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Christmas 2012 Trip to North Carolina

Christmas 2012 brought a quick excursion down to Winston Salem, North Carolina to visit our daughter and soon to be son-in-law.  We had hoped it would bring some warmer weather as well, since we were expecting snow in Rhode Island.  That really didn’t happen though, as it was cold and rainy for most of the trip.  There was not any snow though.

Me at Childress Vineyards

Neil at Childress Vineyards

After an uneventful flight and rental car pick up we stopped on the way from Charlotte at Childress Vineyards in Lexington, right off Exit 89 from Route 52.  This is a very beautiful property, the only drawback being the proximity to the highway.  It is also a relatively newer property, being built as a winery and restaurant from the ground up.  The restaurant, The Bistro, serves good food in a nice setting, with all glass walls looking out over the vineyards.  In the summer they have music and plenty of space to picnic.  All the wines are from estate grapes.  You can take a tour and then a tasting in their beautiful tasting room and store.  It really is a spectacular building and grounds.  The vineyards themselves are equally pristine.

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Store and Tasting Room at Childress

We stopped for lunch first and Cheri had a crab cake and salad.  She pronounced both excellent.  Alex and I split some Calamari and then we both had Richard’s Roast Beef sandwich, with Fontina, Caramelized Onions, Hot Pepper Jam, and Au Jus dipping sauce on Ciabatta Bread.  This was also excellent.  We’ve eaten here twice now and both times it has been good.  No wine was consumed at dinner however as we had to do a tasting right afterward.

We choose the select tasting, which went through their dry select and reserve wines.  They have several tiers of wines at Childress, ranging from table to their Signature Series.  The Signature Series is not generally available, however we did get a chance to try the Signature 2009 Meritage.  They get a little steep at the top, with the Signature wines coming in just under $50.  I can’t say I would pay that for this wine, but it was good.  More on that in a bit.

All three of us tasted the same wines, and generally agreed.  We ran through the following:

2010 Barrel Select Sauvignon Blanc: Pale yellow, nice fruit, very smooth.  A good white wine.

2010 Reserve Chardonnay: 10 months in oak and you can tell.  If you like the heavy, buttery, oaky chardonnay style you’ll like this.

Three: this is a Cab Franc/Merlot/Malbec blend.  Light in body and color this did not present much in the way of developed flavors.  I was not a fan.

Pinnacle: a Bordeaux style blend.  This was one of my favorites as it presented a pretty classic Bordeaux aroma and flavor profile.  It was still rather light in body however, a characteristic of all the wines (except the dessert styles).

Barrel Select Cabernet Sauvignon: Again medium bodied, it had some nice fruit and soli length.  Overall I enjoyed this and it was on sale for $10.95.  Not bad at this price point.

2009 Reserve Merlot: we’re still not getting a full bodied wine in the reserve series, but that is the style here.  This was deep garnet in color with classic merlot flavors, with some rich earthy tones.

The Signature Meritage

The Signature Meritage

2009 Signature Meritage: this is one of the flagship wines at Childress.  Again it was medium bodied, but really presented some great aromas, with hard candy coming to mind for me.  Brilliant red in color it had a little tannin  noticeable, which was unusual based on the other wines tasted.  Overall a really good wine, but rather pricey at $49.95.  I don’t think I would add this to my cellar at that price point, as I can put down a bottle of 2009 Justin Isosceles around the same price, and the Justin is in a whole different league.

Late Harvest Viognier: they really lost me here.  I love dessert wines, especially port, but this was just undrinkable.  It tasted like simple syrup, with no fruit flavor and nothing but an overpowering taste of sugar water.  Maybe you pour it over ice cream. I really did not like it.

Starbound: another desert wine, this was better with blueberry pie flavors.  For me it was still a little too sweet.  I would not buy it.

To summarize this trip to Childress, we were not overly impressed.  Part of that is the fact that we like big, full bodied wines, and that simply is not the style here.  Some were good, and some were not.  I have to say that the Cab at the sale price of $10 was a good deal.  I’m also a fan of their Cabernet Franc, which we didn’t taste but had tried a year earlier.  Back then I though their Cab Franc was the best one I had ever had.  So we bought a bottle of their regular Cab Franc, their Reserve Cab Franc and a few Cabernet Sauvignons for the trip.  The regular bottle of Franc was opened and was very good.  The Reserve bottle flew home with us – we’ll let you know how that is when we open it.

We would recommend stopping by Childress if you are in the area.  Good food and some good wines.  It’s not consistent across the board though, so do a tasting and figure out what you like.

After the winery we continued to Winston Salem and visited with the family.  The highlight of the day was Christmas Eve dinner, which we celebrated at an excellent restaurant right next to downtown Winston Salem: Bernardin’s.  This is located in an old house, the Zevely House, and has kept it’s small rooms with their individual fireplaces, creating a series of small dining rooms. You can visit their website here.  When you walk in you are in the bar/lounge area, which has a couple of small couches in front of the fire and a smallish but well stocked bar.  We had a nice table for five in the front parlor.  Some drinks to settle in led to ordering dinner, and this is not easy as the choices are many and all sound wonderful.  That doesn’t even include the specials.

We ended up with caesar salads for two of us, and a goat cheese napoleon for Cheri.  All were good.  Dinners consisted of grouper, shrimp and scallop pasta, salmon and one of the specials – the kangaroo in Indian Tandoori sauce.  Everything was great, especially the kangaroo (in my opinion since I had that).  Dessert was homemade chocolate ice cream, which was also excellent and not overly chocolaty.  All in all this was a great meal.  When you consider the service was outstanding and the atmosphere impeccable we have found a regular place to dine when we are in Winston Salem.

One way to know a restaurant is excellent is to see how the guess the check game goes at the end.  Alex loves to do this, and we invariably take guesses as to what the total bill is.  At Bernardin’s all five of us guessed too high, some by a lot.  Clearly this restaurant presents great value.  We highly recommend it.

We spent  Christmas day lounging at our daughter’s apartment while they made us dinner.  This I highly recommend as well.  It made for a quiet day.  When nightfall came we Tanglewood Festival of Lights Presented by BB&Tdecided to pack up and take the drive to the Festival of Lights in Tangelwood Park.  To be fair the lights were pretty impressive, much better than I expected.  However, you drive through the long exhibit in single file line, and we had someone in front of us who was stopping to take multiple pictures at every display.  What should have been an enjoyable 20-30 minute drive through the lights turned into a 75 minute traffic jam.  We were one miserable carload by the time we emerged.  I strongly suggest going, but not on Christmas day.  Try a week or two before the actual holiday.  It was $15 per car, so it’s also very affordable.

Following a relaxing Christmas Day we had planned to take the one hour drive to the outlets to do some shopping.  Mother nature had other ideas however, as it was absolutely pouring, so we headed to Hanes Mall two minutes down the road and did some shopping anyway.  Everyone snagged something, and then we split up for dinner.  The kids headed to Golden Corral, by choice, and we headed to a wine bar we had found online and which was only a block from our hotel.

The wines at 6th & Vine

Serving an excellent selection of wines, 6th and Vine has all the vibes of a great wine bar.  There is a long bar, tables up front , in back and in several cozy alcove type settings as well as a small wine shop.  We started with a couple of different wines, the 2010 Concha y Toro Gran Reserva Malbec and the 2010 Santa Christo Garnacha.  These were two of the 24 reds available by the glass (there were also 21 whites).  Both were good and very different, with the Concha y Toro full bodied and sporting deep fruit flavors and the garnacha medium bodied with cherry flavors.  We would probably buy both of these.  We followed that up with a 3 wine tasting, selecting 2011 Santa Luz Pinot Noir (very complex for an inexpensive pinot and delicious), the 2011 Line 39 Petite Syrah (somewhat closed but good fruit and will get better – somehow we always like Petite Syrah and need to drink more of it) and the 2010 Vinaceous “Red Right Hand” Blend (also closed down, but almost completely with some acid and length, but nothing here appealed to us).  We finished with a glass of the Ramon Bilbao Crianza 2009.  We almost always like Rioja and this was no exception , with pretty classic Rioja flavors even though it was 100% Tempranillo – somewhat unusual.  I would drink this all day long – overall it is a very nice wine.

So the wine went well, as we tried six different wines during our two hours there, and the bartenders were great.  Unfortunately we needed some food too and this did not go well.  We started with a crab cake for Cheri while I tried the tuna special (seared ahi with a hoisin  sauce).  Cheri pronounced the crab cake poor, with more breading than crab and a sub-par sauce.  My tuna was downright terrible.  There was a streak of sinewy like stuff running through the middle of it.  When you order a piece of tuna you should be able to cut it with a fork never mind a knife.  I couldn’t cut it with either.  The hoisin sauce tasted like it was right out of a bottle.  We gave them a second chance with a custom flatbread order, a simple Margherita Pizza.  This was passable, but chunky with a tasteless crust.

While we enjoyed the wine and the ambience, we would absolutely not eat here again.  It’s too bad, it really has a lot going for it.  It was also somewhat busy for a Thursday night, so maybe we just got an unlucky streak.  If you are in the neighborhood and try it hopefully you’ll have better luck.

westbend vineyardsFor our last day in Winston Salem we drove out to Westbend Vineyards, which offers both estate grown wines as well as an onsite brewery and several beers.  Smaller than Childress by a lot it has a quaint feel to it and is very friendly.  Their website is here. We started in the brewery and Alex ran through the sampler, liking the German Wheat, the English Style IPA and the Seasonal Ale.  He had a pint of the German Wheat (even though I was 11:30 in the morning – but hey , I was about to do a wine tasting).  Cheri and I followed by tasting the dry wines the vineyard had to offer.  They were all lighter in style than I typically like, but some were quite good.

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The tasting room and store at Westbend

The Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc were simply too light, with little to offer on either the nose or the palate.  The Barrel Fermented Chardonnay brought home the heavy, oaky, buttery profile of oaked chards, and if you like that style it was good.  We don’t like that style personally.  The stainless fermented chardonnay was lighter and crisper as you would expect,

The vineyards at Westbend

The vineyards at Westbend

but it didn’t really come across well either.  The reds fared better, although they remained lighter bodied.  The merlot had classic, earthy merlot flavors.  The pinot noir was quite good for a lighter pinot and the “Les Soeurs” Cabernet Sauvignon had some nice fruit and good length.  The clear winner was the Vintner’s Family Reserve however, and this blend of 62% Merlot, 28% Cab Franc and 10%Cab Sauvignon was delicious.  It was still not full

Neil at Westbend Vineyards and Brewhouse

Neil at Westbend Vineyards and Brewhouse

bodied though.  It was very, very long.  The finish just kept going forever with this wine, and I had a glass of a dessert wine waiting in front of me for a while because I wanted to see how long it would go.  It was a long time.  Overall this last wine was similar to the Signature Meritage from Childress, good but pricey at almost $50.  I don’t think I would buy it but thanks to the people at Westbend for letting us try it.

We finished with that dessert wine, and unlike those at Childress this was excellent.  The Aquarius tasted like tawny port, and was simply delicious.  This I would buy.

Overall we liked the winery a lot.  They had some good wines, a very warm atmosphere and a good brewery.  We think this is worth the visit.

We had lunch at Foothills Brewery in downtown Winston Salem.  This was pretty typical for a good brewery, both in beer and pub style food.  You can check out their website here. The afternoon was spent antiquing and comic book shopping, both favorite pastimes of Alex and myself.  Dinner was TexMex, and it was excellent at an incredibly inexpensive restaurant near my daughter’s apartment, talk about value.  The restaurant is Monte De Rey located at 4922 Country Club Rd, Winston-Salem, NC 27104.  If you like mexican food try this, you won’t be disappointed.

All in all this was a great trip with some good wine and food, and some not so good wine and food.  We really recommend Bernardin’s and Monte De Rey.  If you’re going to a winery Westbend is worth the trip.

A votre sante!

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