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.

Monday, August 17, 2009


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 Châteauneuf-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 Châteauneuf-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 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


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


I signed up for - 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 $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.