Raising a Glass to Wine Lovers

“A loaf of bread, a jug of wine—and Thou.” The Persian poet of that verse, Omar Khayyám, must have been enough of an oenophile to know that wine does indeed pair well with bread and one’s beloved. But what about cheese? Or a thick, juicy steak? Or good conversation and music? Or a sunny day in rolling countryside? In the Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Aberdeen Area, visitors can consume all of these delights—along with some memorable vintages.

Sippity Doo-Dah!

With so many ways to enjoy wine, where do you start? Answer: With any of the region’s three specialty shops boasting knowledgeable staffs and multiple opportunities to sample vast selections of wine, from New Zealand sauvignon blancs to North Carolina cab francs.

At The Wine Cellar & Tasting Room in Southern Pines, there is a wine bar that serves 20 to 25 different wines each week. Enjoy a glass with friends and mingle among locals on the patio, or grab a chunk of artisanal cheese to pair with your beverage. Unsure of what to buy? Try the Cellar’s latest feature, WineStations: automatic, self-serve dispensers that allow visitors to sample premium labels before making a purchase. (So go ahead—splurge on that ’06 Dr. Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten Auslese Gold!)

Any day is a good day for tasting wine, especially Thursdays and Saturdays (with occasional beer tastings Fridays) at the Village Wine Shop in the Village of Pinehurst. See if, say, South African blends are to your liking, while tapping your toes to live music. “We get golfers from around the world,” explains proprietor Gwen Detering, who once impressed a Brazilian visitor because she happened to stock a vintage from his native country. Before you leave, browse among the  shop’s whimsical, golf- and wine-inspired sculptures, the perfect souvenir of your outing on the links—and swirling and sipping at the 19th hole.

Sandhills Winery in Seven Lakes is the brainchild of longtime area residents Bob and Leslie Rose. With a staggering selection of vintages, the winery hosts regular tastings, frequently starring wines produced in North Carolina. Childress Vineyards is a favorite label both among the Roses and their customers. “Their brand is consistently among the best [in North Carolina],” says Leslie, who explains that part of their mission is to “help people learn about wine.” Mmmmm…. Education never tasted so good!

A-List Labels

There’s nothing like a long, leisurely meal paired with a bottle (or two) of a superb wine. At Pinehurst’s Elliotts on Linden you can choose from well over 100 vintages or heed the advice of wine manager Thadeus Braun: “Taste everything.” When the wine steward remarks in all capital letters on the menu, “I LOVE THIS WINE!” (Baileyana Edna Valley Chardonnay), it’s well worth the purchase. Not to be outdone, the Ironwood Cafe, also in Pinehurst, offers some of  the brightest stars in any oenophile’s galaxy: Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin bubbly, Napa’s Chateau Montelena and Stag’s Leap, Brunello di Montalcino, as well as some “Chef’s Cellar Jewels,” such as Opus One, and down-to-earth “fun and trendy” reds. The menu is subject to change, however, so uncork while you can.

De-vine Day Trips

With more than 100 wineries, North Carolina is making its mark on the world of wine. So why not go directly to the source? With approximately 30 wineries or vineyards within 100 miles of the Sandhills, you can easily sample regional vintages right where they’re made. Cypress Bend Vineyards (cypressbendvineyards .com), in nearby Wagram, is taking wines derived from the native muscadine grape to new heights and also offers options made from European varietals. If the latter is more to your liking, why not venture a bit farther to the rolling foothills of the northwest Piedmont’s Yadkin Valley (yadkinvalleywinetrail.com), the state’s first American Viticultural Area? About a two-hour drive from the Sandhills, the Yadkin Valley AVA comprises more than 1.1 million acres in Surry, Yadkin, Wilkes, Davie, Davidson and Forsyth counties.

At Childress Vineyards in Lexington (childressvineyards.com), veteran Long Island, New York, winemaker Mark Friszolowski conjures up luscious pinot gris and viognier. But then, Steve Shepard’s Category 5 at RayLen Vineyards & Winery (raylenvineyards.com) is worth writing home about, too. From Michael’s Blend at Hanover Park Vineyard (hanoverparkwines.com) to chardonnay at Shelton Vineyards (sheltonvineyards.com), or Pioneer Gold at Westbend Vineyards (westbendvineyards.com)—the Yadkin Valley AVA’s first winery—you’re bound to find something to suit your palate.

If you’re visiting during harvest time (late August–September), check out visitncwine.com for information about area wine festivals; the site also offers a comprehensive listing of all of the state’s wineries, a downloadable wine map and other helpful resources. After all, what’s not to celebrate about wine? So go, see, sip and enjoy!

By Nancy Oakley
Photography by Sean McCormick