Friday, October 3, 2008

Peace, Wine and Misunderstandings

Being back in VA, or more precisely, back in Richmond, I’m closer to one of my favorite wine shops, Private Stock. The reason why I love this wine shop so much is because the employees there are not only friendly and helpful but it’s one of the few wine shops where I feel like they are actually trying to set you up with a selection that you will be happy with, not just sell you the feature of the month. It was the first wine shop I went into when I turned 21 where the employees looked past my youth and helped me find blends and varietals that would help me discover and develop my palate for wine.

I prefer wine shops that have a smaller selection because it’s more likely that the staff has tasted a fair amount of the selection and is better educated. As opposed to certain warehouse style wine stores where I would only go if I knew exactly what I was looking for. Or better yet, for their awesome beer selection (although wine shops such as Kybecca in Fredericksburg do have a great beer selection as well).

Funny story… one summer I was obsessed with pinot grigio and went into a Total Wine to try something new. When I asked the sales associate what she recommended she pointed out three different pinot noirs before catching herself and back tracking through the store to bring me to the right section. Obviously it was just a mistake, but it still makes me chuckle. Moral of the story… never ask the cashiers in one of these stores. They are confused easily. But I’m getting off topic.

So I went into Private Stock a few days ago hoping that they might have Restless Soul (see previous entry), but alas it was not to be. But they did have one of the most amazing blends that’s ever passed my lips, one that I absolutely adore. It’s Peace Family Vineyard’s red blend. This delicious medium to full bodied red is a blend of Shiraz, Cab Sauv, Grenache and Mataro (a varietal that I’ve personally only seen in this blend) and it has notes of chocolate covered cherries. This is the wine that I hunt down first any time I go into a wine shop for the first time. Of course I’ve only found it in one other shop previously mentioned, which is Kybecca. This blend was first recommended to my friend when they were visiting Private Stock looking for another wine that the shop did not carry. From the first time that I tried the wine, I was in love.

I know I throw around the word “favorite” a lot, but it truly is my favorite red from Australia. It hits all the notes that I want in a red blend and is versatile enough to be served at almost any occasion. Even though it lacks in the spiciness I tend to enjoy, I still try to bring it to gatherings because everyone can enjoy it no matter what type of red wine they drink.

Another wine shop I enjoy going to is Virginia Wine Experience in downtown Fredericksburg. I prefer to go there when I’m looking for Virginia wines, but they also have an extensive selection of wines from every region. The employees there are also very helpful and it’s such a laid back shop it’s hard not to feel comfortable. Which is great if you’ve got a of questions lot like I usually do.

The bottom line is that you need to find a shop where you feel comfortable and the employees actually care about what they are talking about, not just trying to sell off of a list. There are a lot of shops that I like to frequent but can’t mention them all in one post. If you have a favorite shop, let me know. If it’s in Virginia, I’ll make every attempt to check it out. But also let me know about shops outside of the state because I love knowing where to go when I go out of state!

Until next time!
-Wine Chic

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Back with a few more favorites!

I’d been living on the Crystal Coast in North Carolina for the summer, which was a great experience but unfortunately it meant I was depriving myself of a few things that I love… okay, just my favorite Virginia wines. Luckily while I was down there I worked in a shop that had a great wine selection, including some North Carolina wines that I didn’t even know existed.

Most of the wines from NC were either too sweet or tannic to me, but there are two wines that stand out to me from the Old North State Winery. They are Bare Bones and Restless Soul. I bought a bottle of each on my first night in town to celebrate my new apartment with my friends before they left (thanks again Jen and Rachael for helping me move!) and both wines became a staple in my kitchen for the four months I was down there.

Bare Bones is one of the best chardonnays I’ve tried in a long time. It’s an unoaked chardonnay, so it’s nice and crisp but still has a slight buttery-ness which I enjoy. When it comes to oaky notes in a wine, you either love it or hate it. Personally, I don’t like it, which is why I absolutely love this wine.

As for Restless Soul, it’s the perfect balance of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and chambourcin giving it deep cherry notes but still keeping it light. I try to keep a bottle on hand for any spur of the moment cookouts, pasta night or just a really long day at work.

Unfortunately for me, I am back in Virginia and have yet to find a store that sells these wines. It looks like I’m just going to have to take a trip down 95 to pick up a couple bottles, but until then I will keep searching, and if I find one I will pass the info along.

So I’m a bit out of practice with writing these pieces, but then again nothing was ever consistent with my blog in the first place so maybe sporadic writing is what everyone’s used to from me, but I do have a few more in the works and hope to be able to recover the ones I had been working on before my laptop crashed, so please keep reading and giving me feedback because I appreciate all of it.
-Wine Chic

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

So I've been out of town...

... and due to technical difficulties I haven't really been able to keep up with postings, but I do plan on posting more once I re-write some of the posts I've lost and writing new ones as well, so please stay tuned!
-Wine Chic

Thursday, April 24, 2008

When Good Wine Goes Bad

Rather than going to the Wine 101 class I decided to go to Ingleside Vineyards with one of my friends. I didn't want to drive all the way to Richmond again since I had just been there a few days before, and my friend Rachael needed to trade in a bottle of wine that didn't taste right. Of course, silly me, I seemed to have lost my tasting notes. So instead of writing about my visit (I plan on going back, of course!) I thought it would be interesting to do a little research about wine going bad.

I mean, how do you know if a wine doesn't taste right if you've never had it before? Maybe you ate or drank something before trying it and that's why it tastes funny. Maybe it's been stored for too long. Maybe it's just bad wine. How do you know?

I mean, we’ve all come home late one night in hopes of one glass of wine before going to bed, only to realize that the open bottle is pretty close to becoming vinegar. Sometimes you go for it and hope for the best, other times your eyes grow misty as you pour the wine down the drain, kicking yourself for not remembering to put in the wine saver (oh, the hours we could have spent together my sweet shiraz!). This is an instance where there’s no mistaken that the wine has turned.

The other night I had just gotten off work and went over to my friend's house for a little girls’ night. We had been sipping on a semi-sweet white when it started to look like we would need another bottle opened pretty soon. Rachael opened her bottle of Rosato di Sangiovese from Ingleside. When she opened it she thought the cork had a musty smell to it, so we both tried it and thought it tasted a bit moldy. Now I couldn't remember if I had tried this wine before, but I've never had anything from Ingleside that I didn't enjoy. We thought maybe something was wrong with the cork, but we couldn't tell. This, of course, is what spurred our trip out to Ingleside (that and the opportunity to spend an afternoon tasting wine).

After the tasting, we asked one of the employees if they would mind checking the wine for us. This being a day or two after we tried it, the smell wasn't quite so strong and the taste had gone from being moldy to reminding me of damp wood... still not something I would drink but less acrid. The employees did a side by side comparison and sure enough we were right. Rachael was given another bottle and every body was happy.

They mentioned something about the wine being "corked." I did a search to see what the actual term meant and came across a website that explained all sorts of issues you can have with wine you’ve purchased. Basically corked wine is caused by a bacteria in the cork that only affects the bottle and is harmless if you drink the wine, you may just have to let it breathe a bit to let out the mustiness. So we could have kept the wine to drink, but of course it would not have been as enjoyable as a fresh bottle would be.

So next time you’re trying a new wine and it doesn’t taste quite right, check this website out: It just might be a problem with the bottle.

-Wine Chic

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Birthday Celebration at a Wine Festival

Over the weekend we celebrated my best friend’s birthday by going to James River Cellars for their April Fools Wine Festival. There were three other vineyards there and we were excited for a Sunday of wining and dining. Unfortunately it was sprinkling and chilly most of the day, but as I may have mentioned before about this vineyard they do have an indoor area so we had a chance to warm up between tastings.

We started off with Grayhaven Winery because I heard they had white Sangria and I was eager to try it. If you’ve never been to a wine festival before, generally the visiting vineyards only bring a selection of their wines, such as the best sellers, award winners and employee favorites. Grayhaven brought two of their whites, five of their reds and a batch of each of their sangrias. The tasting tour began with their Vidal Blanc, which, for a white wine, it had the full body and aftertaste of a red. Next up was Moonlight White, which I enjoyed at the tasting because when you let it sit in your mouth for a second to warm it developed a creamy cherry/vanilla flavor. However, I bought a bottle for later and didn’t chill long enough so I didn’t enjoy it as much.

All but one of the reds they brought were pretty dry, the one not too dry being their Pinotage. However, I found the Pinotage to be pretty jammy and the high alcohol content was overwhelming the flavor. I did enjoy their Cabernet Franc, where as I am not normally a Cab fan. It was only slightly dry and had very nice cherry notes. This vineyard also makes a dry Chambourcin they call Rendezvous (see previous blog for info on James River’s Chambourcin), which had hints of mint leaves in its bouquet and a wonderful earthy flavor. I bought a bottle of this one too for further research but haven’t tried it since.

Finally we finished the tour with their Sangria. The White Sangria was cidery with a strong nectarine flavor. I think I would have enjoyed it more had it not been so cold out. Their Red Sangria was tasty, but a little heavier in the spices than I would season it myself. They used pear juice, which was something I haven’t thought about but definitely need to consider next time I make my own.

After a short break I moved on to Cooper. Unfortunately their abbreviated selection didn’t have much I was excited about except for one new addition since the last time I’d seen them: Noche. It’s a chocolate dessert wine! At first I was skeptical, but in one sip I was in love. I could see pouring it over a cake or drinking it with fresh berries. I picked up a bottle of this for my mother so we could enjoy it after Mother’s Day dinner.

Last I moved on to Lake Anna Winery, which really isn’t my favorite winery in Virginia. However, I wanted to see what was new so I could see if my mind could be changed about them. Unfortunately the guy running the table at this time didn’t seem very interested in being there and I basically stood there for a minute or two talking to one of the other tasters who was taking her tour without him even acknowledging me. I asked him a couple questions, hoping this would spur him to begin a tasting tour, but after a couple yes/ no answers I finally asked to taste two reds from their list that I thought sounded good. One was the Spotsylvania Claret, the other the Enigme. They were neither horrible nor memorable and after yet another bad experience with this vineyard I do not foresee myself giving them yet another chance.

There are many other delights at wine festivals to keep you busy if you’ve sampled a little more than you should and need to cleanse your palette. One particularly delightful booth I stumbled upon (not literally… I had to drive the birthday girl later on) was one that sold apple cider, apple spreads, and apple vinegar. Everything I tried was absolutely fantastic and the woman working was very nice and answered all of my questions. I wound up purchasing a couple bottles of the cider for my brother (a sparkling beverage fanatic) and a jar of their Apple Grilling Glaze, a zesty yet sweet sauce that I plan on grilling chicken or pork with as it warms up outside. Their website is great as well because it gives suggestions for using their items as well as a few recipes. The website is

There was also De Rochonnet Delights, a chocolatier that made wine truffles among other gourmet goodies. I visited their website, and normally the truffle center is blended with a cabernet, but the girl at the booth said they used James River Cellars’ Chambourcin for the wine festival. Naturally I bought a few for later, considering it was my best friend’s birthday after all.

I really could go on and on about this festival, but I don’t want to bore. All in all it was a fun day that ended with quite a few empty bottles that we had purchased at the festival and full bellies from snacking… sorry, “pairing,” and grilling up burgers later on that evening.

Next week I’m going to a Wine 101 course, so I plan on passing my knowledge on to you.

-Wine Chic

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Girls Night Done Right

So I decided to go down to Richmond to visit my best friend and have a wine and dinner night. This being the first day I’ve had an appetite in two weeks, I decided to cook something simple that I haven’t tried before and drink one my favorite Virginia wines, Toscarora Red from Rockbridge, a vineyard on the way to Charlottesville. Since the recipe was a light pasta dish I also decided to pick up the Toscarora White as it is semi-sweet and goes well with most pasta dishes. It also happens to be my best friend’s favorite.

Toscarora, for both the red and white, is both semi-sweet and semi-dry. I love the red because it has a subtle spiciness that awakens your taste buds but the finish is sweet yet clean. Being medium bodied, I would be hesitant to pair it with a heavily seasoned steak, but it’s great with burgers.

With the white wine we were too impatient to allow it to chill, so instead of its usual crisp finish it took on sweet buttery notes. I’ve had both wines many times before, and I recommend the white version paired with pasta and potato salads. Both wines are great for bbqs and summer outings.

The recipe that we tried tonight was a garlic, basil and goat cheese pasta. I was craving something with bell peppers and goat cheese and I found this recipe online, but I’ve altered it some. Here is what we came up with:

On low heat, brown two minced cloves in two tablespoons of olive oil for one minute. Throw in half a cup of chopped onions (I used sweet onion because I’m not a big onion fan and would normally go with green onion but I thought it would be too light) and sauté until softened. Take one red and one yellow bell pepper and cut to your liking (I chose strips, but chopped would have worked) and cook on medium heat for five minutes. Take 1/3 a cup of your favorite dry to semi-dry white wine… such as Toscarora White, and throw it in the pan to boil and reduce by half. Season with salt and pepper to your liking and shred about half a cup of fresh basil into the mix and let the basil wilt. Meanwhile you should be cooking your pasta, and we used rigatoni. When draining your pasta, save 2/3 cup of the water to mix with approximately 2 oz of goat cheese so that it’s a creamy consistency. I made the mistake of throwing all the water into a bowl with the cheese rather than adding the water slowly, which made it very soupy. Mix everything together (creamy cheese, pasta and sautéed veggies) and top with as much goat cheese as you like. We threw in some extra garlic pepper and oregano, but it was almost overkill on the seasoning, so use your seasoning wisely.

Since we used the wine in the food, it paired fairly well, but switching to the red felt right to me because it’s spicy and it finished off the meal quite well. Later on we switched to Horton Vineyard's Raspberry wine, which is a Cabernet blended with fruit juice and the best flavored wine I've ever had. The best part is that it's not too sweet and it comes in quite a few different flavors, such as blueberry, strawberry, blackberry and peach. It was the perfect switch because after a few glasses of the Rockbridge we weren't going to be able to fully enjoy the flavors of another wine, but it was like dessert.

So within the next few weeks there are wine festivals and seminars that I plan on attending, so stay tuned because if I take anything good away from them you’ll be the first to know!

-Wine Chic

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The James River Experience

The James River Experience

A few weeks back a few of my friends and I took a trip down to Richmond to spend an afternoon at James River Cellars. I’ve been to festivals and other events at James River, but with booth tastings you really don’t have time to talk to the employees in detail about food and wine.

We arrived a little late in the afternoon, about half an hour before the winery was closing, but at least we weren’t the only group that came in right before they called it a day. James River has a patio where they have events during the warmer months and an upstairs for events when it’s chilly out. For information about their events, visit Of course, if you are able to visit James River Cellars they’re not shy about sharing their upcoming events in or outside the vineyard.

James River has a wide selection of reasonably priced wines. Most of the reds share common notes of black cherry and spices while the white wines tend to be either buttery or slightly acidic, but there’s something for any wine lover and even a few for those that may not be big wine drinkers. Unfortunately when we visited they were out of my favorite white wine, their Chardonel. It’s a very buttery wine, perfect for picnics or lazy summer afternoons just lounging by the pool. They were, however, expecting the new batch to be ready for the spring, so I’m looking forward to going back next month to pick up a few bottles.

My absolute favorite wine that they make is their Chambourcin. It’s a medium bodied red that’s similar to a port. When you first take a sip it’s full of dark cherry notes, followed by a sweet, almost sugary after taste. I compare the finish to taking a scoop of pure sugar after each sip, although it’s really not what I would consider a “sweet” wine. It’s perfect with soft cheese or fresh berries. The folks at the vineyard recommend trying it mulled, but I have yet to try it that way. At $14 a bottle, it’s well worth picking up a few bottles to keep on hand for any occasion.

They have a Chardonnay and a Reserve Chardonnay, the difference being the aging process. The Chardonnay is aged in stainless steel, so it has a crisper taste than the reserve which has very oaky, almost nutty notes, which comes as no surprise as it is aged in oak barrels. Both are very good and reasonably priced ($16 for the reserve, $12 for the original Chardonnay).

Two other wines to note are their Hanover and Hanover White. The Hanover White is sweet but crisp and great with desserts. The red is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin and Chancellor, which gives it notes of black cherry and currant that make it a tart but satisfying table wine. Both are only $13.

This is definitely a great vineyard to visit since it’s right on the edge of Richmond in Ashland, Virginia. The people are very friendly and knowledgeable about their wine and the gift shop has all sorts of goodies to spend your money on. I picked up “The Wine & Food Matching Wheel,” which has proven to be quite useful. It even has pairings for popcorn (Chardonnay for every day and sparkling wine for special occasions).

All in all it was a good day. Afterwards we went back to my friend’s house with the bottles we had purchased and I made my specialty: Fettuccini Alfredo. The recipe is simple… so simple in fact that sometimes I’ll make it up as I’m going along. Generally I start with half a stick of butter or margarine, 1 cup of heavy whipping cream and ¾ a cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese. The key is to use fresh parmesan, otherwise your sauce will come out clumpy. I melt the butter, then heat the cream (don’t let it boil!). Then I slowly add the cheese, stirring the sauce as it melts. Don’t be shy to taste as you add… I’ll usually end up adding a little extra. Once all the cheese has melted, lower the heat and add in whatever seasoning you feel like. To me, garlic and oregano is a must, and to give it a little kick I’ll throw in some red pepper flakes. The sauce should thicken as it stands (once you’ve removed it from the heat) but if you’re like me, I don’t have the patience so I’ll cheat with a pinch of flour. Just toss the sauce with your noodle of choice (and maybe some chicken or shrimp) and your set.

So there you have it, a little bit of wine talk, a little shared recipe, and it only took me a few weeks to get my act together and actually post it. I can only promise that it won’t take as long for my next post assuming my computer doesn’t completely give out on me and that nasty cold doesn’t come back. So thanks for reading and keep checking back!
-Wine Chic