What Is Wine Anyway?

Apr 25, 2024

Liz Miller, Hop City West End Wine Manager

I recently met with Sour Grapes founder and Botanist & Barrel partner and cellarman, Lyndon Smith. Botanist & Barrel of Asheville, North Carolina, is known for their unique ciders, including ciders made with a nod to the pétillant naturel winemaking method. Lyndon didn’t bring Botanist & Barrel ciders for me to taste, but wine that he had been working on for years. Until he felt confident of his wines, the only place you could taste them were at the Botanist & Barrel tasting room. 

I tasted five different wines with Lyndon, including a canned muscadine spritzer - not your grandpappy’s muscadine wine, but a truly refreshing and chuggable juice bomb with complex herbal undertones. The spritzer was made with the edible muscadine grape instead of the wine grape varietal that muscadine wine is typically made from. Lyndon blends his passion for wine with an obsessive level of experimentation and creativity while pushing the boundaries of Southern American winemaking. His wines left me dumbfounded, because they could easily stand up to some bigger name natural wines worldwide. 

After long conversations about hole in the wall restaurants, and our journeys in the wine world, Lyndon had me thinking about wine in the abstract- how do we define wine, and what are its capabilities? The following are some of my favorite wine adjacent beverages that Hop City carries. In addition, keep your eyes peeled for the soon to be released wines of Botanist & Barrel at Hop City’s West End location. 

Botanist & Barrel ‘Less is More’ $20.99 

Botanist & Barrel supports local farmers using only sustainably and organically-sourced fruits from their organic estate farm. Ciders and wines are raw, wild, unrefined, unfiltered, and unpasteurized, allowing customers to feel good about what they’re drinking. ‘Less is More’ showcases the elegance of classic old-world methods, spontaneous fermentation and minimal intervention. Fermented from wild yeast on the apple skins using the pétillant naturel technique (which predates the champagne method) creates beautiful fine bubbles as it ages in the bottle. Made with a blend of local eating and traditional cider apples, ‘Less is More’, is lightly effervescent, dry with subtle minerality, honey notes and racy acidity creating a balanced cider. 

Hana Makgeolli ‘Takju’ $29.99 

Alice and John were the first traditional makgeolli producers stateside. Together, they started making Korean sool out of Brooklyn in 2017. Takju is their signature brew, and the ideal introduction to traditionally made makgeolli. This wine is most well known for its creamy body and full spectrum of flavors, starting with the extremely floral almost melon-like character of fermented rice, followed by the brightness of the wild

yeast that is perfectly balanced with naturally occurring lactic acid and rice sediment. Made exclusively with organic white rice, organic sweet (glutinous) white rice, nuruk (traditional Korean wild fermentation starter), and filtered NY water. Shake to incorporate sediment and serve well chilled. 

Scar of the Sea Bear Valley Ranch/Lopez Vineyard Co-Ferment Cider $29.99 

I once read an article by Jon Bonné in a back issue of Noble Rot Magazine where he describes this cider co-ferment as being a pleasant surprise from his usual wine habit. It was his introduction to the husband and wife team, Scar of the Sea and it left him craving more from the dynamic duo. This is a savory, yet playful cider made with Newton Pippin apples that go through a secondary fermentation on Palomino grape pomace. It tastes like orange peel, preserved lemon, and dried apples. Excellent with salty snacks, nuts, sheep’s milk cheeses, fried fish, and grilled vegetables. 

Schramm’s ‘Black Agnes’ 34.99 

Mead is the oldest known alcoholic beverage, predating both beer and wine. Ken Schramm, founder of Schramm’s Mead, has a wealth of experience crafting the beverage dating back to 1989. Not only has he written a book on the subject, but, working with the Ann Arbor Brewers Guild in 1990, he helped found the nation’s only mead-specific competition, the Mazer Cup. Schramm’s sets the gold standard for mead, with Black Agnes being their flagship beverage. Sharply tart and acidic, the potent flavor of black currant is perfectly balanced by the sweetness of carefully selected Michigan honey.

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