Wine-Ophelia, a great blogspot.com Blog I follow, is having a contest I just HAVE to enter (and will be Tweeting about, from @elkhorninn, augmented by #cheapwinechallenge): the "Twitter Cheap Wine Challenge" Given that the vast majority of wines we drink and serve at the Elkhorn Inn & Theatre are what you'd probably refer to as "plonk": $3.98 a bottle wines we buy at WalMart- but about which NO guest of the Elkhorn Inn has ever uttered a complaint- this was a Must-Do! No, these wines are not up to the standards of the $15/glass Red Zin we recently had at Glade's, the AbFab signature restaurant at the Glade Spring Resort in Daniels, WV, and No they are not of the calibre of the "winery" wines we've sampled and purchased at vineyards in WV &VA... but on the other hand, they are not nasty-sour or gummy-sweet wines-in-a-box, either, nor do they come in a screw-top gallon jug that you must decant in secret for fear of being humiliated at table for your crude and grasping penury. Yes, I do wish there were delightful little wine stores in our neck of the woods that carried alluring, yet inexpensive wines such as the fab Chile Merlot I used to buy in NYC for $4/bottle, but we live in zip code-less Landgraff, in the Extremely rural mountains of southern West Virginia, folks, and out here it's "WalMart, Lowe's, Big Lots, Or Die". (I swear that if Lowe's carried wine we wouldn't have to shop Anywhere else...) Our only other alternatives are the Gallon Jugs O' Gallo which are not Nearly as good; for the price, we've found Oak Leaf produces the best wines we can access.
And, as the Elkhorn Inn & Theatre does not yet have a liquor licence, and GIVES (yes, free) a glass of wine to our dinner guests on-the-house (because a fine, gourmet meal Must have wine to make it perfect, please forgive us if we are ever seeking out affordable as well as pleasing wines that we can actually buy locally!! I have bought my husband, Chef Dan, wonderful Wines of the World from http://www.wine.com/, but the simple truth is that we can't afford to serve wines in those price ranges gratis to our guests. And so we were delighted to find affordable Oak Leaf Vineyard wines at WalMart, and they have proven to be Totally fine accompaniments to gourmet Chef Dan dinners at the Inn, pleasing to serve with hors d'oeuvres such as our homemade pestos and artisan Italian Parm, and Extremely pleasant to sip on over the course of an evening by the fireplace reading a book, or while sitting in the hot tub, miserably slogging through depressingly endless paperwork, or lazing at the computer Tweeting and Facebooking! And at $3.98/bottle (Last year they were UNDER $3!), and available nation-wide via WalMart, they Definitely qualify as "nationally available wines under $10"!
Please note: We are Always open to suggestion! If you've got a goodie-yet-cheapie you can send our way or make available to us, PLEASE do so!
For this eyes-wide-open tasting, the following Oak Leaf Vineyards California wines were purchased at the Kimball, West Virginia WalMart and sampled by Chef "Chicago" Dan & Elisse,
his NYC-born-and-bred Foodie Wife:
Oak Leaf Vineyards Chardonnay:
Chef Dan prefers this as the best of the Oak Leaf whites, and stated it has a "pleasing oakiness", is on the dry side, smooth, and while good as a dinner wine, is also quite fine as a "sipping wine". He would prefer to serve it with his Pork Chops with Brandy-Mustard Mushroom Sauce, Herb-Crusted Slow-Roasted Pork Roast, or with an appetizer cheese plate. Elisse, interestingly, finds it to be the sweeter of the two whites, but light and not cloying, and as such, finds it more suitable as a "sipping wine" then a dinner wine... and heck, she's sipping on it now.
Oak Leaf Chenin Blanc Pinot Grigio:
Chef Dan finds this to be the sweeter of the two whites, and although smoother, it has, for him, a rather acidic aftertaste. He prefers to serve this as a dinner wine, accompanying his Almond-Crusted Pan-Fried Trout, Salmon with Alfredo-Dill Sauce, Lemon-Pepper Chicken, or Vietnamese Lemongrass Claypot Chicken- the crisp, light acidity of the wine being a fine counterpoint to rich sauces, fried foods, or spicy Vietnamese cuisine. He also noted that Inn guests seem to prefer this to the Chardonnay as an accompaniment to their dinners. Elisse finds this to be the drier of the two white wines (that's what makes for horse racing & wine-tasting...), but agrees on it being a great dinner wine to accompany fine and rich foods. And heck, she's sipping on it now.
Elisse, lover of Merlot from her NYC bar-hopping days, does NOT consider this to be a great Merlot. It's dryer, thinner, less rich, fruity, and robust than that the great (cheap) Chile Merlots of her NYC memories... On the other hand, it's imminently drinkable, charmingly appealing (is that a good wine-tasting description? Or should I have said "suitably pleasant"?), and heck, she's sipping on it now. :-) Chef Dan (who is Not a Merlot-lover) found it to be a strong-yet-smooth Merlot that he would serve with food: specifically his Prime Rib, or with hot appetizers, such as spanakopita or bruschetta.
Both Elisse and Chef Dan prefer this as the better of the two Oak Leaf reds, with Elisse finding it to have a "palate-pleasing sackiness" that velvetizes the tongue, and Chef Dan stating that it has a smoother, fruitier, richer, and more well-balanced taste, and that he would choose to serve this with his herb-crusted smoked lamb chops or herb/spice crusted slow-roasted pork roast- or any other roast meat that requires a good, full-bodied red wine. And heck, Elisse is sipping on it now.
Note: There's also an Oak Leaf White Zinfandel, but we didn't include it in this tasting, as we both find it Way too sweet & almost cloying, as White Zin is wont to be, but many guests do
specifically request White Zinfandel, and so we do serve it at the Inn.
I (Elisse) will also add that my TOTALLY favorite wine of the moment is the Ginseng Wine made by Kirkwood Vineyards of Summerville, West Virginia. At $17/bottle it doesn't qualify for this Challenge, but with a hint of herby bitterness, it is THE yummiest and most distinctly original wine I know of! (And if you're as enamored of Vietnamese ginseng or snake wine- as we are- you'll def enjoy it, as well). Ginseng wine is not only Vietnamese, it's also West Virginian, and if you're interested in a truly "local" wine with some real history behind it, this is it. Kirkwood makes a number of Truly delicious fruit desert wines from the fruits of their orchards (and they are supremely "fruity"; we served them at our wedding in 2005 & 5 years later guests still rave about them), but they also make an excellent ramp wine (yes, from ramps, those wicked West Virginia garlic-onions that grow rampant (forgive the pun) on our mountains), and it is SUPERB for marinating meat, especially venison, and for making dipping sauces... or for Totally flipping out a friend on an I'll-drink-anything dare. ;-)