Wine Country

It’s That Feeling You Get

Recreating those special moments

By Angela Sanchez

Ever wonder why, when you go on vacation and have a great meal or drink a new wine or try a food for the first time and you try to replicate it at home, it is never quite the same? When we visit beautiful places like Napa, California, or Tuscany, Italy, we’re in a beautiful setting, with great weather, wonderful food and wine, and people who share their hospitality and traditions. We’re transported to a place where you can’t help but feel relaxed and rested. Your mind is overtaken by scenery and stimulated by new adventures, new foods and new people. You lose stress and your mind settles down.

When we experience things from a state of calm and relaxation, and focus on detail, we get a completely different sensory experience. Our palate is heightened and opened in a way that it isn’t on a normal basis. A bite of handmade pasta with fresh, local olive oil and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano can be a whole new experience. The pasta’s texture is softer and richer, the olive oil taste ripe and bright, and the cheese sharp and salty-sweet.

In that moment everything is at its best. The pasta was made fresh just moments before the olive oil — that was pressed just a mile away — was drizzled over it. The cheese and the accompanying glass of wine were made with longstanding traditions, carefully crafted just moments from where you sit. Your mind and body, and therefore your palate, are at their best, too.

You have traveled to a place that is not only beautiful but has a history and tradition of agriculture. The wine, cheese, olive oil, truffles and vegetables are served to you in season, at their best. It’s an unforgettable experience that, unfortunately, cannot be easily replicated. You have created a memory not unlike the feeling you get when you smell something cooking or baking at Christmas, and you’re reminded of your childhood and Grandma’s cookies, her kitchen and her spirit. It’s the feeling I get when I smell sugar cookies baking during the holidays, recalling a sweet memory of my mom and me baking for Santa. Nostalgia, peacefulness, joy.

I get a similar feeling when I recall a glass of Côtes du Rhône rosé on a warm June afternoon in France, followed by a meal of all locally sourced produce and a bottle of deep, dark red Châteauneuf-du-Pape and a three-tiered cart full of impeccable French cheese. Pure peace, heavenly flavors, fresh and ripe and set in my memory forever.

But how do we recreate these feelings? Having a glass of Chianti from Tuscany and a bowl of handmade pasta here at home is not quite the same. Same wine, same method of pasta making, same cheese and maybe even the same olive oil, but they just don’t taste as wonderful. Some things are missing. It’s the backdrop, the company, the body in relax mode.

While we may not get the Rhône Valley on a sunny afternoon or that “under the Tuscan sun” backdrop every time, we can get the cheese, wine and recreate a similar meal and experience. The key is not to rush it. Save it for a day off, when friends you haven’t seen in a long time are visiting, or your favorite aunt is coming to town. While the wine and cheese have traveled far, they are, at their core, still the same as when you experienced them in their home. If we allow ourselves to slow down and enjoy the moment while eating and drinking and reminiscing about our travels we just might recover a piece of that feeling we enjoyed so much.

Take a glass of your favorite wine from your travels — be it Sonoma, California, or Burgundy, France — and a cheese your fell in love with while you were there, and sit outside as the sun sets. Take some deep breaths, find calm and appreciate the moment. I’ll be there, too, with my glass of Champagne and Camembert on a Sunday evening with loved ones. For a moment or two, if we’re lucky, we will visit those places in our memory again.

Before long we will travel again, find a new favorite wine, a new favorite cheese, a new favorite meal — new memories to remember.  PS

Angela Sanchez owns Southern Whey, a cheese-centric specialty food store in Southern Pines, with her husband, Chris Abbey. She was in the wine industry for 20 years and lucky enough to travel the world drinking wine and eating cheese.

Wine Country

Neighbors to the North

Virginia wines come into their own

By Angela Sanchez

When driving through the rolling hills outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, you see beautiful farmland with wineries, cider houses and breweries. Tucked away in Central Virginia, these places have breathtaking views and lovely, preserved agricultural spaces. It’s where Thomas Jefferson worked voraciously to grow French wine varietals in the fields of Monticello, his plantation home.

Full of American history and family-owned farms, minutes away from cities, colleges and culture, this area boasts a thriving wine industry. It’s only fitting that today Central Virginia is on the map for winemaking and viticulture. Once considered mediocre, at best, today the wines are worth a closer look.

While Virginia is broken into numerous growing districts, Central Virginia is the most interesting. Encompassing Albemarle and Nelson counties — a short drive from Charlottesville, minutes from Wintergreen ski park in the Appalachian Mountains and an hour-and-a-half from Richmond — the area is beautiful, accessible, and capable of producing wines on par with those of America’s more heralded wine regions.

The Central Virginia growing district encompasses the Monticello AVA (American Viticultural Area), named for Jefferson’s home. A well-know Francophile when it came to all things wine, Jefferson not only collected French wines but toiled over French varietals in his own vineyards, trying to find the right “fit” for the land.

Today, the land has decided. Granite-based clay soil is very fertile, and provides the structure behind the beautiful wines produced there. Lesser-known French varietals have taken hold. Viognier, cabernet Franc and petit verdot have grown, adapted, and are thriving in the rich soil, continental climate and the extended growing season of over 200 days a year. As of late, better-known varietals like cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are shining, too.

At most of the wineries you will find Bordeaux-style blends leading the tastings as favorites, lending an “expression of place” that is uniquely Central Virginia. The wines are structured with a restrained power that allows the balance and fruit character to shine. Some have great aging potential, though most producers are making wines that can, and should, be enjoyed young. Whites and rosés are aromatic and, at their best, show notes of minerality. The growers and vintners have developed wines of style based on their place, soil, climate — terroir, if you will — rather than emulating other growing areas. Working with what the land gives them has added greatly to the success of the region, what calls “pushing back against a tyranny of sameness.”

The wineries of the Central Virginia growing district are beautiful, like the landscape they occupy. The fertile, green, rolling hills, undeveloped farmland and the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains make for idyllic production. Some of the wineries are stately, some modern farmhouses, all offering their unique expression of place, and all accommodating. A few offer full menus while others just showcase their wines, allowing you to bring in food. Most are kid-friendly, and all are couple- and friend-friendly. A large majority are family-owned, and a few are owned by famous faces.

Flying Fox Vineyard, a family-owned winery that not only makes amazing wines but has introduced a line of outstanding vermouths, is one of my favorites. Others include Pippin Vineyards, with a full restaurant and culinary gardens; Pollack Vineyards, with a beautiful tasting room and big lush wines; and Blenheim Vineyards (owned by rock star Dave Matthews), with gorgeous views, picnic areas and a glass floor in the tasting room that shows off the winery. All are easy to get to and open every day of the year except Christmas.

The reds and whites produced by these wineries are balanced, generous and a great bang for the buck. I like to pair the wines with cheese produced in Virginia, too. Try one of the signature red Bordeaux-style blends of cabernet, merlot, petit verdot and syrah from Blenheim with cheese from Meadow Creek Dairy. Appalachian, a tomme-style cheese with a rich, yellow hue and deep nutty and grassy flavor from the grazing herds, pairs well with a crisp, fruit forward rosé from Pippin Vineyards.

Beautiful farmland, wines distinct to place, and the roots of America’s history are a day trip away.  PS

Angela Sanchez owns Southern Whey, a cheese-centric specialty food store in Southern Pines, with her husband, Chris Abbey. She was in the wine industry for 20 years and lucky enough to travel the world drinking wine and eating cheese.

Wine Country

Let’s Be Clear

Making sense of the language of wine

By Angela Sanchez

The wine world is awash in confusing terms, so let’s clarify a few.

Ever hear that sulfites, especially in red wines, can give you a headache? Not so fast. Wines have been produced with sulfites for centuries — from the ancient Romans’ use of candles made of sulfur to clean wine storing vessels, to turn-of-the-century Europeans using sulfites to stop bacteria growth. “Sulfites help to preserve wine and slow chemical reactions which cause wine to go bad,” according to the website Wine Folly.

Sulfites aren’t evil, but rather necessary for stabilization and preservation, as well as providing aging potential. A sulfite-free wine will have a very short shelf life. Lower acid wines need more sulfites than higher acid wines to become stable and increase shelf life.  Sweeter wines need sulfites to prevent secondary fermentation.

The United States and Australia are the only wine-producing countries that require notification on the label that the wine may contain sulfites. A low number of people may experience an allergic reaction to sulfites (mainly those suffering from asthma, and only 10 percent of them, or those with strong allergies to highly processed foods). A dry red wine contains about 50mg/L (milligrams per liter) of sulfites while a white wine has, on average, 100mg/L — lower than the content of french fries. Generally, wines range from 5mg/L to around 200 mg/L, and in the U.S. the legal limit is 350mg/L. So, the headache could be the result of a myriad of reasons, but most likely not sulfites.

Some farming and production practices can also be confusing. What does it mean to be sustainably or organically farmed? A wine that is produced using only organic grapes — which have had no pesticides or herbicides used on them — in a vineyard overseen by the USDA Organic National Program and uses only organic material to filter the wine can have a label that reads “organic wine.” Most producers in the U.S. and abroad do not choose to label this way simply because it is too restrictive. In the U.S. you will more often see wines labeled “made with organic grapes” instead, meaning that the vineyard where the grapes were produced is certified organic but that the production method — for instance, the use of sulfites to stabilize the wine, or the use of egg whites to filter it — are not certified organic. The production of the grapes on an organic level and producing a quality wine are the top concerns versus making a wholly organic product.

Stewardship of the land is uppermost in organic farming, producing healthy vines and fruit from well-cared-for land, and maintaining a healthy standard of quality for the soil for years to come. Farming “clean” grapes on even a single vineyard on a property of hundreds of acres is extremely costly and labor intensive but worth it. The cost of certifying the wine itself as organic is less important.

To me, wines that are farmed and produced sustainably provide a more well-rounded approach. Usually a wine that has been produced sustainably — and noted on the label — encompasses practices beyond the winemaking. They include everything from stewardship of the land (perhaps not farming organically but choosing to use as few chemicals as possible), to upholding higher standards for human resources, to committing to alternative energy sources, and constant conservation of soil and water resources. The producer might choose to certify as “sustainably farmed,” meaning they would follow the practices of a certifying body (there are several) by keeping records and reports, often checked by a neutral third party. Or, the producer can simply choose to farm in this manner, without the certification, which can be costly and strict. 

Clarifying some of these terms makes it easier for consumers to be knowledgeable about the winemaking industry and its practices, but also to help them make more informed decisions when choosing what they drink. Here are a few suggestions on what to look for:

Organic: Look for USDA certification on the label for wines made in the U.S.

Made with “organic” grapes: Several great California and Oregon producers have wines in their portfolio that will have this on the label. One of my favorites is from Sokol Blosser Winery in Oregon. 

Certified “sustainably grown”: This certification will show that the wine has met the standards of a specific certifying body. Requirements vary from one certifier to the next, but generally the winery has followed conservation, preservation, environmental and social equity throughout their entire business. The area of Lodi in California has a great certification like this, called Certified Green. Other areas of California use SIP (sustainability in practice) certification to denote these practices.

Elsewhere, look for the Integrity and Sustainability label on wines from South Africa, where nearly 100 percent of wineries carry this certification, showing their commitment to not only the land, soil and environment, but to the human resources that are an integral part of winemaking.  PS

Angela Sanchez owns Southern Whey, a cheese-centric specialty food store in Southern Pines, with her husband, Chris Abbey. She was in the wine industry for 20 years and lucky enough to travel the world drinking wine and eating cheese.

Wine Country

Lambrusco Redux

Drink, eat and be merry

By Angela Sanchez

The wine Lambrusco might send shivers of dislike down the spine, recalling memories of the super-sweet, cheap styles produced in the 1970s and ’80s. Times have changed. These days, Lambrusco producers are making wines that are worthy of sommelier recommendations the country over. Several styles and affordable price ranges make this dark red and slightly effervescent wine the perfect choice for any holiday feast.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Lambrusco was one of the largest U.S. imports of wine in general, and Italian wine in particular. Super-sweet and cheap, it appealed to the American palate at the time — think Cherry Coke and Cheerwine, except with alcohol — and it was widely received as part of the country’s growing interest in wine. I remember my dad drinking it out of a magnum, 1.5 liters, and loving it as much as his Diet Coke. Right wine at the right time. Today our taste is evolving toward drier wines and, lucky for lambrusco, so is its production.

Lambrusco is both the name of the Italian wine and the grapes that go into it. There are 60 different varieties of the grape, but six are key to today’s production style: grasparossa, maestri, marani, montericco, salamino and sorbara. All of the varietals are high-yielding and vigorous, which was good for production in the ’80s, but today’s vintners have begun to control yields to produce higher quality grapes making higher quality wines. They are all slightly different in character but share the same characteristics of bright acidity and rich, berry fruit.

There are three distinct styles to help you decide what to buy to match your taste or your feast. Alcohol content for lambrusco ranges from around 8 percent to about 11.5 percent. The 8 percent will be on the sweeter side, while 11.5 will be drier. On the label, look for the word “secco” for a dry wine, “dolce” for a sweet wine and “amabile” for semi-dry. The majority of these wines will have a beautiful dark, ruby red color and a slight effervescence, but lower than a traditional sparkling wine like Champagne or prosecco.

Lambrusco is perfect for the holidays for several reasons. First, it’s versatile. With styles ranging from dry to sweet it can be used as an appetizer, throughout the meal, and at the end. The wine is produced in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, known for its amazing cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, charcuterie, Prosciutto di Parma, and balsamic vinegar from Modena. The rule I go by for perfect pairings is: If it grows together it goes together. For an easy, impressive holiday appetizer, start off with a beautiful cheese and charcuterie platter with cheese and olives, drizzled with balsamic vinegar. You can serve either a dry, semi-dry or sweet lambrusco with the appetizer. Add a hearty salami with fennel to the tray to balance out the flavors.

Second, lambrusco goes with turkey, spiral ham or game dishes. Dry or sweeter styles will work. Juicy — key word — juicy turkey and yummy glazed ham will sing with lambruscco. Try a Cheerwine or cherry cola glaze on the ham paired with a drier style of the wine and you’ll have your guests in awe. For dessert, a sweeter style of lambrusco with a chocolate Black Forest cake is my go-to this season.

Lastly we need a fun, festive wine this season. Lambrusco is a dark, rich red color, cherry and raspberry fruit driven, with a nice hint of bubbles. Sounds super festive to me. Try Medici Dolce for the taste of cherries jubilee in a glass, and Medici Solo for the greatest salami and parmigiana pairing any of your foodie friends have had lately. Whatever you choose, drink, eat and be merry.  PS

Angela Sanchez owns Southern Whey, a cheese-centric specialty food store in Southern Pines, with her husband, Chris Abbey. She was in the wine industry for 20 years and lucky enough to travel the world drinking wine and eating cheese.

Wine Country

Syrah Weather

Time for Thanksgiving and a fuller flavor

By Angela Sanchez

I love November. Sweater weather, falling leaves and cooler, crisper air. It also means a change in what I like to drink and, of course, I love deciding what to pair with Thanksgiving.

When the temperature turns down and the light of day gets a little dimmer, it’s time for wine that reflects the atmosphere. While I don’t recommend drinking pumpkin-spiced wine (although I do love a great, well-made pumpkin-flavored porter or stout beer), I do look for wines with a richer, darker, fuller flavor than what is called for during warmer months.

One of my all-time favorite wines for fall and Thanksgiving is syrah, or shiraz. It’s the same grape, just called different things in different growing regions. In general, Southern Hemisphere growing regions like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa will refer to their wines as shiraz, while Northern Hemisphere producers in Europe and the United States will call their wines syrah.

It’s a red grape that has rich, dark berry and cherry, chocolate and a hint of pepper spice flavors. Sounds like fall to me. The grape produces a low tannin wine with a round mouth feel that is still “big” without being overpowering.

For a great value I look to the Southern Hemisphere. Nine Stones Shiraz from the Barossa Valley in Australia is a medium-bodied wine with a little hint of eucalyptus and cocoa. A warm, continental climate like the Barossa Valley’s allows for wines with more power and black pepper than cooler areas.

For a bigger, richer style, Fess Parker Syrah from Santa Barbara County, California, is rich and concentrated without being too much for the Thanksgiving turkey. Syrah grapes from the Santa Rita AVA (American Viticultural Area) benefit from the combination of steady and continuous breezes coming off the Pacific, and the dense fog that rolls in over the mountains, keeping the vines protected from the heavy sun, and allowing for ideal ripening.

Both wines will shine next to all kinds of other holiday meats, too, especially beef, and my favorite, syrah-braised lamb shank. For a starter, pair with a tasty, tangy goat cheese like Cypress Groves Bermuda Triangle. Drizzle with a little honey and serve with dried cherries.

When the leaves cover the ground, there’s a chill in the air and we are preparing for the rush of the holidays, I still like to relax with a glass of white wine after a long day. Trying something a little off-dry this time of year pairs perfectly with autumn-spiced desserts, like spice cake, and rich hearty dishes.

I love the diversity of riesling. While many rieslings are off-dry — slightly sweet — many are dry. An off-dry style like Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Riesling is bright, light and fruity on the palate and nose. Hints of traditional stone fruits and citrus blossoms, backed with a touch of acidity, make the wine light enough but structured, complementing heavy sides like vegetable casseroles and stuffing at the Thanksgiving table. It can follow you to the dessert table or help you start the meal off. Pair it with Purple Haze, a fresh goat cheese made in Northern California, that has added lavender and fennel pollen. The racy bite of the goat cheese and its floral notes help to balance the fruity wine. For dessert, a pineapple upside-down cake or carrot cake both have the richness to cut through the slightly sweet, slightly acidic characteristics of the riesling.

If you haven’t had a riesling from Northern Italy, this is the time of year to try one. The rieslings of this area are rich and complex. The cooler climate and heavily mineral-driven soils make for wines with more petrol on the nose and rounder, slightly viscous palates. Lemon curd and lemon zest characteristics in Roeno Riesling from Trento, Italy, are a nice accompaniment to the richness of fried turkey and mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving. The acidity and minerality of the wine pair nicely with a robust cheese like Appalachian, made in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains by Meadow Creek Dairy. A house style “tomme” cheese made with raw milk from grass-fed cows is buttery, herbal and nutty this time of year from the richness of the summer milk.

Heed the call of syrah and riesling this fall, and be grateful it’s finally cool enough to stuff ourselves!  PS

Angela Sanchez owns Southern Whey, a cheese-centric specialty food store in Southern Pines, with her husband, Chris Abbey. She was in the wine industry for 20 years and lucky enough to travel the world drinking wine and eating cheese.

Wine Country

Dog Days and Cool Wines

Beat the heat with something refreshing

By Angela Sanchez

August can be brutal with its long, hot, humid days. If there’s rain, it’s usually in the form of a reckless thunderstorm, leaving the air even stickier. We need cool wines to keep us cool.

A few of my favorites are off-the-beaten-path wines with high acidity, fruit- forward characteristics and zesty herbal notes. Grüner veltliner and vinho verde are light and clean, offering enough flavor for the avid wine drinker in the summer and a chance for the novice to try something new.

If you haven’t heard of grüner veltliner, that’s not unusual. It’s a dark green, late-ripening grape varietal produced predominantly in Austria. The soil of the region is much like parts of France’s Burgundy. Limestone and chalk run throughout, and impart a characteristic minerality and acidity that make it the perfect wine for the hottest days of the year.

Grüner veltliner is a favorite of sommeliers the world over for several reasons. It’s not widely planted or easily found on wine lists, making it a great wine to recommend instead of better known wines like sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio. Also, its light, bright, zesty characteristics pair really well with foods that are not easy to pair with wine, like asparagus, artichokes and greens. It has the racing acidity of sauvignon blanc and the fruit forwardness of pinot grigio, but also a layer of minerality and herbaciousness with lemon and lime to grapefruit citrus, green pepper and lavage characteristics.

Pair it with a zesty green salad of buttery lettuce, asparagus and tomatoes topped with a beautiful cheese, or a cold pasta salad with buttery olives, marinated artichokes and cheese. And as long as you are going off the beaten path for your wine choice, try it with an equally little-known cheese. Calvander from Chapel Hill Creamery is an Asiago-style cheese with a creamy, buttery, nutty taste, perfect for grating over salads and pastas. It’s a raw grass-fed cow’s milk delight named after the crossroads just down from the creamery.

Another perfect wine for the dog days of summer and their relentless heat is the refreshing  vinho verde. Literally translating to mean “green wine” or “young wine,” this slightly effervescent Portuguese wine is a summer must. Produced in the north of Portugal to the border of Spain, it’s made to be consumed young, 3-6 months of production after harvest, and the addition of carbonation to add an ever so slight effervescence. The carbonation isn’t enough to categorize the wine as semi-sparkling, just enough to give a bright little lift on the palate. When it’s hot outside, the cool, clean, light, refreshing style of vinho verde is a welcome taste.

Obscure — at least to the rest of the world’s wine-growing regions — white grapes like alvarinho and louveiro make up the majority of the white vinho verde produced. Red varietals are used for both red and rosé versions of the wine. Vinho verde is almost like a wine spritzer, but the best ones have a dry fruitiness and little characteristics of citrus and peach. It pairs well with a ripe North Carolina peach salad that includes a fresh North Carolina goat cheese like Paradox Farm Natural Cheese Louise — fresh cheese at its best, with a creamy soft, almost whipped, texture. Its natural tartness and lemon character lend a lift to the sweetness of the peaches and complement vinho verde’s clean style.

Cool yourself off with the cool wines of grüner veltliner and vinho verde during the most intense days of the summer. Chill them down, set out a cold snack with North Carolina cheese and enjoy.  PS

Angela Sanchez owns Southern Whey, a cheese-centric specialty food store in Southern Pines, with her husband, Chris Abbey. She was in the wine industry for 20 years and lucky enough to travel the world drinking wine and eating cheese.

Wine Country

What’s Hot for Summer

Picks that suit the palate and the pocketbook

By Angela Sanchez

Wine tastes change a bit during the long, hot days of summer. I want something perfect for sitting outside enjoying the evening with family, or grilling over a hot fire with friends and enjoying a light, summer meal. It’s a great time to rethink the tried-and-true wines like chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet. I’ve recently tasted three beautiful, expressive wines that are lighter, less serious and easy on the budget.

For a great patio sitting, gossiping with friends, grilling with your favorite people, or just enjoying a glass on a lazy afternoon wine, I love a rosé from Provence. This clean style of rosé is dry, crisp, rich with minerality with the perfect chill on it. The up-front tart cherry, strawberry tastes, followed by a race of mineral and lime and nectarine, will cool you down while pairing perfectly with everything from fresh strawberries and blueberries to fresh tomatoes with basil, watermelon and barbecued chicken. The 83 Provence rosé is balanced with fruit and acidity, with a perfect pale pink color. A hint of lavender flower and orange on the finish keep it bright and easy drinking. Take it to the ladies’ brunch or the in-laws’ boat, it’s summer’s best friend.

Sokol Blosser’s Evolution No. 9, from just outside Dundee, Oregon, is the perfect summer white. A proprietary blend of nine grapes, all white varietals, is led by chardonnay and pinot gris. This wine’s fresh, bright, tropical fruit and herbaceousness shine through. With a bit of orange and grapefruit, along with some parsley and grassy notes, it pairs perfectly with summer salads loaded with fresh greens, avocado, and grilled shrimp or chicken. Try it with grilled or sautéed zucchini and squash or fresh-made hummus and cucumbers. Chardonnay drinkers will find it rich and round enough to please their palates, while those who lean more toward a sauvignon blanc will experience the same fresh intensity they find in their favorites.

Whether it’s the middle of winter or a blazing hot day in midsummer, a good red is always on time. In summer it’s important to lighten it up with a style that uses less oak for aging and focuses more on enhancing the fruit, producing a balanced red wine with enough character to hold up to food but easy enough to handle a humid day, grill and poolside. Spain produces some beautiful red wines that drink beautifully in a hot, humid climate like ours. Castano Monastrell, a red varietal also known as Mourvedre, from the Yecla region, is a warm weather hit. It’s dark red in color but light enough on the palate to make a great glass of summer red. Produced from 30-year-old bush vines — not irrigated — on rocky limestone soil in the Mediterranean climate, the wine has generous dark red fruit and black pepper notes. A little spice character allows the wine to pair well with pork barbecue, burgers and grilled sausages. Lay it just on top of the ice in the cooler to get that perfect summer chill on it, cooling the tannins and making for easy sipping.

All three wines are excellent cheese pairings. The 83 rosé makes a nice friend to Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar. It is aged one year, developing a sharp cheddar bite along with a nice crumbly texture. One of the best pairings I’ve had recently is Sokol Blosser Evolution with Humboldt Fog. The cheese is produced from goat’s milk in the cool, maritime climate of Northern California. Both wine and cheese have tart, citrus and grassy notes, making them excellent complements. The red matches well with an aged goat cheese from Holland called Midnight Moon. Gouda has a sweet creamy taste and a little crystal crunch. The sweet cream character makes for a good pairing with the black pepper bite of the wine.   PS

Angela Sanchez owns Southern Whey, a cheese-centric specialty food store in Southern Pines, with her husband, Chris Abbey. She was in the wine industry for 20 years and was lucky enough to travel the world drinking wine and eating cheese.

Wine Country

The Champagne Name

It’s not just any old bubbly

By Angela Sanchez

Champagne is classic, timeless, associated with elegance and class. It is a mark of distinction and celebration. The sound of the cork popping tells you something great has just happened. It gives you a feeling of fun and accomplishment at the end of something you have just achieved. The beautiful bubbles billowing up through the glass are a symbol of celebration the world over. There are countless bottles of sparkling wine made by various methods on store shelves and restaurant lists, but are they really Champagne? Of course not. Champagne is more than just a general term used to describe a wine with bubbles. Real Champagne can only come from one place in the world, made of certain types of grapes, with its production regulated by law. Champagne’s climate, topography and production — its terroir — are what make it unique from any other sparkling wine produced anywhere.

According to legend a monk named Dom Perignon accidentally discovered sparkling wine while making white wine in the Champagne region of France in the 1600s. While the story is a matter of folklore, his “method” is what we now consider méthode champenoise or the “traditional” method of making sparkling wine. Basically, a wine will undergo a second fermentation in the bottle, producing the bubbles we all love. All Champagne from the Champagne region of France is, and must, be made using this method. While other wines around the world are made similarly, it doesn’t make them Champagne. The method of production is the first key distinguishing real Champagne. The grape varietals and the growing region are the others.

There are seven allowed grape varieties in Champagne. The most well-known, and widely planted are chardonnay (adding acidity and structure), pinot noir (adding elegance, aromatic qualities and fruit), and pinot meunier (adding richness and darker fruit characteristics). The last four of the seven, pinot blanc, formenteau, petite arbanne, and petite meslier, while not as widely used — accounting for less than one percent of plantings — can add brightness, rustic qualities and additional structure and intensity. Most Champagne consists of the best-known varietals and most producers depend on them to develop a house style that will be the consistent base for their non-vintage wines. This way, you will always have a bottle of Veuve Clicquot or Tattinger non-vintage Champagne that is consistently the same year after year ensuring you get what you expect. Knowing what grapes will go into the wines is key for producers and knowing where they are grown is the root of the entire production.

The region of Champagne is located 93 miles northeast of Paris, an easy train ride away. It is 84,000 acres in total growing area and consists of four major growing regions, the Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côtes des Blanc and Côtes de Bar. The AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) for Champagne was established in 1927, codifying its distinction and classification by law. Since producers must only use grapes grown in this region to produce Champagne, the vineyard land is highly sought after and among the highest priced in the world. The region consists of 320 villages or “crus,” averaging 18 acres each. The limestone and chalky soils allow for great drainage and, because they are porous, act as water reservoirs for the vines. The cool climate of the region is why chardonnay and pinot noir do so well there and produce wines that have longevity. Location, location, location! The climate and rugged terrain are unlike anywhere else in the world.

It is special, unique, original. It is Champagne. The header on the Comité Champagne website reads “Champagne only comes from Champagne, France.” In no way does that diminish the beautiful and special sparkling wines made elsewhere in the world, festive and delicious in their own right. They can be consumed and enjoyed — perhaps even more often because of their easy access, price point and style — but should be called by their own names or style. Enjoy bubbles anytime you can. They make a regular day special and a special occasion more memorable, just don’t call them Champagne if they’re not. If you have never experienced the uniqueness and quality of Champagne, find a bottle and enjoy it. Celebrate its one of a kind style, history and terroir. That’s the best way to understand what makes Champagne, Champagne.  PS

Angela Sanchez owns Southern Whey, a cheese-centric specialty food store in Southern Pines, with her husband, Chris Abbey. She was in the wine industry for 20 years and was lucky enough to travel the world drinking wine and eating cheese.

Wine Country

What the Grenache?

More than your average blend

By Angela Sanchez

Grenache is a wonderful, versatile wine varietal often hiding in plain sight. It’s not as popular as cabernet and pinot noir but just as delicious. It doesn’t stand alone often, as those two varietals do, but in the right growing and production environment it can be spectacular on its own. Most often grenache is found in a blended wine, adding fruitiness or rounding out the mouthfeel.

From Spain, where it is the most widely planted, to France, the United States, Australia and South Africa, amazing wines are made with grenache. With bright flavors of berry fruit, heavy on the raspberry, that come from its late-ripening characteristic, it produces blends with fruit-forward jam notes and stand-alone varietal wines with deep, rich, smooth structure and balance. Some of the world’s greatest rosé wines are produced with grenache as the stand-alone or lead varietal in a blend, like the Côtes de Provence rosés of France. Grenache is a hardy grape with dark red skin that likes a dry, hot climate. You will often see it untrellised, growing as a “bush” vine, with no irrigation — the practice of dry farming, throughout Southern France, Spain, Australia and South Africa. The vines can grow this way for many years, becoming “old vines” producing wines of exceptional character and life.

Most experts agree grenache was born in Spain. It can be found all over the country, reigning in Rioja and dominating in Priorat, located in Tarragona in the Catalonian region. A blending agent in Rioja’s Crianza wines, it lends balance, fruit and softness to the main varietal, tempranillo. In Priorat, it takes on a sense of place like nowhere else it is planted. The clay soils of the region are vehicles driving the rich pencil lead and heavy berry flavors there, producing a heavier, deeper, brooding style of grenache-driven wine. Serve these Spanish beauties with a three-month aged Manchego cheese, sheep’s milk, on grilled bread rubbed with fresh garlic and dried figs. In summer, rub fresh tomatoes cut in half on warm garlic bread, drizzled with Spanish olive oil.

France is where grenache lends its juicy, fruit-forward attributes and rounds out such Southern French classics like Côtes du Rhone and Chateauneuf du Pape. Both are traditionally blends of syrah, grenache, carignan and mouvedre. Sometimes the lead grape is syrah, heaviest in the blend and backed up by grenache and the other varietals. This scenario creates a darker, heavier style than when led with grenache which creates a bit softer, rounder, less tannic style. For a real treat, try a lesser-known appellation from the Southern Rhône Valley, Gigondas (the name refers to the village where the grapes are grown). The Famille Perrin Gigondas is a beautiful example of a wine produced with 80 percent grenache to 20 percent syrah. The unmistakable nose of ripe berries and strawberry cream pie, finished by a balance of acid and fruit, make it a great wine to pair with softer cheeses like camembert and double cream brie.

In the New World (wine-producing countries outside Europe), grenache has staked its claim on such notable wines as Australia’s famous GSM blends, grenache, syrah and mouvedre. Easy to grow and handle in hot and rugged environments, it has adapted well to Australia’s climate and has become a benchmark for many of its most famous wines. In the U.S., the growing region in and around Paso Robles in Southern California boasts a prime growing environment for grenache. Tablas Creek winery has embraced grenache as a primary for its Côte de Tablas wines and rosé blends. These New World gems are best paired with a hearty sharp cheese like a sharp English cheddar or aged Gouda.

Whether or not you find grenache in a blend, like a Spanish Crianza or Côtes du Rhone or in the famous GSMs of Australia, they will not disappoint. From subtle, fruit-driven and balanced, to rich, round and ripe, grenache is a great alternative to what we tend to drink so often, making it worth the effort to seek out.  PS

Angela Sanchez owns Southern Whey, a cheese-centric specialty food store in Southern Pines, with her husband, Chris Abbey. She was in the wine industry for 20 years and was lucky enough to travel the world drinking wine and eating cheese.

Wine Country

What’s on the Plate?

Soul mates for fine wines

By Angela Sanchez

Cheese and wine are natural partners, and wherever there’s good wine, good cheese is sure to follow. It’s a partnership of land, stewardship and artisan craft that’s been around for hundreds of years. If you walk into a small family-owned winery in Spain or Italy you are likely walking into their home. The winery is on the attached property and the vineyards are either there or nearby. No matter the time of day, you’ll be served cheese from their own making or from a nearby farm, simply cut and served with a locally made charcuterie, fruit or olives — perfectly paired and thoughtfully prepared.

We always have a cheese board for family and friends, either before dinner or as a simple meal, and wine is there to complement. For me, a cheese board starts as an idea. The parts and the presentation should be equally fabulous, making it as appealing to the eye as to the palate. Start simply and build from a good foundation. Just like choosing a great wine to enjoy and share, you need to know your company. Are they adventurous eaters and drinkers, or less so?

Regardless of who you are entertaining, take a classic approach to building the tray — three cheeses: one hard, one soft and one blue. If you have guests who don’t care for blue cheese, try a classic Stilton from England or Maytag Blue from Wisconsin. One trick is to add a little local honey or jam to serve alongside. If you are having some great Italian wines like Prosecco and Sangiovese and or Nebbiolo, you can choose three Italian cheeses. My favorites are Pecorino Toscano (a six-month aged sheep’s milk cheese), Robiola (a soft, mixed milk cheese containing goat, sheep and cow’s milk), and Gorgonzola Dolce (a nice semi-soft blue cheese made of cow’s milk). To keep it simple add walnuts or marcona almonds from Spain, a few pieces of quality dried fruit like Turkish apricots, and seasonal fruit like berries and figs in the summer or pears and apples in fall. I like to offer a mixed medium for cheese “carriers.” A cracker with a light addition of rosemary and olive oil and a baguette cut into pieces and served toasted or plain. Keep it simple, interesting and tasty. Open the wines 10-20 minutes in advance — except a sparkling —and bring the cheese up to room temperature 30-45 minutes before serving.

If your company eats meat, add a little charcuterie. Charcuterie is the “art” of preparing meat in various forms by preserving it — prosciutto, salami, bacon, sausages and paté, to name a few. I like to use two meats: speck, smoked prosciutto from Alto Adige in Italy, and sopresatta or salami, like Milano, made with white wine and black pepper. The salty and herbal flavors of the meats can pair well with wines that have been oak-aged like a California chardonnay or Spanish Priorat made from grenache. Classic pairings of paté and Champagne are always a great addition. Try adding cornichons, tiny French pickles, and olives.

For a larger party, offer an additional cheese or cheese spread. A fresh chevré from a local source is a good spreadable option, or perhaps a well-made pimento cheese spread, low on the mayo, can be a fun, regionally inspired complement to the mix. In addition to wine, offer a well-made craft beer to pair with the charcuterie and olives. Stout or a wheat beer, like hefeweizen, pairs nicely with cheese and salty meats.

With a larger group always cut a few pieces of cheese in advance so your guests will know how to cut and eat it, otherwise you’ll be staring at a solid block of cheese all night. The thing I love about a cheese board is how easy it is to make it your own. Add fresh herbs from your garden in the summer or your mom’s homemade jam to pair with the cheeses. Whatever you like will be sure to delight. You can choose the wine around the cheese or the cheese around the wine. Make it an “All American” board with cheeses from the U.S. paired with wines from California and Washington, or go full French or Italian. Keep it simple or go all out. Snack or meal, you can’t go wrong.  PS

Angela Sanchez owns Southern Whey, a cheese-centric specialty food store in Southern Pines, with her husband, Chris Abbey. She was in the wine industry for 20 years and was lucky enough to travel the world drinking wine and eating cheese.