold and appropriately fruity.

Fourth Round, and feeling good by this point. Keep in mind we have been drinking red wine for literally hours now. Vittico Chianti. This one was really nice - we weren't as enthused about this one compared to the others, but it was good. It had a deep flavor, smelled like leather, and had heavy tannins...pretty light on the fruit flavor, mostly dry and earthy.

Fifth Round. Yes there was a fifth round. And this was the best round, IMHO. Chilean Merlot. Luis Felipe Edwards. WOW. This was just perfect for me. One sip and I was hooked. It was fruity and bold and spicy, but balanced. It was a delicious burst of flavor in my mouth - perfect amount of tannins, amazing dark flavor, I mean OMG. Cameron helpfully informed me that this wine was very affordable, and I said "well then I simply must have a bottle." He materialized a moment later with the bottle bagged up for me. Look at me all giddy and purple-toothed:



Note to readers: Cameron stated that all Chilean wine is bangin right now. Well, that is my paraphrasing. He said you literally can't go wrong. Just go for it. I plan to.

Okay last up - a taste of Justin Cabernet for our wine girl Brianna. Spectacular. I took a tiny sip, and that simply has to be one of the best wines I've ever had. That's all I can say about that.

So....think about it. We had SIX pours, thoughtfully recommended by our sommelier for the evening, delivered with all the info we would ever want to know about each. We felt like special customers, and I truly got the impression that he enjoyed "geeking out" with us. And when we got the bill, we were pleasantly surprised. I wont divulge numbers, but let's just say he took care of us, and of course we took care of him as well - much deserved. I have nothing but fabulous things to say about Dolcetto Wine Room and Cameron. Please stop by and tell him that he was highly recommended by the Charlotte Wine Girl. Also, check out his blog The Daily Wine Buzz.

Friday Night Volume 1: Zebra

My friend Kristen alerted me to the fact that Zebra holds wine tastings every Friday night: 10 dollars for 4 wines and light appetizers. I've always wanted to try Zebra, and this sounded like a good little introduction to the place. Friday morning, Zebra sent out an e-mail to their mailing list informing everyone that at tonight's wine tasting, they would be giving participants a free bottle of wine to take home. Really?! After sharing this fact with our friend Brianna, she signed on. Free bottle of wine = no brainer.

Kristen and Brianna are fabulous people to attend these things with. They are both big time foodies and fantastic cooks, and they both love wine. Brianna is actually educated in wine - she even took a week long wine course at the CIA in Napa! Ah! Kristen loves wine too, but has, shall we say, a less discriminating palate. After each tasting I ask her what she thinks, and she says "wine is wine. And I like wine!" Well said sister!

We arrived a little before 6, and the small bar at Zebra was getting crowded. We purchased our drink tickets, loaded up on apps, and began sipping the first selection, which was Santome Prosecco. I'm not particularly experienced with champagne, let alone Italian champagne, but I thought it was tasty. Light and fruity, and slightly dry. A good way to start.

The second selection was Oriel Taralula Sangiovese. I went back and forth on this one. I liked it quite a bit, but as I analyzed it more, I was having issues with the unpleasant finish. Brianna stated quite astutely, that it smelled like "barnyard". I sniffed again, and sure enough, barnyard. The host of the tasting told us it was "earthy", so maybe that's where we ended up. All that said, it wasn't half bad...I wouldn't kick it out of bed!

By this time, Zebra was becoming absolutely packed with people. The tasting line was out the door. We decided that going forward we would get our wine, and immediately get back in line. The staff seemed a little overwhelmed by the crowd. We overheard them telling someone that they usually get about 20 people in on Friday nights. There had to have been 50 or 60 people there this time. They eventually ran out of free bottles to give everyone! Luckily we were able to secure one. Whew. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

The third selection was Riseccoli Chianti. It was alright - none of us were blown away. Although Kristen apparently liked it: "wine is wine!" The description said it had a floral bouquet (very true) and mineral notes (hm, didn't get that). It was very light for a chianti. Our collective verdict was that it was a little wimpy.

The fourth selection was Orial Il Gattopardo. The description stated that it is 100% Nero D'Avola...which I had to google to learn that it's a varietal grown in Sicily. This was pretty good, actually. Very strong berry flavors, along with coffee flavor and lots of tannins.

Brianna was regaling us with some of her amazing wine stories, and told us that we hadn't lived until we tried Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape. We agreed to stick around at Zebra for a glass, but after seeing that they were out of our price range for the evening, we decided to pop over to another wine bar in search of this to-die-for red.

So, overall, the experience at Zebra was fun - I enjoyed myself and fully intend to come back again on a Friday night. It may have been a little better had the crowd not been so huge, but I think the staff actually handled it pretty well, considering. I think they underestimated the draw that the words "FREE BOTTLE OF WINE" will have. By the way I picked up a One Hope Merlot, which is waiting patiently on my bar to be opened.

What's Up at Vino 100?

Vino 100 is where it all started for me. I took my first wine class there four years ago (that makes me feel old. Aren't I still a "recent" college grad?). I took an afternoon walk that direction on Thursday to see what was up in my old fave. My roommate Nicole and I used to go in and pick up bottles of St. Urbanshof riesling, as riesling was pretty much the only wine we liked at the time.

Kiley joined me for the afternoon stroll. We were greeted by the General Manager, Michael Esakov, who was polite, helpful, and knowledgeable. Within seconds, I was feeling rather smug, because I recognized a sizable number of wines in the store. Pinot Black, Husch, Writer's Block, Truchard, Cono Sur, etc....wines I've only tried recently but remember well. We grilled Michael on several topics. Kiley asked him which was the best cabernet in the store, and he immediately answered "The Altamura, hands down. It's phenomenal". She inquired, "what does it taste like?" He looked at her very seriously and said, "it tastes like black velvet. In your mouth". I swooned a little bit. The bottle is 95 bucks - far more than I've ever paid for a bottle in a store. I made a mental note to sneak in and buy a bottle when I have a pile of extra cash lying around. Ha! He did offer a more affordable alternative: Fisticuffs cabernet. This wine has a very cute label, in which one person has clearly just suckerpunched another person, who is now laying on the ground, most likely dead. He said this bottle is 35 dollars but drinks like a 90 dollar bottle. I made a big, highlighted, circled, and starred mental note of this one.



I wanted to walk out with a bottle - something in the realm of 15 bucks that I could drink that night. I agonized over the reds, wanting to try something new but feeling drawn to the same familiar set. I finally settled on Uptown Pinot Noir. I asked Michael about this selection, and he gave some fairly unenthusiastic feedback: "It's good. It's nice. Nice little pinot". I bought it anyways. It's got a reeeally cute label, showing silhouettes of apparently posh people drinking wine. I love Uptown. I love pinot. There ya go. I'm SUCH a sucker for silly labels. Seriously! I might have mumbled that while purchasing, and Michael said "that wine didn't used to have a stupid label. It used to be called Pennyfarthing, and an investor came along and liked the wine so much, he bought all of it." That made me smile - my purchase was not so blasee after all.
(By the way I didn't end up cracking the bottle Thursday. I'll let you know how it goes when I do. Don't you just love a wine blog that completely bypasses the part about the wine?!)


I also asked about tastings and classes, and Vino 100 does both. They also offer private tastings, which can be located anywhere. The in-store classes are usually Wine 101 (which I took back in the day). All events cost $20, and some light food pairings are included. If they come to your home, they even bring the glasses and take them at the end - no annoying cleanup for the tipsy hostess. Score.

Nice visit! Now I just need an occasion to go back and scoop up that bottle of Altamura.
Check out Vino 100's website here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I'm Going...Come Join Me!

I signed up for:

Northern Italian Wine Tasting at Nonna's Kitchen - August 25th.

Wine Country Cooking Class at Upstream - October 10.

Come join me!

I'm a Sucker for Cute Labels

So...I'm a little tipsy as I sit down to write this post. I just downed three glasses from a bottle of Barking Sheep Malbec. I had some family in town from Cali, and put together some last minute apps and went on a wine run...yes, to Target. They have some decent wines, actually! I paced up and down the aisle, debating what to choose - hoping to keep it cheap as I was carting around 100 bucks worth of apps already (oops), but also wanting to try something nice for myself. My internal debate came to a halt when I saw Barking Sheep. I have no idea about this wine - never heard of it...it was about 10 bucks...I generally like Malbec....and who doesn't like a Barking Sheep? I wish I knew more about this, but I have heard once that there is a debate in the wine community about wine labeling - that traditional, classic, essentially non-descript labeling is a sign of a quality wine, and in the same vein people believe that wines with flashy, trendy labels use them as a cop-out. I hear that these wines suffer in quality because the quote-on-quote "uneducated public" that doesn't know about wine will gravitate toward an eye-catching label over other important qualities. Is there some truth to this? I have no idea. I like to think if I were a winemaker, I would make a an absolutely delectable wine, with a kick ass label to match. Right? Anyways, I thought Barking Sheep was effing hilarious. Here's what the back of the bottle says:

The barking sheep are a bit miffed. Once they grazed alone on land of wind-swept sheep stations until the Malbec, Bondara, and Tempranillo arrived. Today Argentina produces some of the most beautiful wines in the world and no amount of barking can change that.

Anyways, the Barking Sheep is fine. I'm slugging it back right now, in fact. It's nice and dry, not too fruity (but some subtle berry flavors), and a little bitter like coffee. It's good.

Here I am clutching a glass in my kitchen with my cute hubs:


Anyways, for 10 bucks a bottle, it's definitely worth it. Malbec is yummy, and this one is pretty decent if you ask me. Which cute label will I fall for next?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Mez-alicious

I am really starting to like Mez. I've eaten there twice now, and visited the bar quite a few times with the girls. I think a place like Mez is good for Charlotte - posh, trendy, multi-purposed....the interior is pretty fabulous, and the bar provides a good people-watching view of the Epicenter. The Mez bar itself is pretty awesome for people-ogling as well (yes I've upgraded from watching to ogling. The crowd at the bar is usually hot!).

The food is overall very good. I had one bad experience a while back, with the jumbo stuffed prawns - they were just huge and very flavor-less, and served with gnocchi that was a little dried out. The second time we went, I took my amazing best friend from college, Lauren, and her boyfriend Pete. I wanted to show off Charlotte, and that is where I chose, so that's a compliment from me to Mez. Mez, you're welcome. We got a bottle of Cono Sur pinot noir that time, which is only 26 bucks, and is actually decent. Very light, a little fruity, almost tart. Not bad! I had the Seafood Risotto, which I highly appreciated. It is like a freaking seafood cornucopia. Seriously - it has shrimp, calamari, scallops, mussels, clams and a fish filet. Each one was very good, not necessarily killer, but the variety keeps it so interesting. Very enjoyable.

On Saturday, my hubby and I had a baby shower to attend before dinner, where we naturally got a little bit toasted. When we arrived at Mez (and yes, I stopped at a Chick-Fil-a to slip on my cocktail dress en route) I was still a little full and coming down from a slight buzz. I ordered a glass of the go-to Cono Sur and we chilled at the bar as our friends arrived.

Our waitress was excellent, if not a little verbose, and one bit of info that stuck out was that the shrimp cakes were voted the best appetizer in Charlotte. Well, if you insist! I ordered them and a buffalo mozzarella tomato tower for a light dinner. I noticed the Seghesio Zin on the menu, which I tried the other night at Jim 'N Nicks. Somehow this glass was 14 bones. It was the 07...does one year make a $5 difference in a glass? I also saw a Seghesio pinot grigio, and decided to give it a whirl with the shrimp cakes. I thought it was great, fine for the purpose. It tasted like sweet fruit - melon maybe. It was a little sweet for me, actually, but still had a small amount of bite to it, which I appreciated.

Anyways, the waitress was not kidding about the shrimp cakes. They were SO good. So good! They were super crispy, made with panko crumbs, served on a large swirl of a green sauce (basil aioli) and an orange sauce (tomato coulis). My husband, after his third crown and ginger, was swiping up the last drops of sauce with his finger. I asked him if it was the best appetizer he's had in Charlotte. He paused pensively and said, "yes". I asked him if it was the best appetizer he's ever had. He paused pensively and said, "yeah". I had to agree. It was just undeniably good.

One tweak I might suggest for Mez - the stemless wine glasses. I've never liked them. To me, drinking wine is more special than other beverages. Why dull down the experience with a regular old glass? I probably sound like a dork, but I just like drinking out of a nice glass - especially the really huge ones (are those pinot noir glasses?). Plus I understand you are not supposed to hold wine glasses by the bowl part anyways, as it messes with the temperature of the wine. It probably sounds ridiculous, but this one I feel somewhat strongly about.

So, for my Saturday night experience at Mez, I have no complaints whatsoever. Well, I did have a little Seafood Risotto envy toward my friend across the table who ordered it, but that's nobody's fault but my own. Fun place, good (affordable) wine, great service, good looking crowd, etc etc. Get the recipe for the shrimp cakes here. YUM.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Snooth

I signed up for Snooth.com - which appears to be a sort of social networking/wine education/wine purchasing resource. Boozy Facebook. I browsed it today at work at about 6:30 PM. Yes I just said 6:30 PM, on a FRIDAY. I might need a whole bottle of wine to come down from that one.

The website is pretty cool, if not a little overwhelming. My favorite part so far has been to read some of the forum postings, though I suspect I have not begun to scratch the surface of what this site can do for a budding oenophile like myself. I see modules for searching wines, writing reviews, managing your cellar and wish list, and massive amounts of other data about wine and wineries. I work in technology for a living. Data is my friend.

Become my friend on Snooth! My username is, of course, Charlotte Wine Girl.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Chardonnay Tasting at Upstream 8/7

Please go to this, because I can't. Sigh.


Chardonnay Tasting Friday, August 7th 5:30pm - 7:00pm

Taste three unique Chardonnay selections with Andrew from Freedom Beverage, and help us choose what gets added to our list.

In addition, Chef de Cuisine, Scott Wallen will prepare delicious light hors d'oeuvres to enjoy with your wine. This fun event is only $10 per person, so grab a friend and join us. Attendance is very limited and RSVP is required.Call 704-556-7730.

Wine Tasting attendees will also receive 10% OFF their check when staying for dinner as our way of saying "thanks for the help". (offer for attendees only and valid on food portion only).

Nonna's Kitchen and Me, The Start of a Beautiful Friendship

I went to a really exciting wine tasting on Tuesday. Exciting because I took my first real step toward getting an actual education in wine! I think my entire wine world is about to open up right before my eyes. Before I get ahead of myself....

I registered for a wine tasting at Nonna's Kitchen, which I found on localwineevents.com. $15 to sample 7 wines from California. When I saw it on the website, I optimistically reserved two seats, confident I could find someone to attend with me - that or I would drink double the wine, I guess. Of course, my BFF Kiley stepped up and joined me for this wonderful night. She's been a huge supporter in my wine journey so far!

Nonna's Kitchen is an unassuming Italian deli located right outside of Uptown on Morehead. We arrived a little early, and didn't hesitate to sample the plate of meats and cheeses in front of us. I wasn't 100% sure what to expect, but the place filled up quickly with enthusiastic participants. Several people seemed to know each other, which I found endearing. That's what I hope for someday soon - to arrive at a tasting and see some familiar faces.

The instructor was James Corbin, who is a regional manager for Grapevine Distributors, a certified sommelier, and has earned a highly impressive wine certification that less than 100 people in the world possess (I wish I could remember the exact title)...but WOW. He stated upfront and with sincerity that wine is his absolute passion, and has been for a very long time. He talks fast - New Yorker - and was literally full of factoids, which I really appreciated. I am fascinated when people can talk fast about intelligible stuff for extended periods (think Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. I die!). Kiley and I sat front and center, intentionally, and got a few funny looks when we started snapping pics before the class started. Oops.

I might as well state it plainly upfront: Every one of the seven wines was delicious. I could not formulate a serious complaint about any one. There were two whites and five reds - a ratio I can appreciate. The list we sampled was as follows, and my notes as I remember them. I drunkenly lost the sheet on which I took said notes, so these are from the cranium. Take that for what it's worth.

Husch Chenin Blanc: Decent acidity, oily, rich feel, limey flavor.

Truchard Chardonnay: Fabulous! Good amount of acidity while still retaining some oak. James said this was his fave of the night.

Schug Sonoma Pinot Noir: I don't remember much about this one, which means I must not have been as enthused about it as the others. I don't remember any wine being bad, I'll tell ya that much!

Kit Fox Foxy Red: If I recall, this blend had a whole list of varietals included, and was full of berry flavors. It was also the most affordable on the list. It had a hot label too.

Lolonis Zinfandel: I heart zinfandel, and this one was really great! James told us that Zin is usually strong in black pepper, or blueberry (this one was peppery), but if the Zin tastes like blueberry, do NOT serve with blueberry pie! He was pretty adamant on this one! The Lolonis winery also opened 3 years before prohibition, and survived, due to some shady-ass means of delivering juice bricks and yeast packets separately. Ha!

Ehlers Cabernet: MY FAVE of the night. I'm a sucker for Cab as it is, but this was so, so great to me. It had lots of tannins, a rich fruit flavor...certain wines seem to sort of "jump" in your mouth (I know, real technical term) and this was one. Plus, you can write it off on your taxes, as all proceeds to go cardiovascular research.

Van Ruitan Petit Sirah: Kiley's fave. Dark, deep flavors, inky almost black color. Very spicy and rich.

Each tasting came with a rather large body of knowledge, and James was extremely accommodating with questions. And also - VERY patient as the group became more drunk and loud. Another highlight of the night: Alfonso, the gracious owner of Nonna's Kitchen, who was basically assisting James with the tasting. He is hilarious. It's obvious he knows about wine, but he put the group at ease, cracking jokes about getting drunk. He literally balked when I asked for water. Loved it! After the crowd thinned out, Kiley and I stuck around for an extra glass with James and Alfonso, and tried to absorb any knowledge we could. Alfonso even gave me a tasting wheel diagram!

Okay....and the best part, for me: I signed up for a 7-week class, taught by James, starting in September. He said it was super intense: 2 hours of lecture style classes, assuredly punctuated by some tastings, and he claimed that after the course a graduate would be ready for a level-1 sommelier class. I'M DOING IT. I'm so freakin pumped. Charlotte Wine Girl is about to take it up a notch!!

So, obviously the night was awesome. I learned so much, drank some fantastic wines, met some new people, spent time with my best friend, and took a step toward becoming the wine connoseur I always wanted to be. Does it get any better?!

Heading South to Jim 'N Nicks

So my blog has been a little Uptown-centric, I realized. I lived uptown for 3½ years – two in the adult dorm known as The Arbors, and then 1½ years in a condo my husband and I bought when we were engaged. Now that we live about 15 minutes south of the city, I just get that much more excited when we come back up and visit the old ‘hood. Some (well, virtually all) of my best food and wine experiences in Charlotte have been Uptown. There’s a lot I miss about being within walking distance of my favorite places. However, my new ‘hood – Ayrsley Town Center – is absolutely fantastic as well. It’s sort of a mixed use community, where we can still walk to bars, restaurants, and even the movies. And, as I wander around my spacious townhouse, I never miss the cramped one-bedroom/one-bath flat we lived in before.

Anyways, back to the new ‘hood – I looooove Jim ‘N Nicks. It’s a barbeque place, along the same lines as Mac’s. It has less personality, but better food, and a really great little wine list. It’s just a couple miles down South Tryon from us, and I’m becoming obsessed. And, my amazing hubby got a promotion, so we went out to dinner with his family to celebrate! With pork!

Their wine list was “painstakingly narrowed” to seven wines. The bartender helpfully suggested the Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel, informing me that this wine came in at number 10 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list last year. It's true!

The wine list states that it has “tantalizing black raspberry flavors with a nice balance of spice and jam” – a statement I wholeheartedly agree with. Well, I would have said blueberry rather than black raspberry, but potato po-tah-to. It was DELICIOUS, and exceeded my expectations of wine quality at a BBQ joint. Extremely satisfying.

I attempted to pair it with my pulled pork, but silly me, I made an amateur mistake by dumping vats of extra-spicy BBQ sauce on it. It was so effing spicy. My tongue and lips were literally numb. The sauce is really good, but should be handled carefully. The thought of pouring a zinfandel on this fire was terrifying, but I forged ahead. Spice on spice, eek. So word to the wise: apply the sauce sparingly, and perhaps even mix with the regular sauce. THEN pair with this excellent Zin and see what happens.

The brief but apparently thoughtful wine list is here.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Two Buck Chuck - Urban Legends Debunked

There are several stories floating around about why Two Buck Chuck is two bucks. The first story I heard was that the owner of the winery and his wife went through a nasty divorce, and in the settlement, she got the winery. As a kick in the balls to her ex-husband, she sold the wine for a mere two dollars - a pure insult to his entire life's work. The other story I've heard is similar: that the winery was, in fact, won by the husband in the divorce, but that the wife received any profit over two dollars a bottle. So selling it for two dollars prevented her from getting a dime.

Of course both these stories are false, and I have been teased mercilessly for sharing some version at parties. A wonderful friend from my book club brought me an article from the New Yorker that debunked all the theories and provided the entire story about the Charles Shaw brand.

I'll let you read the article, but the story is not as dramatic as I thought. Bronco, the company that owns Charles Shaw and several other brands, just happens to own 40,000 acres of vineyards, owns their own bottling plant, acts as their own distributor in California...they are essentially the Wal-Mart of wine - selling mass quantities for dirt cheap, and doing so because of supply chain efficiencies. Well, that and a cultural belief that NO bottle of wine should ever cost more than 10 dollars, period.

One other interesting nugget - Fred Franzia, who runs Bronco, is the son of John Franzia, as in Franzia box wine (the family sold the brand to Coca-cola in the 70's) and Joseph Gallo is his cousin.


Read the New Yorker article here.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Aquavina, I Heart You

My BFF Kiley and I were in desperate need of some catch-up time. Both of our jobs have had us traveling, and general life busy-ness had resigned us to a daily e-mail or blackberry message. SO, we decided to have a little happy hour time at a good old stand-by, Aquavina. We have gone here many times before, including her surprise 26th birthday bash (so much fun). This Thursday, the bar was a little empty, as a torrential downpour began just in time to drench happy hour. Yes, in Charlotte, heavy rain is enough to deter the crowds from after-work drinking.

But not us!

We walked in and noticed that some sort of event was going on - we would later find out it was a fundraiser for a mayoral candidate. We were greeted by Blerim Meta (who I understand goes by Blair, or some version of that spelling). He and Kiley go way back, in terms of happy hour encounters. I believe he is the GM at Aquavina and Latorre's. He is always accommodating, and usually has an interesting wine to recommend. I rarely steer from my staple at Aquavina - the Opolo Zin, which I adore - but he recommended an "excellent new pinot from Chile" - Pinot Black. He gave us a taste and poured us a glass after we enthusiastically approved. This pinot was perfect for us! It had lots of fruit and lots of spice - it was actually pretty substantial for a pinot. We snacked on some manchego and brie cheese, and some delicious slices of sopressata...all of which (especially the sopressata) were absolutely delicious with the Pinot Black. I googled the wine for this posting, and found that it's very affordable - about 15 bucks a bottle.

As we were munching, Blair visited us again to recommend another delicious wine: Writer's Block Zinfandel. It was amazing. I'm not good enough yet to explain how amazing it was, except that I would describe it as deeply satisfying, with a rich cherry, spicy flavor with lots of tannins. So you are more properly informed, here are the winemaker's tasting notes:

A medium to full bodied red wine showing its varietal characters of red fruit, spice, clove, herbal tea, and bramble with approachable aromatics that open quickly in glass. The aromatics are complex, and move from red fruit to green herb and some kind bramble, some toasted oak, to citrus transitions occur fairly quickly. A supple mouth-feel shows bright fruit flavor transitioning into an accentuated finish with bright acidity and some spice. Significant tannins on the finish, textually good and young, prolonged after-taste increasing as wine continues to breathe.

Someday! Someday, after about a million more tastes and a formal wine education, I'll be able to (accurately) describe wine this way. I'm getting there. By the way, what the f&%# is bramble?

The last delicious tasting that Blair offered us was a sip of icewine (forgive me - I don't remember who made it). Now - I am scared of icewine. You read my post about Conundrum. I loathe sticky sweet wines, and what else can we expect from icewine? Kiley inquired how it gets it's name, and he simply told us they freeze the grapes as part of the winemaking process. Of course, it's meant to pair with dessert, or be the dessert itself! We both enjoyed it immensely. He served it freezing cold, and while it was very sweet, I was pleasantly surprised to find some decent acidity and tartness. It was served in a mini-wine glass, and was overall very fun. I have a bottle here at home that I received as a gift - I'm now less scared about giving it a whirl.

After all the great tastings, we did some fun stuff with the staff - took some silly photos behind the bar, in the storage room, at the bar, etc:

The last fantastic thing I will share is that Blair told us that he does private parties, in which a variety of apps are served with any combination of wines desired - anywhere from 6 to 15 wines. The theme is up to the host, for instance: US vs. France, where you can taste a chardonnay (for instance) from each, and note the differences. He also mentioned Around the World, which I believe they were doing for the event on Thursday - one wine from each of 15 different countries. He said the parties start at $25 a person, and can be as small as 6 people or as large as 50. He hosts each one, providing his expertise on the selected wines. How fabulous! I am 100% planning to organize one of these in the near future.

So, my love affair with Aquavina, Blair, and of course Kiley had to end when my husband texted to remind me that I had to pick up dog food on the way home. And because Kiley had other fab plans after our happy hour, naturally.

But, I said it once, and I'll say it again: Aquavina, I heart you.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sorry Mimosa - I Did It

So on my way out of work yesterday, I passed this sign in front of Mimosa Grill, and thought - this would be a great note for my blog!



I've had some really great meals there (mostly lunches) but only one dinner there, on my 23rd birthday. I've done many - too many - happy hours there, as this is the quintessential watering hole for the banker crowd. I'll never forget, or remember if we're being honest, the time I had 5 glasses of merlot after work and got lost walking home to my apartment. I think I slumped down on the street in front of Picasso's, when a good samaritan came to my rescue and pointed me in the right direction. Three years later that good samaritan is one of my best girlfriends in Charlotte! Not directly as a result of that night, but we laugh about it now. "I think you were the girl I saw on sitting on the street...."

So, today, I passed the sign again on my way out and...the attached sheet with the wine information was gone. I looked down and noticed it had fallen off the board and onto the floor. I spun my head around 360 degrees to ensure nobody was watching me, and I TOOK THE SHEET. I folded it in half and stuffed it in my bag and hightailed it out of there.

Why did I do this? I don't know - I have issues. I could have tried to re-stick it, or return it to the hostess, or ignore it altogether. But because of those deep-seeded issues, I can deliver this news to you:

Cakebread Merlot: Normally $118. Saturday Nights: $55
El Molino Chardonnay: Normally $125. Saturday Nights: $55
La Giaretta Amarone: Normally $108. Saturday Nights: $48
Frias Cabernet 1995: Normally $135. Saturday Nights: $65. This is the one I'm trying first.

I could go on - the list is long. And it's not just the $100+ bottles either. I noticed a J.Lohr Petite Syrah discounted from $49 to $25, and many others in this price range. However, I want to grab my hubby and two friends and go for one of the nicer bottles I would never usually spring for.

So I might be slightly mental, but don't say it never paid off for ya!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Serious Conundrum

We stopped by Bentley's on 27 the other night - I have always loved that place. I have such wonderful memories of introducing my hubby to my parents for the first time there, after we had been dating a few months. We also had our engagement party there with his family the day we got back from Ohio - my hometown where he proposed.

It was a really hot night, and I was in the mood for a nice white wine, but no specific cravings. As I was perusing the list, I actually saw a bottle of Conundrum in the wine fridge behind the bar. I suddenly recalled a former coworker mentioning to me that he and his wife just love to treat themselves with a bottle of Conundrum. This was about 4 years ago...how I recalled that nugget of info I will never know. So I went for it. And...

....I thought it was HORRIBLE!! It was everything I hate about white wine - sticky and syrupy and just tasted like some kind of fruit juice with extra sugar dumped in. I tried very hard to find redeeming qualities. I sniffed it very deeply, and I did get a very strong peach bouquet. Too strong. And the flavor lingered in my mouth way longer than expected. I'm sure there were some oaky flavors under there somewhere, but the sucrose film in my mouth made it impossible to detect.

This is a really popular wine, right? Am I overreacting?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Pie Town

I have been wanting to check out Pie Town since it opened - I loved it's predecesor TOWN, and have a very fond memory of treating my parents to dinner there with one of my first steady paychecks in the big city! My husband and I stopped in on Saturday and really enjoyed ourselves.

Naturally, I googled the menu ahead of time, and noticed that a few wine selections had a super cute smiley next to them. Further inspection revealed that the smiley-annotated wines were Eric Solomon selections. Now, I don't know much about this Eric Solomon cat, but I have heard that he's a famous wine importer who spends a decent amout of time in Charlotte it seems.

Plus....charlottehappyhour.com told me it was 1/2 price wine night. That website has done wonders already!

The interior seemed largely unchanged, but still very posh. It turns out they were out of the wine selection I had settled on from my computer at home - the Las Rocas Garnacha 2006 Rioja. The waiter suggested an alternative from the same region, and I hesitanly said "okayyy". My sweet husband said "weren't you talking about the Eric Solmon wines on the way over here?" He listens! He really does! So instead we ordered the Artadi Orobio Tempranillo 2006. The waiter assured us it was a "much better bottle", and 1/2 of 39 bucks - we were sitting pretty!



Shawn ordered the Man Pie (classic crust, red sauce) and I ordered the Wild Mushroom (whole grain crust, white sauce). They were both pretty fantastic. The menu comes with a laminated, full page commentary about the crust, instructing the diners not to be alarmed by the "burnt appearance". However, I found the need for a full page disclaimer of pizza crust somewhat alarming in itself! I remember Helen Schwab's description of the delicious pizza crust very clearly, but I wasn't bowled over. It was tasty, but I think the crust was just overhyped. Shawn's pizza was filled with manly meats, and a LOT of very sweet sausage. My mushrooms (oyster, button, cremini) were drizzled with truffle oil. I love me some truffle oil. I think my husband actually called me a "truffle oil whore" one time.

Okay, what are we here for. The wine. It was wonderful....loved everything about it. It had nice light tannins, and fairly strong cherry and spice notes. It had what I call a "bright" flavor (as opposed to big earthy flavors, I suppose). It was really nice and balanced - it paired well with both the Man Pie, and my abundance of mushrooms. I also sipped it with the fondue we ordered for dessert - YUM. A little research after the fact informed me that 50% of the wine is aged in French oak, and that the wine should age well for about 10 years.

So - Eric Solomon did not let me down. Great overall experience at Pie Town, and pretty fantastic wine. Wine + Pizza = Happy Charlotte Wine Girl.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wine Spectator Awards in Charlotte

So on my way back from a busniess trip to San Fransisco this week, I picked up a Wine Spectator. I don't subscribe, but I do pick them up occasionally. If we're being honest here, the mag intimidates me a little...but I'm learning to muscle through. With this issue, I commited to getting myself a subscription sometime in the near future.

The August 31 issue has the Annual Restaurant Awards, in which they recognize restaurants that offer excellent wine lists.

I immediately flipped to the North Carolina section to see which Charlotte restaurants were recognized:

Award of Excellence (One Glass Rating):
Arpa (RIP...this was our fave uptown spot)
Bonterra
Capital Grille
Copper
Fig Tree
Fleming's
McIntosh's (Again, RIP)
The Men's Club (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!)
M5
Mimosa Grill
Morton's
131 Main
The Palm
Providence Cafe
Roosters
Ruth's Chris
Sonoma
Sullivan's
Upstream
Zink

Best Award of Excellence (Two Glass Rating):
Blue
Del Friscos
Noble's
Zebra

Unfortunately Charlotte couldn't boast any Grand Award winners (three glass rating), but we did have one in Raleigh: The Angus Barn, which has 1650 wine selections and has been a Grand Award winner since 1989. There were only 72 Grand Award winners this year in the world - and only 46 of those are in the US - so it's quite an honor.

Search the full list here.

I may be making a trip to Raleigh! Either that or the Men's Club.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Where It's At

This is probably old news to many in Charlotte, but I was just informed of this website yesterday.

charlottehappyhour.com

I will follow a 1/2 priced bottle of wine around town any day!

Hello World

Hello Charlotte! Today I begin my foray into the wine blogosphere. To tell you a little bit about myself, my name is Lauren, I am 26 and live in Charlotte. I love wine. I want to know everything there is about wine - to begin a lifelong education that leads me to places all over the country (and hopefully, world) where I taste amazing things, and make wonderful, slightly druken memories.

I started drinking wine - and I'm talking wine besides Franzia and Boones Farm at frat parties - about 6 months after I graduated from college. My roomate Nicole and I took a two night wine class. It was offered by Vino 100, and was hosted at the Omni Hotel restaurant. I was 22. One night we had all whites - all in all about 5 glasses of wine. Each one tasted the same to me, and when I announced this to the class the instructor looked at me in horror. The only one that stood out was a chardonnay, which I thought tasted like "suntan lotion". I also was completely drunk by the end of the class, not knowing the pace at which wine should be sipped. I pounded back each serving as if it were a Natty Light beer.

The following night we covered reds. During this class the instructor began to explain how wine is cultivated - how the type of grape, the thickness of the grape skin, the exact moment of harvesting, the makeup of the soil, the diameter of the vine, the slope of the field, the type of barrel, the precise aging period - I literally had no idea that this is what it took to make wine. That the tiniest variation in the aforementioned items (and many more) can create very important differences in the outcome. The addmittedly cliched juxtaposition of the "art" and the "science" appealed to every part of my personality. I was fascinated.

A couple of weeks later, my roomate and I had a couple of friends over for Poker and Wine night to our apartment in the city. I stuck my nose deep into the glass and took a moment to analyze what I was sensing. I held the wine in my mouth and opened slightly to inhale, as to intensify the flavors on my tongue. I shared my observations, and my friend Peter said "you know - people who know about wine seem so much smarter". As this was in line with my lifelong pursuit to seem smarter, I knew this was a hobby that I would stick with.

Since that time four years ago, I have tasted so many fantastic wines. Not the truly great wines that I hope to some day...but I had a bottle of Jordan Cabernet on my first really fancy date with my husband - we had a bottle again the night we got engaged. I met the winemaker at Rombauer vinyards at a wine tasting in Charlotte. Rombauer is my ABOSLUTE favorite chardonnay. I had a bottle of Caymus cab at Ruth's Chris - an apology from the restaurant for a dinner gone completely wrong. I had a glass of Caymus at Hyde Park Grill in Columbus with my family before that - and was sadly unimpressed (see? Goes to show what kind of taste I have in wine). I didn't know it would be a 30 dollar glass when I took the waiter's recommendation.

Aside from restaurants, I buy all my wine from the grocery store. It's usually 10 bucks a bottle. I am learning, slowly, what I like and what is a good value. I hope in this blog I can share my education, and get feedback on what others like as well. I hope to attend more wine tastings in Charlotte, and meet some wine experts and fellow neophytes. All I hope, is that I have a lot of fun. That's what wine is all about, isn't it? Pure, relaxing, feast of the senses. The best wine is shared with people you adore, and if you're lucky, some fabulous bites to pair it with.