Friday, November 25, 2011

An Unexpected Treat

I knew, before we left for our little Southern Sojourn, that I was getting close to opening the 1000th bottle on this Wine Odyssey. Before it became apparent that this milestone was likely to happen, I'd rather envisioned reaching that point with a bit of a fanfare and some big bottles from our cellar. Naturally, the last thing I'd been worrying about on the vacation was what number bottle of wine we were opening. In the back of my mind, I was just hoping that the occasion and bottle would be fitting.

I think we met that hope.

Our day saw an early start, Desirée regaled us with her tale of frolicking dolphins as she watched the sun rise yesterday. We figured - no lounging in bed with a hefty sleep-in - we'd best join her this time since it was our final morning on the Outer Banks. Problem was, it's hard to watch the sun rise with an 80% cloud cover. All the same, we saw enough to justify the early rising. No dolphins but we did see a fisherman frolic if that's worth anything.

Following a quick clean and some hefty hugs goodbye, Desirée and Cruncher headed back to Virginia and Boo and I made a quick stop at the outlet mall. One never knows if you'll find the odd bargain prior to Black Friday or not. Never having been in the States for Black Friday, I wouldn't know if we were successful or not, but I doubt you can ever have enough Christmas-themed boxers.

We needed to make the long drive back to Raleigh/Durham in order to catch our flight back to Vancouver the next morning. Timing for flights was such that we needed the extra night in town. So, Boo and I decided to take a stab at Priceline for the first time. We both think we scored nicely with a room at the Carolina Inn - an historic hotel at the gates of UNC - Chapel Hill. A throwback to Southern Colonial living with modern day comfort, we were totally enthralled with our short stay at the "University's Living Room."

We settled into our room, opened one of the bottles of local wine that Desirée left for us and toasted our good fortune.

1000. 2009 Rag Apple Lassie - Pinot Gris (Yadkin Valley - North Carolina)

With a rather unique, flared bottle and a distinct, cartoon-esque label, we weren't expecting much from this wine. We were pleasantly surprised following our initial knock backs. The wine - named after the owner's childhood, state Grand Champion calf - was a bona fide sip. Many of our home turf Pinot Gris from the Okanagan are rated right up with some of the best. Rag Apple Lassie maybe didn't hit those heights but I think it could stack up with a good percentage of the wines we'd find back home.

Other than just finding a bovine gracing the label and alluding to the vineyard's past as a dairy farm, a little reading tells a history of the old dairy morphing into a tobacco farm after the Vietnam War. Soon afterward though, tobacco products largely fell out of favour with the public and that, in turn, saw the possibility of a comfortable livelihood fade sharply. It was a gamble but the Hobson family wasn't about to let three generations of working the farm disappear and they planted grapes in 2000 - one of the first to do so in modern times in the Yadkin Valley. They now produce around 6500 cases of mostly classical vinifera varietals - the ones you standardly see as varietal wines in your local bottle shop. You won't see the exotic Wine Century Club varietals for sale here that were omnipresent at the other North Carolina winery we tried, Stonefield Cellars.

Having perked up a touch, Boo and I made a quick tour of the campus, saw Occupy Chapel Hill's four tent camp and wandered a bit around a campus cemetery (right up Boo's alley). I can only imagine the Halloween activities that go on here.

We took the easy route for dinner and ate at the Crossroads Dining Room in the Carolina Inn and arrived to a welcome surprise. It was "No Whining Monday" and all bottles of wine were half price in the restaurant. Yippee! I didn't know at the time that our dinner choices were marking a monumental point in this blog, but the special did allows us a little guilt-free leeway in our wine budget for the evening.

1001. 2009 Four Graces - Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley - Oregon)

We went with our server's suggestion on this bottle. I figured a Pinot Noir would be versatile enough to match up with fish and duck we'd ordered and he said that he quite enjoyed this wine. The winery's website proclaims a New World approach to capturing its terroir and there's little doubt that this was New World. It was about as bold as I'm familiar with when it comes to Pinot Noir. I don't know much about Willamette Pinot's in general (other than that they're often considered world class) but this was as big as most reds of any varietal pedigree. It wasn't a bad thing. I'm a pretty big fan of fruit jumping out of my glass and we had no problem finishing the wine, but this almost as surprising in its boldness as the Pinot Gris was in its drinkability.

The food was bold enough for the wine though. In fact, this was one of our favourite meals of the trip. Boo joyously proclaimed his catfish and jambalaya to be as good as he could wish for - and that's after he tried to figure out exactly how he was going to duplicate the prosciutto wrapped dates stuffed with blue goat cheese that we had as a starter.

There was no need for dessert whatsoever, but there's never any harm in at least looking at the menu - particularly while on vacation. It wasn't the desserts that caught my eye so much, but the dessert wines. There was a bottle that immediately perked me up. When I asked our server about it, I told him that I was quite familiar with the winery but that I didn't know that they even produced a dessert wine. He didn't know much off hand either but he went back to ask the cellar manager about it. He returned to say that they couldn't tell us much because no one could recall having sold a bottle in over 10 years at the restaurant.

At $80 a half bottle, there might have been a reason that I'd never run across it before and no one else had splurged for it. But, after all, this was "No Whining Monday" and its reduced prices. I still wasn't so inclined to pay $40 for a bottle that I knew nothing about, was old and that we certainly didn't need. It'd be our third bottle of the day and I don't do hangovers on planes - at least not well. Our server went back to talk to the manager and see if he could work something out. When he returned and said that they'd pop the cork for $25, I still had to think about it but Boo said, "Go ahead. We can always take it back to the room with us."

1002. 1998 La Spinetta - Passito Oro (Piedmont - Italy)

Boo and I had visited one of La Spinetta's three wineries when we were in Italy a few years back (before I'd started this blog unfortunately) and we've been fans of Spinetta ever since. We tend to only see their high end Barbaresco's and Barolo's (and I do mean high end) back home in Vancouver. So, we don't get much opportunity to try their wines. This would be a special occasion - worthy of reaching the half way point on this Wine Odyssey - especially since I didn't know the wine even existed.

Oro is an interesting take on a dessert wine - at least for me. It's made in a method that I haven't run across before - at least not in this particular version. Once the 100% Moscato grapes have been picked, this Mosto Parzialmente Fermentato method sees the grapes racked to partially dry in the cellar for a couple of months - much in the way Amarone grapes are handled. The grapes are only crushed after certain levels of fermentation have already occurred during the partial dehydration. One of the results is a more concentrated juice with bigger flavours. That result sounds somewhat similar to the late harvest wines we find back home, but, to my knowledge, all our concentration of the grape is done while it is still on the vine and desiccation of the grape isn't the goal of the longer hang time.

The winery website says that the 1998 was the first vintage of this wine for La Spinetta and there isn't a lot produced - only around 4000 half bottles on average. Even with a decade of ageing, it was still a rich drink - reminiscent of apricots and sweet oranges but with still enough acidity to draw out a long finish. We took the bottle with us to the bar next door and had a relaxing finish to the evening and to our trip. Thanks to our server would seem in order for the gentle arm-twisting he performed to coax us into ordering the bottle after all. I think it was definitely worth it.

Our little trip South may be ending, but we still have half an Odyssey to go on the blog. There's no way that the occasion or the pedigree of the wine can be this extravagant for all 2001 Bottles, but it's fair to say that we're doing our best to take advantage of those occasions when they arise and that I'm certain we'll experience our fair share of great bottles and times over the thousand bottles still to come.

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