By Courtney Philips
For the seasoned oenophile, a stroll through an expansive wine store is a delight. For the novice sipper, navigating the wine aisle of the grocery store can be overwhelming. Luckily, even the most intimidating array is simplified with a bit of knowledge – of region, history and taste.
Wine has been a part of civilization since ancient times. Evidence of its consumption dates to 6000 BC in China. The oldest winery in the world was found in a cave in Armenia, where fermentation jars and seeds from the Vitis vinifera grape (still used to make wine today) date to 4100 BC.
People make and drink wine almost everywhere in the world. While wine is produced on six continents and in more than seventy countries, several regions of the world produce the majority. Weather, climate, soil conditions and terrain govern the offering and taste buds influence production and exportation.
The world’s largest producer of wine, France has varying topography and climate, which make it an ideal host for an assortment of grapes. Merlot and grenache are the most widely grown, but France is also the original source of ever-popular favorites such as cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and syrah grapes.
Regions of the country specialize in different varieties. Alsace, on the Eastern border, is a primarily white-wine region, while Bordeaux is primarily red. Burgundy specializes in chardonnay and pinot noir grapes for white and red, respectively. Beaujolais is a red-wine region famous for the Beaujolais Nouveau, a quickly-bottled fruity wine released each year, made from the gamay grape. Champagne is the coldest of France’s major wine-making regions and is to thank for, of course, its bubbly namesake.
Nearly every region is a wine region. Veneto, Marche and Abruzzo, Tuscany, Piedmont and Sicily are well-known throughout the world. The sangiovese grape, also known as the “pride of Tuscany,” is the main grape ingredient in the quintessentially Italian chianti, best known for its fruity notes that pair well with red sauce and red meat. The hearty trebbiano grape hails from Italy but is planted densely in other countries to produce brandy, blended table wines and even balsamic vinegar.
Spain has more grapevine acreage than any other top-producing country but, due to dry weather and infertile soil conditions, it is third largest in production. While Spain is home to more than 400 types of grapes, twenty varieties produce the most. The airen, tempranillo and garnacha (commonly known as grenache) originated in Spain, and are frequently used in blended wines – and sangria! Boldness of flavor is dependent upon location.
Argentina produces robust malbec and velvety chardonnay. Germany is known for light, fruity riesling. Australia is home to substantial production of spicy shiraz and chardonnay. Chile produces the peppery carménère grape, typically used for blended wine. South Africa specializes in the versatile chenin blanc grape, known to produce both sweet and dry varieties. Portugal is home to the usually sweet and heavy port wine.
Stateside oenophiles know the delights of the Napa and Sonoma valleys of California – from whence 89 percent of American wine hails. New York, Washington, Oregon, Florida, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois contribute to the nearly 3,000 commercial vineyards in the States, utilizing European grapes and native grapes such as the Vitis labrusca (a strain of which is the well-known concord), riparia and rotundifolia.
Cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and merlot grapes grow readily in Napa County in the country’s most recognizable vineyards, including Beringer, Mondavi and Sterling. Adjacent Sonoma County offers a more extensive variety, growing European grapes such as the petit sirah, sangiovese, cabernet franc, pinot blanc, viognier, pinot gris and syrah.
North Carolina – Where the weak grow strong, and the strong grow. . . grapes.
Until Prohibition, North Carolina was the dominant producer of wine in the United States. With varying terrain and climate, the Old North State plays host to a surprising range of grapes. The sweet, bronze scuppernong, a varietal of the muscadine grape, is the official state fruit and base of most wine produced in the hot, sandy coastal plain region of the state.
The fruit is so prolific, in fact, that Roanoke Island in Manteo is home to what is known as the Mothervine. Discovered by explorers in 1584, its scuppernong vines span nearly an acre from a trunk that is nearly two feet wide. While commercial vineyards can be found all over the state, Duplin Winery is the largest and oldest winery in North Carolina and the world’s largest producer of muscadine wine.
In chilly western North Carolina and the hilly Piedmont, conditions are perfect to produce European-style grapes such as the viognier, chardonnay, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot. The Biltmore winery in Asheville welcomes more than one million visitors each year, making it the most-visited winery in the United States.
What’s for dinner?
Significant, detailed research exists to explain why wines pair well with certain foods, but anyone can hunt down the perfect bottle with a little practice. Consider acidity levels, salt, tannins, alcohol content and sweetness of the food and wine. The most tried-and-true pairings are listed below:
Dry whites (like sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio and albarino) pair well with vegetables and light fish.
Rich whites (like chardonnay and viognier) pair with soft cheese, starches, fish and white meat.
Sparkling (like champagne, prosecco and cava) enhance hard cheese, vegetables, soft cheese, starches and fish.
Light red (like pinot noir and gamay) pair well with cured meat, white meat, rich fish like crab, starch and roasted vegetables.
Medium red (like tempranillo, sangiovese, zinfandel, grenache and merlot) accompany cured meat, red meat, white meat, starches and roasted vegetables. It’s important to note that the bold, spicy nature of a zinfandel is the perfect complement to both eastern and western North Carolina barbeque.
Bold red (like cabernet sauvignon, malbec and syrah) go well with cured meat, red meat and hard cheese.
Dessert (like ice wine, sherry, port and many varieties of muscadine wine) pair well with sweets, cured meat and soft cheese.
Ready to find a new favorite? Start here:
Bob & Sheree’s Beer & Wine Shoppe: A Fayetteville institution and go-to for beautiful custom gift baskets, Bob & Sheree’s has been in business since 1980 and is located at 2828 Raeford Road. In addition to a vast array of bottles in all price ranges and a knowledgeable staff, Bob & Sheree’s offers daily seasonal samples.
Grapes & Hops: With three locations – 5780 Ramsey Street, 1550 NC 24 in Cameron and 3350 Footbridge Road in Hope Mills – Grapes & Hops is a great resource for popular varieties from many regions. The Hope Mills and Cameron locations offer a selection of meats and cheese that pair well with wines in stock. Hope Mills carries equipment for making your own wine. Each location holds weekly tastings. Visit the Grapes & Hops Facebook page for the wines (and beer!) that will be featured each Friday for tasting.
LeClair’s General Store: Located in Haymount at 1212 Fort Bragg Road, LeClair’s offers several wines from each of the most popular regions, and stocks a pinot noir from Chile. Lavau Cotes du Rhone Rouge (a French grenache/syrah blend) is the best seller, but store owner Patrick Leclair says the entire selection sells well. Each month, LeClair’s hosts a wine tasting. For dates and times, follow LeClair’s on Facebook or stop by to check the calendar of events.
Lu Mil Vineyard: Located at 438 Suggs-Taylor Road in Elizabethtown, Lu Mil bottles several popular wines made from the muscadine grapes grown on its 58-acre vineyard. The vineyard also has a gift shop, a tasting room, event venues and overnight accommodations. For information about Lu Mil and its events, check the vineyard’s web site – lumilvineyard.com – or its Facebook page.
The Wine Café: Located at 108 Hay Street, patrons will find a great selection, a variety at the tasting stations and monthly classes. The café hosts Wine & Yoga on the third Tuesday of each month. To buy tickets for upcoming classes and for information on live music events and specials, visit The Wine Café Facebook page.
Whether planning a day trip to one of North Carolina’s famed wineries, a night of yoga at The Wine Café, or a just well-paired dinner at home, Fayetteville is the perfect place to unwine-d.