Cheers! The holiday season is a time to uncork the bottle and clink the glasses in celebration. But, what wine to pour?
Local experts have their favorites, and tips to help holiday hosts choose just the right wine for the occasion. They suggest asking them for advice when planning a meal or party. “Plan ahead,” says Dickenson, adding that the Fresh Market wine section features cards that offer pairing suggestions. “Bring in the recipe and ask. There is no blanket recommendation,” says Powell. Bill Philips of Mr. Bill’s Wine Cellar says he listens to the customer first. “I dial in what they are serving, plus their own wine preferences.”
Serving turkey? Dickenson likes Vouvray or Gewurztraminer, which is a sweeter white wine. Pinot Noir pairs with ham and “hits well with every dish.” He suggests Chardonnay for the cocktail hour. It’s versatile, he says and goes with appetizers. “It’s a good opening and good closing wine.” Cabernet Sauvignon is a nice “social gathering wine.” When it comes time to pop the cork on New Year’s Eve, he points likes La Marca Prosecco. “People love it,” he said, adding that its peachy taste makes it perfect for brunch and other celebrations.
Powell names Chardonnay (aged in stainless steel, not heavy oak) and Pinot Noir as his top two wine varietals for the holiday season. “They both have enough body to stand up to holiday meals.” Beyond those two, he says Vouvray or a dry Riesling go well with turkey. For a spicier turkey, he opts for an off-dry Riesling. Pinot Noir is perfect with ham, and so is Beaujolais Nouveau. The latter is a red wine made from Gamay grapes in the Beaujolais region of France, fermented for just a few weeks and released on the third Thursday of November.
When it comes time to celebrate, he returns to the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes – in the form of Champagne. (Champagne can only bear that label if it is made in that specific region of France.) For sparkling punch and other cocktails he recommends Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) or Cava (the Spanish version), which tend to be less expensive.
When the holiday table includes turkey, Philips likes a “good, dry Riesling” or a Grüner Veltliner, a dry, food-friendly white wine primarily produced in Austria. He says Riesling can stand up to even heartier meals. For fans of red wines, he suggests softer varietals that are low in tannins, such as Beaujolais. For celebrations, he notes that there are a wide variety of choices at all price points.
Making Whiskey –Legally – in Franklin County
If it weren’t for music, and a family vacation to Myrtle Beach, Chris Prillaman might not be making legal whiskey in Franklin County today. Yes, legal.
Prillaman, owner and distiller at Twin Creeks Distillery, admits that when he was growing up in Ferrum, “there was a whole lot of that whiskey business going on.” There was also music. He plays in string band called the Dry Hill Draggers with its founder, Jimmy Boyd. They’ve played at the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival where they caught the eye of Blue Ridge Institute& Museum director Roddy Moore. In 2007, Moore asked Boyd (an actual bootlegger) to set up a demonstration still.
“It blew me away,” Prillaman said about all the people who had an interest in the art of making whiskey. (He prefers using the term, “whiskey” over “moonshine,” as the latter conjures up images of “snaggle-toothed hillbillies.”) After that experience, he told Boyd they should get a license and “make a go of it.” But, the application was daunting and they forgot about it.
As time wore on, he noticed more and more interest in distilleries and whiskey. Fast forward to 2013, and the trip to Myrtle Beach. He and his family toured the Palmetto Distillery, with its shirts, hats and demonstration still. The tour guide asked where everyone was from, and when he told them, people recognized Franklin County and its moonshine reputation. When he got home, he talked to friends and family and went through the “long and costly process” that has become Twin Creeks Distillery.
While Franklin County is best known for the “black pot stills” that make a lot of sugar-based mash for selling, Prillaman grew up around people who made “drinking liquor.” Instead of sugar-based, the mash is made with grains, such as rye or corn. His focus is more high-end whiskey and brandy. His products include a sugar-based “moonshine” called “First Sugar Rye,” as well as “Sweet Mash Rye” and “Peach Brandy.” The peach brandy is made from distilling peaches, rather than just flavored with them.
In developing his process and his products, Prillaman drew on the knowledge of people in the area. He mentioned an older man who made sour mash during World War II when no sugar was available. In fact the roots of his whiskey run even deeper. He found out that the percentage of grain in his product is exactly the same is that in the whiskey George Washington made. “It’s amazing,” he said, “that knowledge came over from England.”
He makes his whiskey with steam. Fire never touches the mash. The result, he says is a smoother, milder product.
“This is the tail end of some very knowledgeable people,” he said. “I took the best of everything I could get a hold of.”
In the end, Prillaman has a product that is “true to my roots and the roots of the people in this county. What they did when they had no choice: good people making a good product.”