It is a well-known fact that I know nothing about wine. (Well, it’s well-known if you know me, anyway.) I’m not against wine, per se, but I don’t have enough exposure to know what I like, nor do I know how to communicate my tastes, so it’s always a shot in the dark as to whether or not I’ll actually enjoy wine in a given situation.
This week, however, has done much to change that. I’ve been exposed to many good wines, most of which were way out of my price range (or “snack bracket” as someone else once said). Sadly, most of those I could afford, I wasn’t told the name of, either.
However. There were also a goodly number of wines that I can afford, and better still, they were served by an extremely friendly sommelier, who, along with the winery’s owners, hosted us for an evening, educating us about wines!
Wednesday night this past week, I had the great fortune to visit the Chatham Hill Winery, in gorgeous, still-fall-coloured Raleigh, where we attended a blind tasting, ate a delicious catered dinner in a beautifully done-up room, and then went on to taste a wine in progress from the cask.
Our evening was hosted by Marek and Jill, the owners of the winery, who I shamefully neglected to take a picture of (but they’re there on the link above). These two were so warm and welcoming — and so full of information! Marek has a PhD in the sciences, and his lab-nerdiness definitely came through in his explanations of the science of wine-making while he explained the aging process during the cask-tasting.
But. I’m getting ahead of myself here.
The winery is tiny, hidden away in a (frankly) somewhat sketchy-looking industrial part of the Durham-Raleigh area. Once inside, though, the whole space is warm and rosy, lit up with dainty fairy lights and tonnes of beautiful decorative touches. (More than a couple of the group went home with souvenirs purchased there.)
There was a scrapbook by the door of some past events hosted by the winery, including weddings and corporate parties, and the whole place was so homey and cute.
The winery does not include any vineyards, an idea that was wholly new to me. The couple explained that they worked with three different vineyards in the area, who produced grapes solely for them, but did not own any vines of their own. Instead, they focused on the production — the real making of — and marketing of their wines, which I found really interesting.
We started off the evening with samples of their wines (my favourite, to my shock being the Riesling, given how dry it was) along with some ridiculously tasty local cheeses. Those cheeses, let me tell you, ruined me for the next night’s proffered cheese: their local Swiss and chevre were just amazing. I can’t express how much I wished I could bring dairy back across the border.
Anyway, so after everyone was feeling a little more confidant in their wine-lore (and also full of cheese), we settled down to a blind tasting. Three of the Chatham wines (a chardonnay, a merlot, and a cabernet sauvignon) had been matched up with similar wines (same style of make, roughly same aged vines, etc.) from around the world (Australia, South Africa and Chile, respectively). We were given brief histories of the two, and “hints” as to which might be which, and then encouraged to explore and guess.
I got the South African one right, and I’m fairly sure it was pure luck.
What I did learn, however, was that even wines with so much in common (everything but the soil, in some cases) could taste so incredibly, dramatically different. What? That’s totally obvious? Maybe to you folk, but remember: I know nothing about wine. Everyone’s education starts somewhere, and mine started in Raleigh, with amazing cheese.
Our education continued when we headed into another room where, surrounded by casks of ageing wine, we ate at this beautifully laid-out table. Seriously, isn’t that nice? Folks, if you’re in the area, and you really need to impress a date, consider calling Jill to set it up.
The dinner was fantastic, served (of course!) with sommelier-approved, paired wines. While I liked all three wines, they were sadly from France, and unlikely to be anything I’d be able to find in Canada. (Which is a damn shame in the case of our dessert Sauterne because wow, was that ever good. Even better than the dessert food, if you can believe I’m writing that.)
Around the corner from our dinner nook, hidden by a longer wall of casks, we got to see where the wines were actually made. Marek went into detail about the life of a wine grape, explaining the importance of fermentation time, wood for casks (this part at least made some sense to me, after the scotch tasting I’d attended with The Boy) and then length of cask-aging.
With what my colleague described in a horrified whisper as a “glass cow inseminator” (I would have gone with “large volume angled pipette”), and that Marek fondly referred to as his “crooked tool”, we were given tastes of a cabernet franc still in its cask.
It was alright, a little rough around the edges, but surprisingly flavourful. Better still, it was served with chocolate covered cocoa beans. So good.
It was a great way to wrap up the night, and it’s made me a little less nervous around the idea of wine. I found, to my surprise, that I seem to prefer white wines, when they’re clear and dry, although I would shamefully consume a bottle of dessert wine with dinner instead, if I had it. (Okay, that part wasn’t much of a surprise.)
Anyway, the winery tour was amazing, so educational and fun, and such a treat to meet a couple with such a passion for what they’re doing. The tour they gave was completely relaxed, with them poking fun at each other the whole time, and I’d definitely recommend visiting them if you happen to be nearby. (And not just for the cocoa beans either.)