Sunday, January 31, 2010

Aquavina: The Love Affair Continues

Oh Aquavina. Our love affair is stronger than ever. I never stopped loving you – you’ve always treated me so well baby!

Kiley and I ducked out of work at 5:00 sharp on Friday and headed on over to Aquavina. This was the day the great blizzard of 2010 started – the day we got an entire inch of snow! We were immediately greeted by Blerim Mata (aka Blair), the GM and gracious wine expert – who insisted that we try a new Zin. He said “if you liked Writer’s Block, you must try this one”: Four Vines Zinfandel….and WOW he was right. It wasn’t as big as the Writers Block…more smooth and less tannic than many Zins…yummy dark berry flavors. Awesome. Kiley especially loved this one.

We saddled up at a table near the bar, and watched a group of young, attractive people come in together for what seemed like a work event (we didn’t ask, just people watched). We tried the Chehalem Pinot Noir….which to me was very odd. It was a stinky pinot, with very strange tart fruit flavors. I appreciated that it was out of the ordinary, but truly don’t think I could drink a whole glass.

The next red we tried was the Thomas Henry Meritage blend. It was so great – and affordable! I always love Meritage blends…I just think they are always crowd-pleasers. I asked Blair to remind me of the 5 Meritage grapes, and he rattled off “Cab, Cab Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot”. Well done! He also reminded us to pronounce it “Merit-edge”, not “Merit-aahge” as many people incorrectly do. He thought the mistake people made was trying to pronounce it like Hermitage (a type of French Wine from the Rhone Valley). He then filled us in on the background of the term Hermitage….the dude who first brought the Syrah grape to the Rhone famously lived as a hermit – hence, Hermitage. You learn something every day! I love these nuggets of info.

Next up: Cantena Vista Flores Malbec – the featured wine on special. I was taking notes on each wine in my blackberry to maintain the integrity of my analysis (aka, I get drunk and forget)….and for this one I only wrote “Ass Kicker”. I think that meant it was big and dry, and I do remember that I really, really liked it.

Okay, get ready for this – because it rocked our pants off. Not literally. But if I wasn’t in public, it could have. Blair re-appeared with the most beautiful thing in the world: A dessert plate containing two chocolate mousse balls covered in toasted coconut, along with two mini-glasses of dessert wine. He instructed – nay, insisted – that we try these things together and report back. The wine was Framboise Raspberry dessert wine, which was a strong, tart, jam bomb. We did as instructed, took a bite of the balls and a sip of the wine. We both moaned (grunted?) so loudly I think we interrupted the work happy hour. Chocolate+Raspberry Dessert Wine=HEAVEN. Please try this. You may want to do so in a more isolated area of the bar, unless you’re totally comfortable sharing your oh-face with randoms in public.

Lastly – and this is the greatest part – my last CWG post was mounted on the wall behind the bar!!! How cool is that? Blair brought over a sharpie and let me sign it….perhaps I am overreacting, but it was kind of the coolest thing EVER. I might have squealed. Aquavina is a supporter of CWG, and I am a giant supporter of Aquavina. The love affair continues!

CWG's Big Comeback

Charlotte Wine Girl is BACK by popular demand! It has been months since I’ve posted – a fact I am not proud of. What happened, you might ask….well, this fall my life spiraled completely out of control. Okay, that’s a bit dramatic. All that really happened is that I was managing part of a merger project at work that ate my entire life. For about a month solid, I barely left my office, barely slept, barely ate (lie – I drowned my sorrows in mass amounts of food), barely drank (lie – drowned sorrows in mass amounts of booze), and barely had time to think let alone write in my beloved blog. All dramatizations aside, I did just get really busy and let the blog go, simple as that. My life has totally returned to normal, and in fact I have a fabulous new job that I love. La vida es bella. So there’s my big fat excuse – got busy, stopped writing, got sad. Decided to start again. Got happy.

And lately, the universe has been creepily telling me to get back to it! In the past week alone, there have been three totally separate instances where people have asked me – what happened to your blog? I gave them the sob story, and in doing so I totally realized what a lame sob story it was. It gives me an excuse not to write for a few weeks, not a few months! Everyone’s positive feedback is so encouraging! I always worried about the content of my blog. For non-wine people (primo example: my dear hubby)… were the “lengthy” descriptions of each wine too much? Conversely, for actual wine people, my analysis would surely seem amateur. (”it tasted like, uh, berries?”). During my few months off I wondered a lot what people would actually like to read. I decided not to think so much…I just want to bop around Charlotte with all the fabulous people in my life, try great food and wine, and tell ya all about it. That’s it. So I’m back, and I hope I can still be a source of information, and if nothing else, mindless entertainment.

I did complete my eight-week wine course with James Corbin – which was a phenomenal experience – so I hope you’ll find my wine analysis even a tad more credible. I still don’t know shit about French wine. Italian wine lists are only slightly less baffling to me. Etc, etc. However, I’m starting to learn what to look for when tasting. The old adage is true…the more you taste, the more you know how to taste (is that really an “old adage”? I think I just made that up). So here I am, I’m back, and I’m always looking for your feedback. Please leave comments – of ALL kinds, positive, negative, random, whatever. You can also e-mail me at My hope is still someday that we’ll all find each other in this little wine community in Charlotte, start seeing familiar faces at tastings, and spend some fun wine-soaked evenings together!


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 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 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.

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

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.