January is a high-maintenance friend, capricious and occasionally cruel, but she offers a priceless reward for enduring her whims—a fresh start. This year, I'm taking her up on it, and beginning anew here, on these pages.
As the new food editor and wine columnist for the Independent Weekly, I bring many years of experience covering the Triangle and writing about food, which I hope will serve you well. My hope is that together we can explore the myriad aspects of our area's thriving food and wine scene in ways that enlighten and entertain. To that end, we will ask for your ideas and opinions, and we'll soon offer an online forum where you can sound off in real time. You'll see some new writers here, along with the familiar voices you've come to trust. We'll also be adding some new features, including restaurant criticism. Anything else you'd like to see? Shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.
I'll be writing about wine every month in this space. If you're familiar with my previous wine column, you know I am no expert. I've never had any formal oenology training, and I don't closely follow highly rated vintages so I can stock my cellar and impress my friends. I do love drinking good wine, though. Since I began writing about wine a couple of years ago, I've learned a lot about learning about wine. That's what I hope you will get from reading this column: the confidence to ask good questions about wine as a means to discovering your own taste. So far, that has been the greatest joy of my self-guided wine education.
For 2010, my wine resolution is to push my own boundaries. I hope to become more familiar with more of the world's wine-growing regions, while stepping foot into more Triangle wine shops. I want to become braver about going to new places and tasting things I haven't tasted before. I started by deciding to explore one new wine shop per week to see what I don't know.
First on my list was Parker and Otis (112 S. Duke St., 683-3200, www.parkerandotis.com), one of my favorite nosh spots in downtown Durham. While I go there often, I tend to forget that they carry wine. Maybe it's because I never find myself shopping for wine when I'm grabbing my morning coffee or lunch. In fact, I felt a little sheepish perusing the wine section at 10:30 a.m. while everyone in the seating area was still sipping lattes. But the foray led me to the New York Finger Lakes region when I picked up a bottle of Salmon Run Cold Brook White 2008. A Chardonnay-Riesling blend, it promises to be off-dry with moderate acidity and a smooth finish. I've never purchased a Finger Lakes wine before because I've let early brushes with Taylor Lake Country define my impression of the region. Holding Taylor against all of New York wine is no better than people who look down on North Carolina wine because they've had one bad glass. First discovery: New York wine for $9.99.
BrandyWine Cellars (6905 Fayetteville Road, Durham, 405-3838, www.brandywinecellars.com) has been around for a while, but I had never popped in for a look around. It's across the road from the Streets at Southpoint, not in the main strip alongside REI but in one of the buildings in the parking lot. Just make a few laps through the complex and you'll find it. It's a small, well-organized shop that draws a loyal following. The greatest discovery here was a new and wonderful feature called the Tuesday/ Wednesday sale. Like every other wine merchant, BrandyWine offers case deals on a selection of wines every week, which allows you to buy a dozen bottles at a discounted rate. But on Tuesdays and Wednesdays you can pay the case-discount price for individual bottles. Last week, this deal meant that a bottle of Line 39 Cabernet Sauvignon from Lake County, Calif., was selling for $12 per bottle. You'll usually find Line 39 for more than $20 per bottle. The salesperson at BrandyWine was knowledgeable without being overbearing. I walked away with one of the case-price deals, a bottle of Melini Orvieto, an Italian white from Umbria for $9, and Ipsum 2008, a Spanish white blend from Ruedo for $10. Second discovery: Shopping for wine in the middle of the week can pay off.
Barley & Vine has been open since November in the Duraleigh Corners Shopping Center, just off Glenwood on Duraleigh Road (5910 Duraleigh Road, Suite 141, Raleigh, 367-9414). I was glad to hear about it because there's not much in the way of beverage choices in this part of town, but I didn't realize what a great addition it was until I paid a visit. Part wine shop, part tasting bar, this place is awesome. You can sip wine or quaff craft beer from one of a half dozen taps. Chalkboard specials change daily, and the prices are beyond reasonable. Glasses range from $3 to $6, and flights go for $4. Or you can taste every wine on the board for $9. Since there's no better way to buy wine than to taste it first, this setup is nearly perfect. The inventory is small but well chosen, and the bar has a friendly, neighborhood feel. I came away with a 2007 Laurel Glen red blend from Lodi, Calif., for $9.99 and a bottle of 2004 Neil Ellis Shiraz from Groenekloof, South Africa, for $14.99, based on a taste and co-owner Jennifer King's lively exposition of the promising developments in the South African wine scene. Discovery No. 3: You never know what's waiting for you behind the wine shop door.
All this, and it's still January. I think 2010 is going to be a good year.